Book covers are prime real estate. They take up the same amount of space as any one of the pages within to say visually to the potential reader the entire story they might enjoy if they only just reached out and picked it off the shelf. Most books only get one shot at getting the cover right, so you can understand why I hate when covers are squandered on pretty girls wearing pretty dresses because it says next to nothing about the story itself.
The book currently coming to mind is Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi. I really enjoyed the story, but ugh, if I hadn’t already loved Tahereh, I probably wouldn’t have picked up the book based on the cover. I think I’m even more disappointed by that cover because I loved the book itself and the scenes the heroine has to wear the pretty dress in are such tiny blips in the overall story. The dress is forced upon her. It’s the opposite of her identity and highlights the only part of the book where the heroine looks the way someone else wants her to look. That seems weird to me, although I give it points for at least having relevance to the story. I recently finished a book with a pretty girl in a pretty dress on the cover and the pretty girl never actually wears a pretty dress in the book and the background she’s standing in front of? Also not in the book.
This is the weird stuff that keeps me from being able to sleep at night, that irrelevant book covers are allowed to exist.
Not surprisingly, I’ve been drawn to illustrated book covers lately. Specifically, illustrated book covers with a certain look to them, sort of a comic book meets children’s book with a little edge and a little verve. I love this style on YA and adult books, I don’t know why exactly. It speaks to the part of me that is make-believe, I guess, and also because it is very, very pretty.
These illustrations are not generic. The artists who design them must become intimately familiar with at least part of the book – he or she had to have very in-depth conversations with the author or they read the book themselves. These illustrations are time consuming and require a certain amount of talent. They are deliberate. You cannot troll the photography copyright sites looking for a model to photoshop in order to achieve the level of artistry required to build these illustrations. They capture mood, atmosphere, character, suspense, story, tension, and mystery. I’m clearly biased. Art that is not meaningful and sublime isn’t trying hard enough.
My love affair with this style (and if there is a term for it, I’m ready to learn. Teach away!) began with this cover:
It’s really Capillya’s fault because she’s the one that introduced me to it in the first place. Gorgeous right? Look at the lines in the books, the movement between fantasy and reality and the sensation that the ground is insubstantial. One wrong turn can bring the whole house of cards down. This was a very deliberate cover.
Then there was This Girl is Different by JJ Johnson. I remember seeing it, touching it, and thinking, “Is this cover for real?”
Winter Town by Stephen Emond sort of fits because it makes me feel similarly the way I feel when I see This Girl is Different, though the illustration style is not like the others. And of course, The Big Crunch by Pete Hautman. I don’t even know what that book is about, but it’s on my Amazon Wishlist.
Capillya is also to blame for my sleepless nights spent thinking about August, the strangest book cover I have maybe ever seen, and also the most captivating. I want this book in my hands so bad. I would love to experience the strange vertigo feeling I get from looking at it on the screen but in real life. A good book cover can do that to you, get in your head like that.
Last week I was at Half Priced Books scoping out some new research books. By and large, used book stores are the way to go for research books you want to own, otherwise the library is your best bet. You’d be surprised how limited the selection on weather specific scientific essays there are in Barnes & Noble. In December I purchased a first person narrative on the experience of flight and a historical analysis of war-time footwear. They’re not exactly strong competition for Lindsey Lohan’s favorite pre-crime spree mixed drink retrospective, you know?
After finding my book on weather essays, I wandered over to the YA section to peruse the merchandise. Now, don’t get too worked up over me buying used books and not supporting my favorite authors. 99% of the time I buy my personal copies from Amazon (and Borders before it closed.) I do, however, pick up extra copies of books my husband teaches because his class sets are often smaller than his class body count and I also pick up new releases for his classroom library. Ellen Hopkins is a favorite of his students and I’d like to think she’d understand that I purchased my second, third, and fourth copies of Perfect used for his students who have never owned a book in their life but beg to get their hands on one of her books. We do what we can for them.
Anyway, so I was thumbing through the shelves and I stumbled across a book cover…no, no that’s not right. I was blinded by a book cover that screamed “PICK ME UP OR YOU WILL BURN IN HELL.”
The picture is nice but it doesn’t do the real life colors justice. It’s like the art of a Dr. Seuss book on…um…more acid than normal.
I’m unconvinced the book is actually YA and I have this sneaking suspicion it was shelved here because of the illustration style of the cover, but whatever. Isn’t it cool?
In that same trip I stumbled across They Came From Below by Blake Nelson which, I’ll be honest, has a pretty hokey premise but the reviews are pretty stellar so clearly I shouldn’t be judging a cover by its plot synopsis. I’d love to have this cover as a poster in my office. It’s very Dr. Seuss meets H.P. Lovecraft.
So what do you think? Illustrated covers yay or nay? Any favorites I didn’t mention here? Do you think they work for YA and adult books or should they be relegated to middle grade and under forever until the end of time? Would you buy a book with an illustrated cover?