Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Judging a Book by its Cover

I've been thinking about how books look. looks are important to me. They tell me a lot about what kind of book I am reading. Last week I read Run by Ann Patchett. It has a beautiful cover, a very abstract snowstorm on top of winter branches and it gives you the feel of the setting of the book. Cold, winter in Boston. The cold and the snow are very important characters in the book. The cover is also a foil, embossed paper-- very professional looking and expensive looking. The pages inside are very good paper and the print is large enough to be very easily read. It just looks classy. I know this book is not Southern, but it was the one I was already reading when we started. (If you haven't read Bel Canto, you have to read it.) I'm just using it as a comparison to two others.

Last weekend I read Mudbound that was recommended by Maggie. When i first took a good look at it I thought it was at least a 20-year-old book. The cover is a very simple graphic of cotton bolls and a cabin with-- almost --stickfigures standing in front of the cabin. The colors are very faded red and gray and the whole thing looks like some high school design competition. The pages inside look cheap and yellowed. I had to get past all of that to read the book, which is very good, by the way.

Now I am reading All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren, a book I have never read but I've seen the movie dozens of times. I picked it up at the library and there were several versions. I picked up the best-looking one I could find. But that's not saying much. This is one of those "Modern Library" versions. It is the size of an old paperback, meaning small and the print is the size of a flea. Maybe I am going to have to start getting large=print versions, but this is very hard to read. Not only is the print miniscule, but it is printed so far into the middle that you have to pull the book open to see the words and even then sometimes you have to just guess. Maybe I need a magnifying glass. The paper looks about 50 years old, which is about the age of the book. The cover is just dark green fake leather. YUk.

I know all of this probably makes me sound like a very shallow reader, so what. I think if you have a great book, it should look great. There are an awful lot of readers who do judge a book by it's cover. I think that's one reason that I have a hard time thinking about internet books. What is around the words means a lot to me. I want a heavy book that tells you its weight is worth gold. I want a beautiful, colorful book that says someone very artistic and talented spent a lot of time planning it. I want rich paper and print that is easy to read, and belies its intelligence. When I walk through a bookstore or a library, it's the covers that catch my eye. I can tell what kind of book I am picking up. This doesn't mean I wouldn't pick a very old book. Some old books look treasured and well-designed.

If I had just seen Mudbound and All the King's Men without knowing anything about them, I probably would not have picked them up. That is a good reason to read book reviews and listen to recommendations.
Mudbound is a really good story that deserves a better wrapping. All the King's Men won a Pulitzer Prize. It deserves better. R

8 comments:

Maggie said...

You don't sound shallow at all. You like what you like.

I'm not pulled in by cover art anymore. I started noticing new books were coming out with covers similar to bestsellers in the 90s. I knew that romances catered to the same readers, but I didn't realize lit and baby lit were marketed the same way. It's like publishers are saying, "if you liked this book, read this one," they are similar in story since the covers look the same.

My big thing is to find books with pages I like to touch. Most books develop a soft feel after many readings, and when I touch one I automatically anticipate the story.

Maybe, Mudbound feels sandpapery and looks discolored to enhance the feeling of being on a Mississippi farm? I also like to google images of books and see all the different covers for the same book. Mudbound is brand new, but there are four different covers already: UK, Canada, Australia, and US.

jo ellen said...

i love the feel of books, too. How do I find the other covers of Mudbound>?

queenbee said...

Doesn't sound shallow at all. My preference is a photo of the author someone on the book. Especially nonfiction, I have this thing about picturing the author speaking...

jo ellen said...

You're right, queenbee. I always connect the author with the characters in the book, too.

LeeLee said...

I completely agree with you about the importance of the cover of a book. When I'm ordering books online, I'll get the edition with the most appealing cover even if it's a little more expensive.

jo ellen said...

hi, leelee, thanks for the vote.

CarolynDoesMath said...

I have to admit I never really thought about the cover of a book, or the feel of the pages, but now you have me looking at these things! I took a young friend to the library Friday, and that was how she choose her book - the one with the best cover!

jo ellen said...

hi, carolyn. i think i've been doing that since i was a child. too. i probably need to grow up.