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Thursday, September 19, 2019

Snakes on a... book

In homage to Samuel L. Jackson’s memorable line from the ridiculous action movie Snakes on a Plane: Why are all these #^&!? snakes on these #^&!? book covers?
Design trends on book covers are fun to spot. For a while, covers were being festooned with tiny silhouettes of people... so tiny that sometimes I never saw them until they were pointed out to me. Can you spot the people on Tara Westover’s Educated, the hardcover edition of Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black, and Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments?
But the snakes? They’re hard to miss.
Here’s a sampling of recent and forthcoming book covers that are festooned with the legless reptile.
Dark Age (Red Rising Series) by Pierce Brown
Pierce Brown’s fifth book in his blockbuster Red Rising series starts in a dark place, which isn’t a surprise given both the book’s title and the two big ol’ snakes on the front cover. Our hero Darrow is now an outlaw, and new leaders threaten to lure humanity back to the caste system that kept the Golds on top.

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The Undying: Pain, vulnerability, mortality, medicine, art, time, dreams, data, exhaustion, cancer, and care by Anne Boyer
When poet and essayist Anne Boyer was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer at the age of 41, her world was upended. Through her chronicling of the disease, Boyer upends the reader’s world as well, shredding commonplace assumptions about pain, recovery, chemotherapy, wellness, and the pink ribbon culture we’ve bought into. Publishers Weekly said in a starred review that The Undying “puts into sharp focus the economic toll cancer takes on women of limited means . . . and is stacked with revelatory observations . . . Boyer’s gorgeous language elevates this artful, piercing narrative well above the average medical memoir.”
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
Leigh Bardugo steps confidently into the adult fiction realm (though her YA novels were dark indeed) with a spooky investigation into Yale’s secret societies. Ninth House has already gained praise from the likes of Stephen King (“Bardugo’s imaginative reach is brilliant”), Kelly Link (“so delicious, so twisty, and so immersive”), and Joe Hill (“I could not get enough of sinewy, ghost-haunted Alex Stern, a heroine for the ages”). When homicide survivor Alex Stern is given a free ride to Yale by mysterious benefactors, she’s tasked by them with figuring out what’s truly happening behind the closed doors of private clubs. And what she discovers is disturbing indeed. (October 8)
Gun Island: A Novel by Amitav Ghosh
The author of Sea of Poppies sends a dealer of rare books on a journey both physical and spiritual after he discovers a new version of an old Bengali folk tale. As he travels to uncover the roots of the new legend, he encounters people who will encourage him to rethink how the world operates and his place within it. This book cover’s snake has a flaring hood on it, which is delightfully ominous, even as the flowers signal a blooming of emotion.

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The Queen of Nothing (The Folk of the Air) by Holly Black
Between the broken crown and the blood (?) on the snow, I almost missed the black snake on Holly Black’s series-ender—though it is by no means hidden. Black brings her twisty, Faerie-fueled fantasy adventure to its conclusion as Jude, the exiled (and mortal) queen of Faerie, sneaks back into Elfhame to help her untrustworthy sister. But Jude’s husband, Cardan, now holds the throne in Faerie, and a reckoning between the rival king and queen is not only unavoidable but, for fans, deliciously anticipated. (November 19)

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On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey by Paul Theroux
Admittedly, there are no actual snakes on the cover of Paul Theroux’s newest book, but the title’s clever homage to Snakes on a Plane makes me smile every time I see it. World traveler and renowned writer Theroux wanted to see for himself the borderlands that have sparked political battles and acrimony in the U.S. and Mexico. As he spends time among the people who live just south of the Arizona border with Mexico, he talks with those who remain in Mexico even as family and friends go north. Theroux’s global perspective, gleaned from years of travel in a wide range of regions, brings a new view to the border debate. (October 8)

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