In a bookstore in Paris, all cluttered with tomes, I was looking for Madeline … for my granddaughter. (She doesn’t speak French, but she does speak Madeline.) After I found the book I wanted, I wandered around, as if the books might be an insight into aspects of French culture. And indeed they were.
I realized, with a shock, that the French really don’t judge a book by its cover.
Full disclosure: that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Truth is, there really are plenty of books with the same kind of eye-catching covers we have in the U.S. The ones in the photo are the old style (though a French friend tells me this kind of cover is coming back), when all the books had that same cream-colored cover. There might be an outline inside the edge, either red or blue, single or double line. The title/author might be in modestly-dressed Times Roman, or maybe something a tiny bit more exotic. But for the most part they were truly “plain vanilla.”
It started me wondering: is that a good thing?
Imagine: You’re in a bookstore, not looking for anything in particular, just engaging in some luxurious browsing. You’re drawn to the shelf of “New Fiction,” maybe. Or “Best Sellers.” Or – one of my favorites – “Staff Picks.”
And they all look the same. Fifty Shades of Gray, The Goldfinch, Deadly Adagio, The Scarlet Letter, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Picture them: cream cover, stark type. No pictures to guide your choice, no colors, no fonts that hint at the genre. Mystery, romance, paranormal, erotica, literary, historical? All the same. There wouldn’t even be any blurbs from quotes to let you know that, for example, Ann Patchett liked this book so, if you’re a Patchett fan, you probably would too.
I can’t imagine I’d like this. I even have trouble when I read a digital book and don’t see the cover or title every time I pick it up (because the device keeps track of my last page read). Sometimes I even forget the title of the book I’m reading, because I see it so infrequently. And I don’t like that. Not at all.
How in the world would you choose a book if all covers were identical? Personal recommendations, yes. Books by an author you love, sure. Otherwise…… what? I, personally, need a little come-on, like the coming attractions for movies.
Then again, some books have several editions, each with a different cover. I looked at the listings on Amazon for Moby Dick, for example, and stopped counting when I reached 10 covers. So which edition of Bel Canto would speak to you, saying “Pick me up, buy me, read me”? I guess it’s different come-ons for different folks.
What do you think? Would it be better if all book covers, like the uniforms some kids have to wear to school to avoid being judged by their clothing, were the same? Or do you like to have a hint of what’s inside?