This week's book hop from Crazy-for-Books is a discussion of what is your favorite book cover. As a bookseller, I'm inundated with dust jacket images on a daily basis. And I don't trust people who say they have never bought a book for its cover. That, my friends, is bulls#it. It may not be the only, or even the primary, reason you've bought a book. But unless you only ever walk into a bookstore with a specific title in mind, and then you walk out again having bought that book and only that book, you've bought a book for its cover. It would be impossible to choose a single book jacket that is my favorite, so I'll launch into a mini-discussion of jacket art instead.
Because I'm a bookseller and thus am usually reading books months before their publication date, over half of the books I read have a non-pictorial cover, or "plain wraps" as we say in the book collecting bidness. Some galleys (paperback uncorrected proof copies of the forthcoming book) have the finished art printed on their wraps, though, and some are a work in progress, so it's always interesting to see how the art direction has changed on any given title. One example from a couple of years ago is the imcomparable Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. This extraordinary novel had me in thrall from chapter one. It's a rare author who can plumb the horrors of civil war and the operating theatre one moment, the vagaries of the human heart the next moment, all with equal deftness, but Verghese rises to the challenge with grace. With surgical precision he limns his characters, treating even their flaws with compassion and a true generosity of spirit, adroitly weaving medical techniques and philosophy into this sweeping story of family & fatherland, love & loyaly. It is, without a doubt, one of the best books I've read in the last decade.
The copy I read from 2008 was bound in plain salmon-colored wraps--truly a galley copy. When I raved about it to our publisher's sales rep (Ann Kingman from Knopf), she sent more copies to our store for other readers, but they were the Advanced Reading Copy with decorated wraps that mimicked the final jacket art on the hardcover. Compare the early 2009 hardcover jacket art with the 2010 paperback art below, left and right, respectively:
Now, I've never been to Ethiopia, and while there's nothing in the book to suggest the lushness of this forested meadow on the paperback edition, I have it on good authority (Mr. Verghese himself, among others) that the country is not without verdure. But I'm still puzzled why the dramatic change in cover art. Sales were fairly robust nationwide for a first novel in hardcover, so it's not like the marketing department had to reinvent the book as a palate cleanser so that customers would think is an all-new, never-before-seen novel. The solitary figure works well enough, I suppose, for the twin who eventually leaves Ethiopia for New York City, but again, I'm puzzled with the green "world between the worlds" aspect (cf: C. S. Lewis's The Magician's Nephew) of the paperback cover.
For me, though I think both covers are attractive, the hands-down winner for the better, more expressive jacket is the hardcover one. For those of you reading, which one do you think is better, and why?