Judging a book by its cover… or not? 2 Comments

Judging a book by its cover… or not?

I was perusing the shelves of my local op shop this afternoon and in between eyeing a giant poster of a young Brad Pitt and several framed Eschers, I found a colourful novel. I did something that we’re repeatedly told not to do, but which books themselves rely on to be picked up of book shelves – I judged a book by its cover.

The hand drawn illustrations of Tom Adams leaped from the cover of Farewell to the King (1970) by Pierre Schoendoerffer and into my hands. It wasn’t until I was at my keyboard with the official site in my view that I knew I’d seen the colourful hand of this artist somewhere before.

It was at the end of an episode of Doctor Who not less. The Unicorn and the Wasp is among my favourite David Tennant episodes and not just for its 1920s set and costume design. The episode was about Agatha Christie meeting a giant wasp-like alien, which subsequently appeared on the cover of Death in the Clouds. Death in the Clouds, among others of Christie’s novels, was illustrated by Tom Adams. It was the same cover which Tennant held up in the concluding minutes of the Unicorn and the Wasp.

I ended up reading the well preserved jacket of Farewell to the King and discovering a post colonial epic set in war torn Borneo of 1942 which I will now read in my study break. Stay tuned for the possible joys/sorrows of picking a book at random and then reading it… will judging a book by its cover, and running with it, stack up against sticking to the canon?

I hope to answer this question soon. And others, such as should we read what we’re told? I.e. should we follow the big old Harold Bloom cannon? Or should we just jump right in and risk getting bitten by a big alien wasp?

  • http://jennasten.wordpress.com/ Jenna

    I usually judge a book by its cover. Which I know is wrong, and often the author has little say in what gets slapped on the front of their work (maybe they do now days? Don’t know much about the current rules with this), but I can’t help it. I often don’t actually read the authors name before I pick up a book, unless it’s something that I’ve been specifically looking for or has been recommended to me. If I go into a bookstore (rare as I am penniless) I usually scan for covers that grab my attention, read the back, and then decide whether I like it or not. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t affected by the canon as it informs a lot of literature, but generally speaking I don’t pick books to read because they’re part of the canon. They usually have to peak my interest in some other way as well. But op shop books are another thing entirely! I don’t know if I would be game. If books are in an op shop and not a second hand bookstore I usually assume they are crap and or (but especially and) a Mills and Boon novel.

  • Riana

    I always feel inspired by a books cover – however that said I refrained from picking up “The Great Fire” by Shirley Hazzard even when it had won the Orange Prize. This was ONLY because of the cover which has part of the Turner masterpiece ‘The Burning of the Houses of Parliament’ as the ‘fire’ snap. I was not in the mood for another British historical novel and never ventured to read even the back cover. So months went by before I asked my neighbor what it was like.. and was told that it was set in Japan and Shanghai .. and that the fire referred to is Hiroshima. Well that more exotic location changed everything and now I am reading it I never cease to be thankfully amazed ! I nearly missed out on this sublime writing and intensely Pacific story. The writers craft can sometimes be stymied by the wrong cover choice. It still irritates me every time I look at it, but I do appreciate the connection. The best thing is that now I have ‘discovered’ Shirley Hazzard.

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