Judging a book by its cover

Who isn’t tempted by beautiful, fancy, intriguing book covers? I am. We readers would be accountable for massive unemployment for graphic designers, artists, marketing gurus and consultants, if we didn’t look twice at a book, read the description, and ultimately buy the book based at least in part on its cover. Forget the morally correctness of not judging a book by its cover. We all do it.

The first recorded mention of judging a book by its cover (that I could find) is not the morally high and mighty notion of looking past appearances, but a subtle critique. In George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss (1860), Mr. Tulliver uses the phrase in discussing Daniel Defoe’s The History of the Devil, saying how it was beautifully bound. Take that, Mr. Defoe!

Nevertheless, we readers know that an entire world hides between the front and back covers, and no matter how beautiful, fancy or intriguing a book’s cover is; we read to gain insight into that world. We may be tempted by the cover, take a closer look, but we ultimately buy the story.

Take the photo above. It is a rare-ish edition of the Danish author Christian Winther’s Hjortens flugt (the deer’s escape). It is a folklore story written in verse. Not exactly easy reading, but I fell a little bit in love with the grand, golden depiction of the man tied to the deer’s back that I had to read the story.

Do you have a favorite book cover? Have you been tempted to read the book based on the cover?


  1. The Brain in the Jar

    I actually tend to make selections based on titles. If you call your book just Christine or Carrie, because that’s your main character’s name I will hope it’s bad. If your book has some overblown, poetic thing – The Grapes of Wrath, A Clockwork Orange, The Catcher in the Rye, then I would really want it to be good. Have you ever looked at one of those “All time best books” and thought, damn! Awesome titles!

    1. amkaer

      Concerning titles stay turned, I ‘ll have a post about those soon.

      Hovewer, one of my all time favorites regarding cover art and title is David Guterson’s Snow falling on cedars.

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