Never judge a book

(originally seen on
(originally seen on

It’s interesting how we so often judge books by their covers, isn’t it? I know I do when I’m browsing in a bookstore. Interesting cover, pick it up, check out the blurb. Sounds interesting, buy it.

Speaking of covers, I highly recommend checking out this article: Coverflip: author Maureen Johnson turns tables on gendered book covers. It started with this tweet:

Maureen threw out a challenge –

1. Take a well-known book. (It’s up to you to define well-known.)
2. Imagine that book was written by an author of the OPPOSITE GENDER. Or a genderqueer author. Imagine all the things you think of when you think GIRL book or BOY book or GENDERLESS book (do they EXIST?). And I’m not saying that these categorizations are RIGHT—but make no mistake, they’re there.
3. Now, COVERFLIP! Make the new cover and put it online. Tweet or Tumbl it with the tag #coverflip.

The Huffington Post picked up on some of the entries. Go have a look and see, the results are absolutely fascinating.

I’m completely certain that I’ve missed out on a great number of excellent books this way, so it’s nice to have the backup of recommendations from friends, either in person or on a site like Goodreads. I’ve also been fortunate to get a variety of books from various lovely publishers via the magic of Twitter. See a book competition, enter it – I could fuel my To Read pile from Twitter-sourced books alone!

Which leads me back to the brilliant photo above – what books might you be missing out on purely down to them having a cover which doesn’t catch your eye?

Also, with the advent of the Kindle, we’ve lost (or are starting to lose) that link between book and cover – no longer can you sit on the train and peer at what your fellow commuters are reading, and I’m sure we’d be surprised at some!

Have you read any great books despite the cover?

Author: dave

Book reviewer, occasional writer, photographer, coffee-lover, cyclist, spoon carver and stationery geek.

13 thoughts on “Never judge a book”

  1. The shift to browsing books online vs. in stores has dramatically lowered the pressure on covers. I discover most books through friends, reviews, links, tweets and more, where the primary index is the person recommending the book rather than anything the book (cover) has to do itself.

    And your point about kindle contributes to this – buying a book is no longer a visual object or accessory to bring with you places. You can’t show off what high brow book you’re reading anymore simply by having it with you.

    1. I love my kindle but one thing I really *really* miss is the joy of being able to press a freshly-read phyiscal dead-tree book into a friend’s hands and say ‘you *must* read this’. Recommendations on GoodReads are all well and, erm, good, but a quick check of my to-read pile on there suggests that there are books that realistically I’ll probably never get around to reading. I’ve read a bunch of great books recently due to getting copies off Twitter as I mentioned – stuff I’d normally not have bothered with, but if someone has physically given you a book, there’s an expectation that you’ll at least give it a go.
      Sometimes I wish Amazon would allow you to buy a kindle book for a friend.

      1. @dakegra: Amazon’s allowed me to buy multiple Kindle books for friends and family. Are you outside of the US? It might be a (silly/bad) DRM restriction. (The “loan” interface leaves a lot of transparency to be desired, but is also a welcome capability.)

        But to the larger issue, just to clarify, and noting the difference between covers on various editions of Terry Pratchett’s work, why is it that publishers don’t use a set of covers depending on the demographic of the potential sale? This would be *even easier* for where every logged in user is profiled and the cover is just a .jpg (or whatever) instead of being a real thing. Bonus points for switching covers on gifted Kindle books to the profiled gender of the recipient. It seems to me that: knowing that people judge books by their covers (not necessarily unfairly: to paraphrase Han Solo, “And I thought they looked dull on the outside!”) the dead-tree publishers should be digging into options to develop the markets that they’re currently hoping will be cultivated by word of mouth.

        Yes, this is an interesting thought experiment, but it also sounds like a substantial market-expanding business opportunity to me.

        And to answer the previous question, yes, there’s a recently published set of Camus with pretentiously boring black & white covers, a lot of Niebuhr’s work is covered with some rendering of Niebuhr’s head, and all of the public-domain Nietzsche-on-Kindle uses the boring PD Kindle covers — all quite good except for the bits on Russian political history in The Rebel and Moral Man & Immoral Society that drag on something awful.

      2. Hi Jason, thanks for reading. I’m over in the UK, and last time I checked I couldn’t buy a kindle book for a friend. I can add them to my own wishlist, but somewhat bizarrely, people can’t actually buy them for me!

        I like your idea of the range of covers based on demographics!

  2. Family Bites by Lisa Williams comes to mind. AFAIR she didn’t get much of a say in the cover and was left furious with the childish and hideous cover art.

    It did indeed put a lot of people off, but those of us who saw past the ugly cover found ourselves absorbed in a wonderful, fun, supernatural romp of a tale!

    1. Oh, that’s a fantastic example of a brilliant book let down by a truly awful cover. I think you’re right in that Lisa didn’t have much/any say in the cover, which looked as if it was done by a schoolkid.

      1. Even I could have done a better cover and I can’t draw! I hope that the sequel will have a better cover so that people actually pick it up and enjoy her writing.

  3. I love the idea of the blind date book party (where you can’t see the cover of the book). I thought the coverflip was really interesting. I think all in all more serious covers are better for all genres of books. I loved “women’s fiction” and romance novels, but am often embarrassed to read them in public because of the covers.

  4. I always judge books by their covers!! 🙂

    For me, less is more. If there’s too much going on it really puts me off. I’m also a bit picky with colour, preferring white, dark blue or black. To be honest, I would probably read a wider range of genres if they were just plain black with the title printed.

    I’m a bit weird, I know.

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