Sunday, 3 February 2013

Don't Judge a Book by its Cover: Aesthetics in Publishing

Faber's 50th Anniversary edition of the Plath classic (source)
There has been some controversy recently concerning the new cover for Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar (pictured above) which many have derided as attempting to fit the book in with the 'Chick-Lit' genre. The counter-argument is that if a new image encourages new readers to pick up the book, then surely that's a good thing? I have to say I don't really agree with either side, since I think this cover hints at something more serious than 'Chick-Lit': the woman's expression is indefinable, while the mirror image suggests a pre-occupation with appearances and perhaps subsequently the pressures on women. In short, if I knew nothing about the story, I would not assume that this was a light read.

As a fashion blogger, I am of course interested in the appearance of all things and that includes book covers. While I'm willing to overlook a badly-designed cover in favour of what I've been told is a good book, it's the front of a novel which encourages me to indulge in an impulse buy. Some of the best books I've read of late have been picked up purely because their covers matched something my subconscious seemed to be searching for. I noticed You Deserve Nothing the other day in the library because I liked the font and the girl's outfit. After a brief scan of the short blurb confirmed it was the kind of thing I was interested in, I dove straight in, and loved every second. It was like the book had been written purely for me. I felt like I'd had every thought which occurred to the three protagonists. Not bad for something picked up on impulse right?

Alexander Maksik's debut (source)

What I'm trying to say is that the appearance of a book is important to me, so I definitely do judge them by their covers. Is it partially because I want it to look good on my shelf or in my hands on the Underground? Of course. But it's also to do with capturing my attention. The thing about You Deserve Nothing is that its cover could never hope to convey everything I found inside, but it still drew me in long enough to glance at the description and I was instantly hooked. Perhaps that's what Faber are aiming for with their new The Bell Jar cover; it's both intriguing and aesthetically pleasing. New readers might be captured long enough to check the blurb or read the first page, which is all it takes to get you into a really good book.

How do you choose your books? Is the cover important to you?


Anonymous said...

Hi Alys, this is Lottie from Lit etc here, just wanted to say I really like your blog!

I've been wondering about this after hearing about the controversy over the new book cover (and after seeing it in a bookshop today).

I admit I do judge a book by it's cover - it's so easy to have first impressions about anything - although personally I think the design of a book is quite important. The previous designs of The Bell Jar appear to have been more striking and abstract in design than the 50th Anniversary Edition is. I'm not sure if the cover hints at 'chick lit' as you say, although I can see why the big stores would rather sell this design as it may attract a wider audience. However I don't think that this should be the main purpose of the cover, rather it should be interesting and original.

Devon - InformedStyle said...

Hmmm. I've thought about the new cover for a while, but have returned to my initial impression: do not like.

Perhaps they were going for a vintage/retro inspired look? À la Mad Men? But to me, it seems a bit too Jackie Collins-esque to make me want to pick it up (let alone buy it).

I always judge books by their covers. Books and wine. If I like the cover/label, I'll pick it up and check it out. If not, I keep on walking. My favourites are those lovely French novels with identical covers - featuring just the cream paper, a simple border, and the text of the title and author. Those intrigue me, so I'm almost always certain to give them a chance.


Tala said...

that bell jar cover is fantastic!