Thursday Thoughts: Don't judge a book by its cover...right?

During most of the year, it's hard enough to get a single book review up on this blog each week. But during the summer, I have loads more time that I can spend working on this blog, and so...I'll be posting twice a week! 🎊🥳🎉 Besides my usual book reviews on Mondays (which will always be my top priority if I am short on time), I'm trying a new format that I call Thursday Thoughts! Basically, I'll just be talking/ranting about a book-related topic that interests me each Thursday (or at least some Thursdays—let's not bite off more than we can chew, shall we?). With that...let's dive right in!

At least once in your life, you've probably heard the phrase "Don't judge a book by its cover." Even if you don't read books, you've probably heard this phrase—we use it as advice about not jumping to conclusions about practically everything.

I've always been guilty of ignoring said advice. I had a bad habit in the past of buying books with pretty cover illustrations that always ended up being the dead-parent MG books that I generally find irritating.

But here's the thing: I'm not actually that sure that judging a book by its cover is so bad.

I know, I know—that was practically sacrilege to say out loud. But I believe it. And I'll explain why.

First of all, I think it's no secret that finding good books is difficult. Really difficult. As in we've-all-devoted-basically-one-day-of-the-week-to-searching-a-bunch-of-blogs-on-the-Internet-just-to-find-books difficult.

There's online book recommendation systems, like those built into Goodreads, or Storygraph, or the websites of online bookstores—but the ones I've used have zero nuance in their suggestions. (And, anyway, they suggest so much that you still have to sort through it!)

There's your favorite bookstore employee or librarian—except that the employees at Barnes & Noble have mediocre recommendations, there aren't any independent bookstores near me except hyper-specialized ones, and I've never actually thought about talking to a librarian until I wrote this post (and I'm using that as supporting evidence even though it actually isn't).

There's friends and family members—but they can only be of use if they read similar things, and such a connection tends to be very rare!

So finding books is really hard unless you devote one-seventh of your week to participating in online blogging groups (which is also hard—it's just so fun, at least for me, that I keep doing it). When the other options are that time-consuming and often-fruitless, it's pretty difficult to resist the allure of judging by covers.

But, frankly, I'm really not sure what is so awful about judging a book by its cover in the first place. It may not have always been this way—there's some old-fashioned book covers that look so drab, I'm surprised any of those books ever sold—but I tend to find that, at least nowadays, book covers today are actually pretty representative of the stories themselves. And I don't know why that's surprising—cover artists are literally paid to represent the book as an illustration, so why wouldn't they do a good job? And with books like graphic novels, it's often the author themselves illustrating the cover in the first place!

I think the real key here is not to just buy books with covers that look pretty, like I used to make the mistake of doing, but to actually look just a little more closely and notice the actual details on the cover that illustrate what the story is like. As I'll demonstrate in the examples that follow, those details are both frequent and pretty easy to spot!

Here's a montage of covers of books I've reviewed and loved. We'll go through them left to right, first row and then second row.

  • Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams. Genesis's facial expression pretty much gives away that things aren't all fun and games in this book. You can pretty quickly get a sense of how the book deals with colorism by looking at the "swatches" of lighter skin tones on Genesis's face. And yet, the handwritten font and vibrant orange flowers help show that Genesis is still, at her heart, a kid, and there's at least some good-old-fashioned childhood fun in this mostly-poignant story.
  • Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. To be fair, the cover illustration is actually by Lin herself (she's not just an incredibly talented author, but an incredibly talented illustrator too!). But still, that illustration is pretty much the story in a nutshell—we see the majesty of Minli's dragon, the excitement of the two's journey, the inspiration (as evident in the art style) of Asian culture, and probably even more details that I'm missing but that a different eye could spot quite well!
  • Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead. Honestly, I thought the original cover of this book was prettier than the new red cover they introduced when they re-covered all of Stead's books, but still—it's three girls, with a proximity as close as their relationship, and Bridge's trademark cat ears atop her head. Tight-knit relationships, character quirks, even the bustling streets of New York City—it's all there in that cover!
  • The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen. I love this book almost as much as I love the previously mentioned Goodbye Stranger, and I've seen this cover many times—after all, I have the book facing out on a display shelf I see daily. While I'm not 100% sure what the green color represents, it definitely gives me a sense that there's something different about this book from other books (and there definitely is, I can confirm). Tiến standing there reading is pretty clearly emblematic of the fairy tales that he and his mother read throughout the story (and that the audience reads as well). And the beautiful illustration in the background makes the fairy tales and majesty pretty clear as well.
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. This one is pretty self-explanatory—it's Starr, with a protest sign, the only thing visible against a white background (how's that for a metaphor?). It's clear, it's impactful, it stands out against other book covers—it's perfect for this book! And the red accents definitely make it clear both that there's been something unpleasant going on and that Starr will not be backing down.
  • Faith: Taking Flight by Julie Murphy. This cover is (a) beautiful and (b) perfect for this slice-of-life/superhero story! Maybe you notice Faith's weight and maybe you don't—and that's exactly the point, because what takes center stage is Faith having her moment in the spotlight and flying away to save the city! And that's exactly what this book is all about.
See my point? Maybe buying books just because the cover is pretty is a bad way to go about things, but searching the covers for meaningful details, whether overt or implicit, is likely a way better strategy than reading every flap description or every review in existence.

So stop getting so mad at everyone for judging books by their covers! As I hope I've made clear, it might actually be the best way of all to find books you'll love.

Any times you've bought a book based on its cover and loved or hated it? Let me know in the comments below—I'd love to hear from you! I'll see you on Monday for another book review, and a week from today for another round of Thursday Thoughts!

Comments

  1. I don't buy novels because of their covers, but one of my favorite kids books is The Rainbow Goblins. Once I saw it, I had to have it. Thanks for a fun post.

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    1. Wow—that book has a really pretty cover! I can see why you had to buy it once you saw it. I appreciate you stopping by and commenting!

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  2. Great post! Fun and thoughtful :) I don't normally buy books for their covers (I'm a pretty analytical person, so I tend to do my research!), but I love when a book has an awesome cover that fits the content perfectly. And, alternatively, one of my biggest pet peeves is when the cover does NOT match the book - that happened to me once where the novel I was reading had a cover that did not at all reflect the actual characters in the book, and though the novel was good, that cover drove me crazy! ha ha I do like embossed covers and tend to rub my hands over them repeatedly!

    Sue

    2021 Big Book Summer Challenge

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    1. Thank you! It's definitely nice to see other book reviewers' thoughts on a book instead of just buying by cover, but I definitely think analyzing a book's cover is kind of a learnable skill that can work as well! And I totally agree, it is great when the cover matches the story, but they don't always—I did have that issue with When You Trap a Tiger, where the cover is quite fantasy-looking but the story really isn't. And that can throw a wrench in the strategy, but luckily, most book covers have at least some reasonable relevance to the story! And embossed covers are really nice, I agree! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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