Friday, 19 June 2009

Never Judge A Book By It's Cover?

That's what they say isn't it?

And it's sound advice. I've seen some atrocious covers desectrating otherwise wonderful books.

And yet...

And yet, I've got something of an obsession with book covers, especially old ones. That's partly nostalgic. There's a certain type of cover that graced the books in the library when I was growing up that really does affect the way I see the world when I look back. And still colours the way I see the world today.

But it's also because they were often simply better back then. There's still some great work going on today. But like the lost art of the movie poster (oh how I miss thee), for the most part, innovative, evocative cover illustration/design seems largely absent, especialy on childrens books.

And it's such a huge part of how you read the book. I didn't think it was until I happened to be reading Diana Wynne Jones EIGHT DAYS OF LUKE, a great little novel, and in many ways the template for Neil Gaiman's much more adult AMERICAN GODS (he thought so enough to ask Mrs Wynne Jones if she was okay with him writing it).

The first time I read it was in the current paperback edition. It looks like this:

Not bad... and inside there are illustrations (Chris Riddell? I'll have to check) anyway they're good, but a little cartoony. A little 'light'. Anyway, I read the book. Enjoyed it a grat deal. Then forgot it (as it goes I highly recommmend it, Diana Wynne Jones really is a National Treasure and should have been in the honours list).

A year or two later, I was having another Diana Wynne Jones binge (my reading often goes in cycles, and there are authors that I always come back to). And I picked up a 2nd hand paperback of an older Puffin edition. This one here:

I read it. And it was like a whole new book. It was more real. I felt it more. It seemed more meaningful. It seemed darker. There are no illustrations in this one. Only the cover.

No doubt I had changed a little in the time between readings - that's part of the pleasure of re-reading books, how they change as you change, how you see different things.

But I also think it was because of that cover. A light bulb went off in my head - though it's so obvious I'm sure it's something that I always knew, but had never felt so strongly as now, nor articulated it as I did at that moment. The cover is your doorway into the book - literally and metaphorically. It absolutely affects how you see/imagine what's within. These two covers are very different. And I think that was the main reason that I reacted/'saw' the book so differently. And it just makes me crazy when I read a book who's cover got it wrong. By which I mean they got the favour of the imagery wrong, the tone, the texture, the feeling (yes I know that's all subjective and I know it's really quite ephemeral, that's why it's so hard to get it right, but also why it's so important that publishers DO). When they get a cover wrong, it is actually an obstacle to reading and engaging with that books - not least bbecause some folks won't even pick it up, let alone give it a read. But even those who do, are having to overcome the imagery of the cover, rather than be lead in to the story by it.

No doubt I'll burble more about this topic as we go on. But in the mean time watch this space for more examples of GOOD covers that come through the shop. Evocative covers. Covers that either represent the book well, or are really quite arresting in and of themselves...

I'll be scanning them in to share them with you... oh, okay, and to advertise the kind of thing you might find within our lovely shop. THE READ & RETURN BOOK SHOP. That's on FORE STREET. EXETER. DEVON. UK... number 124. You really should look in...

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