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Saturday, 16 July 2011

Cover to Cover

When one is trying to think of a topic to write about, one should look to their passions. Well, reading is something I have enjoyed since time immemorial, so I could write about a book, I thought to myself. Well, what book? I have read hundreds of novels I could write a review for, or outline why I liked them, or didn't like them, or downright hated them (I'm looking at you No Great Mischief). Intro, plot outline, criticisms, witticisms (on a good day), characters, memorable events, wrap-up, and I'm done.


I'm not knocking book reviews, but it's just not really my m.o. right now I suppose. But, paradoxically, I still wanted to write about books. I'm in a bind. I normally internalize these epic struggles of self, twisting my conscience like so much salt water taffy. Fingers trembling over the keyboard, I have an epiphany. Talk to somebody! And who happened to be there but my lovely wife, who, once hearing about my crisis of creativity, made a suggestion, and a damn good one at that.

"Why don't you write about book covers. You love them, you always talk about them, and you're judgmental as hell about books with terrible ones".

Stroking my nonexistent beard, I muttered to myself about that being a great idea and already thinking about ways to option it for myself. Yes, the fusion of art and literature that can spark a conversation about a book before anyone even...

"If you do write about book covers, promise you credit me though. God knows you wouldn't if I don't tell you to".

Fine. True. Good point. Sweetheart, this is all you...

Ever walked into Munro's, or Bolen, or Chapters, and wandered aimlessly through the store, stopping to admire the rows upon rows, shelves upon shelves of those delightful books, but not really have any particular one in mind you'd like to read?

No? I envy you, my prepared and decisive friend! For you make lists, do the legwork, comb through the Sunday Book Review, and march right into your bookstore with a determined look on your face, make your purchase, and march straight back home again. Good for you.

Me? I wander. No plan, no legwork, no lists. Sure, I know the authors I like, and sometimes I linger at their little spot on the shelf, all those McCarthys, those Pynchons, lined up and ready for relative discovery. But other times I crave new. I want the thrill of discovery and the eventual championing a newly found author my friends have never heard of, ideally at a dinner party where they all toast my good taste and brave book selection, envisioning me as a literary Percy Harrison Fawcett, braving my way through the tropical jungle that is the fiction section.

Ahem, but I digress.

So what drives me want to read something? Being the superficial guy I am, well, the cover. We've all heard that stale adage, Don't judge a book by it's cover. I admit, there's some weight to it when you apply it to people, but not really books. Yeah yeah, I'm a snob and an aesthete. Sue me. But I love love love attractive, well thought out and designed book covers. And if I am wandering lonely as a cloud through Chapters, an attractive cover will spark my interest and warrant further investigation. After reading the synopsis or the first paragraph, I may just put the book back, but that's not the point. The cover lured me in, setting the book apart from it's brethren and piquing my interest. Yes, I realize that terrible books often have interesting covers, and vice versa. There are exceptions to every rule but I want to outline which covers I truly love. Which ones spark the imagination, please the eye, and whet the appetite. Personal preferences all, for there is no objectivity in art, so may feel free to argue until you are blue in the face. I welcome it in fact.

It should be noted that these books are all in my collection. Sure, I could write about the thousands of other books with covers I admire, but I wanted to stick close to home.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (2008)

A great, eye-popping cover full of energy, and is turns out, the cover is wholly representative of the book. The anarchistic interplay between the colours, punctuated by the lonely figure (who is it? Could it be the titular Oscar?) in the bottom right hand corner gazing up at something that is most definitely bigger than he is, just lured me in.

 Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (2004)

6 pictures of clouds. The book is called Cloud Atlas. Okay, some semblance of cohesion there. But the pictures of the clouds are all different points of view, different takes. A romantic photograph, a high contrast black and white, a meteorological graph. It turns out the cover summarizes the book neatly in a wonderful, abstract, and artistic way.

 The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass (1959)

A childlike drawing, simple, powerful, yet profoundly disturbing, of a young boy with a drum. Why is his mouth like that? Is he screaming? What's with the drum? It must be important since the novel is called The Tin Drum, surely. This is one of my absolute favorite covers (and favorite books, too). It's ability to provoke remains unequalled in my opinion.

  Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem (2009)

An abstract cover, for sure, but one that instantly grabbed my eye. A roaring tiger, seemingly rendered on newsprint, with a halved, inverted New York City skyline as teeth? I'm in. Well worth it, too, as it turned out. A great read about the nature of truth and identity. And yes it takes place in NYC. And there is a tiger in it. Sort of....

 Amusing Ourselves to Death  by Neil Postman

This book has a timeless cover that is married perfectly with it's subject. A television harshly illuminates a stereotypical family, only each family member is missing their head. The pastels serve as an interesting juxtaposition to the menacing, ink-black shadow cast behind them. Yes, TV is a menace, and this is the perfect visual representation of that idea.

These are but a mere five book covers I have selected from my collection. Five covers that somehow grabbed my attention, hinting details without revealing too much, and served as an entry point to a great story. Great book covers can be great art, too. They can please the eye and tease the mind in equal measure. When a book is represented by a lazy, sloppy, or uninspired cover it can be such a turn off to the point where I decide the book isn't worth my time in the least. A rash judgement? Maybe.

But would you wear your pajamas to a job interview?

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