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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Don't Judge A Book By It's Cover...

We all know the saying, "Don't judge a book by it's cover."  We've all heard and we've all said it.  One would hope that we all follow it but that bit is a bit trickier.  Some of the very best books I've ever read (and reread) were plain, hardbound books that my father passed down to me from his childhood.  They were fantastic mysteries about The Bobsey Twins and The Happy Hollisters.  The spines were hopelessly cracked and broken.  Pages would frequently come loose and have to be carefully tucked back into place.  They smelled a bit musty but in a way that wasn't unpleasant.  The paper was stiff and thick and so very different from the thin cheap pages of my own books.  I loved those old books and read them again and again.  Not just for the adventure and mystery I found in them.  I loved them because they were this very real, very tangible connection to my dad and his history.  If I'd have turned my nose up at those old faded covers I would have missed out on a lot more than a few mysteries.

However, I'd be fibbing if I didn't admit that I often choose books based solely on the cover.  Or even worse, sometimes I pick them based on the title alone.  The thing is that great cover art and clever, thoughtful titles are your first introduction to a book.  It is a chance for it to stand out from every other book on the shelf and say, "Hey, pick me!  I'm your guy."   The title, the font, the images are all designed to evoke the feeling or sentiment of a book.  I like that.  It makes me fell like we are already old friends.  A while back I noticed a book called The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall.  Now a title like that would be difficult enough to walk away from.  I mean, aren't you just dying to find out about those girls?  Or the rabbits?  What about that Very Interesting Boy?  And what kind of name is Penderwick anyway?  Truly, I was probably already hooked by the title alone but it was the cover that really sold me.  It was this beautiful pale yellow and blue cover with only the silhouettes of four girls in varying sizes, two rabbits and a great beast of a dog dashing through the grass.   The fact that they are bound for great adventure was without question.  I picked up that book and didn't put it down.  There was no chance it wasn't coming home with me. 

When I sat down to read The Penderwicks I was delighted to discover that the cover had not deceived me.  What could have been a sad tale of a widower struggling to raise four unruly girls was instead a joyful and often hilarious tale of family.  Each of the four Penderwick girls are fantastic characters.  Sometimes they struggle with life, each other or occasionally with The Very Interesting Boy but the struggles are real and genuine.  Their attempts at resolution are honest.  Mr. Penderwick is an equally flawed individual but loving and wise in his own way.  It's a lovely, timeless portrait of family.  It feels like it could have been published in 1955 rather than 2005.  Which is perhaps why it decided to pop up in the same blog as those Bobsey Twins or The Happy Hollisters. 

I guess the truth of the matter is you really can't judge a book by it's cover.  The most fantastic, amazing tales might be hidden inside a scarred, plain brown book.  But if a book makes you take a second or third look at it listen your instincts.  If something about that book, that cover or that title is screaming at you to pick it up and crack it open - DO.  Because sometimes the most fantastic, amazing tales can be hidden inside a beautiful book too. 

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