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Booking Through Thursday: Cover


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CAN you judge a book by its cover?


I think this is a very contextual question. Can you judge a book by its cover?

Certainly. And people do, all the time. It’s natural. It’s that first, initial thought. Whether it’s in the logo/design of the cover, recognizing the author’s name or not, the image (or lack thereof) on the cover, etc.

But often, perhaps it’s not so much JUDGING the book as it is EVALUATING the book, by whatever natural criteria one uses, or any specific criteria at the time.

When I’m in–say, Borders–and looking for Dragonlance books…I’m going to be extremely dismissive of any book whose cover does not reference dragons or Dragonlance itself. At the same time, if a book has a similar design to the edition of the book I’m looking for, or the name(s) Margaret Weis and/or Tracy Hickman jump out at me, I may pause and give other books a chance. At the same time, because I’m a Dragonlance fan, if I’m walking through an aisle and an image that makes me think of Dragonlance, puts me in mind of (a) character(s) from Dragonlance, it may be enough for me to stop and see what this book is, whether it turns out to actually be some Dragonlance book I’m unfamiliar with or something else entirely.

I’ve noticed with some types of books, the title of the book will be the prominent feature–when you’re looking for that title or that series, it may be the series’ name alone that “sells” you on giving the book a chance.

Other times, the author’s name is the prominent feature, and one will check the book out or even purchase it unpreviewed simply on the author’s name alone. Right now, I’m like that with John Grisham–if Grisham puts out a new book, I’m going to pick it up. Doesn’t matter if it’s about an appeal, an associate, or the importance of some confession. Grisham’s books could simply be titled “The Book Published in Late 2010” and I’d buy it.

buffytalesAdditionally, particularly with hardcovers that have dust jackets…that becomes another thing entirely as you’re dealing with two covers. The direct, permanent cover of the actual book itself…and the (often much more colorful, detailed, and visually-appealing/senses-stimulating) dustjacket. The dust jacket may grab one’s attention in the store…but when I’m actually reading such a book–and thus, “presenting” it to those around me–all they have to go on is the physical cover as I take the dust jacket off so it’s not damaged in my carrying the book all over. (And then covers any damage the physical cover sustains…)

buffytales2Right now I’m toting around Buffy: Tales…a hardcover graphic novel collection of a bunch of Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics. The cover is solid black, with the title on the spine, and simply that stylized “B” from the Buffy logo on the cover. If one knows that B…it’ll jump out; otherwise, it’s simply a stylized letter B.

Comics become another thing. Perhaps because most of them are published so frequently–12 or more times per year–often the cover IS how you judge ’em until you read them. Whether it’s for the image–is it a familiar character? Perhaps you’ve never even heard of Wookey the Wombat, but…there’s Wolverine on the cover, so you might check it out for his presence.

Similarly, for a series or “event” or crossover, the covers may take on a different style to resemble one another such that even without reading any words or character names on the cover, it’s obvious that the issue has something to do with Civil War or Fear Itself or whatever.

Then there are the comics–and I point the finger primarily at Marvel in the early 2000s–with generic “iconic” covers that don’t have anything to do with the story itself, really, but just simply showcase the title character. Right now I couldn’t even BEGIN to–other than 3-4 issues–differentiate early issues of Ultimate Spider-Man without seeing the number itself on the cover, and I don’t associate most iconic images of Spidey from that run with any particular issue. I’m also noticing that some on my current journey beginning through the Brand New Day stuff.

None of this rambling addresses CONTENT, really, though.

Content-wise…I find that often the cover for non-comics books rarely REALLY give much idea of what’s inside…at least not enough to really judge the book or truly evaluate what the story itself will be. The image might–AFTER having read the book–provide some nice symbolism or summary of the contents…but just because you see a closeup of a “Scales of Justice” there’s no way of knowing if that’s a literal or metaphorical reference, or what its meaning actually is in context of the story within the book.

Other books’ covers may be nothing but text with some sort of background. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War is nothing but text…the title itself, the subtitle, and the author’s name (Max Brooks). In that, I’d suggest that one’s judging it more on the strength of the title and/or author’s name than the cover in and of itself. (Another like this is Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale. Nothing but text and a background…standing solely on its title/premise.)

All of this could really get pretty deep, and I’d be shocked if there are not major academic studies out there that somehow address this topic–such as the psychology of a book’s/cover’s design on a person’s likelihood of picking it up.

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