Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Tale of Two Covers


At the used book store, it was beautiful. A heavy book about two inches thick with a strong, hard cover. On the front, a Celtic knot in dark green embossed over a slightly lighter green intertwined and crossed itself in an endless weave. Silver, raised letters indicated the title and the author’s name. It was one of those books that begs to be handled, to be picked up and turned over, appreciated, no matter what its content. The back of the book was dark green and simple, a short summary the only marking. When opened, the pages were a creamy white, the paper soft. The words were clear and dark against the ivory background. The slight wear on the edge of the pages made them smooth against my fingers and the scuffs on the cover made it look like it had been used and loved. 
I would pick up a Twilight book if it looked like that. If only to reflect on the sad discrepancy between what it looked like and what it really is. 
I knew and liked the author of this particular book, so I not only picked it up but sat on the cold floor for half an hour, reading the first few chapters. The book felt like a masterpiece in my hands.
When it was time to go, I put the book back on the shelf. I could get it from the library.

So I did.

At the library, it was cheap-looking. Light and small, thick, but now the size of a common paperback. The covers were still hard, but they were light cardboard and the glue was visible around the inside edges. It was light blue faded into teal, with a border of what looked like silver crystal spikes around the front. The author’s name was bigger than the title, and embossed in bright, shiny red. The back was crowded with over-positive summaries and glowing reviews. Does anyone ever actually choose to read a book based on the “Amazing!…Brilliant!” written by some obscure newspaper on the back cover? On the front, instead of the spare complexity of the Celtic knot, there was a depiction of a bare chested man standing in a mist of blue. He was covered in tribal looking tattoos and standing over a sleeping, white haired man who appeared to be dead. Some sort of mist or water or spirit seemed to be emanating from his sternum. It looked like a tawdry spiritualist novel. 

It’s a good book. There are forests and ancient legends and wolves and a mysterious society and good battling the forces of evil. Mythology is tempered with Christian influences. Beauty and poetry dance with horror and mortal danger. 
But the cover of the copy from the library makes it embarrassing to be seen reading. Like if Pride and Prejudice was decked out to look like a slushy romance novel. It makes it necessary to explain to one’s entire family that the heart shaped border of pink roses around a close up picture of people kissing is not indicative of the content of the book. Or if the cover of a copy Shakespeare’s Macbeth looked like a Stephen King novel. 

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. The atmosphere of the physical, material book doesn’t necessarily indicate what’s on the inside. But it does define what the first impression of the book is. So unless a book is sensationalist, over-eager, and cheap, it shouldn’t look like it is. 
Books should be beautiful. Especially the good ones.