(Mis)Judging Books By Their Covers

I finished a book this morning that sat on my shelf for almost a year.  I passed it by time and again without giving it a second glace because the cover and synopsis never grabbed me:  A female travel writer chasing an elusive ghost through the wilds of Papua New Guinea.  Before picking up this novel I would have been hard-pressed to find PNG on a map and considered my trip to Istanbul, Turkey exotic and daring.

The White Mary by Kira Salak took me to places I’ve never been and forced me to confront horrors and atrocities that are beyond my scope of comprehension.  Salak is a travel writer with PhD in English who The New York Times describes as a “…tough, real-life Laura Croft”. 

According to her biographical information, she’s survived war-zones, malaria, cholera, and has witnessed the aftermath of coup-attempts and genocides.  She backpacked the Pacific Island nation of PNG at age 24, becoming the first woman to do so.  In short, she’s put herself into extreme situations, traveling to hostile and war-torn countries that inhabitants flee from.

The White Mary was a raw and visceral book with imagery so vivid that Salak seemed to blur the line of fiction and the reality of her own experiences.  Written in the aftermath of her brother’s unexpected death, the novel seems to be an intensely personal catharsis for Salak.  The protagonist of the novel, Marika Vecera, is running down a specter, chasing after wisps of hope in an effort to find an elusive journalist who reportedly committed suicide.

I can’t believe that I almost missed such a profound novel just because the cover art didn’t grab me.  Incidentally, the cover of my book is different than the newer cover but neither grab me.  Now I have a resolution for 2010: Don’t judge books by their covers.

Have you ever passed a book by just because of the cover only to read it later and LOVE it?  

14 Comments

  • At 2010.01.11 13:15, Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit) said:

    I’ve even found books that do grab me because of the cover are misleading. Sometimes the covers have absolutely nothing to do with the actual content of the book. Now & Then is an example.
    .-= Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit)´s last blog ..Mailbox Monday #64 =-.

    • At 2010.01.11 13:49, Literate Housewife said:

      That is such a good point about judging books by their covers. Now, not only are you glad you didn’t let that happen, I’m adding this book to my TBR. It sounds wonderful!
      .-= Literate Housewife´s last blog ..#227 ~ The Little Stranger =-.

      • At 2010.01.11 14:14, Kathy R (Bermudaonion) said:

        I’m sure I’ve made that mistake many times. Sometimes I think I’m a cover snob, but I also wonder why some publisher don’t pay more attention to their covers. So glad the book turned out to be good.
        .-= Kathy R (Bermudaonion)´s last blog ..Giveaway: The Lonely Hearts Club =-.

        • At 2010.01.11 14:32, vivienne said:

          I am a real sucker for gorgeous covers. I don’ t pick books up if I don’t like the look of them. How bad am I?
          .-= vivienne´s last blog ..Library Loot and Monday Mailbox =-.

          • At 2010.01.11 16:51, Jess - A Book Hoarder said:

            Lets start with wow I really want to read this book and it is going on my wishlist right now!

            Ok, now onto judging books by their covers. I am so bad about this. I try so hard not to let the cover influence my interest but time and time again I catch myself doing it. I’m so ashamed!
            .-= Jess – A Book Hoarder´s last blog ..Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman =-.

            • At 2010.01.11 17:08, Hayden Tompkins said:

              That was totally me and Anne McCaffrey’s “The Rowan”.

              Honestly, I have almost never looked at a book cover and thought “I just HAVE to read this!” And so many covers are really pretty awful. Or maybe I just think that because I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy.

              Fugly is all I’m saying.
              .-= Hayden Tompkins´s last blog ..Losing Weight: The Donut Diet =-.

              • At 2010.01.11 18:00, Lisa said:

                I like to think that I don’t judge a book by it’s cover but I know I do. But even more important it that blurb on the back or jacket. That has got to grab me. Thank evens for blogs that remind me that even that’s not always enough.
                .-= Lisa´s last blog ..Sunday Salon – January 10 =-.

                • At 2010.01.12 00:40, Amanda said:

                  Covers do sell books – I’m sure of it. There are significant differences between book covers published in England, the US and Australia, due to cultural preferences. Many of the book covers on US books -Kate Elliott’s Crown of Stars series jumps to mind- would simply not sell in England and vice versa.

                  The ‘Wite Mary’ sounds fascinating. I’m an anthropologist, and some of my colleagues have done fieldwork in PNG, so the content of the novel appeals to my professional interest as well as my literary curiosity.

                  Cheers,
                  .-= Amanda´s last blog ..This Week’s Reads =-.

                  • At 2010.01.12 02:25, bybee said:

                    Yes, the cover of The White Tiger didn’t rock my world, then we chose it for book group and…..WOW
                    .-= bybee´s last blog ..The Man Who Made Lists =-.

                    • At 2010.01.12 12:53, Jenners said:

                      All the time! It is amazing how a cover can make you judge a book without knowing anything about it. I negelcted “The Red Tent” for ages because the cover made it seem like it was some boring Bible-themed book … and it was anything but boring. You do have to be careful to put those thoughts aside.

                      And I can make mistakes on the other side of it too — get a book that has an excellent cover and then hate it.
                      .-= Jenners´s last blog ..A Review (Of Sorts) of Lamb by Christopher Moore =-.

                      • At 2010.01.13 20:31, Ti said:

                        I always judge by their covers. I’m bad. However, I just saw a beautiful cover of the book you just read so perhaps the publisher figured out that the cover wasn’t working.
                        .-= Ti´s last blog ..Moby Dick Monday: January 11, 2009 (Week 9) =-.

                        • At 2010.01.14 00:58, Sandra said:

                          Interesting post. It happens quite often I find. I’m so glad this book turned out to be good. I was given a copy by another blogger and the cover is beautiful-to my mind. Can’t wait to read it now. I did a post on a book that was wonderful despite and having the most dull cover I’ve seen in years:

                          http://freshinkbooks.blogspot.com/2009/10/show-me-5-saturday.html
                          .-= Sandra´s last blog ..A-Z Wednesdays =-.

                          • At 2010.01.15 14:52, Lenore said:

                            I read the first chapter of THE WHITE MARY and knew right then and there PNG is not the place for me. Heat + Mosquitos is a killer combo in my book. I will get around to reading the rest one of these days!!
                            .-= Lenore´s last blog ..Book Reviews and Guest Post: Dream Girl and Dream Life by Lauren Mechling =-.

                            • At 2010.01.23 15:55, Allie said:

                              It is really interesting. Sometimes a great cover and lend so much to the book, but sometimes it really really doesn’t. It’s such a delicate balance – and I really do think it’s an incredible art form – to read a book and be able to create an image that is not only appealing, but really gives readers a good idea of what to expect.
                              .-= Allie´s last blog ..The Great Interview Experiment =-.

                              (Required)
                              (Required, will not be published)

                              CommentLuv badge