We’ve all been told time and time again to never judge a book by its cover, but this is a practice which I simply can’t follow. To me, the cover of a book is almost as important as its contents; the cover should give you a sense, a feeling of what’s to come. It should fill you will hope, despair or excitement. A cover should be a peek at the soul of the book, of its tone and message. A cover is there to set your expectation, and if a cover is sub-par, then you can probably assume the book is too.
After working in publishing, I’m now beginning to understand the immense effort and care that go into producing a cover that truly suits the contents of the book. This is the main reason why I’ve taken up judgment of books by their covers. The fact of the matter is that if you know your book well enough, if you connect with it, you should be able to translate that feeling into art. It’s true that the feelings we experience from novels aren’t quantifiable, but there is something about art that is unquantifiable too. Good cover art should almost whisper the story to you, the books meaning imbedded in simple images.
Personally, I find that a beautiful cover inspires me to read. This semester, my friend Candace and I took a course together called ‘Narrative and the Novel’. We were supplied with a bevy of beautiful (and some not so beautiful) texts, one of which was The Hours by Michael Cunningham, a lovely novel based on Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. When I saw my cover of The Hours, I fell in love. It was a simple monochrome photo of wilted flowers losing their leaves, a subtle nudge at the story to come, the melancholy image setting the tone of the story. I began raving about the book to Candace before I’d really even gotten into it, and I was shocked to find that she didn’t (yet) share my enthusiasm. While sitting in class together I looked over at her copy of The Hours and found myself severely disappointed by the disparity between our covers. Candace’s cover, as she describes it, comprised of ‘a creepy woman with a bowl haircut staring into the distance’.
I saw immediately why Candace was not sharing the same enthusiasm for her novel. The cover was… unfortunate. Comparatively, my cover played on a repeated image of flowers which carries through the novel, whereas Candace’s ‘creepy woman’ had very little to do with the internal story at all. As I said before, a cover should enlighten you in regards to the story within it. It should pique your interests. If the eyes are the window to the soul, than the cover must be the window to the book.
Now, this isn’t to say that novels with terrible covers cannot be good. It’s fairly often that you’ll see an amazing novel with a formerly terrible cover be released as a second edition with beautiful new artwork that truly compliments the story. But still, I stand by my assertion that books must be judged by their covers. There are so many books to read, so much to be enjoyed and shared, it’s hard enough to pick a good book, so let the covers do the talking. Grab the one whose cover speaks to you, the one whose artwork gives you that little flutter of excitement. Grab a book that you connect with before you’ve even opened the first page.