Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

Never judge a book by its cover, right?

Book covers can definitely be misleading. The artwork is almost always done by someone who has had no hand at all in the content between the covers, and certainly not in the writing of the novel. I once bought a boxed set of the Chronicles of Narnia, stories with words and illustrations I have loved all my life. The covers were new and modern and drawn by someone I’d never heard of, but they didn’t change the bits of the books I really enjoy.

Another feature of book covers are those little quotes from reviewers or famous authors. I know I’m not the only person who finds these comments highly suspicious – did Neil Gaiman really read this, or did his publisher just tell him to say something nice? And even if he did read it, could he have said he didn’t like it? Quotes and reviews are also a bit like Literary Prizes. Some incredible novels have won prizes and critical acclaim, but so have some … let’s say difficult reads. None of this is any guarantee that you as a reader are going to enjoy the book.

The best clue is perhaps the blurb: the tantalising synopsis on the back of the book that introduces one or two characters, plot lines and cliffhangers. But even then, it’s not always written by the author, it doesn’t tell you whether the ending will be satisfying or whether the topic will be dealt with well. Its very job is to peak your interest, but sometimes I feel blurbs venture into spoiler territory, giving away more than I wanted to know about the storyline or the twist.

But if you can’t judge a book by its cover, what else can you do? You can open it and read the first few pages, or the last few (I know at least one person who does that!), rely on recommendations from friends through word of mouth or things like Goodreads or just stick with favourite authors – although they’d have to be fairly prolific to keep up with most readers!

What do you do? How do you choose your next read and how do you feel about the things you find on book covers?


Filed under Awards, Writing

6 responses to “Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

  1. john alexander

    Always a difficult one this so what do I do, yes I read the blurb about the book but with healthy suspicion, I often stick with “known” authors and if time permits read a sample few pages but all of this has new meaning with the advent of the e-books. Having an iPad I have looked at and read some “free books”. These are either very old deceased authors or new ones trying to get a name and a readership. Not a bad way to get noticed I guess. It does introduce an element of pot luck but you do get the added aspect of “readers” comments, but you ask are they real readers or comments of publicists or promotors, who knows and if it is an enjoyable read who cares.
    Common is the unknown of “are your interests, ideas of a good read the same as other peoples”. What I do very rarely is go by the cover.

    • Fair enough, John. I have yet to venture into the e-book world – I may not judge a book by its cover, but I do like it to have one! – but I guess there is still an element of selecting from a variety, even if the covers are as ethereal as the rest of the book!

  2. I judge by covers and titles—I’ll admit it 😉 If they draw me in I read the back cover text (I always ignore the prize-winning statements and pulled quotes). If I’m still interested I open the book randomly and read, usually in the middle somewhere. If the author’s prose draws me in, that’s the final test. By the time I read the book I’ve forgotten the paragraph or page that I’ve read and everything’s new again.

    • No harm in that admission, Stacey. On a crowded bookshelf, you have to start somewhere! I’m intrigued by the “random page” test; one to try next time I’m book shopping!

  3. Steve

    I almost always judge a book by reading the first paragraph (or first couple of pages). I actually think it’s an important art, getting the first paragraph right because it’s what introduces the reader to your world and the sort of book it is.

    • Writing textbooks rave about the first few pages being necessary to grab the attention of agents and publishers, Steve, but they are a key to earning readers too, it seems. Thanks for your feedback.
      If you want to trick a writer into revealing the standard of the bulk of the novel, you may want to take a leaf out of Stacey’s book and check somewhere in the middle!

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