While in theory it would be ideal to spend hours perusing the countless colorful aisles in cozy bookstores –pouring through the brief excerpts and deciding which to buy– this usually isn’t the case. Whether I’m trying to buy a last minute Christmas gift for my mom or I’m stuck in my frequent decision paralysis (Tartt or Vonnegut? Thriller or Romance?), often the choice comes down to what cover I like best.
Years of being told not to be critical of appearances through the metaphor: “Don’t judge a book by its cover!” has been beneficial in other areas of my life, such as expanding my own social horizons and world perspectives. However, in a self-contradicting manner, it subverted the efficacy of which I actually buy books; I found myself discarding the cover in exchange for spending more effort and time deep-diving into what books were worth a read or would satisfy a specific atmosphere. However, the cover should actually be your best friend when it comes to picking a book. It’s the first part of a novel you see and (with the title) read; it’s an introduction to a world waiting to be picked apart and read, carefully picked by the author themselves meant to draw you in.
With a background in visual art, I place importance on the art an author places on their cover to represent in one encompassing image what their book is about. Some books and their covers have particularly caught my attention, and after reading them, I believe their covers are great representations of what they are–and you should definitely judge them.
“The Secret History” by Donna Tartt existed as an enigma in my mother’s book collection for years: its grecian dark academic atmosphere leaking out from the shelf. For a book filled with intense descriptive imagery, this cover is elusive and full with an air of secrecy and aversion: a perfect mixture of intrigue yet without giving away too much about the plot. The statue, a reflection of the basis of the story in Greek tragedy, avoids the readers’ eye contact, begging the question: “What is he hiding?”. When I think of a perfect book cover that holds up the story inside, “The Secret History”is the first one to come to mind.
Saturated in blue-green hues and filled with small intimate details, “Bear Town” by Fredrik Backman has a cover that caught my attention and prompted me to open it up. While the title takes a prominent portion of the composition, its placement draws the eye to a deep forest and below it, a semblance of a town and two people playing hockey. The melancholy colors both emanate the coldness of this snowy setting and the icy relationships between characters in the novel. The fading mountains in the background invite you to step into this world, and with it the wonderful story within.
Lastly, Otessa Moshfegh’s “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” and its cover are more than what meets the eye. It brings about a postmodernist clash between bright splashes of pink and a painting from 1798, “Portrait of a Young Woman in White”, that captures the odd aesthetic of the book and exemplifies the exhausted tone the narrator maintains. Reflective of high class yet reminiscent of an inner turmoil filled with exhaustion, isolation, and longing, this cover is unique enough to draw you in and keep you wanting to know more.
The next time when you’re in a bind or having difficulty choosing which book to read– pick the better cover.