Home Arts & Lit Can you judge a book by its cover?

Can you judge a book by its cover?


Christy Ku argues that the cover and title of a book is one of the most important elements to take into account when choosing what to read. Do you agree?

Does this cover make you want to find out what's written inside?
Does this cover make you want to find out what’s written inside?

Several years ago, Borders was liquidising its stock as it went bust. Naturally, I went bargain hunting/scavenging through the boxes and chose a book purely because of its beautiful cover and intriguing title. To this day, I Capture the Castle still stands as one of my all-time favourites.

As a result, I firmly believe that judging a book by its cover is a wonderful way to choose books. When you’re faced with overflowing bookshelves (physical or virtual), the book cover and title will be the first things that attracts your attention, making you pick it up and flick through the first few pages. Just listen to these book titles; Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, When God Was a Rabbit, Life of Pi, A Clockwork Orange – they’re utterly bizarre, intriguing or just hard to forget.

There’s no denying the importance of book covers. We all know that first impressions matter – when we meet someone for the first time, we will make so many assumptions about them in a few seconds. It’s the same for books – the publishers dress the book in its Sunday Best and send it off into the big wide world.

And like all good stylists, the cover designer has the power to make the book recognisable. For example, The Fault in Our Stars has quite a distinctive shade of light blue, distinguishing it from the predominately black covers of most teenage fiction books. A simple trick, but I was able to spot the book from a mile away, and video bloggers on YouTube found people commenting on the book, tucked away on shelves or tables in the background. Also, Jacqueline Wilson and her illustrator Nick Sharratt have worked together for many years, creating those simple and characteristics covers that her audience will recognise at once.

Is the first edition of The Great Gatsby your favourite as well?
Is the first edition of The Great Gatsby your favourite as well?

I am forever in love with seeing how the classics are redecorated – if you’re going to invest in these timeless books, you may as well get the prettiest ones! Some of my favourites include Vintage Classics and Wordsworth Classics – they never fail to create wonderful covers. Whilst I’m always looking for better and more beautiful editions of The Great Gatsby (what do you mean “don’t you already have a copy”?), the first edition is perfect. It resembles the poster mentioned in the book; a pair of eyes on a background of blue – gorgeous.

Limited editions are always wonderful, if out of my price range. Some fantastic special editions of The Hunger Games were released in New Zealand – white hardback with a raised golden mockingjay and title, and metallic edges. My favourite special edition of Fahrenheit 451, a book about burning books, came with a match and you could use the spine to light it. Genius, and slightly sinister.

Is this all rather shallow? Surely the story inside matters most? Yes, but a beautiful story inside a book deserves a beautiful outside. If I bought a book where I hated the cover, I’ll put the effort to cover and decorate it (clearly, I get invited to so many parties).

Beautiful books won’t just look wonderful on your shelf – if you’re going to have to carry them around, they may as well look their best. After all, a book can be the best accessory.

Christy Ku

Do you agree that a book can be accurately judged by its cover? Or are the words inside far more important? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below or writing to Books at the Facebook Group or on Twitter!

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