When You Judge a Book By Its Cover …

Ariel Hergott

How many times has the phrase ‘never judge a book by its cover’ been spoken? How many times has the phrase actually been used to talk about real books? Most often, the phrase is used to chastise individuals for their prejudice of others due to their outer appearance. In reality, I believe the whole point of having book covers is to judge those books by their covers, and after spending two weeks reading and writing about book covers, most especially their history and what I envision as their future, I decided to break what has seemed to become a golden rule in our society.

I judged my books by their covers.

Despite the avid book reader and all-around novel snob within me trying to remind me that sometimes an author is saddled with a poor cover designer, thus leaving them with an aesthetically displeasing cover that sadly would not make me look twice, I spent approximately one second looking at each book in my personal collection and pulled out my five favourite covers. These five books are (in no particular order): Room by Emma Donoghue, The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, and Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke.

After making the somewhat sad discovery that none of my favourite books also happened to have my favourite book covers, I set to work trying to figure out why these covers were my favourite and if there were any conclusions I could draw from the similarities between them.

Upon first glance, I noticed that all of these covers heavily feature typography. In some cases, such as Room, the book title is the entire cover design. The fonts chosen, and design and placement of the text, take up much of the cover design for all of the books. Another major component of design that all of these books share is simplicity. Most of them do not have any sort of intricate design pattern, and the ones that do refrain from cluttering the cover, leaving the title as the most prominent part of the design. Since none of these books was published earlier than 2006, I can only assume that my vision of the future of book design — minimalism and typography — is based on evidence. I clearly find typography and minimalism aesthetically pleasing, and I believe that many other readers do, as well.

Image: (c) Ariel Hergott

Cover 1: Room. Image: (c) Ariel Hergott

More than just finding the designs pleasing, I also believe that having read these books and being able to connect the cover design to the contents heightens their appeal. For example, Room is written from the perspective of a five-year-old boy who has spent his entire life in one room because his mother was kidnapped and has been held captive in ‘Room’ since before he was born. The cover design cleverly omits any images or art, instead portraying the word ‘room’ as though a child has written it out in crayon. This design gives readers just enough information to make them curious about what the story holds, thus hopefully convincing them to read the novel. The simplicity also suggests there is something eerie about the novel.

Cover 2: Why We Broke Up. Image: (c) Ariel Hergott.

Cover 2: Why We Broke Up. Image: (c) Ariel Hergott.

Why We Broke Up has another design I can appreciate more after having read it. The book is written in the format of a letter from a young woman to her boyfriend, whom she is breaking up with by returning every item she has collected during their relationship. While the design itself is pleasing, I know that the reason there are painted rose petals on the cover is because those rose petals are one of the items the woman is returning. I know the story and now I know why the design is so clever. More than that, this book features many illustrations, and the art style of the cover design matches those illustrations to draw the content out of the book.

Cover 3: I'll Give You the Sun. Image: (c) Ariel Hergott.

Cover 3: I’ll Give You the Sun. Image: (c) Ariel Hergott.

While the title I’ll Give You the Sun has less to do with the book’s content than the previous two novels, the designer for this novel made a cover that is reminiscent of the actual sun, something that I find quite clever. While the cover does not reveal anything about the content, the design itself is pleasing; the bright colours catch the eye and draw the reader in, while the lines center attention on the main title because they converge in the center of the cover. This designer has done well not to detract from the title. (Plus, along with Room, the lines are raised so I can run my fingers along them and feel them. Interactive textures are always a bonus.)

Cover 4: The Book of Lost Things. Image: (c) Ariel Hergott.

Cover 4: The Book of Lost Things. Image: (c) Ariel Hergott.

With both The Book of Lost Things and Wink Poppy Midnight, what stands out to me first is the typography, and then upon closer inspection, I see there is so much more. Both covers have more intricate designs that are not overly noticeable upon first glance; Lost Things features keys hidden in the branches, while Wink Poppy Midnight contains animals, flowers, and fruit. The crucial fact about these designs is that the intricate images do not overwhelm the cover; they are background images rather than stark and bold designs that draw the eye away from the titles. By featuring contrasting colours — white text, and red and black backgrounds respectively — the designs immediately draw attention to the text first and then the images later. These covers demonstrate a wonderful harmony of the typography and the image design.


Cover 5: Wink Poppy Midnight. Image: (c) Ariel Hergott.

After judging my books by their covers, I have come to the conclusion that they are beautiful covers indeed. My idea for the future of book cover art design seems to be rooted in what we are seeing today: typography and minimalism. I shall keep my eye on every other book I buy in the future in hopes of seeing this trend continue, and if cover art design takes a much different turn, I suppose I will not have a say in it. But I can judge. And I will judge.

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