The inspiration for this post comes from my (mostly) weekly update of the new books panel of this Library blog (yes, this is the place where you can find out about new books!). The Library gets a lot of new stuff every week, and I go ahead and select about 10 books, give or take, to be featured. It’s not a difficult process: I mostly choose the ones that have covers that catch my eye.
In the Library’s case, the books have already been carefully selected so I don’t have to think about content when judging which ones get featured. However, I find myself doing this outside of the Wheelock, gravitating and picking up books with interesting and/or attractive covers and ignoring the plain, generic ones. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think everyone does this to some extent.
I don’t believe it is necessarily a horrible thing to judge books by their covers and to place so much importance on covers. Entire marketing departments, artists, models, and sometimes, even authors, have worked hard on them (at least, I like to think so). And a cover is often the first piece of information we get about a book and the first image around which we build our vision of the book’s world and characters. Sometimes, it is the only piece of information that we remember about a book or the only image we associate with the book. For those of us into specific genres of fiction, the cover is a great indicator as to whether the book is a mystery, romance, science-fiction, or fantasy. Thousands of titles are published each week so it is easy and fast to choose based on instant reactions to the aesthetics.
Due to all of this, even when we are not judging the book itself by its cover, we can and do judge the intent behind the cover. Sometimes tacky, sloppy, or blatantly misleading covers can be a source of ire, snarky remarks, and spirited discussions. Would Twilight fans pick up Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights if it has a Twlight-esque cover with a reminder that it’s Bella and Edward’s favorite book (Yes)and should we care if it’s getting readers to explore the English lit classic? Have you noticed the racism in YA covers and why do publishers think we’re not going to notice if the cover features a white female when the story’s main character is black? Where does the UK’s recent 50th anniversary edition of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar land in the kitten-to-suicide scale? And would E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Gray have done so well if it had a less tame, less genre-ambiguous cover?
What are your thoughts about book covers? Have you discovered a good read or a new favorite author after choosing a book based on its cover art?