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Jacket Mechanical

I'm shutting down Jacket Mechanical.

After seven years, this blog is moving on—I've decided to have all my work and thoughts under one roof; a different roof. So, from now on, all my work will live:


Though the only thing that will change in terms of the blogging side, really, is the URL and the name of the site, I still feel a little wistful. The day I began my professional life as a designer—my first day at Vintage books—I was asked to make a "jacket mechanical" for my boss. (For to those of you who aren't designers, a jacket mechanical is the paste-up board containing the entire book jacket, including flaps, backad, barcode, etc., with all the printing specs indicated on a vellum overlay). Though I was expected to make a mechanical, I had no idea, then, what the term meant, and was too raw and sheepish at that moment to ask for help. So I googled the term. I got back a load of links relating to machinery and automotive mechanics, and a fair few relating to menswear. But nothing, not a single link, that explained the phrase as it's used by graphic designers. Luckily, a kind colleague, Claire Williams, whose office was next to my cubicle, sensed my confusion and helped me out. She showed me where the cardstock was kept; where the lasers came out; how to tape down the vellum and affix the PMS chips. But that feeling of being utterly at sea remained with me, and, when I created this blog all those years ago, I thought to myself: maybe in the future there will be a designer somewhere, also suffering their first-day palpitations, and they will be asked to make a jacket mechanical, and they will google the term. And when this happens, when this possible future greenhorn googles the term, they will get something different back from Google: they will be given design links; they will see book jackets. Nice ones, preferably. (I even intended to have a helpful definition of a jacket mechanical at the top of the blog, but never got around to making it.) So that—here at the close—was how the name was chosen.

(Of course, we no longer make jacket mechanicals at the office. We rip PDF files. Everything has changed. As everything does and should.)

Anyway, I hope you all will continue to visit me online in my new home. I'll try to update it frequently with information about my work, and information about the work of others in my profession; information about my books, and future books of mine.

So that's it for the jack mech.

Bye now.


WWSWWR Teaser #3

It's that time again. What We See When We Read Teaser Number 3, by Brian Rea and Pablo Delcan!

Teaser #3 on Vimeo


Bone Clocking

Me and Oliver Munday made this here jacket for David Mitchell. It was one of my first true collaborations with another book jacket designer. Oliver and I are working together a ton these days so look out for more.


At 192 Books with Leanne Shapton.

Hey guys, I know it's short notice, but: are you free this Wednesday evening?

Me and Leanne Shapton are having a conversation at 192 Books in Manhattan.

It should be interesting! Lots to cover! Come join us!


Teaser Number Two

Teaser Number Two on Vimeo


WWSWWR Teaser Numero Uno

A new one every week!

Teaser on Vimeo

By the incomparable Brian Rea and Pablo Delcan.




Peter will be in conversation with Will Schwalbe, author of The End of Your Life Book Club, followed by a brief Q&A. Both his books (Cover, and What We See When We Read) will be on sale at the event. Please join us!

August 5th, 7:00-9:00 PM. PowerHouse Arena. 37 Main St, Brooklyn.



"What We See When We Read is brilliant. Peter Mendelsund has peered into our messy heads and produced an illuminating, kaleidoscopic meditation on reading. Also on seeing. And understanding.” 

—James Gleick, Best selling author of Chaos, and The Information

“Peter Mendelsund has changed the way I think about reading. Like the Wizard of Oz tornado, Mendelsund's lucid, questing prose and his surprising, joyful visuals collide to create a similar weather system inside the reader. Not only are you carried off to Oz, but you're aware at every moment of the cyclonic action of your reader's mind and your reader's imagination. It's so smart, so totally original, so beautiful, so good. I want to order copies to give to all of my friends.” 

—Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia! and Vampires in the Lemon Grove

“Amazing. . . Sparkling with verbal as well as visual wit and the personable exhilaration of one of the best conversations you've ever had, What We See When We Read opens one's eyes to that special brand of blindness which makes the vividness of fiction possible. It reads as if the ghost of Italo Calvino audited Vladimir Nabokov's literature class and wrote his final paper with the help of Alvin Lustig and the Radiolab guys. Peter Mendelsund should get double extra credit for trying to describe things that I'm pretty sure there aren't words for (at least not yet.)" 

—Chris Ware, Eisner award-winning author of Building Stories and Jimmy Corrigan

"What We See When We Read is not a book, this is a sacred text. It inspires, it expands the mind, it proves that Mendelsund is a total freaking genius. Through his images and his words, he speaks the gospel of our now.” 

—Heidi Julavits, author of The Vanishers and editor of The Believer

“In this brilliant amalgam of philosophy, psychology, literary theory and visual art, Knopf associate art director and cover designer Mendelsund inquires about the complex process of reading. . . . The book exemplifies the idea that reading is not a linear process. Even if readers follow consecutive words, they incorporate into reading memories, distractions, predispositions, desires and expectations. . . . In 19 brief, zesty chapters, the author considers such topics as the relationship of reading to time, skill, visual acuity, fantasy, synesthesia and belief. . . . Mendelsund amply attains his goal to produce a quirky, fresh and altogether delightful meditation on the miraculous act of reading. 

Kirkus Review (starred)

“Offhandedly brilliant, witty, and fluent in the works of Tolstoy, Melville, Joyce, and Woolf, Mendelsund guides us through an intricate and enlivening analysis of why literature and reading are essential to our understanding of ourselves, each other, and the spinning world.”Booklist


“Peter Mendelsund is to the art of book design what Walter Murch is to the art of film-editing. That, of course, is the highest praise imaginable.” 
—Geoff Dyer, author of Out of Sheer Rage, and Another Great Day at Sea

“Peter Mendelsund pushes the visual and the verbal into unforeseen alliances. Once we’ve seen these alliances, they feel inevitable. He establishes exactly the right balance between the timely and the timeless. He engages with all the fashionable tropes, trills, and frills of our on-the-go culture, while remaining grounded in a rigorous formal logic.” 

—Jed Perl, The New Republic

“Once in a while I'm presented with covers that cross the barriers of cultural reference and visual language. That feel universal. That feel like perfect starts to stories. Covers that I don't want the reader to forget, but to carry with them throughout my books. Those covers are Peters Mendelsund's covers."

—Jo Nesbø, author of The Snowman and The Son

“Upbeat and thrilling to look at, his designs are works of art, and at the same time they encapsulate the writer’s truest goal.”

—Nicholas Fox Weber, author of Le Corbusier, and The Bauhaus Group

“Peter Mendelsund is a true artist.” 

—Ben Marcus, author of The Flame Alphabet and Leaving the Sea

“Peter Mendelsund has the ability to visually and conceptually distill a narrative in such a way that it seems effortlessly inventive, striking, smart, fresh and yet classic. And he does it again and again and again. How I hate him.” 

—Chip Kidd, author of The Cheese Monkeys and The Learners

“He’s the exact visual correlative of what I think contemporary literature should be, but usually isn’t doing.”

—Tom McCarthy, Booker prize shortlisted author of Remainder and Satin Island


Learning Liszt

"We need someone to (learn and) record Liszt's Années de Pelerinage for the book trailer for the new Murakami novel Colorless Tsukuru and His Years of Pilgrimage..." 

Warming up at Manhattan School of Music before the session:

Trailer and audiobook and other things on this front coming down the road.


A Poetics of Effluvia

SATIN ISLAND: a new novel by Tom McCarthy. (Approved jacket below)

In S.I., the novel's narrator, an anthropologist, succumbs to a vivid fever dream in which he finds himself flying offshore over an island—an "excrescence, a protuberance"—of waste, runoff, sewage, detritus, crude oil... a beautiful and corrupted "satin island." 

(On the jacket: an archipelago of oil; a ballistic aftermath of ink; Triste Tropique of spillage.)

This dreamscape (Tom just informed me, after seeing the jacket) contains conscious echoes of G.M. Hopkins's poem God's Grandeur:

    "The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
     It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
     It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil..."

I quite like "shook foil," and am intending to use a gradient metallic foil on the jacket itself. 


Father's Day

A collage by my father, Ben Mendelsund.


The Shopping Guide You Didn't Ask For

Where can you buy my books, you (didn't) ask?

Well, they (they being COVER and WHAT WE SEE WHEN WE READ) are not on sale yet in bookstores, but will both be sitting on shelves this summer! August 5th, to be precise.

Please stop in and buy them then at your local hardworking, undervalued, culturally vital, independent bookstore. (My own local, hardworking, undervalued, culturally vital, independent bookstore is the most excellent Book Culture in Morningside Heights.)

So if you want to you can buy my books at

Book Culture

or another fine example of same is

McNally Jackson


Porter Square Books

and there are many other Indie bookstores I could recommend; too many to list.
So, luckily, these books of mine are also available at


and of course there is always

Barnes and Noble

and even a small, unheralded, upstart website known as

or you could just call my mom. (I'm sure she will have extras.)

So there you have it.

Thank you!






"We want a new, big, explosive look for our third Jens Lapidus novel..." Um, OK.


One Pub Date

Hi y'all—just a brief update on my books...

I decided at some point this winter, with the blessings of my various publishers, to release these two books of mine on the exact same day.

Why? Because... well, because it just seemed like a super-duper neat thing to do.

What We See When We Read—A Phenomenology, published by Vintage Books, and Cover, a monograph of my work (with essays by me and others) published by Powerhouse Books, will both have a pub date of August 5th.

So if you are waiting for What We See When We Read, you are in luck because it will arrive early! And if you pre-ordered Cover you will have to wait a couple months longer for it to arrive, for which I apologize. (If you have no interest in either, that's fine too.)

What We See When We Read has just gone off to copy editing (all 448 pages of it). Cover will be out of my life in less than a month. At which point I hope to be designing more and sharing the fruits of those labors with you. There are some very fun projects in the pipeline.

Til then,



Translating Kafka

I will be lucky enough to share a stage with Susan Bernofsky and Jay Cantor on Friday the 31st of January at Deutsches Haus at 6.30 PM.*

"Few writers' works are as self-contained—or as all-consuming—as the literary world created by Franz Kafka. Perhaps for that reason, compelling descriptions and interpretations of Kafka have been rare.Translating Kafka addresses the challenges of grasping Kafka in a variety of different media: in English translation, in graphic artwork, and in fiction."

The event is moderated by Glenn Kurtz. Here's the link to the event.

Hope you can make it.