Judging Books by their Covers

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 By Meredith Veatch

It’s well known that you should never judge a book by its cover. Usually when people say this, they’re not actually talking about books. Unless you’re in the library, in which case they’re almost certainly talking about books. I have urged people not to judge a book by its cover, especially when I’m trying to convince them to check out one of my favorites that may be unfortunate to look at. I’ve found myself defending books with covers that were perfectly respectable when I was a child, such as Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry, or The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. These excellent books with somewhat old-fashioned covers have been a hard-sell to the children at my library. Troll Fell

Of course, I can’t be too hard on the kids, because there are certain book covers out there that provokes a negative reaction in me. I tend to avoid “torso books” (the ones with shirtless guys on the cover), “fancy dress” books (those with a girl wearing a fancy dress on the cover), and “big face” books (pretty self-explanatory). I don’t really like books with people on the cover at all. Well, I say I don’t like them, but that’s just my cover judging talking.

Marcelo in the Real WorldBut judging covers can also go the other way. I’ve picked up books before based solely on how attractive their covers were. This strategy, much like avoiding books with people on the cover, can meet with mixed success, but I’ve found a few really excellent reads that way. Some of my recent favorites that I chose based on beautiful covers are Troll Fell by Katherine Langrish, an excellent fantasy based on Scandinavian folklore, Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork, which tells the story of a young boy with Asperger’s and his struggles to fit in with “normal” people, and Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel, about a boy whose family attempts to raise a chimpanzee as human.

Half BrotherThere are exceptions to all of these examples. I’m perfectly fine with people on the cover of my book if they’re cartoon people. They still should have shirts on, though. If the fancy dress book is a fairy tale retelling, I’ll allow it. If someone I trust tells me a big face book is the best book ever, I’ll avoid looking at the cover so I can still read it. And I’ve certainly read books with pleasing covers that I have not enjoyed at all. So there you have it. It’s not effective, but I do it anyway. What about you? Have you ever discovered a great book because of a beautiful cover? Are there any types of book covers that you avoid?

Great article! Check out the Design Observer's recent list of books they thought had the best covers from 2011: http://designobserver.com/50Books50Covers/2011covers.html/index.html Some of them are really fetching.
Posted by: Brian Manning at 10/9/2012 12:29 p.m.

Haha, I love the "big face" cover aversion. I love taking big face pictures, so maybe I'd like them as book covers. Anyway, I definitely judge books by their covers, most specifically if they look boring, I avoid!
Posted by: Chelsea at 10/9/2012 4:50 p.m.

Stargazing : memoirs of a young lighthouse keeper. by Peter Hill This memoir of a young man working in lighthouses of the Scottish coast is an enjoyable book and has a great cover.
Posted by: david schau at 10/12/2012 1:02 p.m.

"Have you ever discovered a great book because of a beautiful cover?" Yes. Recently, Rachel Peden's Rural Free. The cover was visible at the end of a shelf in the stacks. I had to borrow it. See what you think: http://universitypressaudiobooks.com/grafs/rural-free.jpg
Posted by: Michael Leddy( Visit ) at 10/13/2012 12:14 p.m.

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