Books and Their Covers

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While perusing the new book table at my local bookstore, I noticed several covers displaying photos of women with their faces turned away, or their bodies in profile. Why?  Does it suggest that the female character in the book is mysterious or devious? Or maybe it just makes good cover art.

Covers do affect the potential reader. I resisted Where’d You Go, Bernadette: a Novel by Maria Semple (Back Bay Books, 2013) for months because of its unattractive cover. It looked like a bubblegum book. When I finally read the book, I found it to be delightful—well-written and funny.

Several new books displayed on the table are attractive, and feel good in the hand. The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert is a big handsome book, much like its main character Alma Whittaker. There are several botanical drawings to illustrate Alma’s passion for botany and her quest for the schema of life. The cover of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (Little Brown and Company, 2013) features the exquisite painting of a delicate goldfinch. Painted by Carel Fabritius in 1654, I had the thrill of seeing the original painting at a recent exhibit of Dutch Masters at the High Museum in Atlanta. Needless to say, I bought both books! I noticed other well-reviewed new fiction books that feature covers that enhance their contents such as Good Lord Bird: A Novel (Riverhead, 2013) by James McBride,  A Constellation of Vital Phenomena: A Novel (Hogarth, 2013) by Anthony Marra, and We are Water (Harper, 2013) by Wally Lamb. These books feature artful covers that attract a potential reader.

I understand that thinking about covers and paper quality and the heft of a book may seem quaint. When we read a book on our iPads who cares how it looks? But I find myself dividing my reading into two groups: the books I read once that work well with online access, and those that I want to add to my collection. For the latter I appreciate a well-produced work. I like knowing the book is at hand, its words and photographs ready to be enjoyed. Surely the deep satisfaction of handling and owning a fine book will not disappear.

So I encourage you the next time you are in a bookstore: look at the book covers–handle the books–and watch for those mysterious half-visible women!

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