Friday, May 14, 2010

I Always Judge A Book By It's Cover

I’m fascinated by book titles. I'm also fascinated by how titles are given. A surprising large number of titles seem to have been serendipitous. Faulkner's work Light In August was suggested by his wife over cocktails on a glorious, late summer afternoon in Mississippi. Knowing just that bit of information, it's easy to be transported across time and miles to not only see, but also feel and understand the title in a number of additional tactual ways.

One of the things you do when you are at the main desk at our library is that you restock the paperback carousels. I thoroughly enjoy doing this; you get to read every title and while doing so you can also make a guess as to what possible genre the book may belong. On occasion you are lucky enough to run across what I would refer to as crossover titles. So you look for other clues to help you decide. This leads to a related and additional favorite activity: I also enjoy the cover art of books. And again this is especially true when discussing paperbacks.

When talking about titles or cover art it's important to remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But since I am only discussing my eye I feel I can do so with an accurate appraisal. I also believe that with paperbacks we are no longer constrained by what some would consider to be an appropriate title or cover art for good literature. There is a difference between writing and literature. There are also differences between writing, story telling, fiction and literature. What I can say is that for me some of the absolute best titles and cover art end up on paperbacks. Thrillers, murder mysteries and westerns are all worth mining for great titles and cover art. But to hit the mother load you need to stop at the romance paperbacks. Here are a few facts concerning romance novels.

Over 40% of all books published today are considered to be romances. And this genre is the single largest proportion of all works published. In addition, there are at least 17 recognized sub-genres of romances. And as I'm sure you've already guessed if the publishing houses didn't think there was a market for these works they wouldn't be published.

Titles and cover art are mirrors of their own time and place. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne was first published in 1850. The original cover was a simple page without any graphics. It reads: The Scarlet Letter, A Romance. by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Boston Ticknor, Weeds & Fields. Words take on different meaning over time and so do titles. I seem to remember my high school copy having the title as only The Scarlet Letter without "A Romance" added. It was a paperback edition with an illustrated cover that depicted a woman in puritan clothing on a bleak, mid-winter day with her face obscured, clutching something to her chest. I can't help but think that if this work was being first published today with the original title stating that it was "a romance" not only would the connotations be very different but so would the cover art; but then again maybe not.

See you at the Library

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