Back in the day, book covers were pretty boring. In olden times, sometimes all you saw was title on the book’s spine. In the 50s, you saw very old-timey cover illustrations that just looked kinda weird. And then in the 1980s, lots of young adult books featured pictures of real people on their covers – covers that look painfully dated today. For example:
I’m sure back in 1985, that book looked pretty cool to teens hanging out at the library. Nearly every teen book cover featured a pretty girl – one either super popular looking, or one looking totally depressed, huddled in the fetal position, probably because either she or her boyfriend is dying of some disease. It was a rather dark period of young adult lit – reading among teens was at a record low – and it needed something spectacular to bring it back to life.
You thought I was going to get through this blog without mentioning Harry Potter? Nice try. But I’m not here to talk about how amazing the books are. Just look at the cover. The art is done by Mary GrandPre, and to this day is probably instantly recognizable by everyone in the world who reads books. Her art graces all seven covers of the series, as well as the illustration at the beginning of each chapter. Her art made people suddenly take notice of book covers…and suddenly it seemed like all young adult and children’s books about witches and wizards had similar type of cover art.
But thanks to J.K. Rowling and Mary GrandPre, reading numbers shot up among kids and teens. And suddenly publishers took notice that teen readers are a huge audience, which meant that book covers had to be…for lack of a better description…KICK ASS. Because despite all the life lessons we’ve learned about judging books by their covers, the fact is that, well, we do.
Since the turn of the century (the 20th, I mean), book covers have gotten tremendously better, and now when I cruise the aisles of the young adult section at bookstores, I want to buy every single book I see simply because the covers are amazing. Publishing companies still like to use real people on their covers – which makes me wonder if we’ll all be making fun of them thirty years from now like we do with the ones from the 80s), but even those tend to look pretty awesome. Case in point:
Books similar to Gossip Girl have similar covers, and most of them still feature pretty, popular people. And the occasional depressed teen suffering from a horrible disease. And so far I have yet to make fun of them.
But that’s nothing compared to the teen paranormal romance covers. Those have to best covers, some with real people, and some with no people at all. Some of my favorites include:
Those are just a tiny handful of some of the books I’ve read solely based on the cover. I may have briefly skimmed the inside cover to see what the story was about, but at the time I just figured that with a cover this awesome, the book had to be good. And all those books – Twilight included – turned out to be as good as the cover. It’s easy to have really high expectations – you see a beautiful book cover, you expect the book to be awesome, and it turns out, well, kinda boring. Like this:
And then of course there are the covers that are, well, rather boring, but if you don’t judge the book by the cover and give it a chance, it may turn out to be a really good book. Like this:
And then there’s the book Tender Morsels, which I just picked up at the library because of this cover:
And then while writing this blog tonight, I discovered the U.K. edition:
The jury is still out on this book. Or at least until 9/7/11 when the book is due back at the library.
In closing, the lesson I’d like you take with you today is, well, you probably shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but you probably will anyway. And if you’ve had the luck I’ve had, you’ll end up reading a really good book, too. If not…well, then I guess you know that covers aren’t everything. It all comes down to storytelling and how much a story grabs you, not the cover. But since we are in what I like to call the Renaissance of young adult lit when it comes to book covers, you’d better pick them up while they’re hot. Or else you’ll end up at the library used book sale with something like this: