Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Wednesday Words: Cover Stories

"Don't judge a book by its cover." Yeah, easier said than done. I know I've done it, and don't even try to deny it, you have, too. We all do it. We live in a very visually stimulated era, and as upside down as it may seem, the visual has a huge effect on our word based worlds.

I've noticed book covers all my life. Before I could read the words, I read the pictures so to speak, and even as I got older it just became second nature that a book cover tends to give a little taste somehow of what the story inside on the pages contains. On my very first day of library school in my very first class's lecture, we talked about books as pieces of art, and wandering around bookstores and libraries today, I think my professor was incredibly correct when she said that.

I confess, I'm much more likely to read a book if I at least don't hate the image on the cover, and I'm definitely more likely to use it in display at the library where I work. When putting together our current Valentine's Day corner, there were books I selected that were right on the money as far as content is concerned, but the covers were so dated that I put them in a different display case where only the spine would be seen instead.

And yes, I do feel guilty about it. The whole thing really got me thinking - what are people going to think of the (YA) book covers of today 20 years from now? How many of them will be able to stand the test of time, and is even realistic to think they'll last more than a few years, or even from the hardcover to the paperback printings?

Allow me to elaborate. One of my favorite books that I read in high school was F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. I was assigned to read it over spring break and that novel is perfect for such an occasion. But the cover is perhaps just as famous as the story itself. And it should because it's gorgeous!

Another iconic example that comes to mind is The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Somehow, someway, this orange, cream, and yellow cover can continue to be seen in the hands of readers around the world.

But lately I feel like since such a big emphasis is put on cover art and marketing of books, the more it's changing (yet the more it stays the same). When Daisy Whitney's debut novel The Mockingbirds came out, this was the cover:

However, when it was printed in paperback, the cover switched to this (and now the sequel, The Rivals, follows this new design palate.
That's right, folks. Another YA cover featuring the half-face or unconventionally cropped photograph of a girl. Remind you of anything you've seen before?
I guess my point in all of this is that with the current trends in cover art, I feel like I'm not getting such a special look into the story anymore like I did when I was younger. When the covers all look alike to me, I just think 'what makes this book different? What makes it special?' I judge the books by their covers and most of the time get the general feeling from looking alone like I could have the same experience no matter what novel I choose. (I can assure you that the blurbs on the back or inside the dust cover make a much bigger impact on me, though, when it comes to my selections.) But what are people in the future, in 20 or 30 or 50 years, going to look at our shelves and think? Books really are art, but perhaps in a world where Photoshop can rule the day and everyone seems to have access to a digital camera, this is the way covers are going to be, at least for the time being.

I'm not saying a one-cover mentality is the best option all the time, I just want to look at a cover and feel something. I'll admit, sometimes it can be refreshing when the classics get a new look, too. After all, Gatsby is all about image, isn't it? Check out the tee-shirt I just got from Out of Print Clothing which pretty much emphasizes just that (and because if I'd gotten the classic cover design shirt, the eyes are unfortunately placed if you're a girl if you catch my drift...) Plus I got tons of compliments on this at work, too!
Comments welcome and, as always, happy reading!

1 comment:

  1. Interesting topic!

    Love the Gatsby shirt, btw! Very cool!

    It's tricky to whether some book cover art, especially YA cover art right now, will stand the test of time, but I do think there are a couple of books that stand out. Like:

    The cover art for the Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices books by Cassandra Clare are incredibly creative for me. I just love the colors, the use of the the city backdrops. Also, the Harry Potter covers, the US versions, with cover art by Mary Grandpre are incredibly beautiful and truly so unique. Love them!