Book Lab: Judging a Book by Its Cover, Part 2

If book jackets are designed to appeal to the aesthetic of a specific readership, as determined selectingby our first Book Lab experiment, then what appeals to us, individually, as readers? In our follow-up investigation, we examined this question by choosing books from the library’s New Fiction display, based solely on the appeal of their covers. This could include:

  • Art
  • Endorsements by other authors
  • Prize-nomination or award stickers
  • Title
  • Author

jennifer2We were not, however, allowed to read the summary of the novel — we were interested in what compels us to pick up a book in the first place. What assumptions do we make about content or quality based upon the cover?

By limiting our choices to the New Fiction display, we also eliminated outdated aesthetics, which could negatively influence our decision, but are ultimately irrelevant. Remember how in the eighties all the women’s books had big flowers and scrolly writing? Look at a 1980s decorating or fashion book: all those puffy sofas and sleeves, rose-patterned everything — that’s what was going on.

Here’s what we chose. (For a breakdown of who we are and our reading preferences, go here).


petra

Petra’s book: Forty Days Without Shadow by Olivier Truc

Why did you choose this book?

Petra: First of all because it says ‘International Bestseller and Winner of Twenty International Awards.’

Jennifer: (interjecting) Wouldn’t it be funny if that was the name of the award: “Twenty International Awards?”

Petra: I also like — no, I love snow. I have good memories of playing in snow as a child. Even movies with snow get me excited. It still has to be a good story — no Amish in the snow. Also, the cover is pretty, this faded blue-grey.

Are you influenced by titles that call to mind the titles of other, recently popular books? For instance, after the success of Gone Girl, loads of books came out with the word “girl” in the title.

Petra: No, I actually find this off-putting. It seems like copycatting. Unless there’s something about snow!

Do prize nominations or award announcements on the cover influence you?

Petra: Yes. I don’t know enough about the prizes to know which one is “better” but I think there must be something special about a book if it was nominated or won a prize.

Do author endorsements matter to you?

Petra: Yes.

Describe your personal aesthetic.

Petra: I’m a color person. Colors have to harmonize in a tasteful way. I don’t like colors that are harsh, clashing, or aggressive.


SuzSuzanne is new to Book Lab, and as an actual librarian, has an interesting perspective. Her book: The Geometry of Love by Jessica Levine.

Why did you choose this book?

Suzanne: It says “outstanding first novel, and I love reading debut novels, discovering new voices. It also says “Booklist starred review,” and I know Booklist reviewers can be tough. The title suggests something about science, and I’m into science. I also like the monochromatic look of the cover. It almost looks self-published, or like something from a small press, which is exciting to me.

Are you influenced by titles that call to mind the titles of other, recently popular books?

Suzanne: Yes. I like familiar things.

Do prize nominations or award announcements on the cover influence you?

Suzanne: It depends on the award. I’m actually more interested in runners-up, or nominees. The prize-winners are often compromises, the one that everyone on the panel could agree on, but not necessarily the best.

Do author endorsements matter to you?

Suzanne: I’m more interested in Booklist starred reviews and the look of the publisher.

Describe your aesthetic.

Suzanne: Familiar and soothing, with a hint of magic or fantasy.


I chose  The Silver Swan by Elena Delbanco. EDWsilverswan

Why did you choose this book?

E. D. Watson: It has a cello on the cover, and as an aspiring cellist, I’m intrigued by books about cellos and cello players. I also really enjoy it when a book contains beautiful passages describing a piece of music and the music’s effect on the characters. There’s an endorsement on the cover from Alan Cheuse, NPR’s book commentator, that promises “beautifully flowing prose from beginning to end.” I trust NPR not to recommend a sucky book.

Jennifer: (interjecting) I think you were also subconsciously influenced by the author’s name — Elena. It makes you think of Elena Ferrante.

E. D. : Yeah, probably. I love me some Ferrante.

Are you influenced by titles that call to mind the titles of other, recently popular books?

E. D. : No way. It has the opposite effect, actually. I feel like it’s a ploy. I want originality.

Do prize nominations or award announcements on the cover influence me?

E. D. : Yes, but some prizes carry more weight in my mind than others. The Nobel prize and the National Book Award are two that I respect a lot, along with the Prix Goncourt.

What about author endorsements?

E. D. : Not so much. I feel like that’s either the author’s friends, or people who’ve accepted a fee to help promote something. I’m more interested in the opinions of trusted readers and reviewers.

Describe your aesthetic: Black and white photos, esoteric, exotic, spare.


jennifer2Jennifer’s book: The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North.

Why did you choose this book?

Jennifer: The title. I have a macabre fascination with death, and I like the name Sophie.

Are you influenced by titles that call to mind the titles of other, recently popular books?

Jennifer: Not at all. It’s jumping on a bandwagon. Be your damn self!

Do prize nominations or award announcements on the cover influence you?

Jennifer: Not really. I tend to avoid what’s popular and go for the underdog.

What about author endorsements?

Jennifer: They can make a difference in either a positive or negative way. If an author I don’t like endorses a book, then chances are low that I’ll want to read it.

Describe your aesthetic.

Jennifer: I like portraits, and I am super into texture. I like old-world, things that hint of another place or time. Bold colors, but not primary colors.


NedraNedra’s book: Tenacity by J. S. Law

Why did you choose this book?

Nedra: It says “Thriller” and I like thrillers. Also, Patricia Cornwell calls it “Addictively readable,” and I like her books.

Are you influenced by titles that call to mind the titles of other, recently popular books?

Nedra: Yes, that does appeal to me. I also like one-word titles. A lot of the books I’ve enjoyed have had a single word for the title.

Do prize nominations or award announcements on the cover influence you?

Nedra: Prizes, no. But author endorsements, definitely. And the fact that it says it’s a thriller. I guess I also like the sort of military-style font of the title.

Describe your aesthetic.

Nedra: Dark, mysterious. I like books with a murder weapon on the cover, or that otherwise look a little creepy or suspenseful.


Book Lab is currently reading our selections. We will reconvene after the Thanksgiving holidays to discuss whether or not our personal attraction to a book’s cover also led us to a really good story. Stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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