Thursday, March 27, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Cover-Up

This week's BTT topic:
While acknowledging that we can’t judge books by their covers, how much does the design of a book affect your reading enjoyment? Hardcover vs. softcover? Trade paperback vs. mass market paperback? Font? Illustrations? Etc.?

I think I can safely say that the design of a book hardly ever affects my reading enjoyment. Well, maybe if the typeface is too small or hard to read. Otherwise, unless it's an art book or a book about design, once I start reading a book, I don't pay that much attention to its design; certainly not to the cover. In fact, I frequently use protective book covers or those "book sox" thingies on the books I'm reading, so I don't even see the actual covers.

That said, although I don't think I ever ultimately judge a book by its cover, of course the design of a book does play a part in how much I'm attracted to it in the first place. That's a whole different matter. There are certain things that really attract me and certain others that repel.

I notice several people have said they don't like movie or celebrity "tie-in" covers; and I dislike those, too. Given a choice, I'll always opt for the edition without Tom Cruise or Cate Blanchett or Oprah on the front. I don't like those "chick lit" illustrated covers, either – although I don't mind that variety of illustration in magazine ads.

And generally I prefer covers with pictures or photos on them to ones with just words. Some sort of nice visual always attracts me more than just big block letters screaming, say, "Philip Roth!" or "Saul Bellow!" or "Judith Krantz!". This was not always the case. In my youth, I loved the covers on J.D. Salinger's books – and, except for the original edition of Catcher in the Rye, they were mostly just text.

I was also in love with the covers on the Signet Classics paperbacks – they were frequently details from Victorian paintings, and sometimes didn't have anything to do with the story inside. But they looked wonderful (still do). And Dover paperbacks, too – I remember buying Dover books that I had absolutely no intention of reading ("Writings of the Early Church Fathers" or "History of the Sufis" or something similar), just because of the attractive cover art.

Hardcover or paperback doesn't really make much of a difference with me. But I do like illustrations in a book – I guess that's why I'm so fond of children's lit. I wish adult novels were still illustrated. One thing that will always attract my attention to a book is illustrations or cover art by Edward Gorey. I have no idea why I'm so attracted to his designs, and it's actually slightly embarrassing. But he's been a best-seller with me since I was a child and found his Haunted Looking Glass at our local toy shop (ah, Ann & Tom Brown's Toys - but that's a subject for another post on another day).


  1. I think the Signet paperbacks have beautiful covers too.

  2. I agree illustrations can be wonderful in books. My mother has some beautiful old books with illustrations. I especially like the woodcut illustrations found in some of these books.

  3. I think there is definitely something about the look of a particular imprint. One thing I didn't discuss in my answer but could have done is the influence that the original green Virago Modern Classics had. These days, with the newer editions having moved away from that, there is quite a collectors market for the older versions.

  4. Now that I am going around and seeing what everyone else is saying I am realizing there is so much to say on this topic that I didn't even think about.

    I too dislike book covers with movie tie in pictures. Though I will buy a book for 50 cents just because it says Oprah book club on it. This is more from the point of view of a person who wants to promote reading. A lot of people just randomly start looking through my books. If someone will read a book because it says Oprah on it, I want them to read it. I am pro-reading! Whatever gets you to pick up the book.

    I also just realized that a book saying it is by some award winner is part of the cover design and I usually can't walk away from those.

    And I was just looking through some old books and reminiscing about what a "good book" looked like to me then. I am going to have to do a mini post on it!

  5. I agree. I don't like move tie-in pictures on the front. I love it when they have images of old paintings. I've begun to get dissuaded from trying books with the Oprah seal on them; there's too many I haven't liked. How many books about oppressed women can you stand? After a while they all feel the same...

  6. Certain authors have great covers on their books...i.e...Neil Gaiman, Picoult, Atwood, Steinbeck...

    Booking through cover


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