Thursday, March 27, 2008

Underneath the Covers

This week's BTT question comes from Julie:

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.?

Wait a second? We can't judge a book by its cover? Oooops!

(Found at Picdit)

The design of a book for the most part doesn't affect my enjoyment. It's the story or the writing that accounts for 98% of my pleasure. Though, like anyone, I suppose, I'm not totally resistant to aesthetics.

I prefer my covers simple. Just the title and author's name will suffice. Perhaps one of my favorites is the cover for Saramago's Blindness.

Which, if you've read the book, has an additional cleverness. And though I haven't read it yet, the cover for the sequel seems appropriate as well.

Though, looking at these two covers, I'm reminded of two other beefs I have. Blurbs and stickers on the front

and when the author's name is supposed to be the selling point and it outsizes the title:

Perhaps most annoying was this:

which wasn't even written by Clancy!

Then there's this recent trend that I also despise:

(Wayne's Johnston's Custodian of Paradise, Betsy James' Long Night Dance and Kathryn Heyman's The Accomplice- as found on Books and Cooks and

As for hardcover versus softcover, I find it much easier to read a softcover. Though, if I was to collect books, I prefer to see hardcovers on a shelf (with the dustcovers banished to the garbage). As for e-Books and Kindles and the like, I haven't even ventured there yet. Then, I don't really know why TiVo is better than a VCR, so I'm getting a little old. And why doesn't my laptop ding when I get too far to the right?

Finally a word on font. My copy of Lolita has a page at the back that informs me it was "set in the classic typeface Baskerville and printed on acid-free, cream-wove paper with a sewn full cloth binding." Well, that sure made Humbert's sexual abuse a little easier to take, didn't it? Look, as long as it's not written in comic-sans and I don't need a microscope to see it, I don't really care.

But, lest I come across as a pretentious snob-- the Mr. Blackwell of books-- I reiterate: as long as the writing is good, all else is forgiven.


Chrisbookarama said...

Cooking with Pooh! lol

Anyway... Those were great examples. I couldn't even read the title of the King one. The re-use of art is a bad trend I'm noticing too. And I'm with you on the typeface notes: Do not care.

Really great answer.

trish said...

And of course there's the infamous movie covers. If I haven't gotten to the book before they make it into a movie, and I can't find a non-movie cover, I won't pick it up. Ugh!

John Mutford said...

Chris: I found that one by Googling "worst book cover ever." Melanie recently blogged about reused book covers here, and she links to even more.

Trish: Like the Oprah sticker, I suppose we want it known that we're reading it by our own accord (i.e., not because Oprah or Hollywood told us to). Plus they're often tacky. I also find it funny that they do it with classics. As if some poor ignorant soul will see a copy of Little Women and say, "Never heard of it, but if Winona Rider was in it, that's endorsement enough for me!"

Remi said...

I've had issues with the Oprah stamp, myself. When she picks something worth reading - like Jane Hamilton's The Book of Ruth - I wind up running to the used bookstore to find a copy that has not been Oprahfied yet.

While I was traditionally a trade paperback fan, I do like my hardcovers now. It's taken a while to get used to but there is something comforting about the heft of a hardcover.

As for Ms. Ryder, I wonder if they should use her for a reprint of Abbie Hoffman's classic Steal This Book. Just a thought.

John Mutford said...

Remi: She'd be a better choice than Vincent D'Onofrio and Janeane Garofolo.

Anonymous said...

I don't know which kind of stamp I dislike most, the one that is part of the cover itself and therefore completely irremovable or the one that the bookshop has stuck on and which you think you ought to be able to remove only to find that it brings half the cover with it!

John Mutford said...

Table Talk: Or when you've think you've done a great job removing it, until you realize the gummy residue has collected every cat hair and dust particle in the house.

Rob Hardy said...

I don't mind stamps that identify a Booker or Pulitzer winner, but I do object to the sticker on recent printings of Dodie Smith's wonderful novel I Capture the Castle that features a recommendation from J.K. Rowling. I'm a fan of Harry Potter, but I don't see why her name has to be stamped on the front of another author's better-written book. I don't care if J.K. or Oprah loved the book. I like to discover these things for myself or through the recommendations of friends.

Jeane said...

I get really annoyed with those Oprah stickers that look like little seals. It's begun to make me avoid those titles, not read them. And I find it ridiculous when the author's name is way bigger than the title! Especially if this is so on the spine as well as the front cover. Do they have to shout about who they are? The book should speak for itself.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I did not know about recycled covers. Thanks!

Literary Feline said...

I hadn't thought about some of the points you make here when I responded to the question, but I wholeheartedly agree with your points about stickers on the front, when the author's name is bigger than the title, and when a book has another author's name in big bold letters and yet it wasn't even written by them. I can think of a couple like that on my shelf now. It always throws me off a bit at first when I'm trying to alphabetize them by author's surname.

Ultimately though, as you said, it's content that is most important.

Allison said...

I'm with you on the simple covers. I quite like the cover for Blindness...I still haven't finished that one. I will, someday.

pussreboots said...

I loved your answer and your examples, especially COOKING WITH POOH. Tee hee. Happy BTT.

1morechapter said...

I got a huge kick out of this post!!

John Mutford said...

Rob: I like knowing when a book has won a prestigious prize, sure, but does it have to monopolize the entire cover?

Jeane: The Oprah thing doesn't really make sense. If someone's already in the bookclub, they know what the current choice is. And if they're not in the bookclub, the sticker seems to turn more people away.

Gautami: I think publishers are getting lazy and simply looking for stock photos on the internet.

Literary Feline: Clancy et al should be ashamed.

Allison: Less is more, as they say.

Pussreboots: The chocolate chips seal the deal, don't they?

3M: :)

Anonymous said...

Those are great examples.

Reverse snobbery regarding the Oprah/JK Rowlings endorsements maybe? OTOH, it's not why I read a book. If Oprah's Book Club hadn't been so wildly popular, it would drive me mad. As it least more people are reading a book. I don't care how they came to it, as long as my numbers increase. Book readers unite!

Hey! I read Abbie Hoffman's book because I saw the Vincent D'Onofrio movie.

Better the silhouette of a woman than those disembodied legs in high heels. That was making me crazy.

Melwyk said...

I had to share "Cooking with Pooh" with my coworkers. Our children's librarian especially loved it. :)

Once you start noticing the duplicate images on book covers, they're EVERYWHERE!

John Mutford said...

Carrie: I really don't have a problem with the Oprah bookclub, I just don't see any sense in the sticker.

The movie? I thought it took a special skill to make Abbie Hoffman boring.

Melanie: I haven't come across any personally (just ones other people have pointed out online), but just the thought of it makes me cringe.