Judging a Book by its Cover

May 2012 Prof. Jenna Hathaway

Just look at GoodReads’ new released list on their Young Adult shelf. All the covers look so shiny! Each of them glimmers beautifully, tempting us to read it because clearly with a cover that pretty the story can’t possibly be bad. Unfortunately this is not always the case. I think whether we like it or not, we can’t help but judge a book by its cover. After all, before we actually read the book, we don’t have many ways to determine whether to buy it or not. Reviews are your best bet, but sometimes they can be misleading too. And when you’re standing in a bookstore staring at one of those glossy covers, it’s not like you can easily go on the internet to find reviews for the book on your hand, right? So all we have when we’re going in blind to a bookstore is the synopsis at the back and… yes, the cover. The little trap that has often pulled you into a terrible story simply because the cover was too shiny to resist.

I must admit that I’m a bit of a cover snob. With so many different book editions, I like to pick the prettiest cover version for my collection. For example, I held off on reading the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce for so long until they came up with the more modern covers. Of course, people say it’s the classic covers that are better, but I kind of like the new ones more. And then I’m also an OCD to boot; I want all my book covers to match. This is especially tricky to do with a long, popular series that come in many versions. UK version, US version, even the hardcover and softcover versions look different. And the frustrating thing is the hardcover version not only comes out earlier but also looks so much prettier while the softcover version can be pretty bland (I’m totally onto you, sneaky marketing strategies!).

Personally, I’m someone who refuses to buy hardcover versions. They’re bulky, they take so much space, they’re heavy to lug around… it’s all around uncomfortable. So no matter how long it takes, I always wait for the softcover version to come out before I buy the book. More specifically, the cover version that matches the rest of the books in the series that I have already possessed. It really irks me when one or two books in my series collection don’t match the others. But this is a rather frustrating practice as sometimes it’s hard to find the right version and I usually end up having to wait to read the book for a long time while everyone else has read it first. I guess it’s just my personal quirk when it comes to collecting books.

If I were born earlier, I probably would have never touched any of the books with cheesy covers released in the early 90s (thank goodness they updated the covers on all those LJ Smith books!). While now I’m frantically sorting through super pretty covers to guess which ones have terrible stories I have to avoid, back then it would have been difficult for me to determine which of those cheesy looking books have good stories that would be worth reading. I guess the conclusion is; no matter how much time has passed since the phrase was first coined, it’s really hard to actually stop judging a book by its cover. Like it or not, it will always play into our decision. And sometimes, we just plain don’t have anything else to judge it by.