Gasp! 9 Scandalous Book Covers

by Caitlin White

Time to put your pearls on so you can clutch them, because these are some seriously scandalous book covers. Now, I'm not talking about classic romance novel covers with a strapping, half-naked man or even the billions (I'm not great at math, so let's just go with billions) of book covers that depict women from the male gaze. No, the key word here is "suggestive." Think: Subtle.

These scandalous book covers take something seemingly normal like a pink, button-down shirt, or the corner of a room, or a basic change purse and turn it into something much, much more. Think of them like a Rorschach Test for dirty minds. None of these suggestive book covers show anyone's face, and heck, only one of them shows us a person at all. The devil (and the beauty) is in the details. And it's the reason that these designers are the real pros.

Most of the books below are sexual in nature between the two covers, and the cover art hints and teases at that thematically. They range from classic to contemporary, and even nonfiction, and some are by prominent sex-positive feminists. Now, take a look below and see if you can see what the designers do.

1. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Ah, the trouble with creating a sexualized cover of Lolita that focuses on 12-year-old Dolores Haze.... But still, so many of Nabokov's book covers have been these sneakily scandalous designs. This first one (and the one below) were not mass produced covers, but they are part of a book cover redesign competition for the classic novel that ended up being published in a book themselves.

If we push aside the problematic sexualizing of the preteen girl on Jamie Keenan's cover, what a clever and STUNNING design. Who knew that the corner of a room could be so scandalous.

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2. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Again

I'm just going to "ditto" what I said above, except remove the subtlety note. Is it my brain or is this trying to be anything else but a rear end? Holy moly.

3. Fear of Flying by Erica Jong

All the applause to Erica Jong, who is one of the world's major voices on sex and feminism. I mean, can't you tell from this awesomely scandalous cover? The zipper is placed in a position where it becomes, um, definitely not a zipper anymore. If you don't see it, just DM me and I'll tell ya.

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4. Tampa by Alissa Nutting

I'm obsessed with this cover of Tampa by Alissa Nutting. Turning a buttonhole into a vagina stand-in is so beautifully subtle and perfect. However, as with Lolita, this novel centers on a grown-up's obsession with 14-year-olds, but gender flipped, centered on a female eighth grade teacher. But at least the sexualization focuses on the adult, here. And come on, this is genius. Thank you, cover designer Jon Gray.

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5. Inside Madeleine by Paula Bomer

This one is so subtle. Imagine the tops of the M are knees and the bottoms are feet. There you go.

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6. The Virgins by Pamela Erens

I think this one speaks for itself.

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7. Sex and the Citadel by Shereen El Feki

LOVE. Shereen El Feki's book, subtitled "intimate life in a changing Arab world," explores how sex is all wrapped up in religion, tradition, and culture. So, not only is Ben Wiseman's cover perfect thematically, it's genius.

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8. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

And hello, creepy! This controversial cover redesign of Roald Dahl's classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is oddly, subtly (?) sexual. Beside the fact that fancy dolls seemingly have zero to do with the content of the book. According an article in The Telegraph, this was Penguin's attitude on the cover.

It shows a young, doll-like, girl wearing make-up and sitting on her mum’s knee. We're told by the publisher - Penguin Modern Classics - that she’s not meant to represent any of the novel's female characters specifically – instead she’s a symbol of the book’s depiction of ‘twisted’ parent-child relationships.


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9. Come as You Are by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D.

In the Tampa line of design of household objects-as-vaginas, this scientific look into women's sexuality (holler!) has a pitch-perfect cover.

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