I think not judging a book by its cover can be a load of nonsense. Yes, you shouldn’t make your mind up on its cover alone, but a little bit of aesthetic bias is never too harmful.
I’ve got a definite weakness for eye-catching typography and detailed illustration (which I much prefer to photography) and don’t get me started on dust jackets with hidden fantasy maps of the realms from the novel or fan-art posters on the reverse.
I didn’t realise just how crucial a book cover was until I started reading plays online. Without any artwork and only a title to go off, it’s pretty hard to judge what something is about. A beautiful cover is great for motivating you to read, especially during my A-Levels when I was trying to force my eyes open reading ‘Emma’ (sorry Jane Austen fans). It’s a tad annoying that hundreds of stunning covers exist for a book I wanted to stay well away from, but I can’t help but gravitate towards them every time I’m in a bookshop.
The only enemy of the book cover is the dreaded ‘replace the book cover with the film poster to remind everyone who might pick it up that this book is being adapted to film and will probably be destroyed in the process’ redesign. Please, just stop.
The cover of a book is important to attract the eye of a prospective reader and functions to set the tone of the book’s contents.
One of my favourite books, American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis, does this perfectly in the original edition. Set against a blood-red background suitable for the book’s content, the anti-hero protagonist Patrick Bateman covers the top half of his face in a bloody mask, concealing his eyes and what remains of his soul. Despite this bloody mask labelling him as the titular murderer, he keeps his Wall Street polish; his chiselled jaw which he admires in the mirror every day and his pinstriped suit that he keeps on even for his murders.
I feel as if later covers for this book don’t do it justice at all. The image of Christian Bale’s face on one edition just tries to attract the eye of those who have seen the fairly decent film adaptation. The simple blood splatters against a plain white background on another are visually striking, sure, but they fail to capture the depraved essence of the book that makes it one of the most disgustingly intriguing books ever written.
Rich tapestries deck the rolling tables of my local Waterstones. Visitors pore over book covers that, like mosaic tiles, tesselate into swirling colours and designs. Each small canvas, flitting in and out of sight, yearns for an owner, a reader, a private audience.
Like carefully crafted illusions, book covers are often a marketing ploy, a deception. I have chanced on books which boast scenes of resplendent beauty on their front, only for their promise to dissipate as I begin to read. I have also dared to read books bound in grey hues of apathy, only to be drawn in by tales of wonder. The corporate connotations of book covers, each vying for attention, based on false promises, leave a foul aftertaste.
It may be kinder to see book covers as art, distinct from the words inside. They may reflect the art movements of the time. Or, they may reveal cultural connotations of different genres and politics, from counterculture to fantasy. Like a finely presented gourmet dish, there is beauty in the superficial. My favourite book cover belongs to ‘Things Fall Apart’ by Chinua Achebe. The spiralling design of a rooster, its neck strangled by a white chain, perfectly encapsulates protagonist Okonkwo’s descent into tragedy, also highlighting themes of masculinity, tradition, and inevitability. The design pays homage to the bright colours and masterful delineations of Igbo art, a reflection of the story within and an extension through forms of art that the written word cannot reach.