A book and its cover

Should we judge, or not judge a book by its cover?

Though the idiom is not talking about books, I always think about books when I hear it.

Reading is much more than just reading.

I remember reading a blog’s article in Spanish, and the author spoke about the summer when he discovered Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel North and South. He spoke about the edition being just right: the size of the print, the smell of the pages, the comfort. He read it while traveling on trains, in the morning at breakfast, at any time. It was cozy. It added to his love for Gaskell. He read in translation yet he found the satire in her novel, her tone.

Conversely, my friend Linda’s reading of Fortunata and Jacinta, in the only English edition available that I know of, was a huge feat since the print was small and it has around 900 pages.

Some beautiful editions of books, such as Heritage Press books, if the book is long, they end up being quite bulky and heavy for night reading or for itinerary reading.

I have friends who ask me (and I ask them the same), is this a book worth having in print? We all have a different relationship to print, (paperback, hardcover, mass paperback) and to electronic reading. The different compounds of reading in different formats don’t depend entirely on us, they are the fiber of our life too. If you live abroad, (Africa, Asia), you can’t surely aspire to get good price paper copy editions of all the books you may want to read in your language. Then there can be allergies, space limitations, different comfort levels on how many books and shelves to have. I used to think more is best. Now I don’t. I believe my number is the right number for me. And this changes with time. But I digress. About books and their covers. Yes. I loved my paper copy of The Nine Tailors. I appreciate what I call the generous paperback book. That means to me, a paperback with thick paper, decent size print, and most specially, a book that opens well and doesn’t break apart when you do so. Its nemesis is the dreaded mass paperback, with browned and foxing pages that crinkle as you turn them, and which spine comes apart like Humpty Dumpty. Even for this poor specimen there’s some hope. After you get used to it, it gains a new charm. This is the way I read The Cost of Discipleship, by Bonhoeffer. I did not frown (I found the book for not much), since I enjoyed the book, specially the first part, the part devoted to explaining his idea of the cost of discipleship.

When it came time for my next book club title, Murder on A Girls’ Night Out, by Anne George, I happened to find this copy at my nearby used book store.

Ooooh, yikes!

Nothing looked appealing. My mass paper back had small print. It’s not too long, 244 pages. The pages are not yellowed nor does it crinkle, but… I truly did not feel for reading a book with this atrocious cover.

I love going to my book club night. Could they have this book in audio, at the library? That’d save me some time, and that way, I could start on my first duet (The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn).

I found this:

What?

The cover for the audio has no hope. It almost made me quit. I hit play before returning it and forgetting about it. I’m glad I did. The voice of the narrator sounded like that of an elderly southern lady. That’s Patricia Ann, the protagonist. Her sister is Mary Alice. Mary Alice calls her sister ‘Mouse’. It grabbed me from the beginning. I had truly low expectations, and they only rose up with every page (or audio minute).

What does the book have that made it worth reading? Maybe the fact that I did not read it but listened to it. Through the audio, the narrator made Patricia Ann sound like the elderly southern lady she is, and in my head it would not have sounded like that. The author has a beautiful pace for the book. The book has humor, and I was surprised to find an unusual main character for it.

I googled the author, and I discovered that Anne George was born in 1927, and died in 2001. She wrote poetry first, and her first book has 1980 as its date, which makes her 53 years old. She was nominated for the Pullizer prize with Some of it is True (1993, Curbow Publications), also poetry.

Then she wrote her mysteries, the last one she wrote the year she died. These are the titles:

Murder on A Girls’ Night Out (1996)

Murder on A Bad Hair Day (1996)
Murder Runs in the Family (1997)
Murder Makes Waves (1997)
Murder Gets A Life (1998)
Murder Shoots the Bull (1999)
Murder Carries A Torch (2000)
Murder Boogies with Elvis (2001)

She wrote Murder on A Girls’ Night Out at the age of 69. I’m glad she did. I adored her descriptions of the daily life of Patricia Ann and her husband Fred. There’s humor, and there’s poetry too. Nothing is overdone. Patricia Ann has seen much yet she is candid too. Her relationship with her sister is so real. They love each other, and yes, they fight! They worry about their grown up children, and they still have much to do in life, with the aid of caffeine.

I know. I’m not making it any easy for all of you this year, with all the books I’m recommending. I did not want to add another title to your out of control book pile, or to your library loan list. I wanted to communicate a couple of things, that audios are not the black sheep in the book family, and to remain open to book club or other opportunities to read outside our expectations. Ah, a third point: some new books, even mysteries, are fun and not only, they are not junk, but they have more to offer than we think.

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6 thoughts on “A book and its cover

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  1. I'm one of those judging people when it comes to books and their covers. Sometimes I think that plain brown wrapper can be the least offensive. I've picked up Reader's Digest hard back editions of classics at library sales with lovely paper, ribbon bookmarks, embossed titles that were simply wonderful to read. I'm sure the prices of those books brand new were not in my price range.

    I used to think I couldn't own too many books until my bookshelf space said otherwise. Now I'm more discriminating and even though I don't particularly care to read books on my kindle I've found it really can be a good way to enjoy a book without having to dust it.

    Murder on a Girls' Night Out sounds like a good one. Thanks for the review. I'm going to see if my library has it.

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  2. Library sales are great places to find otherwise very expensive editions.

    I agree, the kindle can be a good friend too. I like the built in light mine has, and how light it is for long books, plus the inbuilt dictionary. When I read Fortunata and Jacinta I used my kindle. I knew the meaning of the words, and yet I tapped on the definition, because it was so nice to read those definitions. I used to write the definitions in my common place book. I also highlighted sections in my kindle, and I wrote them after in my common place book.

    You'd love Anne George. I am 100 percent sure you'd make great friends with Patricia Ann and her husband Fred, and her sister, their daughters Debbie and Haley too, Richardina, lol, this book was tender, humorous, and the only book when I've heard the word Maalox for the stomach. Patricia Ann loves making apple sauce, and talks to one of her former students, Henry, while she invites him to peal apples with him. These are real characters, southern good people, and the mystery is also a 'excuse' for Patricia Ann to look at people and events and talk about life.

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  3. The edition isn't a deal-breaker for me, but I do love a pretty copy. I like trade paperbacks, because they don't intimidate me. I have no problem stuffing it in my purse or dragging it out to the lake. If it gets a bit crinkly or water-wrinkled, eh, it's just a paperback anyway.

    I love your thoughts about audios. Over the past year or two, I have been enjoying some of the longer French novels on audio. One of the things I really like about listening to them is hearing the names pronounced properly. I'm rereading The Count of Monte Cristo–this time actually reading from my gorgeous, gilded, leatherbound edition instead of listening–and all the names are in there properly now!

    Cheers!

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  4. Hi and welcome, Crunchy_Conservative!

    I do love some trade paperbacks too. I like what you say about how easy they are to transport, and how inexpensive too. And many of them open nicely, without cracking at the spine (that's for older books). At the end of the day, if, for whatever reason I love a book because of the time I was reading it (in summer, during the christmas break, etc.), I end up loving whichever copy of it I happen to have. Actually, I'm looking at my meager paperback of that Murder on a Girls' Night Out, and since I loved the audio, I am looking at the book with kinder eyes.

    I like your point on names properly pronounced. If I read more Anne George books, I know how Patricia Ann sounds, and that's very neat. Some great books I have in several editions and translations, because each of those adds something unique to the reading. There's some books I want to read that have lots of slang or dialect written which I don't understand, so, I'll either read them in Spanish, or an audio, otherwise it's impossible for me to understand.

    At book club, some of my American friends did not understand some of that written slang, or pronunciation peculiar to a person with, for example, a denture or no teeth, ha ha ha. Yes, that happened in Ross Poldark. It made me feel better to hear some Americans did not understand that either. I'm getting that it was common for some XIX century writers to use that technique, and others, like Russians, add paragraphs solely in French, or Walter Scott in Latina Vulgate (and that I understand and love). It's interesting how literature's unwritten norms change.

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  5. HI Syliva, I found you on Carol's blog. What an interesting post. I know that a book's cover means a lot to me. I prefer hardcovers with dust jackets. But the art has to appeal to me as well.

    Even though a lot of books are free on Kindle I like having print copies of my favorites. I'm not sure if I can justify this. Perhaps if there's an apocalyptic fall out, I will be able to keep my library while everything electronic disappears. That's probably a stretch.

    I have not heard of this mystery writer. I have recently discovered Eric Stanley Gardner and have been reading his Perry Mason novels. They are fun and light and nice break from the heavier stuff I usually like.

    If you like, you can visit my blog at http://sharonhenning.blogspot.com

    I'm glad I found your blog.

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