Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Housekeeper and the Professor


by Yoko Ogawa // A Picador Paperback Original
A beautiful story of a brilliant math professor, with a peculiar problem--since a traumatic head injury, he has lived with only eighty minutes of short-term memory. She is an astute young housekeeper with a ten-year-old son who is hired to care for him. And between them a strange, beautiful relationship blossoms. Though the professor can hold new memories for only eighty minutes, his mind is still alive with elegant equations from the past; and through him, the numbers, in all of their articulate order, reveal a sheltering and poetic world to both the housekeeper and her son. The Housekeeper and the Professor is an enchanting story about what it means to live in the present, and about the curious equations that can create a family where one before did not exist.

The professors sees and speaks of the world around him in terms of math. I thought of a cherry blossom tree scattering its many petals in the wind. How the professor would see that pattern as a complex math equation and how the housekeeper could connect and begin to see the world in his terms. Along the edges where the pink background meets the photo, I printed the ∏ / Pi equation taken out to 200 decimal places to echo the meeting of the analytical and the emotional.
Nature, meet Math. Math, this is Nature.

Click to hear the ∏ / Pi song.



Going down the side along the turnover, the point where the cover folds into the flaps, I typeset Pi to 200+ decimal places in fine print:


I forgot that this book was slated to come out a couple of years ago but under the title The Gift of Numbers. It was delayed because we were not happy with the English translation of the Japanese manuscript. I guess I shouldn't have used Babelfish. Here's the comp that only made it to Advance Uncorrected Proofs:

Photograph by Laura Hanifin

This is the second book I've designed for Yoko Ogawa. Her previous title was The Diving Pool. I remember picking this particular cherry blossom image with the dominant blue sky because I thought it would be nice to tie in with the overall blue of the pool. I think I'll have to find a way to use blue on her next novel.

10 comments:

Gould said...

Interesting. But I cannot help asking : why is that all Asian, and specifically Japanese, book covers do have to feature i.e Asian beauties, cherry blossoms, etc. ?

French cover here by the way :
http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51Q1JZVFAYL._SS500_.jpg

Ian Shimkoviak said...

because it's what the mass market expects. and this is for a mass market.

Very pretty and appropriate. the type is doing it's job very well.

H3NR7 said...

What'dya expect? Two bottles with a tube sticking out of it? ;)

Gould said...

Sure, it's much better than bottles ;-)

Jason R Gabbert said...

This is beautiful Henry. I love the first book you did for Yoko as well.

Joe Montgomery said...

That's absolutely gorgeous!

Anonymous said...

Is that pi running down the middle of the back cover?

H3NR7 said...

@ Gould: I think all designers want the opportunity to work with specifics forms and ideas. If it's a historical book, a designer may be drawn to use typefaces and the visual vernacular of the time period that the book takes place in or is about. Designers love to use scanned textured paper on anything that's period. They are clichés and they all need to be retired. But sometimes you reinvent and sometimes you don't want to.
This book was about seeing the formulaic structures of math in the world out there. I was looking for a nature scene to juxtapose math with. In my image search, this cherry blossom tree with it's petals blowing away was a nice balance of beauty and chaotic order. The fact that the author's previous title, THE DIVING POOL was all blue made choosing this color sympathetic image seem right and created a visual connection. AND, that cover was also designed without using any Asian motifs.

Ian Shimkoviak said...

that's funny. But it's true, the Diving Pool cover has the same typographic nuances and color scheme—tying the two books together effectively. Nice thought...

Serena said...

I like the concept but in execution, the math symbols floating around with the flower petals are too big and distract from the title and author. Otherwise, I like the photo & colors used, and the type chosen for the title/author.