Oooh, Shiny!: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, Stieg Larsson's Final Gift-Wrapped Package

Even the most devoted Stieg Larsson fan might be getting a bit of Millennium-overload. Steig Larsson’s little-trilogy-that-could is now a worldwide phenomenon; you can measure its impact by the number of people reading any of the three books on the beach, in the trains, and with their e-book devices. It feels like it’s everywhere—in the publishing press, in the national news, and in every reader’s hands. How much Larsson-talk can one girl take?

Then I read the following blurb in PW (Publisher’s Weekly for non-trade folks, the New York Times of the publishing world), and discovered a bit of gossip-mongering about the final Larsson title, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest:

“But the real kicker was still to come, when the June 25 EW hit stands June 19 and trumpeted on its cover, “Secrets Behind The Hottest Book on the Planet.” (And here’s the scoop: PW has heard that the jacket was suppose to be Hornet’s Nest, but its reflective cover didn’t photograph well and [so] Dragon Tattoo got the nod.”

It got me thinking: is it really impossible to get a good shot of the cover? My experiment began: to get a pic of someone reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest in the various places I have seen it and achieve the “impossible.”

What I loved about this task is that with such a recognizable jacket, it became a very simple version of my favorite hobby, “spot your book”. Here are some of the places I found people reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, and here are my attempts to catch the book in action:

Surprisingly, I could not get a good picture. I have been trying for weeks. No matter what angle I stand at, the book just shines right back at me.  I have become a bit obsessed with the problem, and so I investigated why my task was so impossible.

A simple directive was handed down for the design of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest:  A shiny jacket for the last of Stieg Larsson’s trilogy. Not just shiny, but something that will draw the eye and stand out among the sea of books. Subtlety be damned!

After some consideration, Peter Mendelsund, the jacket’s designer, and Lisa Montebello, the production manager, decided foil would do the trick.  They believed that would create the right effect, but the question remained:  how to use so much foil without it becoming ridiculously expensive to produce? Special effects magic doesn’t come cheap. In addition, with each jacket in the trilogy exponentially cooler than the last, we had to figure out how we would one-up ourselves.

The answer was provided by one of our ingenious vendors: silver metalized paper. Melt silver aluminum power onto 100 lb jacket stock, add an adhesive chemical to make the now aluminum liquid bind to the paper, and let it cool. The thin layer of aluminum creates a great printable surface with awesome reflective power.

This metalized paper is different from the effect of stamped foil onto a jacket. Foil is exactly what it sounds like: applied tinfoil-like metallic shiny effect on a printed design, used much like a gloss or raised type to enhance part of a design. See these examples for how foil can be used on a book cover or jacket:

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On War and Peace, we used the gold foil to frame and enhance the design. On Rules of Betrayal, silver foil was printed on the paper stock behind the title, to draw your attention to the title by contrast. Golden City used the gold foil to make the title glow and enrich the black circles.  Foil can be used to add an old world feel, to draw attention to the book, or to make design elements pop. Usually, it’s subtly used on jackets and covers.

In the case of The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, the foil effect was used to make the entire jacket, from front cover to jacket flap, shine. From a distance, all the other design elements are pushed to the background. The metalized paper gives the jacket its dramatic effect: you first see the silver foil and the black type of the title. It’s only up close that you notice the other details: first, the red hexagons, then white ones, and at last, the wasps. The metalized paper gives the jacket its reflective quality that makes it difficult to photograph. But, in a way, this adds to its allure. It makes the book look like a gift, an object that you have to experience firsthand to understand and appreciate.