Tuesday, 17 June 2014

A book by its cover

Yes yes, we're not supposed to judge. Yet we do it all the time. When you're browsing in a bookstore, or a library, or in Amazon or wherever you like to acquire your reading material from, how do you decide which books you pick up? Unless I'm looking for a particular book or a book by a particular author, my choices are influenced by a book's title and its cover.

So what gets your interest in a cover? Do you prefer colourful illustrations, simplistic design or just text? People or objects?

That's not an easy question to answer. I keep picking up the same books in a bookstore because the cover just has that something about it, something that speaks to me, and it's impossible to explain what that is. Sometimes I'm drawn to simple designs, sometimes I'm excited by elaborate ones. I'm drawn to books that use a font that looks somehow 'ancient', books that are designed to look like old tomes (I know it's just an illusion, but whenever I see something like that, my hand reaches out for it). To illustrate, Abercrombie's 'The Blade Itself' (left). I also adore Carlos Ruiz Zafón's 'The Shadow of the Wind' (right), which was a gift from a dear friend and a book I like to keep on my bedside table just because it looks lovely.

There are certain types of covers that are an instant turn-off, although these, too, are difficult to describe. Usually these are covers I'd call somehow 'generic' – there's nothing in them to tell them apart from countless others. Sometimes I pick up a book in a bookstore because the title is interesting, but the illustration on the cover makes me put the book back before I've even bothered to turn it around and glance at the description. I'm aware that I may have missed many good books by doing this... but then, no matter how much you'd want to, you can't check them all out, can you?

When it comes to your favourite book(s), the cover doesn't matter – it's the story you love – but a wonderful coincidence is that some of my favourite covers are, in fact, covers of my favourite books! Manda Scott's incomparable Boudica series has many great covers. Here's one image of all the four books (left) – I love the design, it is simple yet powerful. Here, on the right, is an alternative cover for the first book in the series. This is the one that originally drew my attention to these books. Just look at the cover - how could you resist that?

There are also editions that have covers with wonderful illustrations by Stephen Youll – unfortunately, I was able to find only one image where the illustration is used in the cover. Here it is:

Once – but only once – it has happened that I started collecting a series of books, then saw a different edition with a different cover art and decided I needed those rather than what I already had (although those were lovely, too). This was Rosalind Miles' Guenevere Trilogy, which has these gorgeous paintings by John William Waterhouse (perhaps my favourite of the Pre-Raphaelite painters) as cover art (left). Love them!

And I should mention – I'm very happy with the cover of Elite: Tales from the Frontier anthology that features one of my stories. The cover is by Helen Murphy, and although I've posted it before, it deserves to be shown again:

As for buying books solely on the basis of their covers... my mother used to do that. I read mostly in English, but my mother didn't speak a word of English, yet she persistently bought books for me. She had no idea what the titles meant, so she always chose one with 'a pretty cover'. They made for very... surprising presents. Once she bought me a poetry collection. She never looked inside the book, and was disappointed to learn that what she had thought would be an interesting story, was in fact a collection of poems. I was delighted, however, and it turned out to be a perfect present!

Since this is just a small glance at the covers I like, I've created a new board in Pinterest where I intend to collect beautiful book covers. You're welcome to come over and see what I've found so far. And I'd love to hear about your favourite covers, so feel free to drop some names in the comments!

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