Archive for category Covers

Judging Books by Their Covers: A Useful Practice?

Matthew Arsenault

According to a 2017 Barnes & Noble article titled “How to Judge a Book by its Cover,” much of the literature in today’s book shops can indeed be judged by its cover. The article, written by Jeff Somers, identifies stereotypes and tropes in popular fiction covers to help readers deduce the genre of any certain book. Upon reading this article, I wanted to see if these modern guidelines would hold up against older book covers from, say, 100 years ago.

But I didn’t want to investigate the greatest literary works of times past – the covers of these have been analyzed to shreds by much better scholars than I. No, I wanted to look at covers of old genre fiction that lay shrouded in obscurity – the kind of books that can’t be found in the public or university library. Moreover, I wanted to go into these judgements completely blind, so searching for “weird old books” on the internet was out of the question. Thus, I went to the one place that I knew would harbor the most obscure books from decades past: my grandparents’ attic.

Figure 1: Rudyard Kipling, Stalky & Co., 1899. All images (c) Matthew Arsenault.

Lo and behold, in a box caked in dust and labelled “old books” lay the subject of my enquiry. After a thorough inspection for spiders, I cracked the box open and wiped the grime off the book spines. With my Barnes & Noble guide in hand, I set to work.

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The Book with Many Faces: How Different Book Covers Change the Same Story

Alyson Cook, Ravenclaw Hogwarts alumni

Figure 1: The UK Edition of the first Harry Potter. Image Source:

When I think of childhood summer vacations, I often think of my mom’s lemonade, swimming at the beach of the camping ground we would always go to and staying up way past my bedtime reading all the Harry Potter books. Without even looking at my book shelf across my room, I can already picture the cover of the first book: a big red train – the Hogwarts Express –, Harry Potter himself, standing on Platform 9 ¾ looking super confused with his lightning bolt scar visible, and the title in big gold lettering across a red background proclaiming, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Imagine my surprise when I was visiting a bookstore in the States a few summers ago and discovering something both strikingly familiar of past summers and surprisingly different.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone?

What was that! I thought. And what was this book cover? Harry Potter flying through an archway on a broomstick? Catching a Golden Snitch?

I knew I had to investigate. Flipping through the book, I confirmed that it was, in fact, J.K. Rowling’s novel that I had read so many times before, just with a different face. Somehow, I felt like I was holding something both alien and familiar.

This led me to wonder about other Harry Potter covers, and whether or not this changed how they were received or how one would approach the contents of the book. How many faces to the story of The Boy Who Lived were there?

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