Judge a Book by its Cover!

We have all heard the maxim "don't judge a book by its cover." But let us be honest. When it comes to books, how many of us are attracted by either the cover and/or by the title? You may well say that a beguiling cover or a provocative title does not guarantee a good read; that a book with a plain cover and a simple title can be a delightfully gratifying read. I admit that there have been books which I started reading because of their irresistible covers, only to abandon them halfway through because they proved to be an utter waste of time.  On the other hand, I have also been amply rewarded for selecting books simply because their covers have appealed to my aesthetics.

Research suggests that we humans are predominantly visual beings. Over the years, I have read many a book solely attracted by an eye-catching cover or a catchy title. Certain book covers, due to their compelling color and/or design drew my attention or a provocative title piqued my interest.  What follows is a list of books that I read primarily because of their stunning covers or their intriguing titles and I am glad I did so. Of course, I will forgo mentioning the titles for which the contents fell far short of the expectations created by the promising covers!

What instantly appealed to me about Luncheon of the Boating Party were both the title and the cover art. The eponymous painting by Pierre-August Renoir has been my favorite and I have an inexpensive print which hangs in my dining room. So, when I came upon the book, which is a fictional account of how the painting came to fruition, I had to read it. The author, Susan Vreelend, does a superb job of evoking the cafe life of late nineteenth century bohemian Paris. Writing about a painting, which is, after all a visual object, can be a difficult task, but Vreelend's prose effectively describes the artist at work, the process of painting and all the characters that make up the tableau of this wonderful impressionist painting.

A provocative title with an arresting cover, Slammerkin (meaning both a loose woman and a loose dress) is a portrait of the seamy side of 18th century London. Written by Emma Donoghue, this book tells the story of an abandoned fourteen year old girl, Mary Saunders, who becomes a prostitute in order to survive. Filled with historical details and excellent characterizations, this book proved to be an engrossing read.

What attracted me to the following book were of course the captivating title, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, as well as the cover featuring scruffy red shoes. Written by Dai Sijie in French and translated into English, this lovely little tale emphasizes the power of literature and how books can help us endure even the harshest of circumstances. Simply told, this is a story of two young men who are sent to an isolated mountain village and forced into a life of hard labor during China's Cultural Revolution. Fortuitously, they find a hidden stash of banned Western Classics which makes their life tolerable as they read and enact the stories from these books.

Depicted by a graceful swan nestled against the clouds, while the title and author's name appears in stylistic red font, The Fall of Light by Niall Williams, is a lush and lyrically written saga set in 19th century Ireland. It tells the story of a father and his four sons as they try to seek a better life. The sweep of this novel is epic, the language is gorgeous and the story is heart-warming.

I love houses. I love looking at pictures of houses. I mooch copies of the magazine This Old House from a friend! So, naturally, when I saw the book cover with a row of prettily colored houses with an intriguing title, I grabbed it. Civil & Strange by Clair Ni Anonghusa, is a novel set in modern day Ireland. Reminiscent of Maeve Binchy's novels, this book tells the story of a thirty-something teacher who leaves her husband and escapes from her city life in Dublin to a tranquil village where she had spent many idyllic summers in her childhood. Richly descriptive and full of interesting characters, this was an easy and enjoyable read. By the way, the pithy title is a local expression meaning “be polite on the surface but keep your distance.”

The cover compelled me to check out this book: a woman's face in shades of red with two strips of paper taped over her mouth! The Flame Throwers by Rachel Kushner turned out to be an extremely gratifying read. Ms. Kushner has a wonderful way with words and writes beautifully as she tells the story of Reno, a young and gutsy motorcycle racing heroine, who moves to New York in the late '70s. It is a remarkable story about growing up, art, rubber plantations in Italy and revolutionary politics.
Can you judge a book by its cover? Yes, absolutely ...er sometimes.

-Rina B.


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