Monday, March 17, 2014

Who Judged a Book By It's Cover? Me.

"This book wasn't as good as it's cover."

Oh yes, the never ending story of a 8 year old girl who insists on choosing books with shiny covers full of pink, with a title announced in poofy letters and a cover picture which must include a girl in a short skirt, around 10 years old, who appears to be in some sort of quandary. Extra points for crowns and promises of princesses within.

"Did you read the first few pages, or the inside cover, before you checked it out?", although I know that she did not. She is not alone; children want books that appear new, with brightly colored covers, titles that scream at them and pictures that promise girl related drama or bodily functions. Publishers deliver, shelves are stocked with Junie B.Jones and Captain Underpants. And it's not just the third grade, pre-school boys are wild about finding pictures of toilets in books, while the four year old girls refuse to open anything that is not part of the Pinkalicious family of books.

No Henry Huggins, no Frog and Toad, no Lyle, all sadly regulated to the back of the shelf thanks to their simple covers and stories markedly absent of potty sounds and characters who only wear pink clothing. Charlotte's Web, only saved from certain extinction by having been made into a movie more than once, gathers less dust than than Superfudge. Put that pig in a pink gown and sparkly crown and you've got yourself a bestseller.

Don't judge a book by it's cover? Remind me of that next time you see me wine shopping, I'm drawn to labels with good graphics, or ones that look so distant and intriguing I am certain that the wine inside must be wonderful. You'll know me by the husband following close behind, reviewing each choice, and regulating most to the "ally" section of the wine cabinet.

But books? The horror. Generally I don't buy books online. I prefer my local book shop where I can spend hours going over each and every one that interests me, reading the inside cover and making decisions based on content and story, not just the flashy picture on the cover; I will not be fooled by flashy covers. Usually.

This book arrived in the mail, sent to me from the publisher for review purposes. Yuck. The cover was all wrong; it screamed pink and the font was messy. I wasn't going to like it but I had agreed to read it, and so it went into the "need to read" queue. Days later, having found it's way to the top, I read the first page, and then the second. Written in a series of emails, memos, court documents, letters and statutes, it's easy to flip from one page to the next, and difficult to put down. The story unfolds from the documents, each one (save the necessary statutes), written in a very smart, and unique, voice. The characters become real in their own words, not by lecture from the writer.

After years of reminding children to look inside before making a decision, I have, perhaps, learned my own lesson. Sometimes wonderful, thought provoking and smart stories can be hidden behind screaming pink covers, when you just take the time to look inside.

That said, it's still the label on the front of the bottle that gets me, every time.

This post was inspired by the novel The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger. Young lawyer Sophie unwillingly takes her first divorce case with and entertaining and volatile client in this novel told through correspondence and legal documents. Join From Left to Write on March 18th as we discuss The Divorce Papers. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

* If you enjoy reading books written in the epistolary style, I encourage you to read 84, Charing Cross Road, a wonderful way to spend a few hours.


Laura @ the gluten-free treadmill said...

It's so interesting how our perspectives can be so different - I actually didn't think twice about the cover, but I think so much of that has to do with the fact that I do most of my reading electronically nowadays. I'm not sure if this is true for everyone, but it definitely diminishes the impact of a cover for me!

Thien-Kim aka Kim said...

I judge books by their cover more than I care to admit. A good cover definitely encourages me to pick up a new to me author. -Thien-Kim of From Left to Write


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