The 50 Book Challenge #4 -Cover Issues
In my previous blog, I mentioned the adage “never judge a book by its cover.” This phrase has become the mantra of diamond-in-the-rough heroines and princes disguised as frogs alike. Obviously the saying springs from the idea that you will never know the contents of a book unless you crack the cover. But just how well does it hold up when referring to actual books?
Recently, Penguin Classics commissioned renowned artist, Ruben Toledo to create a line of covers for several classic novels. Each cover contained Toledo’s stylistic fingerprint, but still managed to perfectly capture the tone of each novel. His “Dracula” embraces the horror of the story. His “Pride and Prejudice,” on the other hand, had a playful formality to it. They were created years after both authors penned their last lines, yet even without the writers’ watchful eyes, he did not dilute the work. His covers shows the very spirit of intentionality.
Covers are first impressions. Very much like a person waking in the morning and deciding what to wear. Do they throw on that Metallica concert shirt or a white summer dress? This choice instantly tells us something about a person. Does it tell us everything we need to know? Of course not, but it is intentional. Just like Toledo’s book covers.
Walk into a bookstore and look down the rows. Have you ever noticed how the romance section has a generally lighter hue than the true crime shelves?
This is because book covers are tools. They don’t tell the whole story, but they do give us clues as to what is inside. When I picked up Dan Wells’ “I’m Not a Serial Killer,” I didn’t need to read the title to have an idea of what I was in for from a novel made to look like a torn notebook with blood splatters on it.
Yet, just as a dress code may obscure the personality, publishers sometimes muck up the issue. Who hasn’t picked up a book with a cover that made it look something totally different than it was? Take the latest trend of “Twilightifying” classics that HarperCollins launched. The covers of “Jane Eyre,” “Wuthering Heights” and “Romeo and Juliet,” each now bear the famous black background and flower picture with only slight
variations from the Stephanie Meyer books. One copy of “Wuthering Heights” went so far as to have a blurb proclaiming it “Edward and Bella’s favorite book.” Is this a clever way to create associations in the eager young minds of readers that will inspire a new love of the classics? Possibly, but was it worth making all of us literary nerds twitch? I ask you.
So, maybe there are situations where we should judge the cover, instead of the book by it. But does this mean we really should abide by the old phrase and never judge any book by its wardrobe, so to speak?
I remember a conversation I had years ago with a guy about Meg Cabot’s “Avalon High.” The novel was a fascinating—if flippant—romp into Arthurian legend, and by far the most gender neutral of her novels. I recommended it to my friend with the high praise of an overly-eager teenager, but he refused because of the cover alone. I remember him being horrified of the idea of touching any novel that was pink. The problem was solved with a quick search to find a version of the book that was put out in gold. This he would read.
Now, before you judge my friend too harshly for his judging, take a minute here. When faced with bookshelves of new releases wrapping all the way around a relatively large Barnes and Nobles, who hasn’t resorted to picking up whatever looks good? Is that really a bad thing? There are entire TV shows teaching us “What Not to Wear” for this very reason. Because in a finite number of minutes on a planet quickly churning toward seven billion people, clothes are the first thing we really can know about a person. Covers are the first thing we have to make us want to flip the pages.
Yet a moment of caution for my readers, just because a cover does tell us about a book doesn’t mean it tells the story. What my friend failed to take into
account when he dismissed “Avalon High” as another chick lit summer read, was what does it actually mean to be a pink book? Does it necessarily signify that it will have no value to a man? I have read fantastic books sheathed in terrible covers, and been proven wrong when I made judgments based on clothes. Maybe it’s not the cover that is misleading us, maybe, just maybe, it’s our own preconceptions.
So, next time you are in a bookstore, don’t feel guilty if you pick up that book because the arrangement of gears on the front fascinates you, just remember to crack the cover, read the back—or that every telling first line—and find out if your instincts were right.
Have an example of a book covers that told you everything you needed to know? Or maybe one that led you wrong? Tweet #50bookblog
— Chris Ceary (@QuillChris) March 31, 2012