Judging Books by Their Covers


There’s that terrible, stupid saying “don’t judge a book by its cover.” All right, I know it’s a stupid metaphor about not judging people by their appearance and all that good stuff. But here’s the thing: it’s bad. It’s dumb. It doesn’t make any goddamn sense.

Book covers are a function of marketing. The literal purpose of them is to be attractive and be judged. They’re designed with a specific target audience and strategy in mind.

Some book covers are mysteries to me. Like fantasy titles. Do tacky photoshopped images of women against a dark and “magical” background really sell books? The Harper Collins black Lord of the Rings Covers, with the original Tolkien designs, however… (also, for some reason I was completely convinced this set was published by Anchor, who always do a good job. I guess I’m wrong about that though). I personally own all three of those. Question: why no matching Hobbit cover? Back to my point, there are a lot of different printings of Lord of the Rings, so cover design really matters to sell copies. The black ones are the prettiest– it’s why I have them.

10996342I own a few books that are just really lovely to look at. The Art of Fielding has a pretty spine, although it’s a bit cracked, and looks very nice on my bookshelf. Especially because all my books are organized by color. Yeah, I know. And the whole reason I own We, the Drowned, 7988467one of my favorite books ever, is because it caught my attention in the bookstore. I saw it and knew it was something I needed to have.

My personal favorite kind of covers are minimal design and illustrative. I’ve been waiting to buy a new Harry Potter box set until they come out with covers I really like.

Anyone have a favorite cover?


The Martian // Review

The Martian by Andy Weir. Published 2014 by Crown. 369 pages.

Someone described this novel as “man survives alone on Mars on sarcasm” which I believe to be an incredibly accurate description. Weir is not the greatest writer on Earth (or Mars, well, maybe Mars). There are no eloquent soliloquies about the loneliness of space, or whatever. But it’s funny. Like, really funny. And also, very, very real. Surprising, but even amazing scientists and astronauts are people.

It’s more than likely you’ve heard of this novel. This is a review for the people on the edge of should I/shouldn’t I.

It’s been on the bestseller list probably since it’s been out. You can’t walk into a bookstore without seeing copy. Especially now, because it’s been turned into a popular movie with Matt Damon as the Martian, Mark Watney. I watched the movie before reading the book, which I never do and honestly am kind of ashamed of. If you haven’t seen the movie, or want to, or have seen it and are considering the book, I would first off say it’s a pretty faithful adaptation. Of course, there’s most shenanigans in the book (and swearing) but nothing major changes.

I didn’t even mean to buy this novel. I was in Barnes and Noble and saw this hardcover signed copy, probably the only hardcover in the whole store and suddenly decided I needed it. I told myself I couldn’t get it unless I could find it in hardcover and there it was. Destiny.

The novel is worth it. Especially if you’re into science shit. I don’t make a habit of reading science fiction, but this one is very accessible. Some people caution putting this into the science-fiction category but there’s just too much science not too. But there are no made up aliens, no made up physic rules or languages that cause people to shy away from the genre. It’s a book about the near future and a near planet. Things make sense. Well, for the most part they do. I’ll admit that some of the science did go over my head.

I wasn’t crazy about the structure. Journals just don’t do it for me and never have. My favorite parts were the ones that took place on Earth. And like I said before, Weir’s prose isn’t going to knock your socks off. You probably won’t have an existential crisis based off a passage (which has happened to me before). That means that the greatness of this novel is on plot alone, and let me tell you, it does not disappoint in that department. As could be expected, Mars tries extremely hard to kill Mark Watney.

The ultimate strength of this novel is that it’s believable. I believed in the mission to Mars, I believed in the character interactions. And even though I literally knew the ending, I was still tense as hell reading it. If you’re into a fast-paced adventure-survival story with enough sass to kill someone? Get to it.

Top Five Favorite Books

  1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Published 2006 by Knopf. 550 pages
    Where on earth have you been if you’ve not read this book? It literally amazes me that there are people out there who haven’t picked this up for whatever reason. Yes, it’s long. Yes, it’s technically YA– but as someone who generally hates YA I can say for sure it transcends categorization. I am haunted by this novel. I cannot escape it floating around in my mind. The first time I read it I was in middle school (my copy is from a Scholastic book fair), and I still get emotional about it sometimes. I’ve also made everyone I’ve ever known read it as well.
  1. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. Published 2004 by Random House. 509 pages
    Most of the books I love are long. I don’t know what that says about me. Cloud Atlas is one of those books that makes me look like a total snob, but, you like what you like. If you’ve seen the movie (ugh), you might get the impression that each separate narrative is being constantly cut by others. But the structure is actually more like a pyramid– except for the middle narrative, each one gets two lengthy chapters. It gets a bad rap for being difficult, and at times it is, but it probably won’t be as hard as you think it is. Prepared to get seriously introspective, though.
  1. The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway. Published 2008 by Vintage. 576 pages
    This is where things get a little messy. While I can say definitively that The Book Thief is my favorite book ever written and that Cloud Atlas is the second, a myriad of other books play for the last three spots. The best way to describe this book is that it’s as if a comic book became a novel. It’s crazy, action packed (ninjas are a main plot point), and science fiction without being overwhelming. The twist in this book? Completely unexpected, which is rare these days. Out of any author I can think of, Nick Harkaway writes truly unique books.
  1. American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Published 2001 by William Morrow. 465 pages.
    The vast majority of the novels I read recreationally is soul crushing literary fiction. Why? I like crying. But most of my favorites of favorites are dramedies, and comic-booky. American Gods is a bit like the previous entry. To be sure, a lot of serious shit goes down but the concept is decidedly low-key fantasy. Basically: all the gods still exist, but they’ve been overrun by the gods of the new age. Shadow, our wonderfully ethnically-ambiguous protagonist gets caught up in the mess. I also got to meet Neil Gaiman back in 2011. It was as awesome as you’d think. (Watch out for a Bryan Fuller (!!!) run Starz series!)
  1. The Princess Bride by William Goldman. Published 1973; 30th Anniversary Edition published 2007 by Harvest Books. 512 pages.
    Who are you if you’ve never heard of The Princess Bride? First, the movie is a total classic. Second, the book is just as good, if not better. Short story: everything you loved about the movie is in the book, plus more. A note on the edition: the thing you can buy in stores these days is the Anniversary edition, which is not 512 pages, but includes a lot of additional information and stories. It’s very good, strong recommend on it. 

Honorable Mentions: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote; We the Drowned by Carsten Jensen

A Thousand Splendid Suns // Review

A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Kahled Hosseini. Published 2007, Riverhead Books. 372 pages.

Beautiful, heartbreaking, savage. A Thousand Splendid Suns is the interwoven story of two Afghani women in Kabul during the height of violence in the 80s and 90s. Any more than that will be a disservice to the story. I personally didn’t have much knowledge of Afghanistan before I read this novel but I was so captivated by the picture Hosseini painted I was compelled to discover more. His Afghanistan is lovely, and cruel, but uniquely home to its characters, so much so that they can’t let it go.

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That’s something I can relate to.

A lot of reservation surrounding this novel is that people fear it won’t be as good as The Kite Runner, Hosseini’s novel of similar circumstance yet different subject. I haven’t read it, so my view is completely unbiased. It does make me want to read it, though.

Ultimately, I was so involved in the story I wasn’t paying much attention to the overall thematic arc. Part of the beauty of Hosseini’s storytelling, however, is that it snuck in between the words and pages. As strong as the storytelling is, there is the undeniable social and political commentary that comes along with this novel. It’s almost downright educational in nature, providing a complex view of the struggle of modern Afghanistan and the parties involved.

Often I would find myself reading a passage somewhere on campus and struggle to keep my composure. It’s not fun to cry in public, but I am definitely a crier and there were times I had to close to book and take a break. I won’t get into narrative spoilers here, but there are parts that are hard to read. Sometimes you can feel it coming, a terrifying suspicion, and other times it catches you off guard.

This is a book about love. The kind you glue together from the broken pieces smashed on the floor, the kind you stitch together and prick your fingers with. Unyielding, because in Hosseini’s Afghanistan, you either yield or perish.