What’s in a cover? Everything

“Replacing a book with its movie poster or a scene from the film may be a clever marketing ploy, but the book lover in me finds it demeaning and annoying. Here’s why?”

A cliche that never goes out of fashion is “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”  The advice has its advantages but it certainly is not an unqualified truth. Books are judged often by their covers, and it is not entirely wrong to do so, as the first impression is indeed in many cases the last impression. An attractive book cover design is a gaze magnet, a dull cover is likely to put the reader off.  Many times, a reader will drift into a store, without anything particular in mind. An enticing book cover design will catch her eye, and perhaps persuade her to rummage through the pages to figure out a rudimentary idea of the book. On the other hand, an unattractive cover will lead to the book being lost on the potential customers because of a bad cover. In the world created by the book, the cover is often the door that opens this world for the reader. Speaking from personal experience, I enjoy looking and gazing at the book covers, as much as I enjoy reading the book. Covers tease me, as I try to interpret how they may convey the attitude and tone of the book. At the end of a book, the cover stares at me again, as I relive the book in my mind, and gauge how accurately I understood the cover.  I am sure, I’m not alone in this experience.

The question that arises then is: Who decides a book’s cover? In most cases, this is a publisher’s prerogative. Since the publishers choice of book covers is largely drawn by commercial interests. They try to make sure that the cover appeals to the sensibilities of the readers. Sometimes, therefore, they have different covers for different regions and countries. Its only fair considering publishers have to recover the cost and make profits on the investment and if a certain cover ensures more copies are sold, so be it. Sometimes, when a book is adapted as a movie, publishers try to piggybank on the popularity of the medium of cinema to promote the book. The movie poster becomes the new book cover, and the term for such a cover is movie tie-in-cover.

But I have a bone to pick with movie tie-in covers. Here’s why –

1. Primacy to Visual Medium

Replacing a book cover with its movie poster or a scene from the film may be a clever marketing ploy, but the book lover in me finds it demeaning and annoying. It seems to suggest that the book ought to be known by the adaptation, rather than the other way around. A text carries within itself several stories, depending upon the reader’s interpretation; a film has only one story. Which one is richer then? I leave it to your judgement.

Does it uphold or violate the sanctity of the book then? As a book lover, my answer is unhesitatingly that it not only violates the sanctity of a book, but does so, brazenly. These covers practically scream that the book is made into a movie, as if the book is indebted to this favour. It is rather insulting, is it not? One might be the devil’s advocate and say that sometimes it works wonder. The film becomes so popular that it pulls the book from the depths of ignominy to the heights of best sellers, and keep them in public eyes for decades. But dear sire, a swallow a summer doesn’t a summer make. Moreover, remember it is the beauty of the book that compelled a film maker to adapt it; the original  goodness lay in the book.

I remember visiting every book shop in Pune to find a copy of Jumpa Lahiri’s ‘The Namesake’ with its the original cover, soon after I saw the movie. I couldn’t find one! I had to settle for the one with somber faces of Irfan Khan and Tabbu on its cover. They are two of my most favorite actors; I immensely admire the body of their work but I would prefer to see them on a film poster rather than a book cover. To me these film covers seem to undermine these beautiful stories, and underestimate the readers assuming we are only interested in a book only because popular actors are involved in the movie adaptation.

2. Lose of Interpretative Potential

Let’s talk about R Raj Rao’s book of  short stories ‘Crocodile Tears’ published by Vishwakarma Publications. The cover shows half of a naked man, neatly sliced in the middle, lying on the floor and fading into it.

Why half, and why lying? The book tackles taboo topics like gay sex which is repressed and ignored by mainstream society. Half then points out that the society views them only partially as products of their sexual choice, or simply that they are not considered ‘full men’ but ‘half’ effeminate men. The man is lying on the floor either due to fear or pleasure or both. Which is the correct interpretation? A good cover provides a clue to the book, it teases the intellect; a film cover can never achieve either.

The author of this article, Richa Singh, is a content writer with Investronaut.