You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, right? Everyone knows this to be true…but we all still do it. Admit it. I do, for sure. I’ll browse around a bookshop just waiting for something to jump out at me, idly scanning the books on display, looking for anything that stands out amid the endless copycat covers. In fact it’s not even just the covers, it’s titles too. I’ll yawn and skip over anything that’s entitled ‘The Something-Or-Other Code’ or ‘The Girl With/Who/What (delete as applicable) Does Something I’ve Heard Of Before’, generic titles doing as much to put me off a book as generic covers. It’s in our nature, and it’s why books are no longer published in plain, single-colour covers; there’s so much competition, books have got to stand out somehow. Or in the case of the copycats, they’ve got to find a way to ride the coat tails of the trailblazers. Just think about how many cringe-inducing romance books hit the shelves in the wake of Fifty Shade of Grey…they all looked the same (dark cover, something supposedly erotic in lighter tones, possibly draped with a silk scarf) and had titles like ‘Thirteen Shades of Blue’ or ‘Revealed to You’.
So there’s a superfluity of books released these days, and each one is trying to find its niche. Even the most ardent of readers can’t get through everything, so we each have to find a way of choosing which books to read. Publishers have got all sorts of tricks up their sleeves to help us make those decisions, some of which even work, but ultimately each decision is down to each person. Sometimes we will take the time to check up on a book, read reviews, ask our friends if they’ve read it, maybe flick through and read a random page to see if we like the style of writing. Other time we’ll just pick something up and try it on a whim. What makes us decide to do that, though? What makes you, the reader, decide to pick up any book? Something makes that book jump out at you and shout “Read me! Read me and I will make your life wonderful!”, but what? Well, many things, but first and foremost it’s usually either the cover or the title. We know we shouldn’t, but we do.
Personally I’m a shocker for the impulse buy. I can’t count the number of times I’ve picked up a book simply because the cover looks interesting or the title catches my attention, and that alone has made me choose to read it. Sometimes it takes the blurb on the back to tip me over the edge and into making a decision, but only sometimes. I rather like that though, I’m always looking out for the next surprise favourite that I find out of the blue, and that’s because so many of these impulse buys have turned out to be books I’ve truly loved. Here are three books that I’ve bought in this way, each with a slightly different way of hooking me in before I had even turned the first page.
I, Lucifer by Glen Duncan
Check out that cover. Just take a moment to stop and really look at it. Simple, but oh so eye-catching and completely, utterly perfect. The shadow cast by man in Lucifer’s image, the blood-red backdrop, the text as if carved on a headstone. Everything just fits and screams “This book is going to be sexy, stylish, black as night and funny as hell”, and with a single glance I was intrigued; by that point it was inevitable. Of course I read the back, but that just confirmed what I already knew, that I was going to love this book. I saw it in Fopp in Manchester, in the heady days when that store’s book selection almost rivalled its music and film range. It sat staring at me from one of the display tables, and I was hooked the minute I saw it.
Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch
Ok, so I had just moved to London and was perhaps primed for a book like this. I also love maps, and the covers for this series have some of the best maps of London you’ll see this side of Wenceslas Hollar. It was the combination though of the title, the cover image, and also the quote on the front that caught me with this one. I’m not always a fan of the celebrity endorsement quote, but this little line from Diana Gabaldon stuck in my head : “What would happen if Harry Potter grew up and joined the Fuzz”. It’s a funny one, as I can never quite work out if it’s missing a question mark at the end or a “This is…” at the start, but it set my mind awhirl. I love that she said the Fuzz, not the Police, or The Met. It’s nonsense really, as the book doesn’t actually turn out to be anything like what that might make you think (it’s far, far better), but it’s a brilliant quote nonetheless. I didn’t buy this straight away, but after a couple of days of not being able to get it out of my head I went back to the same shop and gave in. I’ve not looked back since.
This one was a bit different. I can’t quite remember why I picked it up in the first place. The cover, while beautiful, is not unlike many a fantasy book I had seen before, and while the title is a pretty thing even now I get it muddled with Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind. Whatever the reason though, it was when I read the back cover that I was hooked by this one. More often than not the blurb on the back is a generic, predictable summary of the book that could apply to any one of a hundred such titles, but not this one. It speaks with a strong voice, proud, arrogant almost, but captivating, intriguing. “My name is Kvothe. You may have heard of me”. Wow. Now I have to read this book. It was that single line that did it, that raised it instantly above your average fantasy novel, that told me here was a book with a character I could enjoy getting to know. That’s all I needed.
So three books all chosen without any planning or forethought. Each one a wonderful book, and proof that sometimes, just sometimes it’s worth giving something a chance based on little more than its cover or its title.