I’ve just started reading In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood and in the first chapter she talks about the way we make judgements about genre from book covers. In the course of this discussion, she mentioned two instances when she felt her own books had covers that did not match their content and gave readers a deceptive impression of what they were about. I think she felt a little sorry for the readers who had bought these books expecting one thing and getting another.
I had been thinking a similar thing a couple of days ago. I’d been in The Works as they had an offer on for 3 books for £5. (Rude not to and all that.) As ever, I’d found two books that I wanted (Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin and Let the Right One in by John Ajvide Lindqvist) but I was struggling to find a third.
I quickly dismissed whole swathes of shelves due to their covers. There were the ones that looked vaguely like Twilight and the ones that looked like 50 Shades of Grey and then shelves full of those pastel shaded chick lit books with curly writing and sketches of skinny women on the front. To be far, I’ve not really read any of these but the sheer femininty oozing from their covers really puts me off.
I wasn’t getting very far and I realised that I was going to have take a closer look. It was then I found a small section of Murial Spark books, decked out in the same pastel covers as the chick lit books. Imagine thinking you were getting some light, modern comedy romance – so I imagined anyway, maybe these books are deeper than they look – and getting the darkerness of The Driver’s Seat or The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. It would be a bit of a shock to the system, I’m sure.
It is interesting that we make these decisions, dismissing or accepting a book before we’ve even picked it off the shelf. I told myself that in the future I would make myself look closer before dismissing things out of hand. In reality, I doubt I’ll keep to it as these processes happen somewhere below conscious thought and so aren’t really controllable. And it would obviously be a time issue if you had to scrutinise everything before making a decision. I guess, I’ll keep judging a book by its cover.