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Why I Started Uncovered Classics

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One fateful night last summer I realized how few female writers graced my bookshelf. As a female writer, this was particularly alarming. Seeking absolution and being from a generation rendered uselessly uncultured without listicles, I journeyed to the greatest list of all: the internet. Feminista’s list, which they compiled in response to Modern Library’s white-men heavy 100 Best Books of the Twentieth Century inventory, kept showing up in searches. I hadn’t heard of most of the titles, let alone read them.

I began to wonder how many other people were unknowingly in the same position. Why aren’t we exposed to these authors? Why isn’t Modern Library including them to begin with? Why didn’t I find out about Dorothy Parker until college? I could have used her a lot earlier, guys. To make lemonade out of anger, I decided to read the books, redesign the covers, write reviews, and put it all on a blog.

Why redesign the covers? Well first of all it’s fun. But as well as being a writer, I am also a designer. It is a difficult combination. I buy books by their covers. I will undergo painful searches before purchasing a book even if I really, really want to read it. The more reprints a book has, the better the odds of finding a good cover. Needless to say a lot of these books don’t have that many reprints which means a lot of them don’t have great covers. (Unless it’s My Antonia and has been reprinted a million times but still inexplicably has only terrible covers.) This got me thinking about how marketing factors into the whole mess. Presumably Modern Library is trying to boost their own sales with their Definitive List after all. And if you haven’t published something, how can you promote it? Once again, Capitalism undermines the oppressed. Anyway, the more I could do to bring appeal to the books, the better. What could their covers look like if they were given proper attention?

As great of a project as this has been so far, and as blown away as I have been book after book, it just scratches the surface.

I wrote down 4 titles, and to the bookstore I traversed. Well this whole origin story is just a long state of alarm, because guess what. I went to three bookstores and none of the books were stocked. Let alone stocked with multiple editions I could be picky about.

Luckily you can buy a lot of quirky things online. Miracle Fruit tablets. Dog clothing. Books by women.

After the bookstore incident I was very sure this was a project worth committing to, but I was also very sure that reading 100 books, writing 100 reviews, and designing 100 covers would mean no socializing, eating or sleeping for a few years. So I reached out to other writers and designers for help, and the response was overwhelmingly supportive. (This was fortunate because now our list is well over 100 and growing.)

I feel very lucky to have gotten to work with so many amazing, talented, wonderful artists and writers and I’m excited to share their work with you. Over the next 1-2 years Uncovered Classics will post reviews and covers for each book on Feminista’s list of 20th Century English-language books, as well as add more 20th Century titles that deserve attention.

As great of a project as this has been so far, and as blown away as I have been book after book, it just scratches the surface. If we’re not exposed to literature by women in general, how much literature by women of color and queer women have we read? (The Feminista List does not include enough of these authors and we will be adding more.) How many of these women were even allowed publication in the 20th Century? How many important works were lost? And how many important works written by female authors in other languages are still untranslated?

We’ve got a lot of work to do. This is a start, at least.

Review by

Amy Collier once saw Fabio at an airport. Fabio is an Italian model who has appeared on many classic romance novels, such as Love Me with Fury, Lovestorm, and More Than a Feeling. He has been the spokesperson for The Geek Squad, OralB Sensitive Advantage Toothbrush, Nationwide Insurance, Versace, and the American Cancer Society. He is 6'3" barefoot; usually in cowboy boots. Follow Amy on Twitter.

11 Comments

  1. i am with you on the book covers! i will search high and low for that perfect one, and if a favorite book doesn’t exist with a nice cover, i will try to find a hardback and make own dust jacket for it out of pretty paper. if i REALLY love a book you can bet i own it in every handsome edition that i could find.

    this project is smart and very exciting, amy. i am proud to be part of it and really look forward to reading the reviews and seeing all the covers!

    y.

    • Amy Collier says

      Yelena, that is an excellent idea. Too bad I didn’t think to make the cover files for Uncovered Classics printer friendly! Oh well. I guess everyone will just have to try to be as original and creative as you!

      I’m thrilled you’re a part of this, and can’t wait for people to see your beautiful cover.

  2. Cindy says

    Great idea! Don’t forget to use your local library when looking for books (maybe you did, but just didn’t mention that fact?) I’d also be interested in finding out how many libraries carry these books…

    • Amy Collier says

      That’s a good question! At some point, I’d love to reach out to libraries and suggest the titles on the list. I’d also like to reach teachers and professors who assign reading lists and have the power to change what students are exposed to.

      • Leah says

        As an Australian librarian with a pretty big budget for buying stock, I will (and do) buy almost anything our borrowers suggest to me.
        They’re the patrons! They drive the collections! I have a ton of money to spend and sometimes it’s nice not to spend it all on ANOTHER copy of Game of Thrones Season 4!

        So in my case approaching a librarian would definitely yield results. YMMV.

        • Amy Collier says

          That is very helpful information Leah! What do you think would be a good way to get in touch with a bunch of librarians at once? Are there websites and blogs you recommend checking out?

  3. holly says

    Great project! I’m looking forward to discovering some new reading material. So far off the list I’ve only read 15 and a bit (I mean honestly, out of everyone who starts The Man Who Loved Children, how many actually finish it? I got to page 156 – I just checked and the bookmark is still there – and I’m misguidedly proud of that effort).

    Anyway, enjoying the site so far, keep up the good work!

  4. Lisa says

    Woohooo! I was sent here by The Toast & I’m so excited for this project to unfold! Definitely bookmarked in my Sunday Day Reads.

  5. Jessica McLeod says

    My friends and I started a long-distance no-dudes book club and this is going to be so helpful in finding books! Your designs are gorgeous and inspiring too!

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