Why You Should Judge a Book by Its Cover

I know that the popular phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” is a sweet idea on how an individual shouldn’t judge the character or quality of writing based on appearance alone, but I argue that everything should be judged on its exterior because it is an indication of what they are really about. In the case of this book sleeve for These Ghosts Are Family designed by Gail Anderson and Joe Newton, what I love is the rough craft present from the brush strokes and the way it conveys texture. The combination of the textured leaves and the forms of people hidden within and around them immediately adds a sense of complexity and makes one question: why are these figures hidden among nature? And why do they blend in with it. This level of mystery only intensifies when our eyes move down toward the bottom right, where you see three faces, all with their eyes conveniently brushed over—demonstrating that this story is one marred with mystery and possibly more questions than answers. 

I was able to discern all of this without even yet reading the inside sleeve teaser of the story. When I read the inside sleeve, the ambiguity of the figures with nature and the anonymity of the three figures becomes clear because the novel is about a man who leaves behind his young family in Jamaica and moves to England by stealing the identity of a friend that died while they both were working on a cargo ship. The novel follows this man’s journey for reconciliation with a family that does not know him and a life marred with secrecy and betrayal. This is an excellent example of how form matches content—the leaves are indigenous to Jamaica and the cut out eyes are symbolic for the main character’s unfamiliarity with his family he left behind—but the neat thing is that I could still discern the tones of mystery, ambiguity, and secrecy with the cover design alone. I was not disillusioned by what connotations and conclusions I drew from the cover design, and having that little peek into the content and narrative of the novel only made me feel more confident in my interest to know more. 

So next time you see a cover and you think that the story could be good even if the cover isn’t enticing, don’t be fooled! Because more often than not, if the cover isn’t well-representative of the story and the design does not give you any tones or intrigue, then it probably isn’t a story worth reading. 


Discussion — 3 Responses

  • Deb 02/18/2021 on 1:18 PM

    The title of your post drew me in to read it; but your thoughtful argument and reflective rationale for why we do need to assess a book’s cover design won me over. Well done! 🙂

  • Ben Dulaney 02/18/2021 on 3:54 PM

    That was a very interesting analysis, Bhavana, and I agree for the most part. A book should be judged initially by its cover when deciding whether or not to read the book. The cover should grab a potential reader’s attention, but the promises made by the cover should be fulfilled by the writing contained within. I’d argue that only a small portion of a book’s value lies in its cover art when compared to the entirety of a book. I certainly agree with your point though, in that good stories lend themselves to interesting cover art. I just don’t think it’s that one-dimensional. For example, some of my favorite cover art ever is from “The Amazing Spider-Man” Vol 5 Number 15. Yet I don’t particularly love the story of the comic. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I love the novel “The Color of Magic” by Terry Pratchett, but I think the cover art is a little lackluster.

    The Color of Magic: https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQsV4k4pOqh0QyBdToz9F7P99Bz6ZPAm8W1Eg&usqp=CAU

    The Amazing Spider-Man: https://static.wikia.nocookie.net/marveldatabase/images/6/6a/Amazing_Spider-Man_Vol_5_15.jpg/revision/latest/scale-to-width-down/340?cb=20190208152541

  • Paige Scoggins 02/22/2021 on 2:23 PM

    The analysis you pulled out from just looking at the cover is quite impressive. I like how you paid attention to the forms and what the artist was trying to portray in a simple yet impactful way. Most people wouldn’t think much of the cover, but as you look further into it you can see its complexity which is something you mentioned. Every piece of design is meant to say something and I think you did a great job of explaining this book cover’s design.

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