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Books and their covers: when looks deceive

judge a book by its cover 300x300 Books and their covers: when looks deceive

Something you hear often in the book blogging world is the need to review the book you are'reading, rather than the book that you'wish'your were reading. After all, its not fair to write a negative review simply because in your opinion things should have been done differently.

While Id argue that the above is, um, arguable, I do think that there is a situation where it is perfectly all right to judge a book based on what it isnt, rather than what it is.

Recently I purchased a book that Id had my eye on for some time, and dove right in. However, after a chapter or two, I realised that something was wrong. I closed the book, looked at the cover, read the blurb material, looked at the cover again.

I was sure'when Id purchased the book that Id been purchasing a weird literary thing full of dark mysteries and the odd touch of magic realism. And indeed, thats exactly what the cover art and design seemed to say to me. The blurb, too, seemed to indicate that I was in for a strange, dark read. But the pages within seemed to offer something else entirely.

Now, while I found the book a reasonable enough way to pass a few hours, I cant help but feel that the disconnect between the book that I thought I was going to read and the book that I ended up reading significantly affected my subsequent enjoyment of the book. Where was the darkness? Where was the mystery? Where were those suggestions of magic realism Id been hoping for? With each page, my frustration was growing: this was not the book that I had bought.

Although I understand that its unfair to criticise a book based on whats not there, or the fact that it doesnt follow the twists and turns that in your mind should occur, I think its entirely fine to feel a little put out for being sold something whose contents are far from whats indicated on the packaging.

A book is two things, after all: first, its a story, but second, its a product. And as a reader I am buying both. No matter how brilliant the story is, if its not the story Im spending good money on, then as a product its a failure.

I understand the desire to pitch a book to as wide an audience as possible, but if doing so obfuscates the truth of the product, then somethings not right. Its fine to label a Fuji apple as an apple, but its not so cool to label a Fuji a Red Delicious, no matter how much you want to argue that lovers of Fujis are guaranteed to love a Red Delicious, and now matter how beautifully that apple is packaged.

Having finished the book in question, I cant help but feel not only a little dissatisfied, but also a little confused. Would I have enjoyed the book more if the publisher had been up-front about what I was buying? To what degree was my enjoyment of the book affected by this packaging issue? Will I ever again read the author in question now that I feel cheated?

As much as I hate that its true, I do judge books by their coversand so do most readers. And when this information turns out to be faulty, its hard not to feel burned.


  1. I think expectations will always play a part and we do have to review the whole product. If it has a terrible cover, totally worth mentioned. Same if it is misleading!

  2. Stephanie /

    Good point, Amy. I very rarely review anything other than the content of a book, but now Im wondering whether I should start looking at a book as a product more generally

  3. Very interesting post, Stephanie. I think you have every right to feel cheated. (Im curious to know what the book was now so I can check out the cover and copy blurb.)

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks, Elizabeth! Im trying not to name names, but Ill pop an email over to you. :)

  4. I think this is a fair call. The cover design and blurb are there to lure the reader in, naturally. They say, this is what youre in for, so the reader goes in with the right expectations.

    If the cover and blurb promise thrills and chills, and instead deliver a cosy mystery, then a reader does end up judging a book by what its not. Its not what they said it would be.

    The trouble is, the cover and back blurb are such difficult things to get right.

  5. I think the problem is the people who design the covers and write the blurbs havent necessarily read the book. Which is a shame.

  6. Stephanie /

    Ebony: very good points. Its difficult to write a teaser blurb that doesnt give too much away whilst still being informative. Belle also makes a good point about the people writing the back blurbs/designing the book covers not necessarily having read the book in question, which no doubt influences the outcome.

  7. Rossalie /

    Looks really interesting and I like the ideas you have shared us hereThe book covers can really make a big impact when it comes to choosing the book you want to read

  8. A year ago I would have said that book covers play almost no role in whether I select a book to read or not but I dont think that is true. I think subconsciously at least it does have some type of influence. That said I am not particularly concerned about a mismatch between cover design and content.
    Its a different story with blurbs though the blurb is how I decide if I want to read a book or not and when it is misleading I am very annoyed by that.

  9. Stephanie /

    Covers are increasingly play a role for meI have so much to read now that a book that looks appealing gets my attention right off. Funny that you should mention blurbs, as Im just about to write a post on them!

  10. Vintage RIASS post: Books and their covers: when looks deceive

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