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Monday · July 21 2003

I picked up The House of the Scorpion today as I figured I might. A Prayer for the Dying is excellent right from the start, so I may have been wrong about Stewart O'Nan. Maybe Everyday People just isn't my type of book. Prayer is very short, so I knew I'd better pick up some backup.

I'm fascinated with browsing and looking at new books. All media packaging is appealling to me for some reason, though books and video game boxes are especially pleasing (probably their dimensions -- phi, golden ratio and all that). CD jewel boxes are too small to appreciate the art and you can't peek at the liner notes with all that sticky sticker wrap. I'm not longing for vinyl LPs, but I did appreciate the early days of the cardboard CD long box. The long box was environmentally wasteful (I was told that anyway, I'm not the type to pick up on that), but I collected them, cut them up, and made collages. I remember the back sale wall at Rolling Stone Records looking like a large scale canvas of CD box art. It still probably does from some angle, but the saran wrapped cases and $12.99 stickers ruin the effect.

The big book stores hit a sensitive consumer nerve inside me when they started displaying the books on show tables. I step up to the platters of 'Summer Reading', 'Current Non-Fiction', 'New Hardcover', and I'm suddenly standing before a fancy sunday brunch. I don't have to turn my head sideways to read the spines and decide which one is worth pulling out for a closer look. I can just pick right off the buffet.

I can see all of their faces, their color, and their art. I can read the summaries, the praise, and the opening paragraphs. The cover is all I have to judge by. The cover has been engineered to appeal to our tastes and catch our eyes. I'm not looking at an illustrated how-to install cabinetry manual or a coffee table tome of Grand Canyon photographs, so I don't learn very much by scanning the contents. I glean nothing from flipping through pictureless pages of fiction. I need to read the book to get the real good stuff -- the creamy filling.

I watched a girl finger a hardcover copy of The Lord of the Rings. What is she looking for? She must be admiring the movie-inspired cover artwork because nothing can be found in those pages unless you take it home and take it all in. You don't peruse The Lord of the Rings, Catcher in the Rye, or Crime and Punishment in the store. You don't ask the record store clerk to open a copy of Sgt. Pepper, Joshua Tree, or Nevermind because you heard it might be pretty good and you want to listen. These are buying decisions you have made up in your mind long before you enter the store. These classics are known quantities. Their covers or track listing are irrelevant to your buying decision. You don't buy them on a whim like People magazine.

Whims are for the attractive paperbacks with the tasteful matte covers you've never heard of. Those are the books that turn my head, make me approach and land the hook in my cheek everytime.

Addendum: During the morning read-through, I read Dave at GreasySkillet turning his nose at the mass produced covers that I'm writing about. I agree with Dave and his views on independently produced media 100%. I just can't help myself when it comes to book covers on a display table.

Archived: Read » July 2003
What you had to say:
July 22 2003

There is nothing better than walking to a table of "Favorite Paperbacks" at the bookstore and seeing a couple of my own displayed. Now I feel like any on the table are personally recommended and I go for the cover and the little blurb on the back. I love bookstores. :)

September 02 2003

I used to love all the old pulp books with painted covers by people like Boris Vallejo and Jim Steranko. Nowadays, there seem to be more movie stills and digital artwork on book covers. The emphasis is more on the look than what should actually be there on the cover.

I liked reading your views a lot.

© 2003 Jason Keglovitz