Thursday, March 1, 2007

Judging A Book?

By Fence

We all know the saying "never judge a book by its cover," but we all do it, don't we? See a cover and instantly we form an impression, whether favourable or not. Of course once we start to read the book our impressions will be met, or dispersed, but there is another saying regarding the importance of first impressions. So what is that makes a good cover for a book? The answer is entirely subjective, but in this column I'm going to focus on one or two covers each issue and reveal why it appealed to me, or why I had to struggle to pick up the book despite that cover image.

I'm going to begin on a positive note; with two covers that I really like. Both are by a French author, Fred Vargas, and both books are thriller/mysteries. I'll quickly add here that both books are well worth a read.

The first is Seeking Whom He May Devour and the version I'm going to discuss is the Random House Vintage version. And the cover instantly grabbed my attention: One reason is entirely personal, I'm a huge fan of anything canine, so putting a big old wolf there was bound to attract my attention. But it isn't only the fact that there is wolf present that gained my interest, rather it is the manner of the beast that made me flick over and read the blurb. He is off centre, but still dominates the design, black and intimidating, his attention focused on something unseen. He brings a wonderful sense of threat and danger to the picture, despite the fact that he doesn't appear to be snarling or attacking. An understated danger perhaps? This is an image that fits the title perfectly as you wonder exactly who this wolf is seeking to devour.

As for the rest of the design, well it fits with the Random House series more than with the novel itself. These Vintage collection books all seem to have a slightly battered appearance, here it appears that there is a crease across the cover, and the colours used give it a slightly aged feel. This, while probably more related to the Vintage aspect, does however coincide with the "slick and creepy" comment printed on the top corner.

It isn't fussy or over designed, but it does grab your attention and conveys an atmosphere that is matched by the story within the pages; an imaginative thriller with plenty of danger and style.

The other cover I'm going to talk about is also in the Vintage series and, although in one way it is completely different from the design for Seeking Whom We May Devour, it does share some aspects as you can see.

The main thing that these two covers share is that sense of being slightly worn and aged. The Three Evangelists also uses the same font and style for the display of the author's name and the titles of the book. Fred Vargas stands out, seemingly of more importance than the title of the book, although here the colour scheme is almost a reverse of Seeking Whom He May Devour’s as it is in white on a dark background. The main image on the cover is that of a tree surrounded by darkness but picked out by a light from some unseen source.

Nothing as threatening as a big black wolf here; nor as instantly gripping. And yet there is something slightly off about this image. After all, why would a tree be highlighted in this fashion? It isn't even an awe-inspiring tree, merely a young tree, possibly a sapling. All about this one tree are other plants, bushes and other trees, but they are barely seen, more suggestions of plants that anything else. Why is this one tree so important?

And this is a question that fits in so well with the storyline, as it is the sudden appearance of a tree in a back garden that begins the story.

There is also the fact that this one shaft of light is illuminating something, bringing it out of the darkness, just as hope a good mystery will reveal an answer, out of the gloom of the unknown.

Both of these novels are examples of cover design doing its job; helping to create the atmosphere of the storyline within its covers, attracting attention to the book, and being generally pleasing to the eye. To my eye at any rate.

1 comment:

Peter said...

I look forward to seeing how the cover of the Simon & Schuster paperback of Vargas' Have Mercy on Us All suits the novel.

I often notice covers but rarely take the time to think about them as thoroughly as you do. So, good post!

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Detectives Beyond Borders
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