Covers and Their Point

October 23, 2005

At the grocery store, I walked by a copy of Amy Tan’s new book, Saving Fish From Drowning. Since then, I’ve been trying to locate and identify my opinion of that title. I know I think the cover is lousy, what with it’s blandly airy line spacing and unstimulating typeface. It’s worse than merely boring, it’s routine and derivative.

On the other hand, it is the title that stuck out to me from the shelf when I walked by. Must’ve been a dozen books there, but that’s the one I noticed and remembered. For the most part Amy Tan’s titles do that to me. The Bonesetter’s Daughter and The Opposite of Fate are great titles, though I can’t speak to the quality of the books, since I’ve never managed to dig any deeper than two dozen pages into an Amy Tan novel. (Two reasons: 1) I haven’t even opened an Amy Tan novel in almost ten years and 2) when last I did, it featured no androids, no detectives, no gunplay, no ancient civilization and no futuristic cityscape. These are not judgments of the work.)

While I understand all the reasons why book covers are 45% author’s name, I’ll never like it. I vastly prefer the covers of lesser-known authors, whose works have to be sold on their content rather than their lineage. Some great covers — covers that I’ve envied and enjoyed on the shelf, that I’ve picked up just to touch and admire — from recent years. If the author isn’t listed, it’s ’cause I haven’t read the book. I’ve just liked the cover.

One thing we can conclude from the above is that Will loves matte covers. I’ve looked into this, and it’s true. He really does.

As an example of a cover that fails utterly, look at Wil Wheaton’s Just A Geek, which is confrontational, witless and cold. Not at all right for what’s supposed to be a book of funny, insightful memoirs and self-deprecation. (Granted, I haven’t read this book, so maybe it is standoffish and gray.)

Sometime soon, I should make a list of those covers that jump out at me at the bookstore, but that I still haven’t bought. II just don’t buy books on impulse anymore, and that’s a shame. I wonder who does.

What books have you bought that you became aware of by the cover, not by a recommendation or a “Somebody else wants you to buy this” link on Amazon?


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