Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Judging Amy


By Amy MacKinnon

My friends who know me well sometimes call me Judging Amy. No, it's not because I resemble Amy Brenneman (everyone says Hot Lips, not that you asked), it's because I do judge a book by its cover. What, don't you? There are some sites devoted to this very topic, this is my favorite. I don't always agree with their assessments, but I do appreciate the thoughtfulness behind them. I especially like it when the designer comments.

My absolute favorite book cover of all time is Water for Elephants. Isn't it gorgeous? Good book too, but I didn't need to tell you that, did I?
I also love, love, love Cormac McCarthy's cover for The Road. That gold sticker is such a nice tough. And it's a devastating story, one of the best I've yet read.


What do you think of these two covers? Jonis Agee's The River Wife and Anita Amirrezvani's The Blood of Flowers are works of art that belong in a museum, I think. In fact, I would hang Orange Prize nominee Anita Amirrezvani's in my home.

Oh, and here's the paperback of Jon Clinch's Finn (if you're around Boston on March 27, stop by Newtonville Books and say hello to Jon; he'd love to meet you). I like it even better than the hardcover and that was a fantastic design.

Now covers that didn't work for me at all belong to some of my all time favorite books. I won't mention the titles, I don't think it's kind to point, but it does make me wonder what makes a cover engaging and what repels. What do you think? I'd love to know your opinion on what works in a book cover and what doesn't, and what a cover conveys to you.

12 comments:

Jon Clinch said...

Hey, thanks for the plug, Amy!

I'm crazy about Finn's new cover. Then again, I was crazy about the old one. And here's something cool: They were both designed by the same person, Gabrielle Bordwin.

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Ooh, these are all great covers--evocative, alluring, gorgeoaus colors. It's hard to put my finger on what works . . . and what doesn't. A good cover pulls me in, makes me wonder about what's inside. I love the ones that are almost luminous, that seem lit from within.

(The only thing that makes it better is seeing my name under the title!)

The Writers' Group said...

Jon, your gorgeous novel is deserving of a gorgeous cover. And thanks for letting us know the name of the artist behind your covers. It's truly an art form that should have its own awards ceremony, don't you think?

Judy, ha! I think you nailed it, a good cover entices a reader to wonder. When I was a child, I'd spend hours over many days studying book covers. It started with Little Golden Books and continues to the present.

Amy

Larramie said...

Two types of book covers 1) the warm/welcoming and 2) puzzling/mysterious prompt my hand to reach out for the book to find out more.

Of course, Amy, there's also the invisible cover -- a la Tethered -- that sets no limits on the imagination. ;) *sigh*

Shauna Roberts said...

I, too, judge books by their covers. Although I'm partial to rich colors, intricate detail, beautiful typefaces, foil accents, and a pleasant texture (by finger, not by eye), I do like artsy covers, such as the ones you featured in this post, and sometimes bold graphic design. My favorite cover artist is Thomas Canty.

The Writers' Group said...

Larramie, as soon as we havea final version, I'll post it. I'm as eager as you. Whom am I kidding, I can't wait!

Shauna, I looked up Thomas Canty and he is indeed gifted. I so wish I had that kind of creative mind. I had to laugh when I read your comment. It's good to know others obsess over these things too!

Amy

Lisa said...

You'd think that since I live with an artist, I'd have very strong opinions about book covers, but I don't. I have the hardcover of "Finn" and I do like the cover on it and the paperback.

What I tend not to like as much are covers with photographs of people or clear images of people. I assume I react that way for the same reason that I don't like to read detailed physical descriptions of characters.

One book I recently bought that I think has a gorgeous cover is "People of the Book", by Geraldine Brooks, although I can't explain why I was so drawn to it.

Trish Ryan said...

It's so true! I never would have read Barbara Kingsolver's ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE (I tend to avoid books that I know include stories of killing animals for dinner; I'm a tad squeamish) but the cover kept calling to me everywhere I went...the bookstore, the library...Finally, I read it, and it was one of my favorite books for the entire year. Three cheers for cover artists!

The Writers' Group said...

Lisa, I love Geraldine Brooks's cover, it's very trendy. But I do admit to liking photos, especially black and white. With Blood of Flowers, the woman on the cover appears exactly as described in the book. I, too, thought you'd have strong opinions about this since you live with an artist. Go figure.

Trish, I love your cover. Very enticing, funny. And All of Barbara Kingsolver's covers are exquisite. You must be getting excited for pub day of HE LOVES ME, HE LOVES ME NOT. We aure are. We'll see you at Grub Street's Muse & the Marketplace.

AMy

Ello said...

Seriously, I had to comment because I am so bad about this! If a book has a bad cover, I just won't buy it. And I have been a sucker for buying beautifully covered books that I didn't like. So it goes both ways. But on this list of books you have listed 2 of my absolute favorite books of last year! Finn and The Road both dark books with such simple covers - I adored them!

The Writers' Group said...

Ello, I always carry a book in my ginormous handbag, but if the cover is ugly, I'll leave it home. If I keep it on my nightstand, I'll place it either face down or hide it under another more alluring cover. I like playful, I like simple, intricate, and ethereal, but I don't like ugly. Three of my top ten favorite books of all time have covers I find dull. Luckily, readership saw past it or didn't agree with me and they all did well.

Amy

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