Who was it that decided one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover? I was in Barnes and Noble yesterday, and I find judging a book by its cover very useful. A certain kind of small, thick book with block letters on the cover and little art is clearly a mystery novel. Add a little art and it’s some kind of popular fiction. Some cover art just says “I am literature, not just fiction.” Pink covers with curly fonts with pictures of high heels and martini glasses scream “chick-lit.” I recognize the covers of books from certain publishers—the orange spines of Penguin books, for instance, or the small Signet Classics—and treat them with varying levels of trust.
Other books are less clear. Most science fiction is easy to recognize—by the title, the font, the cover art. Yesterday I picked up a copy of Flowers for Algernon. It didn’t look like science fiction, but the back cover proclaimed that it was a winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards, which I thought had something to do with sci-fi. I took it over to Brian, who knows more about that genre than I do. He confirmed that it was science fiction, but the kind that I like—I’m resistant to strange names and different planets, but I can handle time travel and futuristic laboratory science. When I was reading The Time Traveler’s Wife and described it to Brian, he said, “You’re reading science fiction?” I was reluctant to describe it as such. “No,” I told him, “it’s just sort of…magic. But treated as real.”
I should admit that I am a book snob. Where a book is in the store and what its cover looks like matters to me. Flowers for Algernon looked interesting. I don’t read much sci-fi, but since it wasn’t in that section (although maybe it was just misfiled, since it didn’t have a black cover with futuristic looking people or creatures on it), I thought it might be worth my attention. But those books with the bright pink or green covers? The one where a cartoonish woman with a high ponytail and high heels holds a martini glass or a shopping bag? That’s chick-lit, and I’m not even going to pick it up to read the back cover. But if a book has a blurry, artsy photo, that’s my book. Blurb from the New Yorker? I’ll take it. A sticker indicating that it’s got Oprah’s approval? Oohh, that’s tough. Some of those books are a little too…Oprah, for my tastes. But then she goes and picks Anna Karenina or The Corrections. What then? And of this is to say that I only read books that are (or aspire to be) “literary fiction.” I look forward to new Patricia Cornwell mysteries. I buy some of those small, fat popular novels. But somehow those aren’t the same for me as the classic books or the new authors I read.
I’m such a snob, that I’m even a bit embarrassed to admit that I was in Barnes and Noble yesterday. I love to look through the books recommended by Booksense. I’d rather say I was in an independent bookstore—Kramerbooks or Chapters. It makes me miss