Two days ago Maureen Johnson wrote a blog post about how the book industry gives very different covers to books of female authors than it does to books of their male counterparts. The female covers are more flimsy, cute and flaky. The male covers are more serious, deep and meaningful. To prove her point, she suggested and implemented a cover flip. Well known books by male authors received female covers and vice versa.
Many people responded that different covers really made those titles more or less interesting to them than before. They were more likely to read a title with a male cover, no matter what it was and who wrote it.
I looked at the cover flip gallery and I could tell easily which of the covers were male and which were female. However, this did not influence my desire to read or not read any of them.
I realized, I am the exception to the rule. I really do not judge a book by its cover. And I think that is my father’s fault.
My father was a voracious reader and belonged to a book mail order club. Every few weeks a box with books would arrive. These books were hardcover. They were bound in fabric or hard cardboard. They had the name of the author and the title printed in small gold letters on the spine. And that was it.
There was no picture, no illustration, no summary, no blurbs and no price. If you wanted to find out what that book was about, you better got to reading it. As I always was a voracious reader as well, I did exactly that. I read pretty much every book Louis Bromfield ever wrote. I read Norman Mailer, Daphne DuMaurier, Margaret Mitchell, Rona Jaffe and Ernest Hemingway without ever seeing the covers of their books.
In school we also had very few books with shiny covers. The literature dissemination in our school was tightly controlled by the Reclam publishing agency. Those prints usually had unicolored covers with just the name of the author and the title as well. I still own many of the shiny yellow, red and green paperbacks of such prestigious authors like William Shakespeare, Heinrich Boell, Max Frisch, Guenther Grass, Johan Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Bertholt Brecht and Rainer Maria Rilke.
So I guess my early familiarity with books without covers has led me to ignore the pretty pictures or the ragged fonts on the outside. I don’t really need blurbs or praise either. Many times I have disagreed with those overly optimistic statements. I get interested in a book when I hear from other people that it is worth a read. Or I will pick a book at the bookstore and open it up. I might read the first five pages. If you get me hooked by then, I will buy the book. No matter what flimsy girl in a revealing dress with flowers in the corners is draped on the cover of it. I don’t care. I don’t need to look at it. I do understand that I am one of very few people who think this way.
Following Maureen Johnson’s blog post, this is my suggestion: Forget about impressive covers all together. Just go back to binding the books in one color, putting the name of the author and the title on it and then be done with it. Let the books stand on their own merits. Let the writing convince the readers if the books are worth reading. Equalize the playing field.
Let’s just have no covers for a while.