We all know that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but it’s extremely difficult not to do just that. Rosema from A Reading Writer (check out her blog!) nominated me for this fun challenge where we see if the prejudice can work in reverse–can you know the contents of a book just by looking at its cover?
So here’s how it works:
I pick a few (5) books from my Goodreads recommended list (feel free to add me as a friend on Goodreads), and I guess what the contents are from the cover. Then I compare it to the blurb Goodreads puts down for the book and see what comes up.
In keeping with my women writers challenge, I’ll only look at books by female authors. And hopefully I’ll find some things to add to my to-read list.
Weight by Jeanette Winterson
The figure fending off the snake carries either a weapon or a rolled up paper in (his?) hand. The title could refer to literal weight, but I think it’s more like that the weight references a more figurative kind of burden. The snake could also be literal or (more likely) figurative danger to the protagonist. Given the cover, I think the protagonist is a male who has to overcome extreme psychological burdens in order to become a self-actualized human being. His struggle probably has something to do with success vs. failure, possibly with crime, and not love or family issues.
“When I was asked to choose a myth to write about, I realized I had chosen already. The story of Atlas holding up the world was in my mind before the telephone call had ended. If the call had not come, perhaps I would never have written the story, but when the call did come, that story was waiting to be written. Rewritten. The recurring language motif of Weight is ‘I want to tell the story again.’ My work is full of cover versions. I like to take stories we think we know and record them differently. In the retelling comes a new emphasis or bias, and the new arrangement of the key elements demands that fresh material be injected into the existing text. Weight moves far away from the simple story of Atlas’s punishment and his temporary relief when Heracles takes the world off his shoulders. I wanted to explore loneliness, isolation, responsibility, burden, and freedom, too, because my version has a very particular end not found elsewhere.” — from Jeanette Winterson’s Foreword to Weight
So… if I had seen the cover in a larger picture, I probably could have picked up more on the whole Atlas/Heracles thing, since it’s printed on the cover. The thumbnail doesn’t do that much justice. But I feel like I vaguely sensed the mood of the story, if not its plot. At all. Still–I love adaptations of myths–so this probably will make my to-read list.
The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean
“Madonnas” is an interesting description that could mean anything from great beauties to some sort of holy order to even a tongue in cheek description of prostitutes. Leningrad helps to suggest a time period close to the time of the revolution in Russia, so my guess would be this book is set in the 1920s-30s. I think that the book has to do with the relationships between a group of misunderstood women who are set apart from others because of either a higher or lower status–but they are definitely “other.” It’s probably a little bit sad, but (hopefully) has uplifting and beautiful moments that make you newly identify with the time and the characters.
Bit by bit, the ravages of age are eroding Marina’s grip on the everyday. And while the elderly Russian woman cannot hold on to fresh memories—the details of her grown children’s lives, the approaching wedding of her grandchild—her distant past is preserved: vivid images that rise unbidden of her youth in war-torn Leningrad.
In the fall of 1941, the German army approached the outskirts of Leningrad, signaling the beginning of what would become a long and torturous siege. During the ensuing months, the city’s inhabitants would brave starvation and the bitter cold, all while fending off the constant German onslaught. Marina, then a tour guide at the Hermitage Museum, along with other staff members, was instructed to take down the museum’s priceless masterpieces for safekeeping, yet leave the frames hanging empty on the walls—a symbol of the artworks’ eventual return. To hold on to sanity when the Luftwaffe’s bombs began to fall, she burned to memory, brushstroke by brushstroke, these exquisite artworks: the nude figures of women, the angels, the serene Madonnas that had so shortly before gazed down upon her. She used them to furnish a “memory palace,” a personal Hermitage in her mind to which she retreated to escape terror, hunger, and encroaching death. A refuge that would stay buried deep within her, until she needed it once more. . . .
I was definitely wrong about the book having multiple protagonists, and though normally being within a decade of the setting would make me happy, the fact that it’s set in WWII gives the whole book an extremely different feeling than it would have in another era. Also, the madonnas referred to are works of art, so that’s way off too. Still, it sounds like a pretty good book.
The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz
The group sitting on the bench is completely obscured by the newspaper they’re reading, with the exception of their eyes, which peer through the pages. This suggests some sort of deception to me, so I would say that this book is a mystery in which a main character is solving…maybe not a murder because there’s a child in the picture too (which is not to say that children can’t be murderers, but it leaves me to suspect otherwise). It could be a matter of family inheritance or something equally innocuous. It could just be a novel about one person trying to find a role in their particular family drama…
Meet Isabel “Izzy” Spellman, private investigator. This twenty-eight-year-old may have a checkered past littered with romantic mistakes, excessive drinking, and creative vandalism; she may be addicted to Get Smart reruns and prefer entering homes through windows rather than doors — but the upshot is she’s good at her job as a licensed private investigator with her family’s firm, Spellman Investigations. Invading people’s privacy comes naturally to Izzy. In fact, it comes naturally to all the Spellmans. If only they could leave their work at the office. To be a Spellman is to snoop on a Spellman; tail a Spellman; dig up dirt on, blackmail, and wiretap a Spellman.
Mystery–check. Family drama–check. Suspicious family–check.
Seven Daughters and Seven Sons by Barbara Cohen and Bahija Lovejoy
The young person in the picture is fairly androgynous. Based on the headdress, I would hazard a guess at male, but the veil he lifts in front of his face could suggest some sort of cross-dressing going on, or perhaps just an air of mystery. I would guess that the book takes place either in the middle east or in the India/Pakistan area. As for plot, it’s probably a retelling of some sort of myth, possibly from the Arabian nights. From the tiny thumbnail, I can’t tell what the writing underneath says. That would probably give me more clues. There’s probably some sort of magic involved, possibly some mysticism.
In an ancient Arab nation, one woman dares to be different. Buran cannot—Buran will not—sit quietly at home and wait to be married to the man her father chooses. Determined to use her skills and earn a fortune, she instead disguises herself as a boy and travels by camel caravan to a distant city. There, she maintains her masculine disguise and establishes a successful business. The city’s crown prince comes often to her shop, and soon Buran finds herself falling in love. But if she reveals to Mahmud that she is a woman, she will lose everything she has worked for.
Well I consider that a check for cross-dressing. It’s not a play on the Arabian nights, but it’s set in a similar setting, so that’s something. The close up of the cover reveals that the jewel looking thing in the protagonist’s turban is actually a man. So that’s interesting.
The Woman Reader by Belinda Jack
A book about a woman who loves to read–possibly at the risk of being (gasp) more intelligent than her male counterparts. She’s probably better educated than many of her peers and set apart because of this, which will either bring her opportunity or despair.
This lively story has never been told before: the complete history of women’s reading and the ceaseless controversies it has inspired. Belinda Jack’s groundbreaking volume travels from the Cro-Magnon cave to the digital bookstores of our time, exploring what and how women of widely differing cultures have read through the ages.
Well. It’s about reading. Actually, this is even more interesting–a non fiction book about the history of literary women. Definitely on the to-read list.
A book’s cover is meant to capture interest and convey mood. These are the easiest things to gauge from a cover. While a picture may be worth a thousand words, it’s certainly not worth 300 pages worth of them. Would you read any of these books? If you have read them, what did you think of them?
So in keeping with the spirit of the challenge, here are my nominees. If you’ve already done the challenge, or you don’t want to, don’t feel obligated. And if you’d like to give this challenge a try, and you haven’t been nominated, consider yourself nominated by me.
Cora from Smalltown Bookworm
Amanda from Book Recs and Paperweights
the lovely ladies at Tumbling into Wonderland