This Is the Worst Book Cover Ever

Gabe Habash -- March 14th, 2013


About a month ago, I was searching for something Stephen King-related to put on this fantastic blog. Scrolling down through rows and rows of Google images for The Shining, most of them screengrabs of Nicholson and the pre-chopped-up girls in the hallway, I saw, in thumbnail size, the above cover for O Iluminado. It looked strikingly similar to an 80s Pantene ad.

kelly lebrock pantene

I saved the cover on my desktop, knowing I wanted to share it with you all in some way, but not sure how. For weeks, I’d open the file and stare into O Iluminado‘s eyes, and then into her smaller set of eyes. I would look at it for so long it would change; I named the mysterious woman Flavia; she became strange to me and then familiar in her strangeness. I had so many questions.

Who is Flavia? In what public place is she on the cover? Why is she also in a little window?

But let us parse why this book cover is either the worst book cover ever or, perhaps, the most brilliant book cover ever.

The tale of this thing’s creation begins in Brazil with Grupo Editorial Record, the largest publishing conglomerate in Latin America, founded in 1940. We’ll fast forward through the dry publishing history, but it’s important to note that Record has published authors like Márquez and Hemingway (and, of course, King), and that it publishes covers that look like this:



The point I’m trying to make here is that Grupo Editorial Record is capable of making covers that, you know, make sense. When I was doing the research on them, trying to find other nonsense covers, I thought maybe I’d find other Record covers with Flavia’s likeness–maybe she was Record’s mascot and maybe different covers had Flavia doing different things, posing in various ways, like how Keebler sticks the leader Keebler elf on different cookie packages in different celebratory positions. But when I found out Record’s other covers were normal, I was, at first, disappointed that there wasn’t some rogue publisher in South America challenging the world to make sense of its covers. But then, because of its singularity, the O Iluminado cover became even more incredible to me.

Because what is going on here? If Flavia (and little Flavia) only appears on the O Iluminado cover and Record does competent work on every other book it publishes, how…how did this particular book get published with this particular cover? Really. Stop and think about the steps necessary for this to happen. Some time before O Iluminado was published, a photographer and Flavia went to some zoo or park, probably with a makeup artist, arranged her until they all said Sim, excelente and snapped the photo. Here’s a fun game: it’s called Try To Give Yourself an Aneurysm. Think about what the original intent for this photo was. Did that photographer, in the moment he snapped Flavia’s face, think to himself, Yes, this will be a great photographic representation for The Shining? Or was the photo taken for some other purpose, like for a salon or beauty product? The latter makes sense, but then that sense is precisely torpedoed by this thought: if the photo was for some beauty-related purpose, who at Record decided a cast-off beauty shot would be good for a Stephen King cover? AND HOW DID HE FIND IT IN THE FIRST PLACE.

You can turn your own brain against you by dwelling for any small amount of time on basically every step between when the Flavia zoo portrait was taken to the step where it ended up on a book about a man who goes crazy and tries to kill his family in a hotel. It’s a mystery. No matter. I have two leading theories.

I Have Two Leading Theories

1. A lunatic skulked into Record’s design office and changed the cover image from a ominous hotel or something to Flavia and no one caught it.

2. The words between the covers of O Iluminado are actually not the words of Stephen King’s classic but are, instead, an ancient hypnotic demon text designed to convince you, the reader, that it would be a really good idea to take your skin off.

And the strangest thing here is, after a few months of considering Flavia’s enigmatic face, I’m starting understand a little what Jack Torrance felt like. If you look close enough at Little Flavia, I swear, there’s an even Littler Flavia in her left eye. That’s not crazy, right? It’s not crazy that after looking at this cover for long enough, this is approximately what I began to see:


Either way, I’m not ready to rule anything out about why Flavia is on the cover of the Brazilian edition of The Shining. Even a copy of the book for sale is maddening as it states the book is “Presumed first edition thus.” Translation: NO ONE KNOWS WHERE IT CAME FROM. Maybe you can order it for me and tell me what’s inside. You’ll find me playing with the moving topiary animals.

Update: PWxyz’s amazing readers figured out the mystery of Record’s “Best of the Best” series–check out the comments below! Thanks, everyone, for letting restless souls finally take their sleep.

32 thoughts on “This Is the Worst Book Cover Ever

  1. carol


  2. Matt Ritson

    Original images on books are OUT, believe me.
    I attended the Book Fair in London last year and heard a talk by a publisher who pointed out that most covers are compiled from stock images – it’s far cheaper.
    He screened the cover of ‘Call The Midwife’, a a small group of uniformed nurses skipping merrily along.s.
    Then he screened the same image, cropped, tinted and zoomed out to reveal a small crowd in a busy town. They were, of course, used on other book covers.
    Imagine my own publisher’s reaction when I later insisted on something more original then – yep, a stock photo – though one a little more obscure!

  3. sleo

    But the mistery remains. Who is Flavia? How did she get there, at all those covers? This weekend, I will go to some sebos bookstores for used books) here in Brazil and I will get more hints about this deeply troubling lady, who may be at her fiffties nowadays..
    By the way, where do they keep the topiary animals?

  4. Jennie

    Great! The cover put me in mind of some of the 1960′s and 1970′s covers of Perry Mason or John D. MacDonald or Ellery Queen books. The covers would have some luscious, oversexed female in a state of undress (either in distress or in seduction mode), but the women seldom appeared in the stories. Hilarious. Ah, marketing!

  5. anna

    Hey, I guess you would like to take a look at this other cover:

    It’s the same woman, right? Flavia, isn’t it?
    My boyfriend just sent me the link to this post and I was surprised to realize how the cover from “O iluminado” was similar to this “O poderoso chefão” (Mario Puzo’s Godfather). I have this book, so I went to check if it has any aditional information and guess what? Also a Record book. The book doesn’t mention the year (which is strange), but searching on the internet I found it’s a 1984 edition. That would explain this bizarre cover.
    Well, that and this other fact: this is a newsstand book edition. I don’t know if this happens elsewhere, I guesso so, but here in Brazil we have some very cheap edition of books for sale in these places. They are cheap paperback books, with very low quality and horrible binding, not to mention the weird covers. Considering the fact that this collection they appear to be part of in the 1980s (the collection was called “the best of the best”) was meant to be sold only by newstand would help explain why they would go with this kind of cover.

    On the other hand, Record covers now are much better (thank god). I guess it was not actually a problem with the publisher itself, but the time it was published and also this newsstand book thing,
    These are the most recent covers of “O poderoso chefão”, both by Record:
    special edition:
    pocket edition:

    (I have both the weird 1980s ant he special edition).

  6. Regiane

    I found others, look!

    The collection was called Best of The Best. Hence the little Flavia and the big Flavia. ;)

  7. Regiane

    I’m from Brazil and I actually bought that book, LOL. I was a young teen who was falling in love with Stephen King’s stories and I wanted to buy all his books, but just didn’t have the money. This book was sold as a pocket book, only in newsstands. There were many other books, by other authors, with covers as nonsense as this one, featuring all of Flavia’s female family members, I guess. I can’t remember which ones, for King was the only one I was interested in. I recall the book was really cheap and of very poor quality.

  8. Guilherme

    I ‘m from Brazil and I have 4 or 5 Stephen King’s books from Record published in this time (70′s, 80′s)
    and the covers does not contain Flávia and/or mini Flávia.
    at that time Brazil was under a military dictatorship, perhaps government censors ordered the publisher to change the original illustration of the book cover
    You can check other Stephen King covers from Record and they are pretty normal.

  9. dr cpe

    That was funny… I laughed out loud, thank you! Laughter is the best medicine. I thought image looked like Princess Di pose. As a designer and an author I can tell you that there was a time when we had to argue with various publishers in Eu and SA about putting actual photo images of women on covers, or else strange watercolor vapid renderings of cosmetic-ized women on covers. It was a fashion that maybe you are too young to remember whippersnapper… just teasing you a bit there. Thanks and keep writing!

  10. Worried

    This book cover is not the worst. I have seen FAR WORSE. As a book cover designer I have come across covers designed in POWERPOINT, PUBLISHER AND MS WORD. It is sad but this is far from the worse. Yes the cover does lack design elements and it looks ancient by today’s standards.

  11. Tita Mirra

    Grupo Editorial Record can be translated as Record Publishing Group, so if you want the short name, it’s Record not Grupo…

  12. Gabi E.

    Just loved your post and Flavia’s look, so totally 80s. There’s absolutely no sense in that cover, but I can tell that we had lots of this kind in Brazil in the 70s and 80s.

    This is the book cover for “O Iluminado”‘ nowadays in Brazil: Another publishing house, though: Suma de Letras, a brand of Editora Objetiva, which belongs to Grupo Prisa-Santillana, from Spain.

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