Let’s be honest with ourselves: we judge books by their covers (and not just in the metaphorical sense, but literally). Just like video thumbnails, the look of a book matters to most readers, as they can visually tell you the quality of the story inside. Cheesy titles, uninspired color palettes, and even featuring real people on the cover can turn people away from reading certain books. With this dilemma, many stories go unread and authors lose out on getting their works exposed to new audiences. However, someone decided to challenge this judgmental perception.
In February 2023, the UCF Downtown library hosted a month-long event called “Blind Date With A Book,” which was themed around Valentine’s Day. You could come in and browse parchment-wrapped books with simple descriptions and images taped on the front, describing the plot and overall vibe. Once you selected something that caught your eye, you could check it out and unwrap your next read.
The book that caught my eye had this description: “I’m currently in a bad marriage, which is something I’m working on, but it’s difficult when it is also the year 1662, and people are starting to suspect me of witchcraft.” It included images related to relationship struggles and magic. When I ripped off the wrapping, the title was actually familiar to me: “Hour of the Witch,” by Chris Bohjalian. I remembered picking up this book and being disinterested by the cover alone, which featured a Puritan woman facing away from the viewer. Just because of this simple ironic moment, I decided to give the book a chance.
To give a more clear summary of the book, it revolves around twenty-four-year-old Mary Deerfield, an inhabitant of Boston in 1662, and a wife of an abusive husband. When he stabs her hand with a fork one night, she decides that she must acquire her freedom from not only him, but from the fear-mongering society that shames and punishes women. This proves to be easier said than done, as some of her actions are suspected to be the work of witchcraft, and could lead her to face the gallows.
To my surprise, it was actually an intense novel that kept me on my toes. As the book went on, one curveball after another was thrown, which made me uncertain about how things would pan out for Mary. Parts of it were also frustrating, mainly involving the all-male council constantly downplaying Mary’s words exclusively due to her gender. Overall, it opened me up to a harsh world, showing how most people can be cruel and ignorant, and how only a few individuals can be understanding and helpful. It also gave me perspective on the human condition and how resilient the human spirit can be.
Without this opportunity, I would not have picked up this book. While the UCF Downtown library only had this event running for one month, this should become a norm in all libraries. Of course, fancy packaging and cute decorations can help, but the core concept of “Blind Date With A Book,” allows readers to explore new horizons with books and maybe even find something that they never thought they would like. And while people will still judge a book by its cover, wrapping it up can limit this narrow mindset.