Never judge a book by its cover…unless it’s a really, really good cover. In which case, definitely pick it up. Maybe take it home with you, after you buy it a nice drink. Even if the interior doesn’t match the drapes, the experience won’t be a wash: that typography is spectacular, and the illustration svelte. The allure of a good cover crosses genres—already this summer, we’ve seen the gorgeous and evocative treatment of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and, in the nonfiction aisle, the smiling veneer of Mark Leibovich’s Washington-skewering This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral—Plus Plenty of Valet Parking!—in America’s Gilded Capital. And over with the crimes, the newly unmasked Robert Gailbraith, aka J.K. Rowling, best-seller, The Cuckoo’s Calling, trumpets a striking and unusual design. Here are but a few of the covers that have slapped me in the face, forcing me to pick them up off the shelves—and why I’m glad that I did.
Sacré Bleu: A Comedy d’Art, by Christopher Moore. With another author in another time, this outlandish cover might not work. But we’re talking about a book by Christopher “Audacious Premise” Moore, and this story, set immediately after Vincent Van Gogh’s death, features Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and that femme fatale, the color blue. Oui, oui, the shoe fits.
The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. On three separate occasions I found myself staring back at The Shadow of the Wind, in its place on a table of recently released books. I was always intrigued and on the verge of picking it up…and finally, on my fourth encounter with this ominous, gothic cover, I caved and took it home. Let me tell you: Beauty may be skin deep, but the this tale of intrigue and unabashed book-porn was as compelling as its casing.
The Brief History of the Dead, by Kevin Brockmeier. It’s easy to love a book cover that doubles as an optical illusion, but in this case the design fits perfectly with Brockmeier’s story of the place and people suspended between life and death.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs. Few books rely on image as heavily as Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, which incorporates a series of creepily intriguing black-and-white photos into its plot. It’s also a scientific fact that children in old-timey photos are very nearly as heebie-jeebie-inducing as the Shining twins.
Alice I Have Been, by Melanie Benjamin. Benjamin’s portrait of the story behind Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is at times heart-rending, but always fascinating. It’s a story of childhood and one well-suited to the somewhat playful half-and-half cover.
Tunneling to the Center of the Earth, by Kevin Wilson. Wilson’s short stories brim with characters who “do not fit correctly in the spaces available to them.” From a Scrabble factory to the struggles of a rent-a-grandma participant, Wilson dissects these oddballs to see what makes them tick. The book’s simple cover, with its elegantly deployed white space, perfectly fits its contents.
Eating the Dinosaur, by Chuck Klosterman. To be honest, any book with a dinosaur on the cover is doing something right. The only real way to describe the design here is to say it’s, well, Klosterman-y. This is a good thing.
Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. This book’s other, Space Invaders-themed cover is also brilliant and apropos, but this version’s artful depiction of the Stacks—the sky-high trailer park our protagonist seeks to escape—sets the scene for this geeky, game-ophile opus beautifully.
Have you ever bought a book because of its cover?