Now this week’s Booking Through Thursday question is something that has intrigued me as both a reader and a writer for a long time: “CAN you judge a book by its cover?”
Covers are important, whatever the old adage says. Yes, there have been times I have picked up a book with a plain or nondescript cover and been utterly transported, but think about all the time and energy put into creating attractive book covers. I have been enticed by a book cover more than once. By way of demonstration, consider F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece The Great Gatsby. This novel’s cover is iconic. It is a painting by Francis Cugat entitled Celestial Eyes. Fitzerald was taking some time getting his final draft to famed Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins, and he had already seen the cover art for the book. He sent this famous message to Perkins: “For Christ’s sake don’t give anyone that jacket you’re saving for me. I’ve written it into the book.” No, it’s not the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg. There is a passage near the end of chapter four when Nick says, “Unlike Gatsby and Tom Buchanan I had no girl whose disembodied face floated along the dark cornices and blinding signs and so I drew up the girl beside me, tightening my arms.” It’s an arresting image. The art deco font, colors, and image tell you a great deal about the book itself.
A great cover will often prompt a reader to pick up a book and take it home. If covers were not important, no one would spend money on graphic designers, and covers would just come in monochrome shades with no artwork or fancy fonts. Is the cover a guarantee that the book will be great? Obviously not, but a cover promises certain things: 1) the kind of book you’re going to get; 2) what the book is about; and 3) your first impression of a book—much like dressing for an interview (and credit to my husband for this connection).
What kind of book do you think you’re going to get with a cover like this?
Tell me what you expect this book will be about by examining the cover:
Did you say book was about books? You’d be on the right track. This book is a love letter to books and reading (my review).
What’s your first impression of this book?
I love the line of the woman’s neck covered with that simple band. The cover is a bit of a tease, a bit of a seduction, just like you’d expect a vampire novel to be (my review).
I know I’ve picked up books that had attractive covers and not liked the book that much (read my review):
Other times, I have been awed by a gorgeous cover only to discover the contents were as good as the cover promised they would be (read my review):
Book covers can be so iconic that they influence other covers:
They can also be the source of a great deal of speculation about highly anticipated books. I recall poring over the cover images released prior to the last few Harry Potter books, trying to determine what would happen in the book.
But ultimately, I haven’t really answered the question. Can you indeed judge a book by its cover? Yes. Is it the only means of judging a book? No, but they can help put a book in a reader’s hand. The rest is up to the writer (and the reader).