Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Judging a book by its cover

Thomas Jefferson once said that he "can not live without books." Nor can I. And despite the convenience and technical benefits of the various e-readers out there, I remain a fan of the real thing. I can't imagine curling up on a rainy day with a Kindle. I don't think it's a good idea to take a Nook into a bubble bath. They don't have that new, or old, book smell. (I will, however, be filching my mom's e-book on my mini-vacation next week to read The Lost Symbol. Don't judge; it takes places in D.C.)

I recently read an article on CNN—Book jackets: An endangered art—on how e-readers threaten the beauty and lessen the importance of cover art.

My favorite part of the article:
The existence of a gorgeous jacket amplifies the truth that a book is not, or at least should not be, disposable. It is a part of your life that is there for the long run. You might not read a book a second time, but its jacket wrapped around it, sitting in your home, is a reminder of certain things: what you were going through as you first held it, who in the world was important to you, how the words on those pages made you feel.

That last line—what you were going through as you first held it, who in the world was important to you, how the words on those pages made you feel—is a post for another day. (And actually relates to my statement in the beginning re: Dan Brown books.)

I have no problem, and feel not the least bit guilty, in admitting that I judge a book by its cover. I am a voracious reader and if I'm going to invest the time and money into a book, I rely on cues to help me decide if it's worth it. Cues such as:

  • Cover art (Is it a pretty color? Has it been done before? How relevant will it be to the story?)
  • Size, location, and content of author photo (Pretentious smile or background? It's their first book but it takes up the entire page?)
  • Reviews (How many and from what sources?)
  • Blurb length, relevance, and location (Is it on the back of a paperback, where it should be, or do they move it inside to make room for laudatory reviews?)
  • Awards (Which award? Did they win or were they a finalist? Have I heard of it before?)
I am a terribly visual person, so I think cover art might be the most important cue of all. (Aside from the actual words in the book itself, of course. I love words most of all.) But the cover does set the stage for the adventure on which you are about to embark. There's just something about the rush of holding an about-to-be-read book in your hands, the gleaming cover staring up at you, hinting at what's to come as you prepare to dive in.

Below are a few of the covers that first popped to mind as I read the article. Covers that I think of every time I think of the book. Covers that are the reason I bought the book in the first place. Covers that I saw on the other side of the bookstore and raced to get to. Covers that may not represent the "classics" but represent something to me.

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