Crazy clients have drained me of my creative will today, so I’m going to jumpstart my brain and go after the daily prompt.

Does it ever make sense to judge a book by its cover — literally or metaphorically? Tell us about a time you did, and whether that was a good decision or not.

I haven’t bought a physical book in a long time. I think it started as a way to thin down my ever heavier load, because transporting an entire library is a pain, especially when I’m still moving around a lot. Some books I like to have physically because they or their authors are special to me. I have my nearly completed Philip K. Dick and Hunter Thompson collections stored away back in the States, but the content stays with me digitally.

Thing is, I never bought a single one of those books, even the first one of each collection, because of the cover art. In fact, I can’t remember a single book that I bought because I liked the cover. Something you may have figured out about me after all these posts is that I’m cautious by nature. I start at one point and feel my way around until I can prove to myself that a suitable second step is solid. Outside the world of books, this has failed me on multiple occasions, when things I thought were perfect (or even good enough) proved not to be, typically in a spectacular fashion. And it has prevented me from pursuing opportunities that, in retrospect, would have changed my life for the better. But it seems to have worked well in general. I’m not a complete wreck, so that’s something.

With books, I will read a bunch of work from one author, and then jump to a different book related to that author in some way. It could be an author who cowrote a book with the current author I’m reading. It could be an author with a similar style, or from a similar era–like the Hunter Thompson-Tom Wolfe- Terrence McKenna-Thomas Pynchon-Philip K. Dick nexus–or the Davis Sedaris-Sarah Vowell-David Rakoff trifecta. From there, branching out is fairly easy. I can go back and find the works that influenced those writers, go forward and find the next generation, who used those authors as influences.

With digital publishing, it seems that more and more, cover art is far less important than how an author is connected to a reader’s current library, whether through genre, co-authorship, or writing style. Partially, this is because digital books don’t have true covers, but mostly, it’s because there are fewer and fewer physical spaces to browse for books. In the digital space, say on Amazon, you don’t walk down aisles of a genre, looking for a cover that pops out–you have an algorithm linking your past purchases and stated interests to certain other authors and titles that are guaranteed to be a hit with you.

But that doesn’t let us branch out very much, does it? We get stuck circling the drain in our genre of choice. We’ll satisfy ourselves with things that we like, but there’s not much room for growth to different genres or to books that might challenge us a bit more. It’s easy to put down a digital book and never come back to it. You never have to explain to guests, with at least a little shame, why you have a book on your shelf or on your coffee table that you know nothing about.

Perhaps cover art is a necessity of sorts. It appeals to us on a level that we don’t get from the cold science of digital marketing. In a way, maybe we do need to judge books by their covers more.


  1. I hate to display my ignorance of modern times, but do Digital Book People ever give digital books to other DBPs as gifts? Or do they just give gift cards to the providing corporations (thus allowing/encouraging the user to feed his/her standardized taste)? In other words, not only has the actual user lost the capacity to browse for surprises via cover art, but now the friends of the user have lost the ability to transmit surprises via gifts. Right?

    1. I think DBPs do. There probably wouldn’t be the option to gift a digital book, if a shit ton of people hadn’t requested it. I never have, though, because I know how often gifted books go unread, digital or not.

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