Judging a Book by its Cover

“No!” Screams a friend of mine in disdain as she stares despairingly at the cover of a book I’ve just slid to her, across the table.

“Look just read it, it’s actually quite good,” I tell her, soothingly.

“No!” she cries out, a bit louder now, as the people in the cafe we’re at, turn around curiously, trying to get some tidbit of gossip to pass onto their friends. “I already know, by the cover, I’m going to hate it.”

I scowl. I wish I’d painted the damn cover black. I try telling her that the cover does not accurately reflect the contents of the story it’s wrapped around, but to no avail. She points out that she’s lent me good books and this is what I give her in return. I try not to throw the book at a passing cyclist, in frustration. As people start whispering excitedly at the unfolding action, I push it towards her and manage through gritted teeth, “Just read the damn thing, it’s good!”

She reluctantly takes the book, like a child being made to eat a piece of spinach, with an unhappy, “Fine.” I doubt she’s even looked at it since.

We all know the famous adage. Never judge a book by its cover. And we all know that it is, really, about how we treat other people. But, I do find it interesting that the majority of us are guilty of not adhering to its more literal meaning.

I’ve done it. I’m sure you have. Whenever I browse bookstores, libraries, look over at what someone else is reading while they wait for the bus, I do it. I have to see what the cover will tell me. Because, as much as we would like to be creatures who are not easily swayed by suggestion, the cover of a book gives us a glimpse into what we can expect to find in the pages of the stories we are promised.

It is often the cover of a book that gets our attention, and makes us stop and look at the book before us. Does this make us shallow? Does it make us visual creatures, brought up as television generations who have lost our ability to see past a cover to the “personality” of a book? I think it just makes us human.

Every writer works, among other things, with a very important element – imagination. The stories we write, and tales we tell, the yarns we spin, if you will, they all need to be able to engage the imagination. Even, the non-fiction works out there, get us, not just by fact, but by the way they are written. At least the good ones do. And so it follows, that if we can visualise the world of a character through the words on a page, the cover that holds the book takes it just a step further.

A good cover will get our attention because it works to engage our imaginations. It kicks our belief in possibilities into a sort of over-drive. When I pick up a book beholding its magical cover, I get a small rush of excitement, because the cover looks great. It tells me that this book is about a dark story, or a funny story, or an independent character just trying to make things work. The teaser to the book has done its job and grabbed my attention.

Having said this I have also picked up books, with seemingly simple covers and felt the same little rush of intrigue. Whether it’s a leather-bound book, with just the title of the story and the author’s name or book with the jacket fallen off, it does the same thing. It captures my imagination. I pick up leather bound books, and am immediately taken to the 18th century, where I imagine this book has come from and wonder at the sort of people who picked it up and read it. I wonder at the world it’s come from, what the people looked like, what the done thing was in those days. And in the case of jacket-less books, I just enjoy the curiosity as to what this book might be about. Surely it’s a special, chosen book. I’ve read about tomes like this. They are discovered, their contents breathlessly poured over until they reveal astounding secrets. And sometimes they’re not.

And yes, I do enjoy penguin classics, but even those famous orange and off-white covers promise me something. They promise me a story that has been assessed by many people before me and has been chosen to be part of the all-time literary greats. They are the Penguin Classics. We know them and some of us love them.

Promises, intrigue, curiosity and above all else, imagination. That’s what these covers show us. A small preview of what to expect from these stories. I don’t think it makes us shallow to get a little excited about a book, because the cover looks so good. I think it just makes us human.

 

~Sandy

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. She’s talking about me and so far the book is exactly as I thought it would be… lol. However I have found some horrid books behind beautiful covers and vice versa.

  2. Joseph Delaney’s books ‘Spooks apprentice’ had pretty much the same cover for every single book, just altered a little. The publisher didn’t think they were selling enough, so they changed the cover to a much more animated, horror, gore, cover and the sales doubled. It sucks, but that is human nature, as you say.
    I like the buying the new stephen king books with the new cool covers, rather than the old covers, they just look better on my shelf.

    • I hate the new Stephen King covers. lol. I find them too garish for my liking (that and the font on his name irks me. The old font was stronger)

      The book that I found was the epitome of stunning cover dull book is the Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel books (granted at the end of the second book I am finally seeing a storyline)


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