Monday, April 4, 2016

Cover Of Books: Case Study

We often hear in conversations "Don't judge a book by its cover". Metaphorically it intends to say "you shouldn't prejudge the worth or value of something, by its outward appearance alone". If taken metaphorically, It is a very good advice.However, is it true literally too?

Apparent origin of this Phase goes back to Piqua Democrat, June 1867: "Don't judge a book by its cover, see a man by his cloth, as there is often a good deal of solid worth and superior skill underneath a jacket and yaller pants."

Sure, A cover is an exhibit but, covers are deliberately designed to give a showcase to the content. It is intending to guide you to your next favorite book. I admit more than often it  fails to do the trick

There goes in a lot of work into designing a perfect cover for books. The cover is one of the major players in the marketing strategy of a book. Attracting the target readers and drawing attention is crucial for a book's success. From layout, typography, image and color everything is deliberately decided.

Further, in this post, I will analyze some book covers. If you are spoiler sensitive, I  would take this opportunity to inform you that it may contain spoilers.

The Catcher in The Rye by J.D. Salinger

On a closer look, the cover tells a lot about content. This cover has a rather, plain typography and a quaint color scheme. It is aesthetically pleasing and looks even better as the book ages. My copy of The Cather in Rye had another cover. However, this cover bewildered me. Initially,  I was presuming it to be a depiction of Horse from the advertisement of "Pencey Prep". I wondered where was the "hotshot guy on a horse" as mentioned in the book. I couldn't understand. Then after looking closely, I realized it is a Carrousel. J.D.Salinger does it again, subliminal symbolism. Carrousel in this book represents Holden's (The protagonist) "Happy Place".  The Cover is limning the part in the book where Holden looks at the Carrousel and narrates. 

"Then the carousel started ... All the kids kept trying to grab for the gold ring, and so was old Phoebe, and I was sort of afraid she'd fall off the goddam horse, but I didn't say anything or do anything. The thing with kids is, if they want to grab the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything. If they fall off they fall off, but it's bad if you say anything to them."

The cover depicts the moment of one of the literature's iconic denouement. As the narration proceeds, Holden expresses his feelings.

"I was damn near bawling, I felt so damn happy if you want to know the truth. I don't know why. It was just that she looked so damn nice, the way she kept going around and around, in her blue coat and all. God, I wish you could've been there." 

Holden wishes the readers could be there and the cover of the book indeed attempts to take us there... Isn't it a beautiful idea?

This cover is peculiar. It breaks all the conventions of cover design, yet ironically fits perfectly within the Idea of the book. The book revolves around the theme of misfits, what could be a better approach to emphasize it then an uneven typography. There is no capitalization in the cover indicating naive approach yet, it is innocuous. It gives away a sense that the Initials are trying to blend in the words that follow. To me, it strongly indicates confused and unformed ideas. Something that is as nascent as a first-draft, #young. 

The protagonist in this book is a Wallflower: a person who from shyness or unpopularity remains on the sidelines of a social activity (as a dance). This cover personifies this definition. While the background is flashy green, subject/ imagery is dull and sided. Pretty much like Charlie's (Protagonist) character preferred to be. In a similar way, the sided image is yet more complicated and profound than the flashy green background. Charlie, in the book, has a knack to analyze things from a unique point of view, this is very thoughtfully indicated on the cover. 

The picture selected is also very interesting, Old-timey and soft color scheme displaying a young boy. The lack of a face is interesting as it makes one curious, yet the pose expresses young adult-ish disquiet.  It indicates, yet not explicitly, that sexuality is to be exploration. Moreover, the frame of indicated sexuality is rather slavish and scary. 

Lastly, I will discuss the dilemma of designing the cover of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. There have been numerous covers of the same, many of which puts Lolita in an explicitly sexualized way. Which is unfair to project as it validifies Humbert's opinion on lolita being corrupt, but is not evident to be true.  Humbert is the notoriously unreliable narrator and the novel gives a little narrative of what Lolita is personally like. The way Humbert's prose sells a sexual image of lolita is brilliant but his motive is to free himself from the judging eyes of the readers.

This design problem is explored in a book Lolita: The Story of a Cover Girl. Out of many covers designed so far (some brilliant and others corny) 

I have Included few covers that I like in this post.These covers look innocent yet reflect the sexual nature of the book in a subliminal manner. That I find smart as a whip. 

To read the rules employed in a book cover design visit here.

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  1. love the third cover for Lolita

  2. I've been seduced by cool book covers only to find the book to be not as good as I had hoped. Conversely, I've found some books with very plain covers that don't give any hint about the story, but found the books to be fantastic.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

    1. Same! Designing a book cover is a form of art. However, since it also has a commercial goal (i.e. to sell the book) it can be evaluated objectively. I agree. If it fails to attract the right readers, it is a design flaw. And if it sells the book to non-targeted readers, it is quite an ironic situation! Because basically, it's readers loss in that case.

  3. Wow! This was so interesting! I never thought or analyzed book covers, only picked what looked interesting or the blurb sounded good! Your post sets me thinking...! Thanks for sharing this.
    @KalaRavi16 from

    1. Kala, there is a complete study on book covers.

    2. Thanks! I am glad you enjoyed it. :)

  4. This is too good.. I had earlier also read a study on book covers. It does need analysis.

    1. Thanks! Indeed, book covers are thoughtfully planned.

  5. I have always chosen a book by its cover first and then the back cover and then by asking you if I should read it :P
    And all the suggestions that you have made based on the fact that you know me, have hit on the nail quite accurately ^_^

    Agree that the book cover is though part of marketing of the book but also have a hidden meaning which is revealed as you read it.

    1. Yes! some covers are so prompting. That is the goal, to attract enough attention to get picked up and next step is, as you said it, back cover.

  6. I don't judge a book by its cover. Never , ever, never

    C- Can I?

    1. I often hold that phase to be true in a figurative sense of speech.

  7. Cover design is such a complex area, you want to draw the reader in (because you know people with judge by the cover) but you don't want to give things away or promise too much.

    Wonderful post discussing this, your last example is just one book where there are numerous variations on cover design. Many "classic" books can be looked at for this sort of comparison as well.

    Laith (apx #1712) visiting for April A-Z from Laith's Ramblings (

    1. I agree, it is a complicated domain. There have been many covers of the same book throughout history... It is quite fascinating that some of those covers seem quite inviting and others repulsive. It is safe to say that a cover's interpretation is a bit objective.