Wednesday, July 22, 2009

An Unfortunate Cover

Have you ever been browsing in a bookstore when you spot the spine of the book you’ve been searching for, only to take it off shelf and realize its cover is so unattractive that it makes you change your mind? Even though the price is right, the cover is so wrong you decide to wait for a nicer edition to come along?

This happened to me last night. I was browsing in Strand Bookstore when I caught sight of Howard Browne’s Halo for Satan. I really liked his Halo in Blood, and have been wanting to read more. But when I looked at the cover of the No Exit Press edition, my heart sunk. It was some garish picture of the back of a bald man’s head. And not even a good picture – just looked kind of sloppy. It was six bucks, but I’d rather invest that six into a nicer edition that I would enjoy displaying on my shelf. After I’ve read a book, I enjoy going back often and looking at the cover, flipping through the pages, remembering my favorite parts. This just seemed like something I wouldn’t want to look at ever again.

Has this ever happened to you? I know we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but should that excuse cover art from criticism? Particularly with pulp fiction, cover art seems to be such a part of the legacy that it can’t be ignored. What are your thoughts?

7 comments:

  1. I have one with a pretty cool cover. Thanks for reminding me. You can see it on Amazon with a girl sitting on a stool.

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  2. Cullen ... Couldn't agree more. As you are well aware, most people collect these old books to read, but some collect them strictly for the cover art. (that is part of the reason some prices skyrocket.) I collect to read, BUT the cover is always part of the equation when considering a purchase. I will pay more for an edition that has a great cover, and i will pass (as you did) on a book if the cover, ah, sucks. You were wise to pass on this one.

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  3. I'm the same way, Frank. I always buy books in order to read them (which means I like to find nice copies that will last and not fall apart as soon as I open them), but I like to find editions with interesting cover art.

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  4. The cover art isn't a huge deal to me when I'm looking for a particular title or author, although I prefer attractive covers to crummy covers, but I have passed on books written by authors I'm not familiar with that I very well may have purchased if the cover wasn't horrificly stupid. Why a publisher ever puts a book on the market with a crummy, off-putting cover is beyond me.

    My major concern--and I'm a reader, not collector--is condition. I want a book I can read more than once without the pages falling out and also a book that I can read without washing my hands every fifteen minutes to get the uckk off.

    I have been known to pass on a book I've been looking for if its condition is poor or below the standard I have for the particular era the book published--my standards are lower the older the novel is.

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  5. I know what you mean, Ben. Particularly about brittle or falling-apart books. Ultimately, I think I walked away from this copy because I've read Browne before, and I know that I will probably enjoy reading this as well. I have patience (and a huge To Be Read pile to get through), so I will have to wait for another day to read "Halo for Satan."

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  6. Cullen: Don't wait too long. "The Taste of Ashes" may be Howard Browne's best book, but "Halo for Satan" is a close second.

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  7. Liked A Taste for Ashes. Never read Browne's others. This chat has moved from poor covers to old books in poor condition. I dislike faded pages. Sometimes in order to get a rare book, accepting faded paper is required. Odor is another issue. I have a chamber full of cedar chips. If a book I bought online (no smell test there, yet!) shows up musty smelling or whatever (you now the smell) i put the book in the chamber for a month. Works great! Provided you can handle the smell of cedar chips ...

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