What You Can Judge By A Book’s Cover

You know the old saying: “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” That’s certainly true of some books, titles that have fallen victim to unfortunate print runs, or perhaps, old worn-out copies that have been read and loved to pieces.

But what can a cover tell us? There’s been a lot of noise in the literary world of late about the difference in marketing books by women versus books by men. Meg Wollitzer wrote a fascinating article for The New York Times, “The Second Shelf,” in which she discusses some of the subtle ways so-called “Women’s Fiction” is often relegated to the sidelines.

“Look at some of the jackets of novels by women. Laundry hanging on a line. A little girl in a field of wildflowers. A pair of shoes on a beach. An empty swing on the porch of an old yellow house.

Compare these with the typeface-only jacket of Chad Harbach’s novel, “The Art of Fielding,” or the jumbo lettering on “The Corrections.” Such covers, according to a book publicist I spoke to, tell the readers, “This book is an event.””

photo by Odan Jaeger
photo by Odan Jaeger

More recently, Maureen Johnson challenged her 77,000 Twitter followers to take a well-known book and re-imagine the cover design it might have been given, were it written by an author of the opposite gender. The results, published on  Huff Post: Books, are both hilarious and illuminating. On the Road becomes a young girl leaning out of a car window, her hair threatening to whip behind her romantically in the breeze. Game of Thrones, re-imagined to have been written by “Georgette R. Martin,” is pink and purple and features Daenerys Targaryen and a host of children and creatures, with ornate curlicues as decorative background.  And Lord of the Flies? We’ll let you see it for yourself.

Next time you’re browsing through your local bookstores, see if you can tell the gender of the author by the cover design. It likely will not be too hard.

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