Never judge a book by …

But we all do, don’t we? Judge books by their covers, that is. For example, I recently read Leila Aboulela’s excellent novel, Minaret. On the left is the version I read. And although I took it from the library shelf, I think that was because I am a sucker for a certain kind of illustration, which I think of as early fifties Americana, like this:

And that’s exactly what the cover made me think of – so, intrigued, I picked it up. But the cover below, for the very same book, looks rather like a Fry’s Turkish Delight advert from the cheesy 1980s (a period which does feature heavily in the novel, oddly enough) and I would simply have passed it over.

Finally, this one, still the same novel, simply leaves me cold – the elements are right individually, the woman has wonderful eyes, but it feels like multi-culti chick-lit and that’s not my bag.

None of these covers actually seems to me to do justice to a very simple and moving story of faith, loss and love, which is paced beautifully with the inclusion details of tiny domestic moments set against memories that are both painful and redemptive. I can’t imagine many people are as thrilled by 1950s illustration as I am, and the cheesy cover is just cheesy to my eyes, leaving a third cover that seems far too young and far too girly – of course it’s difficult to market novels that seek to illuminate a different cultural context within the predominant one, and even more difficult, at present, to market novels with any kind of Islamic theme. Still, I can’t help feeling that sheer luck caused me to pick up a novel that I thoroughly enjoyed once I had spotted it, and that luck isn’t really what book jacket marketeers should be relying on. I’m about to investigate what does make me pick up novels where the writer and the novel are both unknown to me, and will report back on my results in a couple of weeks – but do any of you know what makes YOU choose one book over another, when everything but the first impression is equal?


  1. Zen of Writing
    11th September 2008

    Interesting the variety of illustrations for one book — I also disliked the middle one and found the first most appealing. Cover art has got to sell a lot of books…

    There was a great site with photos of all the covers of Kerouac’s On the Road — unfortunately, the link is blank now, tho I did copy some to my blog if you’re interested:

  2. Charles Lambert
    14th September 2008

    Every single suggestion I made for my novel was turned down toot sweet as being totally unsuitable. It took me ages to recognise that the kind of book I wanted mine to look like had non-commercial, up-its.own-arse, French (!), written all over it. I was wrong, Picador was right. But I still think, deep down, that a photo of an installation of a wall of shabby suitcases was what the book really needed…


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