By Its Cover

Judging Books by their Looks

"Back to Blood" by Tom Wolfe

Never have I seen a sky orange enough to be absolutely complementary with the blue of the ocean, yet on the cover of a book, that color scheme certainly does have a sort of “pop.” This is, perhaps, why reality was momentarily suspended to permit the sky and ocean to not only be unrealistically saturated, but also striped. And this is not to mention the magenta cityscape that divides the sky from the water. There is no natural phenomenon that could possibly cause largely grayscale structures to be perceived by the human eye as magenta; yet this design, with its harsh lines and urban skyline, carries with it the certainty that this book has not the slightest hint of fantasy. It’s eye-catching, but one would imagine it being eye-catching in an airport terminal shop. It is likely that a tale of a man attempting to find himself in an anticlimactically gray city will certainly entertain the business people who really couldn’t care less what color the skyline is.

"Astray" by Emma Donoghue

Has a new Austen novel been discovered? Pastel blues and patterned, silhouetted figures on horseback are distinctly symptomatic of publishers’ attempts to make classics appear modern and appealing to the general public, and perhaps they’ve gotten to this new work before someone like Penguin could inject a bit more class into the whole affair. Yet sans-Austen context, this is a book one would pick up in a shop and examine more closely, if only to decide whether or not the pattern on the figure is really a map. The bits of lake where a non-silhouetted horse’s hooves would be are a nice touch—more creative than what the Austen-perverters could think up. Of course, if this book is in fact an “Inception”-like tale of the man on horseback discovering himself while he discovers the (potentially Regency-era) world, this is probably the novel’s most creative aspect.

"Maidenhair" by Mikhail Shishkin

The title’s resemblance to “maidenhead” combined with the predominance of red on the book’s cover are a bit disconcerting, although maybe something has been lost in translation (or I’ve just been reading too much “A Song of Ice and Fire”). So perhaps this is a book about virginity—or perhaps it is about the Red Cross, seeing as its symbol is so blatantly emblazoned on the cover. But a book about the Red Cross would surely be too real, too brutal even, to permit a cover design involving lacey white flowers—and why would someone in Russia write about the Red Cross? Of course, this design is shared with the Swiss flag, which admittedly is a far more logical proposition.