I'm reading the most beautiful book: Euphoria by Lily King. If you thought the cover was based on a painting, you're not alone---I did too. Imagine my surprise when I learned that it's actually a photo of the bark of a rainbow eucalyptus tree.
I'd heard of Euphoria before, but the book had slipped off my radar amid the zillion other books I made mental notes to read one day. It wasn't until I dropped by the library near my new apartment to get a library card when I saw it.
We had several errands to run that day and we only had about 30 minutes to spend at the library. I was doing a quick sweep of the fiction section when Euphoria caught my eye. But "caught my eye" doesn't really do it justice. I was so drawn to the brightly colored strokes that Euphoria more accurately grabbed my eyes, gummed glue on the irises, and stuck them to the cover.
I did a speed-reader's glance at the inside flap, yep, looks good. Then checked it out for three weeks of reading bliss.
Was this a flawed evaluation process? After all, we're told not to judge a book by its cover. But books are an art object, just like music and visual art, yet there doesn't seem to be an equivalent for those mediums. When was the last time someone told you not to judge an album by its vinyl cover or not to judge a painting by its frame?
With other mediums, the vessel that protects the art is part of the art itself---something to be considered as part of the full package---so it seems unnatural that readers should be expected to separate the contents of a book from the cover protecting it.
Though it's almost impossible to prove the origins of sayings as old as this, I understand where the "don't judge a book by its cover" metaphor came from. It was originally a creative way to say that we shouldn't judge others until they get to know them, which is always good advice despite how often society fails to heed it. But books aren't people.
Though books are often revered as sacred objects, intrinsically meaningful as a commodity regardless of its contents, they're not. Books are art objects: objects of beauty that conveys ideas. And as art history has shown us for thousands of years, art is subject to critique. It's just part of the deal.
To be clear, I've read marvelous books with hideous covers and astonishingly beautiful books whose words nearly made my eyes bleed. I've also read books with no cover---advance copies of books where the cover hadn't yet been released. Though there are exceptions to every rule, I tend to think that someone who puts a lot of effort into writing a masterful novel isn't going to allow a subpar cover to grace their work.
So although I'm sure I'll miss some great books just because they don't have garish covers, I'll take my chances. Nearly all of the books I've picked based on their covers have been good choices, Euphoria included.
So go on and judge books by their covers. I won't judge you for it.
Have there been any particularly gorgeous book covers to grab your eye? Share in the comments!