But does a cover really sell a book?
I would like to think I am above all the crass commercialism and shameless huckstering. Buying a book strictly because of a pretty cover is like buying a McRib Sandwich because of the blinking menu sign at the drive-through. Or shopping at Wal-Mart.
Logically, I tell myself as I enter a bookstore and inhale a whiff of fresh ink and crisp paper, I seek books of compelling content, written by elite authors. As I peruse the shelves, a quirky and interesting title might inspire me to read the dustjacket and critical blurbs. Otherwise, I'm discerning. I'm in charge. I'm an informed consumer.
That's what I tell myself.
I had one experience, however, in which a cover impelled me to buy the book. It was Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything is Illuminated. As I moved through the portal of a reputable independent bookseller, a book with an acid-green cover and pink lettering caught my eye. In fact, a literal phalanx of these books barricaded one entire wall of the reputable independent bookstore in a dazzling burst of neon: blues and oranges and yellows. The same book, different color combinations. Could this bold marketing strategy be heralding the launch of a new literary voice? Perhaps the publisher was communicating to me: This is something "New" and EXCITING and innovative, the Next Generation's shouted mantra, an Enlightened Messenger arriving in a hallucinogenic spectrum of spilled ink. This was the prose you've been searching for since A Confederacy of Dunces. The cover told the story!
I behaved exactly like a sucker. I got into line, barely glancing at the contents, and handed over my hard-earned dollars. When I got home, I immediately opened it up and began reading.
Jesus. Another bull$hit self-conscious meta-fiction piece of crap.
Now my face was neon pink with bile-green tinges.
Would I be hustled again? Oh, yes. By titles (The Devil Wears Prada) and blurbs (The Ruins of California) and most definitely by that biggest Sucker Magnet of all, The Pre-eminent Award List. But, by George (Eliot), not by a pretty face.
Which leads me to my pointless reader poll: Do you judge a book by its cover? Have you ever bought a book for inglorious reasons? Did you ever get hooked just by a title or blurb? Tell your story and win...well, nothing. But you will feel that guilt lift from the depths of your literary soul, I promise.
Michael Chabon has a new book coming out (May). Yay.
Other cool books on the way:
Selected Letters of Philip K. Dick (June)
Flight: A Novel, Sherman Alexie (this month)
The Sea Lady, Margaret Drabble (May)
Alentejo Blue, Monica Ali (June)
The Gravedigger's Daughter, Joyce Carol Oates (May)
Up in Honey's Room, Elmore Leonard (May)
Stalin's Ghost, Martin Cruz Smith (April)
The Ministry of Special Cases, Nathan Englander (April)
Falling Man, Don DeLillo (June)
Tell me: Don't they look more like a funked-up version of a Ladybird Johnson collection than our Titian-haired detective? These gals look like they couldn't find their way to a nail salon, much less solve the secret of the old clock.
Now, this is more like it:
Geez, if I only knew this existed, I would have asked Santa for one of these instead of dumb old Parcheesi.