We’re all here for the same reason, right? And that reason is judging a book (actually several books) by their covers. And what better decade of books than the 1990s, which is recent enough in many of our memories to feel like it was no more than ten years ago, but long enough ago that many of us don’t remember these books from their ’90s releases, if at all.
The cover designs I’ve chosen vary from photographs to illustrations to bold typeface against a solid background, sort of like, well, cover design in any decade. But I think you’ll agree that there is something distinctly ’90s about these, and it’s not just because they are literally from the ’90s…or is it?
In the interest of fairness, I have not included any of the iconic R. L. Stine covers, but you can read a definitive ranking of Goosebumps covers and a history of Fear Street. I also have not included any comic book covers because they deserve their own post. And, as with R. L. Stine and comics, the Animorphs book covers are way too iconic to just pick one. So those are not included, either.
But we’re here to judge books by their covers, so let’s get to it without further ado. Presented roughly in order of publication. Credits are included where I could find them, but many were difficult or impossible to find.
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (1990)
Imagine having one of the first books released in an entire decade and winning the cover lottery this thoroughly. Can anything live up to this one? Probably not. (It’s important that you know the dinosaur wraps all the way around the cover and is a complete skeleton!)
Design by Chip Kidd.
Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison (1992)
Both the hardcover and the 1993 paperback feature stunning photography reminiscent of Dorothea Lange’s Dust Bowl work.
I have been unable to find photograph or design credits.
Jazz by Toni Morrison (1992)
This cover — and the slightly redesigned paperback, which features a thinner font in multiple colors — is simple, and in that simplicity, I think it’s perfect.
I couldn’t find credit for the cover specifically, but the book’s copyright page includes information about the typeface and says the book was “composed, printed, and bound by” The Haddon Craftsmen.
The Tale of the Body Thief by Anne Rice (1992)
In the fourth book in The Vampire Chronicles, Lestat is on his own and learns what it means to be human — but the cover reflects his history, which is either classical and beautiful like this angel statue or pretentious and absurd like using this angel statue. (Or maybe the statue is featured in the book, and I’ve forgotten since I last read it in 1993.)
Information about the cover photograph and design is not readily available.
A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny (1993)
This is one of my very favorite books. It’s narrated by a dog, who is featured on the cover along with as many of the other characters as could be crammed in. That’s Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper in the foreground.
Cover Design: Rebecca Lown
Cover Illustration: James Warhola
Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh (1994)
It’s almost impossible to find a non–movie tie-in cover for this book, but the original is stunning in its simplicity.
I have been unable to find information about the cover design.
Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb (1995)
The original cover is fine, but I am all about this 1996 reissue featuring what might be one of my favorite painted covers ever. The moon. The castle in the background. The man and the wolf in the same pose. It’s spectacular.
I cannot find the artist’s name anywhere.
This gorgeous poetry anthology, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe, was the winner of the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustrator.
Book Design by Christy Hale
Friends and Lovers by Eric Jerome Dickey (1997)
I genuinely love illustrated covers, and I wish more of them looked like this. There is so much dynamic movement in this simple drawing, so much light and shadow, so much emotion.
I have been unable to find information about the artist.
The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead (1999)
An iconic cover for an iconic first novel, this conveys in stark simplicity the subject matter of the book, which is about the first Black woman elevator inspector in New York.
The cover appears to be a photograph, but I cannot find any information about it.
Waiting by Ha Jin (1999)
This design — and the slightly redesigned paperback, which has a red background — is almost ominous; it suggests the tone and is inviting without giving away the contents of the book.
Book Design by Deborah Kerner
Persuasion by Jane Austen
This 1999 Tor reissue is so ’90s it hurts. I love it. I own it. It’s perfect. What on earth is even happening. Never stop.
Cover Art by William Maughan
Cover Design by Joe Curcio
Tender is the Storm by Johanna Lindsey
What the hell is this garbage. (It’s the 1990 reissue, which inexplicably changed out the single most iconic cover of all time — with its stunning Robert McGinnis painting — for whatever this is.) GIVE ME THE ORIGINAL OR GIVE ME DEATH. (A little too dramatic? Try me — I can be more dramatic than this.)
I did not find illustrator or design credit.
Still want more ’90s nostalgia? I got you. Check out these celebrity “READ” posters from the ’80s and ’90s, dig into these must-read novels from the ’90s, explore some ’90s teen book series you might have forgotten, and learn the history of American Girl, the iconic dolls-and-books series.