26 November 2010

It's a black Friday, Book Blogger Hop!

Book Blogger Hop

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:

It will be difficult to discuss the appropriateness of each cover without talking about the plots and story arcs of this book, but I trust that it's not a spoiler when I saw that much of this book takes place in Ethiopia and that much of the drama involves a set of twins.  I love the cloth dust jacket art.  To me, it speaks of something epic and grand, with the boys and their dog silhouetted against a sky that is, at least to me, ambiguous.  Is it sunrise or sunset?  Or could it be something else entirely?  Could those fiery colors in the sky and the scorched black of the ground symbolize something else instead?  (Okay, so I actually don't like the term "symbolize" but the jacket art reminds me of the first time I saw the movie Gone With the Wind. I was quite young, not quite preteen, and watching the movie with my mom, probably on Turner Classics.  In the scene where Atlanta is supposed to be burning, to my young eyes it looked more like a sunset at first.).  So this jacket art simultaneously suggests beginnings and endings, hope and destruction, and in doing so, it is completely fitting for this novel.

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?


  1. Great idea. I have a friend whose books tend to be set in the Caribbean - Deb Spark she wrote Coconuts for the Saints. I am a paranormal genre blogger but if you like the Caribbean and are in MA her books will give you both.

    Fangs, Wands and Fairy Dust
    email: steph@fangswandsandfairydust.com
    Twitter: @fangswandsfairy

  2. hi, Steph, and thanks for stopping by. I'll check out your friend's books and your blog.

  3. Hi Emily!

    Thanks for stopping by the Brazen Broads Book Bash on the hop! We're your newest followers.

    All you have to do to include your link in a comment is copy the link from the address bar in your browser and then past it here.

    Have a great day! We hope you'll visit us again!


  4. Thanks for stopping by my blog! The chess background is more of a nod towards Twilight. I wanted a book related layout but I didn't want to piece together a bunch of covers and create my own layout. I'm too lazy for that. haha.

    Anywho, I'm following back :)

  5. Thanks for stopping by earlier. I have signed up to follow you.

    And to answer the question you asked me about Good Grief by Lolly Winston: yes! I love that book. I read it well before I started book blogging, but I would rate it five stars.....

  6. I like both covers, sorry! I really don't know why, they seem unique in their own ways.

    Your newest blog follower wishing you a great weekend =)

  7. Love your blog's name, and I'm a new follower!
    And yes, I prefer the hardback cover too :)
    -Dee, hopping from e-Volving Books

  8. Your comments are so interesting. I look forward to reading more of your work. I'm a new follower from the blog hop tour hosted by Crazy for books. I've been looking at "Cutting for Stone" for a while now, too. The storyline intrigues me.

  9. Music4Betty, don't be sorry! I think both covers are pretty, too. I just happen to think that the cloth cover is more appropriate to the story.

    Allieluialu, it's a book that's worth the time invested in reading it.

    Deepali and everybody else, thanks for stopping by on the hop. I'm about to return the favor!

  10. This week's Book Blogger Hop question WAS a tough one! It took me two solid minutes to come up with an answer!

    Which book cover did I pick? I invite you to hop over to my blog and see for yourself.

    Happy Thanksgiving Day Weekend!

    Howard Sherman

  11. I always found it interesting when working at B&N how many books came with a different cover as an arc then changed on pub. :)


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