Judging a Book by its Cover

I was really taken by this blog post I came across a few weeks ago where a mother gets the bright idea to ask her daughter what she thinks certain classic (or just popular) books are about:

“Momma, what’s this book about?” That is a question that I hear every time we go to our local bookstore as my very curious six-year-old daughter picks up eye-catching books from various sections from fiction to biographies to psychology. My family spends a fair amount time in bookstores, so this is a query I’ve become accustomed to hearing and one I try my darndest to answer (but really, how does one explain James Joyce’s Ulysses to a six-year-old?).

via My 6-year-old Judges Books by the Covers, from No Exit to 50 Shades of Grey | Strollerderby.

I know that everyone is familiar with the expression, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but I think that anyone who has ever spent time hanging around in bookstores will realize exactly how true this is.  So many times I have picked up a book and glanced at the cover, and then once reading the back of the book realized that the cover doesn’t seem to quite fit.  It may be a pretty picture, but it doesn’t seem to fit.  Sometimes I find that the descriptions on the back of books are misleading as well, perhaps in order to not include spoilers or because of the author of the description is not the author if the book itself.

Often the author themselves do not have much control over what the cover looks like on their book, or they only see it once it’s too late to many any changes.  The book cover is essentially marketing real estate, and it seems like the publisher can often be concerned more with what will make someone pick up a book than what represents the book itself.  I think this is changing with self-publishing and particularly digital publishing.  There are also issues with what publishers think won’t sell, including controversy over books with minorities on the cover and whether that will pigeonhole the novel.  This is really a shame, but I hope it will change over time.

Here are a few of my favorites from “My 6-year-old Judges Books by the Covers”:

  • Wuthering Heights: “It looks weird. I think this must be a book about a tree. I would not read a book about just a tree. And it looks like it’s a sad tree too since it has no friends.”
  • The Color Purple: “This book has to be about the color purple. I think it’s a baby book. It looks like it would be very short. I think there must be a blob of purple that lives in that house. And the purple blob just stays in its home and is lazy. I think it looks like a very boring book.”
  • Fifty Shades of Grey: On the cover is a very weird looking Zebra. The book is about a zebra that wears pants. It’s a drama book about this zebra guy who likes to go fishing for aces.”

Read them all here: blogs.babble.com/strollerderby/2012/07/12/judging-a-book-by-its-cover-a-6-year-old-guesses-what-classic-novels-are-all-about/

I love looking at book covers, so I’m curious – what’s the strangest book cover you’ve seen?

3 Responses to “Judging a Book by its Cover”
  1. Selvinas says:

    Haha, love how kids are so simple! Such a big fantasy

  2. Mr. E says:

    Probably the weirdest book cover I’ve ever seen was some printing of Ernest Hemingway’s novels that was like–sticks on the ground or something. A Farewell to Arms superimposed on a close up of a bale of hay? That’s definitely going to get young people interested in an old novel /sarcasm.

    I do wish publishers would put more effort into covers, because like it or not, books ARE judged by them, and they should be taken seriously; I’m much more likely to give a book a chance with an interesting cover, it’s just the way it us. Don’t see it changing, however.

    • bahia says:

      Thanks for commenting (really love your blog, by the way). That really sounds like a weird cover. I think often classics have the weirdest or least compelling covers. I agree that publishers should put more effort into covers and I also think authors should have more control. I hate it when a cover completely misrepresents a book – makes me feel mislead.

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