Judging a book by its cover 

Go ahead and choose a book by its cover.

book-mag.jpg

Here in the Book Review Department of the Literary Arts Wing of The Memphis Flyer, we see a lot of books. Novels. Short story collections. Poetry chapbooks. Graphic novels. History. Day in and day out, packages come across my desk from Alfred A. Knopf, Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and self-publishers in every genre.

At the moment of arrival, they're all the same. Brown, padded, book-shaped treasure — every one of them endless with possibilities. It isn't until those packages are torn open and the books' covers revealed that the hungry excitement on my face will melt away like a kid's on Christmas when he opens the gift of socks. Yet another fictionalization of a misunderstood military sniper caught up in international intrigue? No thanks.

Or, perhaps, I'm elated. This was the case recently when I opened the paperback version of Slade House by David Mitchell (Random House). At this point, before the ravaged envelope had even hit the floor (the Book Review Department of the Literary Arts Wing of The Memphis Flyer is a trash-strewn mess), I knew absolutely nothing about Mitchell or his book other than it has a beautiful cover. It's silver and black with a man and woman's profiles cameo-style among vines and leaves. There's a large, black keyhole across which the title in raised red letters is emblazoned on a sepia banner.

I knew immediately that I would read it. Then I read the accompanying blurbs: "haunted house story" . . . "spooky thrill ride" . . . "psycho-mystic fantasy horror." The accompanying press kit told me more: Slade House was originally published in 2015, and Mitchell also wrote the novel Cloud Atlas, a book I also didn't read made into a movie I did see, but that didn't hold my attention; I never even considered reading its source material.

But still, there's that cover. It drew me in, which is appropriate because, in the book, along a narrow alleyway, there's a little iron door unseen by most — "It has no handle, keyhole, or gaps around the edges. It's black, nothing-black, like the gaps between stars." And when a visitor passes through, well, they may not ever return. Every nine years spanning five decades beginning in the 1970s, an enigmatic set of twins — brother and sister — brings guests into a home that may or may not exist in the plane on which we live. Those who enter include a socially awkward teenager and his mother, a detective, a college student, and a psychologist. What happens once inside that gate? I found that I had to look through that big, black keyhole to find out.

The cover haunted me, and I became absorbed with the story.

But we aren't to judge a book by its cover. Isn't that what we're told? Both literally and metaphorically, what's on the outside is only decoration, something to be shrugged off as easily as a coat or sweater.

In the earliest days of print, a book's cover was merely protective. In the mid- to late-nineteenth century, publishers began using that space to advertise the book itself. Today, a bookstore's shelves look like a rainbow. In an age when reading is as popular as ever, the colorful palette is meant to draw the consumer in. And because of the competition, book jackets are becoming more telling of what's inside.

Other books I've judged (successfully) by their covers: The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster, The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, All the Names by José Saramago, Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, & Sons by David Gilbert, and The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer, among others.

Having trouble deciding on your next book to read? Visit your local bookstore, and spend some time perusing. And go ahead and judge a book by its cover. You might just be glad you did.

Keep the Flyer Free!

Always independent, always free (never a paywall),
the Memphis Flyer is your source for the best in local news and information.

Now we want to expand and enhance our work.
That's why we're asking you to join us as a Frequent Flyer member.

You'll get membership perks (find out more about those here) and help us continue to deliver the independent journalism you've come to expect.


Favorite

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Blogs

Tiger Blue

Tigers 109, Yale 102 (2 OT)

Tiger Blue

Tigers 28, SMU 18

Beyond the Arc

Grizzlies Defeat Kings 112-104

Hungry Memphis

Zopita's on the Square to open Nov. 19

We Saw You

Indie Film Fest, Grilled Cheese Fest, Adapt-A-Door and more!

Hungry Memphis

Little Italy Opening Downtown

News Blog

Seven Vie for Vacant District 1 Council Seat

News Blog

Group of White Women Test Mall’s No Hoodie Policy

Hungry Memphis

The Nine Now Open

Fly On The Wall Blog

What’s Kids in the Hall Co-Founder Kevin McDonald Doing in Memphis?

ADVERTISEMENT

More by Richard Alley

Readers also liked…

ADVERTISEMENT
© 1996-2018

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation