Don’t judge a book by its cover. Everyone knows this idiom, but does anyone really follow it? I know I can definitely be swayed by a cover, positively or negatively. I thought it would be interesting to do a bit of a deep dive on this topic, and unpick what my opinions on this famous topic are.
A little disclaimer: these are just my opinions, and I mean absolutely no disrespect to anyone who likes these book covers, or perhaps has published books with these covers themselves. I appreciate there’s a lot that goes into covers that limit what can be created (money, access to resource or skilled creators etc.), and I would never want to foster more gate-keeping or elitism within literature.
What Book Covers Do You Like?
For me, there are two very distinctive categories of book covers that I’m particularly drawn to. Firstly, there are the stereotypically ‘pretty’ covers, often with pastels or shiny decoration that are more often than not illustrated rather than photographic. Here are some examples of the covers I own that fit into this category:
I just find my eye drawn to these books in stores, and therefore I’m more likely to pick them up and read the blurb. I do sometimes choose editions of books I already know I want to read based on the cover, because a minor price difference really isn’t enough incentive to look at an ugly book on my bookshelf for years to come.
The second category of covers that I’m particularly drawn to are the weird ones. These tend to be a little out of left field, and definitely play into my love of the absurd. These are still often illustrative rather than photographic, but that’s definitely less important than it is for ‘pretty’ book covers. Here are some examples:
Once again, I just find myself drawn to these covers, probably because they stand out so much. I like that these covers set the tone for the rest of the book, especially if that book requires you to let go of reality and accept the strange logic it presents you with. I also really enjoy reading books with strange covers around other people and just watching their confusion as they try to figure out what you could possibly be reading. Maybe that’s just me.
What Book Covers Don’t You Like?
Personally, I don’t love covers that include photos or realistic illustrations, particularly of people or when there’s a generic background photo with the title in large text over it. I just think it cheapens the look of the book, and often makes it blend in with the crowd. When I’m buying books in person, I don’t always go in with set titles in mind, so naturally I end up picking up the ones that are unique and stand out. Examples of these include:
This doesn’t mean that I’d avoid books with these covers if I was really set on reading them, it just means I’d be less likely to buy them randomly. I think these covers just sometimes feel like an afterthought or a literally translation of the content of the book, whereas illustrations (especially abstract ones) feel like a more subtle reflection.
Do you judge a book by its cover?
The ultimate question, and what this blog post was building up to. I think it’s very clear that I have preferences that definitely guide my selection of books when browsing in physical bookstores, but I don’t think these are decisive. There have been times when I’ve bought a book that I was interested in without even looking at the cover, and I really don’t worry all that much about the appearance of my books. I buy a lot of books for university that are required to be either Penguin or Oxford World Classics, so most of my books are fairly plain and (dare I say it) boring. I also buy most of my books online, so I really rarely do the cover-based browsing where my preferences take the reins.
I think if money was no object I might be a lot more selective about the editions of the books that I buy, but I could never see myself refusing to buy something because the cover wasn’t to my taste. Some of my favourite books have been purchased purely because I found the cover interesting though, so the superficial method has served me well.
I guess in my case the idiom still stands but with a small addition: don’t judge a book by its cover, but perhaps let it influence you.