Following the success of The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze and other stories, William Saroyan was the talk of every literary circle and had already begun to penetrate the zeitgeist as a bon vivant and celebrity. His second major collection, Inhale & Exhale, contained many of Saroyan’s most beloved stories, and certainly demonstrated that Saroyan was no one-hit wonder. One remarkable aspect of the work is the exceptional design of the book, from the font and interior layout to a dustjacket that stands out among the most striking of all Saroyan’s covers.
Inhale & Exhale’s dust jacket features a photo of William Saroyan wearing a fedora, apparently looking up towards the sky. The image is displayed in photo negative, giving it an other-worldly appearance. Behind and above Saroyan is a star field with a blooming cluster of light just even with Saroyan’s gaze. This dramatic image would have stood out among covers at the time. While photographs had been used on book covers at times, few fiction books used them. The standard at the time was drawn art or other even simpler graphic designs of the title and author name. This cover went beyond that and created a sensation not unlike what you might find in science fiction magazines of the day, even if Saroyan’s stories themselves were grounded in realism. The cover spoke to the newness of Saroyan’s writing style, perhaps even casting an image that the work contained in the volume was revolutionary and so strange as to compare to the cosmos themselves.
At the time, there was a great passion in the public for early space science and research that was coming out regularly. Work by Edwin Hubble, Robert Goddard, and especially the discovery of Pluto in 1930 had all captured significant headlines and made a massive impact on mainstream American media. When this cover was created, concepts such as how stars emit radio waves and the initial concepts of black holes and white dwarves were becoming familiar, and one of the major sites for discovery and confirmation of these theories was Mt. Wilson Observatory.
Mt. Wilson Observatory stands on the top of Mount Wilson in Southern California’s San Gabriel Mountains. In the early 1900s, the observatory was built with several important telescopes, notably the Snow Sun Telescope, donated by Helen Snow, and the 60-inch telescope which was first put into operation in 1908. These were important scopes for the time, but it was the 1917 completion of the 100-inch Hooker telescope, then the largest in the world, that made so many discoveries possible. This included many of Hubble’s discoveries, including Hubble’s Law that states that the universe is expanding. It was also the site of Fritz Zwicky’s work on dark matter. The Observatory was frequently in the news, and the telescopes were regularly used to capture images of deep space that had never been taken before. These images were regularly used in newspapers and magazines describing the amazing discoveries being made at Mount Wilson. The cover of Inhale & Exhale used an image from Mount Wilson, a nebula clearly visible as the central image on the front cover. While the negative image of Saroyan’s head gets more front page real estate, it is that central astronomical body that draws the eye.
While there is no record of who specifically designed the dust jacket, it is well known who designed the book itself. Ernst Reichl was one of the true geniuses in the history of book design. His work began at the age of 11 when he designed a catalog of his father’s books, complete with Gothic initials. He eventually left the Czech Republic for America to avoid being drafted into the military. Though his English was inelegant, he sold German books in New York until he was introduced to publisher Alfred Knopf. Knopf, one of the most important figures in the history of American publishing, immediately saw the talent in Reichl and hired him as a General Designer for his imprint. Reichl eventually moved on to Doubleday, where he served as Art Director and Foreign Editor through 1931. These made him a big name in the industry, and he quickly gained a reputation for quality work. He left Doubleday to work for Wolff Manufacturing, a company that provided design and manufacturing for various publishers, including the major players like Random House. All one has to do is look at his remarkable packaging for The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze and other stories to see that the man understood how packaging can bring attention to a book as it sits on a store shelf.
The interior book design is incredibly forward-looking. Reichl stated, “The way the title page is split horizontally into nine parts, and the part titles march down the stairs gives the book a sense of time passing while you read—a principle of book designing I have repeatedly tried to pursue: here for the first time.” This sort of conceptualization was a hallmark of Reichl’s work, and one of the reasons that he was a major figure in publishing all the way through his passing in 1980. He was remembered as a legend in the field, and one who not only rode the wave of advances in typography and design technology and use, but also helped define their proper place in the bookmaking market.
While the use of a dustjacket image that might have been more likely found on a science fiction novel is fascinating, the most interesting feature is the ampersand on the cover. Investigation has led to no known font that uses that sort of ampersand, and at the same time it actually appears to look more like a stylized version of ‘et’ which is French for ‘and,’ which has the same meaning as an ampersand. The dust jacket is the only place that specific version of the ampersand is used, which speaks to its uniqueness..
Inhale & Exhale is an impressive artifact of Saroyan’s early career, and the design of the work only helped establish it as one of the most impressive collections of Saroyan’s career.