1 March 2021 Susannah

Judging a book by its cover

Browsing books

They say that you should not judge a book by its cover. So … what should a book cover achieve? It needs to announce the title, the name of the author, it should perhaps give some idea of the genre of the book, it should give some idea of the era of the story, and it should be enticing.

However, there are covers which fail dismally in giving an accurate idea of the setting or content of a book, and I’ve had fun looking at some particularly horrific examples on the web. E-books offer up some truly dire covers – historically wrong, woefully inappropriate and sometimes quite hilarious, it is very clear that the designer has no idea what the book is about. Lady Godiva on a cover of Pride and Prejudice? Or is it supposed to be Jane Bennet riding to Netherfield – she’d most definitely catch a chill wearing so little!

Annual awards are given for stunning book covers and it’s fabulous to see what designs artists can come up with which attract the eye, but also reflect the story within. I think it’s safe to say that none of the book covers I’ve included here are going to be up for such awards. I hope they will at least give you a good laugh!

Did you know that the two colours most likely to attract the roving eye of a possible book buyer are RED and YELLOW? Perhaps next time you are in a book shop, you might think about which sort of cover and which colours attract your eye?

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Featured image credit- Browsing books, https://downhdwalls.com/1804-person-holding-book-while-browsing-on-book-lot-wallpapers
Body image credit- Selected book cover images from https://www.goodreads.com/

Comments (13)

  1. Gretel

    Oh, I don’t know.
    Rex, the Hound of the Baskersvilles is quite appealing.
    “Here boy!!”


  2. Donna Fletcher Crow

    These are hysterical! As you say, the designer has no idea what the book is about. Imagine not knowing Dickens isn’t a contemporary author! My favorite, though, has to be the kitten–Thomas Hardy has to be turning in his grave!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I think all those authors would be turning in their graves!! They are very funny, and yet it is also sad that any publisher can allow such covers to be used.

  3. Maria

    Oh Susannah, I burst out laughing at your selection of hilariously dreadful covers! I was amused and horrified in equal measure by the ridiculous P & P cover. There is much to be concerned about in the publishing industry these days and the covers are a sad reflection of broader issues.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I also laughed at them and yet it is also a terrible indictment on the publishing industry that any publisher can be able to get away with such truly dreadful covers.

  4. Daniel Smith

    Cool! But it’s just a manifestation of something broader which I think it is a real problem, which is a demand that every news story and blog posting on the Internet have a picture to illustrate it. It’s not just an issue of using file photos instead of current photos, you see all kinds of grotesque things… like a stock photo of a generic police car as an illustration of any crime story. One of the weirder examples is the way virtually all articles about bitcoin are illustrated with a photo of fake physical gold-colored coins.

    I’m not actually that bothered by the shark picture on Moby-Dick, because Melville himself, in the novel, defines a whale as “a spouting fish with a horizontal tale,” so he wasn’t a purist on ichthyology. It’s a book about an attack by a dangerous fish and it’s illustrated with a picture of a dangerous fish.

    There is a sort of cottage industry now in selling eBook versions of public domain Project Gutenberg texts, and your covers seem like the obvious result of doing the quickest and stupidest image search based on a title word… as you might do if you’re doing a thousand of them. So a search on “Anne” turns up Queen Anne, etc. I don’t think I want to know what a search for “Moby-Dick” might turn up, but whoever did that cover at least knew as much as the average middle school student about the topic of the book.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thanks for your interesting explanation of how e-books sometimes get their covers. It certainly explains Queen Anne on the cover of Anne of Green Gables.
      Am not sure I agree with you about the shark though. Melville writes so much about the history of whaling, the process of whaling, and then also describes Moby Dick, so it’s pretty clear the creature is a whale.

  5. Margaret Debenham

    Those covers are truly bizarre! And how on earth did Moby Dick the Shark slip past whoever approves the covers – or is there no vetting process whatsoever? (On reflection, looking at those covers – there definitely is no vetting process.) As to colours of book covers – red definitely works for me (as in the Julian Barnes books mentioned above – nice fat red spine (with a touch of yellow) on Keeping an Eye Open, red everywhere for The Man in the Red Coat). It definitely draws the eye.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      The Man in the Red Coat has a fabulous cover that really draws the eye. I agree that some of the ones I included are so bizarre as to be hilarious. I think Herman Melville might have turned in his grave could he have seen that shark!

  6. Melody

    One of my favourite books of all time is Shirley Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus. When I first had to read it for a university course, I found a second-hand copy of the 1984 Penguin edition, which had a blonde-haired heroine on the cover almost ‘busting out’ of a sexy red dress. It looked so tacky! I covered it in brown paper so I wouldn’t be embarrassed to pull it out in English tutorials…

    If I hadn’t been looking for that particular book, I would never have picked up such a garish cover. Fortunately, I now have a much more subdued (and appropriate) edition on my bookshelf.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      A lovely story – what a good thing you were not forever deterred by the tacky cover. It is a fabulous book, isn’t it!

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