So much attention is paid to the front of books that it’s easy to forget that the front cover is only a part, and perhaps not even the most important part, of a book cover. The back cover, the spine, and even the front and back cover flaps are important parts of the book cover experience.
I think there is a strong argument to be made that, at least historically, the spine is at least as important as the front cover. After all, books are kept on shelves, and spines are pretty much all you see when a book is sitting next to its fellow books on the shelf. When perusing books in the library or on your own bookshelf, the spine is all the book has to attract your attention and make you pull it out and look at its front cover.
It’s an interesting challenge to design for the spine. It’s often quite a small area and it has to have a lot of information on it, which is usually awkwardly read sideways. And unlike a front cover that is seen while held in your hands, a spine is often viewed from further away, perhaps even across the room, so it should be eye-catching. Yet so often spines are boring, plain, and uninspired. They look like afterthoughts, which I would guess they very often are.
So here is a collection of books with fun spines—specifically, where the cover art has been designed to wrap around from the front. I like this technique because it gives the viewer just a tantalizing peak of a larger piece of artwork, encouraging the reader to pick up the book and satisfy their curiosity about the rest of the design.
However, I have to admit that there are a couple of reasonable counter-arguments to this suggestion that the spine is most important. For example, you could argue that plenty of books are displayed in stacks in a bookstore, so it is the front cover that first attracts your notice when considering what to buy. And plenty of books these days are bought from online retailers like Amazon, where a picture of the front cover is really all the customer sees before they purchase the book.
Perhaps the most interesting counter-argument is the case of ebooks. In most ebook apps, such as the Kindle or iBooks, your library is displayed in some sort of grid and only the front covers can be seen. For those ebooks, the spine and back cover don’t exist anymore. And perhaps, like music, the book industry will continue to evolve in that direction, so that all you see are small thumbnails of cover art on a screen somewhere. I kind of hope not.