Surely by now we all know the adage to never judge a book by its cover is complete bullshit, right? A book can and often should be judged by its cover. When you're standing in a bookshop what else do you have to go on? The cover contains all the relevant information: title, author, graphic, and on the back some kind of blurb. As an aside this blurb from Douglas Adams' first Dirk Gently novel deserves its own mention:
A thumping good detective-ghost-horror-who dunnit-time travel-romantic-musical-comedy-epic. — The Author
Charming. And strangely accurate.
But, back to the topic at hand. Sometimes I like covers for the way they accurately illustrate what happens inside, but mostly, I like these ones below simply for aesthetics. I love trawling sites like the Book Cover Archive and I've pulled a few ofthe examples below from there. Although there are some beautiful and ridiculously creative cover designs that I'm sure outweigh the ones in my list, I've tended to go for covers I actually own or at least ones from books I've read. Anything less I fear would be cheating.
If I have a rule about covers it's this: never buy a book with the author's picture on the cover. I have broken this rule I think exactly twice and both books have been dire. N=2, rule proven.
I'm a big fan of breathing space on a book cover, swathes of black or white or minimalist text. I don't know if this list really reflects that or not. Probably not. This is probably a list of exceptions.
- The Second Plane (The UK hardcover, not the more celebrated US cover)
- A Clockwork Orange
- The Volcano (Original hardcover...much cooler than the subsequent paperback)
- The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy (Original paperback edition)
- Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas
- If On A Winter's Night A Traveller (First edition...wish I had one of those)
- Zigzag Street (Original paperback edition, not the godawful covers on later editions)
- Death Sentence (You can't tell from the image, but the black cockatoo is trapped in a cage of embossed buzzwords...beautiful, but better without the review blurbs in white. Too much!)
- The Day We Had Hitler Home (Awesome composite image)
- The Catcher In The Rye (Little Brown US paperback edition: Is there anything simpler than this? What more needs to be said? You cant tell, but it's also in the tiniest format, smaller than a standard A format, like a pocket book.)
- Diamonds Are Forever (Contemporary designs for all the Bond books, but I like this one best. Maybe I just think this one has the hottest model.)
- True History Of The Kelly Gang (First edition)
A close examination of The Second Plane reveals the image to be not (necessarily) an image from 9/11. There are no twin towers and the image could simply be one of a plane taken through a window. Given the title and the post 9/11 climate though, this innocuous image takes on a much darker tone.
I was fortunate enough to have been given a first edition copy of True History Of The Kelly Gang—one the last copies around before it won the Booker and went into a million subsequent print runs. Pictures don't really do it justice. UQP went to town on a lavish leather spine and rough-cut pages. It's an object that wants to be touched. As much as I approve of the digital world, I hope we continue to make books like that one.