Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover

November 13, 2009 at 5:30 am (Cover Art, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , )

We’re always told not to judge a book by its cover.  We’re told to look beyond the surface, to save making harsh and immediate judgements, to give things a fair chance and part of us understands that this is good advice.  The other part of us realises that even if we try to keep an open mind, those original judgements and the gut instincts will very much colour how we view and perceive everything that follows.

For instance, I have a book on my desk at the moment by Camille Bacon-Smith called “Eye of the Daemon”.  I found this at a bookfest a couple of years ago and nearly didn’t buy it.  Given the price on this book was less than two dollars and I buy lots of books, even those I’m dubious about, it seems odd that I was so hesitant about this one.

Its a fantasy, found in the fantasy and sci-fi section, which shouldn’t surprise me but it did.  It is a amazing how many books get mis-classified at sales.  It had a DAW trademark  and I’d collected quite a few other titles with this trademark and had enjoyed them thoroughly.  The blurb read well, particularly the opening line which was a quote from the book – “Cases Involving the Occult Handled With Discretion” – though it was written in all caps and orange print.  The cover was a little beaten up, the pages slightly yellowed and it had picked up one or two minor stains, but overall it was in reasonable condition.  No pages missing or ripped, nothing that would interfere with reading.  I shouldn’t have been thinking so hard about whether to buy this book.

You probably already noticed my first problem.  The use of colour.  The cover is grey on the front, black on the back, and shades of orange and yellow to emphasise bits of writing and the scowling, evil looking face on the cover.  I really don’t like orange.  I’m told it is meant to be a bright, optimistic colour, but orange just reminds me of rotting pumpkins and I naturally turn away from things that use it.  The same is true when picking a DVD to watch.  The one with orange writing is glanced at and dismissed more often than not – not because I don’t like the movie but because my mind just skips over the orange.

My second problem was the face itself.  The face is truly evil looking, uncomfortably so.  It is made up of the unfilled space on the front cover.  The rest of the cover is filled with grey and silver demons, gargoyles and other unnatural creatures, leaving only the cheeks, chin and forehead of the face free of clutter.  Now, I will agree this sets an atmosphere but if I have to turn the book upside down just to have it sitting on the desk with me, it probably isn’t going to be a winner.

Despite my misgivings, I bought the book.  I very much enjoyed the story though the face on the front seems really incongruent given the rest of the content.  The book is full of interesting characters and several fascinating observations of humans and are perceptions of life, and it tells a strong, tightly wound story.  I’m glad I read it but I nearly didn’t.

It must be really hard to design a cover for a book that tells the reader something about the story, entices them to read it, sets the mood, has mass appeal, etc, etc.  It really must be a hard thing to do and yet given I like books and I still judge them by what I see, it is hard to imagine someone only mildly fond of reading ever giving a book a second chance.

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