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  • Writer's pictureCraig Messenger

Judging Books by Their Covers | 002

In this week’s volume we dive into John Kennedy Toole’s model of comedy, A Confederacy of Dunces. Dunces is probably the funniest book that I’ve ever read. The main character, who will be deified below – Ignatius J. Reilly – embodies the flamboyance and ridiculousness that one would expect from a (semi)modern day Jester living in his mother’s Big Easy basement.

Nick Offerman, bringing Ignatius to the stage

The plot is carried by Reilly’s continued attempts to gain employment while not working, and the ensuing dramatics coalesce into a spiral of ironic, hilarious doom. Unfortunately, despite its now-classic status, Dunces has plenty of clunky covers to steer clear of in your search of aesthetic enlightenment.


Not a great start. Our first example brightly extols the virtues of Toole’s posthumous Pulitzer yet pairs this endorsement with a rather off putting caricature of our lovely hero, the aforementioned Ignatius. I understand the purpose of making fun of Reilly in this sense, in line with how every other character in the book jeers at him, but that symbolic crusade does not make up for how ugly of a cover is left in its wake. I also would have expected a more flamboyant portrayal of New Orleans in the background, rather than the drab, vague illustration we see here.

Overall, this cover looks like a really talented 4 year old got busy on a coloring book at the dinner table, and that impression is just not commensurate with this book’s quality and charm. If tried by a court of Taste and Decency, this artwork would be found wanting.


We ward deeper into the depths of disappointment with this Warholian hot dog stand, poised to remind you of humid summer competitions of gluttony. I suppose this is novel but the gimmick wears off quickly. Just lazy.

The other covers below capture the scope of the hot dog’s role in Dunces much more appropriately: it’s a small piece of the story. Ignatius himself is the story. Only lesser tales could be accurately represented by such a simplistic and repetitive illustration. Maybe just put like three dogs on here. That would have gotten the point across.


We are righting the ship a little bit now, as we transition to a Cracker Jacky depiction it seems. Now I don’t really understand the color palette or themes, especially due to the fact that Ignatius’ hat should be green, and we should be cloaked in 1960s mardi gras fashion, but at least this cover is nicer to look at.

I appreciate the spherical shapes here outlining Reilly’s impressive physique. And plus, this cover includes a glowing recommendation from our friend Anthony Burgess. I, too, have a notebook tattooed with quotes and phrases from the story, waiting to be unleashed at the proper moment.


This is my favorite of the bunch, a fitting cover that gives a rich and accurate representation of our star. Ignatius is before us, staring off camera with an ensemble and pose that captures his guile and eccentricity while also paying homage to other facets of the story.

This depiction is close to what I had in my head while reading the novel, so long as we chock up the khaki portrayal of his green hat to artistic liberties. The shadowy, phalangic tarantula closing in on the shoulder of our proud protagonist, symbolizing the dirty hand of catastrophe Ignatius sees in modern society, is a nice touch.

And if used books give you the heebie jeebies, or maybe an old Eucalyptus wronged your family in the past, you can buy a brand new Confederacy of Dunces here.

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