Monday, May 24, 2010

What does your book cover say about you?

by Joan

Recently I had hip surgery. After an initial Vicodin tea party, during which I watched movies from sunup to sundown, I decided I might open a book again. In my pre-crutch days, I read at least an hour a day, sometimes much longer as I delved into a unique plot or captivating characters. But for the first weeks after surgery I couldn’t get up the gumption. I’d been feeling down, in a very uninteresting melodramatic way that I despise, about getting old, about being out of shape, about not being able to put weight on my leg. Seeing pictures of myself in my thirties, in '80s leggings and a '90s bikini, didn’t help.

I crutched to my office for the first time and looked over my book collection, mostly literary and historical fiction, with a mystery or two added in. Choose something cheery, I told myself.

I was reminded of an RWA conference I attended several years ago. I’d signed up because I’d always heard the workshops were remarkable, even for those who don’t write (or read) romance. Not to mention, the conference attracts plenty of agents. The hearsay was accurate: The conference was worth every penny of the fee. At one of the sessions, I heard a speaker joke about literary fiction covers, how most show an empty swing or a dress without a body.

Looking over my shelves I realized, sure enough, except for my Maeve Binchy and Adriana Trigiani collections, the titles had similar covers: empty swings, a back shot of half a girl, grey misty cities, a lone swan. You get the picture. I found two promising choices that I’d forgotten buying, but when I started reading, both caused my eyes to roll by the second page. The cheeriness itself kept me from enjoying them.

It got me thinking about predictable and happy endings. I generally dislike knowing the fate of two characters from the beginning, especially if the ending is neatly tied-up. I want a character to feel redeemed or to have mastered the underlying conflict of the book without being able to predict the resolution. Many times, those resolutions leave the main character with a sense of loss about one major issue but hope for the future. Seems I'm happier with what those literary covers offer.

I’m almost healed and ready to get back into shape, and well on the way to my old reading habits. I finished Elizabeth Kostova’s Swan Thieves and Amy Bloom’s Away, and am joining Elizabeth’s classic challenge and reading David Copperfield and Jude the Obscure.

I’ve left the Vicodin behind, but I will sneak in a movie now and again.


  1. I love Adriana Trigiani and Elizabeth Kostova -- two of my favorite authors ...

  2. Kristi,
    Have you read Kate Morton? Also one of my favs. I read both of her books a second time as soon as I finished them to see how she pulled it off!

    Thanks for stopping by...

  3. Glad you're almost healed. You're right about book covers. I'm nearing the end of Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer winning novel, Olive Kitteridge. The cover just reveals two strips of a Maine landscape.


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