I spent years reading the praises of Elena Ferrante. I remember fantastic reviews of the early books in her Neopalitan series. I remember words like addicting and immersive. I was fully interested.
And then I saw the cover to the first book in the series. You see, My Brilliant Friends cover reminds me of a really dull 1970’s family drama. To me it indicates a story that is outdated but not currently relevant, characters that will have no depth, and pages of dull prose. The covers for the rest of the series, to me, feel the same. They feel old but not relevant, dusty with little breaks from boredom, like something I would be embarrassed to have to carry in my bag.
I wound up buying a copy of My Brilliant Friend while I was visiting an indie bookstore in Nashville. I wanted to buy lots of books and one of the booksellers was very persuasive. Luckily this was right before Michigan’s Stay at Home order, and I quickly needed new books to read.
I was sold by Ferrante’s first page. I tried to get my book club excited about these now realized modern classics. I heard crickets. The cover had the same effect on than them it did on me.
This isn’t my first experience with unwarranted cover judgement. I’m a huge fan of the Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater. I love everything about the books – except the covers, and some of the titles. Five years ago I found myself doing the exact same thing – begging friends to read amazing books – please ignore the cover. Fortunately then I succeeded. I have a small group of Cabeswater fans who still joke about the less than ideal cover art for such an amazing series.
Lately I also find myself weary of trends in cover trends in fantasy and historical fiction. Women’s turned backs, backlit buildings with a brightly lit background, the same font over and over.
I know we aren’t supposed to judge books by their cover but hell, humans are visual creatures. I’ve read absolute shit novels with covers that could hang in museums. There is power in that image. Sometimes that power is enough to get me through a book but not through the first 50 pages. Sometimes I’ll push through, hoping the book lives up to its cover only to find myself angry at my wasted reading time.
I have also clearly found gems with covers I find less than desirable, sometimes even embarrassing. Clearly I need to get out of my cover judgement comfort zone more often. Luckily with the prevalence of eBooks I find it easier to pick a book just on description alone and not worry about looking at a cover I find unengaging for days at a time.
How do you feel about covers? Are you as judgey as me or are you happy to read anything no matter how it looks packaged up at your library/bookstore/online retailer?