The adage is supposed to indicate that, just because a book is marketed well and presented in a visually attractive way, there’s no guarantee the story will be any good.
And that’s fine. It has certainly provided us with an everyday quip to suit many a situation. But these days, perhaps the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” in its original literal sense isn’t relevant, or even very good advice. And there are various reasons for this:
- Choosing a new book is generally guesswork anyway
Aside from external recommendations, we’ve all got a few ways to try and deduce whether a book will be worth laying down the hard-earned. Most of us will turn to the blurb, but a good copywriter can deceive just as well as a good graphic designer. Maybe you read the first couple pages, or just the first para. Dip in randomly? Or, as a certain unnamed bookseller inexplicably tends to do, skip to the end to see how things pan out. In the end, you just take the plunge – so what’s wrong with using the cover as your main selection aid?
- Marketing has been refined so the cover is generally a good match for the book and suits its target audience
Publishing houses these days throw a lot of money into their marketing departments. This means, if you like the cover, chances are your stereotypical self has been market-tested and defined as the ‘target audience’. A great example of this is the movie tie-in cover. I hate them (unless they’ve had at least 40 years retro circumspection) yet they sell and sell and sell, leading one to assume that people place great faith in Hollywood to determine the most worthy pieces of literature. Snobby derision aside, the marketing departments know what’s what and the covers are designed with the masses in mind… are you one of them? Then that book with Keira Knightley on the front is a must-have!
- If the book already has a good reputation, then it‘s all about the cover
How many productions of Pride & Prejudice have been created over the last 200 years? You don‘t have to waste time Googling to know it‘s quite a large number. Many have wonderful covers and there are a number which, well, don‘t. So why would you waste money on something ugly? If you visit more than one bookshop in your life, chances are you‘ll come across an attractive copy, so, even if it‘s relatively cheap, don‘t rush into buying ugly. You will find a better one, probably very soon.
- Doesn’t matter anyway
There are no guarantees in life and reading the occasional dud doesn’t do any harm. Everyone reads books they don’t particularly like. A book may have won a major prize, been recommended by a respected friend, had a great blurb and killer intro… but not float your boat. Why? Well, reading is subjective and we’re all different. But it’s OK because, just as you need to fail numerous times in life to succeed, so too do you need to read the occasional dud in order to refine your tastes and elevate your broader book knowledge.
So go on – pick the book with the cover that speaks to you. These days, you just can’t lose!