Do you judge a book by its cover?

Hello all. My regular guest blogger is having the Thursday slot this week as I managed to have a memory lapse yesterday and forget what day it was. So here he is, a day later than usual. Enjoy!


I suppose we’d all like to think we don’t judge books by their covers but I wonder if you ever stop and think about that. Without actually reading it how can you judge or make a judgement about a book. We like to think we are fair and reach a reasonable (and reasoned) opinion about books we are going to buy. What do you base that decision on? Is it a recommendation from a friend or a review on radio/TV or in a newspaper? (In which case probably the cover doesn’t even come into it; for example, if you’re buying a dictionary, it’s a dictionary. It doesn’t matter what’s on the cover. You want the words inside.)Why do buy a particular book? Is it for information/reference or maybe just leisure time reading? When you browse in a bookshop are there certain sections or subjects you head for because that’s your interest: history, local history, historical fiction, travel & geography, art, biography, science etc? Once you’ve got to your section there’ll usually be loads of books on that subject so how do you decide? Don’t tell me an appealing cover doesn’t sway you. Even if you don’t buy the book I’m sure there are times when you’ve taken it out to have a look at just because of its cover. Of course you’ll have a “quick flick” through and read a few paragraphs. But why? Because the cover looked “interesting”. How often do you stop and think I wonder if the cover is really telling me what this book is going to be like?

Think about this – if people didn’t, at least some of the time, judge books by their covers why is there a whole industry connected with the design of book covers. I heard one author, on the radio, recently lamenting the fact that her new book had a cover she was not impressed with because it had stuff on which suggested the type of writing inside; it was not she felt her type of writing but she had to go with it as the publishers decide. (Behind decisions like that is the whole commercial side of writing and making a product that looks appealing even with well-established authors.) Once you’ve given them your manuscript and you’ve got your payment how they package it is up to them. She described it as letting someone else wrap a present she’d brought. A similar feeling occurs when writers’ books are made into films. The producers can take liberties with the written word in order to introduce a bit more drama. Again one author I heard said that he didn’t like what was done with his book but accepted that once he’d agreed to let it be made into a film he had to just let go of it. It was like his child leaving home and finding its way in another medium. It became a different “animal” once someone else got hold of it. He was sad he couldn’t help it through the process but that’s just the way it is. That’s quite a contrast to another author who had been asked by the film producers to be a sort of “on-set advisor” on character portrayals; even so the film makers still had the final word.

Just as an example check out the following link and look at these seven covers for the novel 1984 (the other one is for Animal Farm).….0…1ac.1.30.img..1.3.318.00t653bR3xY#hl=en&q=1984+george+orwell&tbm=isch&facrc=0%3B1984%20george%20orwell%20book%20cover&imgrc=_

Given what you know the book is about do any strike you as being particularly attractive. If you knew nothing about the book would any of those covers help you? (Don’t know about you but I didn’t find any particularly appealing.)

The other thing to think about with this question is how much of a write-up or reviews are there on the cover or inside covers. They may help you, so you could say you are judging the book by its cover simply because the cover is giving you a lot of information about its content.

There is a Bo Diddley (real name: Ellas Otha Bates) song called You can’t judge a book by looking at the cover. (It was written by Stevie Wonder/Sylvia Moy/Henry Cosby and came out in 1962 on Checker Records.) It contains a number of “You can’t judge…” sentences about things like an apple & the tree, honey and the bee, daughter and the mother etc. It’s really a reminder of how easily we get into the way of judging something by reference to something else which it’s related to in some way.

If you fancy a watch/listen check this out:

Don’t worry if you notice the words are out of sync on the old black & white live bit. Also check out those synchronised dancers (nearly!). No surprise it never made the charts over here.

It was though covered by a number of artists: The Strypes, Willie Dixon, Bob Newscaster, The Shadows of Night. British band The Yardbirds also covered the song. Their line up over the years has included some VERY famous names on lead guitar: Eric Clapton (1962-65), Jeff Beck (1965-66) and Jimmy Page (1966-68); Page, after the group broke up, as you’ll know, went on to form Led Zeppelin.

Now what about if we take the “book by the cover” to be a metaphor for relationships between people? Do you judge people by how they dress? Don’t tell me you’ve never looked at someone either younger or older and thought there’s no way you’d dress like that – perhaps it was the pink hair or skinhead or long hair or too scruffy look or too well-manicured look or too tall or too short and so on. I’m sure you’ve all done it. You’ve categorised people by that first impression. You don’t want to bother getting to know them because they’re not likely to be “your sort of person”. You’re definitely judging the “book” by its cover. Alternatively perhaps one of those qualities mentioned would cause you to be attracted to that person because they’re likely to be “your sort of person”. It’s the same thing though isn’t it except this time it’s attraction rather than avoidance.

The only real way to find out is to actually speak to the person and get to know them just like with the book the only answer is to read it and then pass an opinion.

The key is are you a “book” that someone would want to read? Would someone want to read the cover and find out more? Maybe that’s why we spend quite a lot of time making our “covers” attractive; and just maybe in doing that we’re admitting what we don’t want to – that we do judge people by their appearance. Otherwise why spend that time making ourselves more appealing if we’re not going to use that as a standard by which we judge others. Bit of a contradiction isn’t it? – spending time to make our covers more attractive (knowing that others probably do judge us that way) and then saying we don’t judge others that way. Hmmm……Human Nature perhaps??

One response to this post.

  1. Interesting debate: I like to think I am not too influenced by the cover (I’ve read too many books in really thin, dodgy editions, or even photocopied – back in the bad old Communist censorship days). But when I do get a nice cover, good quality paper, careful editing and a certain level of care in a book, I enjoy it more, undeniably.


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