DON’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER – Musings on Book Covers

We are always admonished not to judge a book by its cover, but of course we do — prejudging is part of our DNA.  If we didn’t, if our foreparents had  waited to get all the info before making a decision, our ancestors all would have been fast food takeout for the local sabre tooth tiger  and we wouldn’t even be here to be discussing this.  We are a visual species.  We were visual beings long before we were talking beings.   We learned to recognize the patterns that meant danger — big teeth, speed coming at us,  veggie configurations that meant poison, topographical features that signaled height and certain death if we fell off them.  And of course, our fellow hunter-gatherers.  The guy with the pointy thing aimed at us boded ill, the guy with the rock in his hand about to throw at us certainly wasn’t a good sign.  So, yeah.  We judge visually.  We had to.

And then along came books.  (Admit it — you were singing “And then along came Jones” in your head, weren’t you.)  Book covers were plain plain plain with nothing to suggest to the potential reader anything of its contents.  It wasn’t until the advent of dust jackets and paperbacks that we readers could get a hint of things to come within the book’s pages.  Hot damn!

Which brings us to today.

Even ebooks today have cover art.  And this cover art is important to help us decide whether we care to investigate that book further, and possibly even buy it.  If it is cheesy and amateurish,  we are sure the contents of the book are amateurish.  If it is classy and beautifully designed, we feel the contents will have value.   Professionalism outside signals professionalism inside.   You know, dress for success.

I am in love with book covers and what they tell me or don’t tell me about the book it covers.  I love the art. I love the conception of the designer.  I love seeing how well it fits or doesn’t fit the tone and content of its book.   I love when I read that a best friend, or spouse, or dear neighbor did the design, or took the photo used for the cover.  Isn’t that just the loveliest thing?   You never got this kind of thing before the emergence of indie books and self-publishing.

Just looking at a cover, without even reading the title, you can pretty much guess the genre.  There is a certain dark, creepy art, often with blood dripping down the cover, that is de rigueur for post  apocalypse and zombie books.  Political thrillers often have government buildings pictures, or some scene behind a gun scope.  Military thrillers of course have helicopters or tanks.  Cozy mysteries usually have a sweet scene of a porch with plants,  or a garden, or some such.   More serious mysteries tend to have a dark cover with some depiction of the theme.  Crime stories often feature yellow crime scene tape running across the cover.  Noir mysteries are generally dark covered, often with blood drops.  Horror has bloody knives, and paranormal has wispy ghosts and cemeteries.

I could go on and on.  Sweet romances usually have a couple embracing or almost embracing.  Hotter romances usually have some  dude with his shirt unbuttoned showing off ever so casually his six pack.  Serious literature tends to have a plainish cover, often a scene of a generic meadow with a single tree.  Or a three part pale color bleed.   The font choice tends to be the same.   REALLY serious literature often has a black cover, or a third black, two-thirds grey or off white.  No picture.  Just austereness,  saying in polite tones,  “I Am Serious.  No Snickering.”   Light, humorous books always have a bright, kicky cover, often in a semi-cartoon style.

Go to Goodreads  and just randomly look at books.   See if I’m not right.   You CAN judge a book by its cover.

 

 

 

 

 

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TO READ OR NOT TO READ, THAT IS THE …. OH, NEVER MIND

reading slumpI’ve been in a bit of a reading slump lately.  Well, not really a slump, more of a ‘I don’t like any of my books on my 1,000 title TBR list.   OK, maybe that counts as a slump.

I think it is more of a depression.  I have been doing too much Facebook bingeing because of the upcoming USA election.  It has been really interesting, but also really depressing.  How can a humanoid reptile like Trump actually achieve the Republican party nomination?

And Hillary.  I am so excited by the prospect of the first woman president of the USA!!!  But I wish I could believe she had more integrity.  I wish both of the two main parties weren’t so obviously in the thrall of Wall Street.  I wish I still lived in never never never-actually-was land.

I spent a fair amount of reading time watching convention speeches.  And reading political pundits.  Does reading political pundits count?  As reading?   Everything is so terribly serious.  I would like to see more fun and less dire warnings.  As I posted,  too many pundits, not enough puns.

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Actually, I feel motivated to read, I just can’t get into anything.  I swear I started 12 books.  Four of them I tossed because they were awful (figuratively, because  digital), three I have open on the carousel, because I am sure I will like them if I can get my mojo back to doing whatever it is mojos do, and one is a review read for an author I really like, so I know I will like it, just am having trouble getting into the zone.  The rest I put back in the list.

reading

I also have two books for which I need to write up blog entries, which I promise to do for tomorrow and Monday.

Now that the primaries and the conventions are over, I think I can get back to my old routine of having my nose in a book when I should be doing many other things.   Hey!  That’s the secret!  I will make myself a To Do list, and in order to avoid doing any of the list, I will read.  Always worked before.

nose in a book

YOU ARE OLD, FATHER WILLIAM

Father-William

Rhyming poems that have rhythm seem to stick with us.  Especially so are those from Lewis Carrol and the Alice in Wonderland books.  Here’s Father William:

“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”

“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that Im perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”

 

De Alice's Abenteuer im Wunderland Carroll pic 17.jpg
“You are old” said the youth, “as I mentioned before,

And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door—
Pray, what is the reason of that?”

“In my youth,” said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
“I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment—one shilling the box—
Allow me to sell you a couple?”

 

De Alice's Abenteuer im Wunderland Carroll pic 18.jpg

“You are old,” said the youth, “and your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak—
Pray, how did you manage to do it?”

“In my youth!” said his father, “I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life.”

 

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“You are old,” said the youth; “one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose—
What made you so awfully clever?”

“I have answered three questions, and that is enough,”
Said his father; “don’t give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I’ll kick you down stairs!”

The Father William poem was a parody of Robert Southey’s pious didactic poem “The Old Man’s Comforts and How He Gained Them“,  from 1799.  It was quite famous in its time:

“You are old, father William,” the young man cried,
“The few locks which are left you are grey;
You are hale, father William, a hearty old man;
Now tell me the reason, I pray.”

“In the days of my youth,” father William replied,
“I remember’d that youth would fly fast,
And abus’d not my health and my vigour at first,
That I never might need them at last.”

“You are old, father William,” the young man cried,
“And pleasures with youth pass away.
And yet you lament not the days that are gone;
Now tell me the reason, I pray.”

“In the days of my youth,” father William replied,
“I remember’d that youth could not last;
I thought of the future, whatever I did,
That I never might grieve for the past.”

“You are old, father William,” the young man cried,
“And life must be hast’ning away;
You are cheerful and love to converse upon death;
Now tell me the reason, I pray.”

“I am cheerful, young man,” father William replied,
“Let the cause thy attention engage;
In the days of my youth I remember’d my God!
And He hath not forgotten my age.”

I bet you didn’t know that.   I am a river to my people.

Descriptions – Essential or Padding?

keep-calm-and-love-descriptive-writing“It was a dark and stormy night”.   Probably the most famous piece of descriptive writing in the English language.  But it wasn’t that particular sentence that got me thinking about all that description in books.  Oooh, nooo, my thought processes are much more convoluted than that.

I have always been a dedicated description reader, from a very early age.  I know a lot of people just skip right over the parts about the daisy-filled meadows and the storm cloud-filled skies, and the aromas and odor wafting around.  They just want to get to the story part.   Or get on with the story part.

But I always felt that the descriptions in books — of a landscape, or the weather, or a room, or a street, was there for a purpose.  The author put it there to give us more ‘world’ in the fictional world we were reading about, and that we would be the lesser for having bypassed it in order to get to the battle scene or the smoochie stuff.

I gotta tell ya, nobody does long descriptions better than Kim Stanley Robinson.   I first came across his work when I read the Mars Trilogy.  The story was great, but it was the minute, detailed descriptions of the Mars landscape that kept my nose in that series until the very end.  But I think many people found his long descriptive passages tedious.   That is when I began to seriously consider description and whether it served a purpose other than padding to make the book seem longer.

I have since become a connoisseur of the compelling, well-done description.  I confess to going back to reread passages that I particularly enjoyed, in order to ask myself just what was it about that particular description that caught my fancy.  Was it because it evoked an emotion?  Or was humorous?  Or because it so nailed the place that it would seem there was no better way at all to describe it.

I think writers of an earlier age were better description writers.  Maybe because life was slower then, and more thought was given to it.  Or maybe I am wrong.  Maybe those early descriptive passages were simply more flowery,  more elaborate.  Certainly today’s offerings often contain some wonderful descriptions.   Even in genre fiction, where you might expect a cut rate approach to narrative in order to get to that the story in a cleaner, sharper way, have some wonderful flights.  But sometimes, it is the minutiae that hauls us kicking and screaming into the bowels of a story.  Sometimes we need to know the wallpaper was faded, or the carpet was worn in a path to the kitchen, or the cicadas singing in an August morning portended a hot day.  Sometimes we need to know what the world felt like just then.

I still remember a phrase from a book I read over fifty years ago:  …”the pale November sunlight…”    I was young and not so attuned to the world back then.  I said to myself, how can sunlight be pale.  It either is, or it isn’t.  But as life jostled along and I accumulated a bunch of years, and began being more aware of my surroundings, I came to recognize that particular kind of sunlight, that pale November sunlight.  If it weren’t for that descriptive phrase in that book, I might never have taken notice of the differences in sunlight quality.

It was a dark and stormy night, and it was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.*   Stop skipping over the descriptions.  They have something to tell you.

 

* Bonus points for knowing who wrote the two halves of this sentence  — WITHOUT googling.

 

 

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Just the other night, I was lying in bed, gazing at the stars, and I asked myself:  “What the heck happened to the roof?”   I am sure you do the same from time to time, because I know you have spent many a sleepless night wondering why I haven’t been spewing book reviews all over the place.   It is because I have gotten myself into one of those mobius strips of a reading trail.

As I was telling a friend the other day, I started reading a book which I saw recommended somewhere, Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain.   Well, it turns out that it is a kabillion pages long.  So to break up the German zeitgeist,  I thought I would take a break with something shorter and lighter.   So I started in on the acclaimed fantasy work, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.   Turns out that thing is even longer than The Magic Mountain.   Sigh.  So THEN I decided to fill in with something written back in the late 1800’s by George Gissing, New Grub Street.    (Ole George was wildly popular in his day, even if his day was 125 years ago.)  Well, that book at least is shorter than the other two, but not by a whole awful much.

So I finally found Brain Twist,(at last, something I could actually FINISH), but although I am reading my little heart out, I am still only halfway through the other three.   Buddha only knows when I will come to The End with them, what with the annoying interventions of Real Life and everything.

Gnats.  Notice that they have no books.

Gnats. Notice that they have no books.

I have no idea just how many pages these books are.  I read on a Kindle, which measures books not by page numbers, but by locations and percent read.  A little odd initially, but one soon gets used to that, so I know that a book which is about 4,500 locations is about 350 pages more or less. Maybe.  So the books I am involved in are 14,496 and 13,524 locations.  Trivia for the thoughtful reader.

Just thought I would let you know that I am aware that you need those ideas for What Book To Read Next or What Book To Add To My TBR List, or What Book to Absolutely Avoid At All Costs, and that I haven’t abandoned reading.  Or posting.  Or breathing.

I’m still reading.  And still looking for something in a reasonable length to leaven the loaf.  I have the attention span of a gnat.

 

 

THAT’S LIFE

sickI haven’t posted anything for a while because my Dearly Beloved was in the hospital for pneumonia, and the X-rays showed a massive infection of the pleural cavity that needed an operation to clean out, so all in all,  Life Sucked for a while, but after 9 days in the hospital,  he is now home and recovering nicely, all except for the moaning and groaning.   Oh, wait.  That is ME moaning and groaning.  Men are such lousy patients.  I’m really Nurse Ratchid.

However, during that time, although I didn’t post anything about what I was reading, I WAS still reading.  Lots of down time in hospitals, doncha know.  So I will be trying to catch up here in the the ole’ blog, but fair warnng:  Don’t expect to read about anything deep, profound or heavy.  I think the fare was mostly mysteries and one pretty decent chic lit.  I really wasn’t up for Ulysses or Proust.

See ya next post.  Teaser:  it is about blood.

 

 

GENRE BOOKS, OR, IF I LIKE A YA BOOK, DOES THAT MEAN I’M IMMATURE?

yabooksI think of genre novels as those books with an interesting plot, interesting, not necessarily likable, characters, and a story.   They are plot-driven, not character-driven.  Genre novels have a discernible …. well ….. genre.  The reader can easily pigeonhole them into a category:  mystery, romance, period romance, fantasy, horror, sci fi, paranormal, apocalyptic, dystopian, Westerns, and the unkindest cut of all,  YA.

Yes, of course you can probably come up with  a bunch more categories, and then we can argue amicably about sub-categories, and spin-offs and what is the difference between a Young Adult work and a book for the older child, and what the heck is a New Adult and why is it different from an Adult work or a Young Adult work , and then we can hash out the subtle differences between fantasy, fabulism, and paranormal and what constitutes exactly a crossover work.  Then we can move on to the -Punks:  steampunk, dieselpunk, atompunk, and what I like to think of as quantumpunk.

Ok, so back up a few sentences where I said the reader can easily pigeonhole them into a category.  I totally take that back.  I’ve read detective stories where the P.I. was a zombie,  where the P.I. was a ghost, where the P.I. was an undefined dead guy, where the P.I. was a female vampire.

I’ve read romances where the main love interest was a ghost;  where the main love interest was a zombie;  where the main love interest didn’t exactly exist.

I’ve read humorous horror, and gut-wrenching humor, sci-fi that is almost no longer fiction, dystopian that feels like today, and fantasy with ghosts, otherworldly creatures and space craft.

Genre-bending is more the norm these days than true genre works.  And we haven’t even begun to talk about YA literature.  For me, it seems that the only distinguishing characteristic that separates a YA work from an Adult work is that the protagonist(s) is(are) children or teenagers.  And a child shall lead them.

I am waiting for the Senior Adult genre to come full flower.  That’s where some Old Fart or Old Lady is the protagonist and beats the pants off the young whippersnappers.  I’ve read a bunch of these, too, in case you think that genre doesn’t actually exist.  The  Geriatric Genre. So far, the only problem with it is that they are usually light, very humorous or gently humorous, and are never as serious or dark as YA fiction.  Or maybe I just haven’t been reading the darker, more serious, works in that genre.

Something for everyone.  There really is something for everyone in genre fiction.  You know me:  I’m All About That Story.