We just cannot pretend we do not live in the culture of the image. It is predominant, it’s been flashing before our eyes ever since pop culture got to this planet and it is not easy to detach from such predetermined processes.
When going to bookstores, it is covers one is drawn to. These little works of arts popping up from those sleeves, calling our attention. I tend to think we do seek authors and titles when we’re aware of them, learnt about this new writer from the press, heard about that book title in a random conversation between strangers on the bus. But when it comes to discovering books on our own, it is the book that introduces us to what we might like or dislike in its content aswell.
So, covers do come first.
In the past, there were no covers, just plain and simple author and title and book would just look the same. Is it wrong for us to seek a nice looking outside for an unread novel. I think so. Were does the need to put the text first come? Why should one feel wrong in saying they browse books by their cover? It has to do with prejudice, stereotypes and the fear of being labelled as superficial. In this day and age, to say one gives importance to book covers is to admit to being attracted to aesthetics rather than the intellectual, theoretical content of a book, but this could not be more wrong.
Why would one appear superficial by admitting to seek art in art? Book covers are little works of visual art representing a work of written art. It’s art calling art. It’s when you refuse one (the cover) or the other (the book itself) that one sounds prejudicial.
The more artistic a book cover is, the more it calls my attention. I remember being on the tube one day and saw this woman reading “Everything Is Illuminated” by Jonathan Safran Foer. I had barely heard about it then, and the cover reminded me of some of Virginia Woolf’s book covers, the original ones (“To the Lighthouse“, “Mrs. Dalloway“, etc.), drawn by her sister Vanessa Bell. I haven’t read that book yet, but this just shows how something visual, an image, can draw our attention and make us interested. One wants to discover who the author is, the name of the book itself, if there’s previously published material or if he’s a newcomer, and one ends up reading the novel in the end. There are many ways we can discover books. It is fine to admit the visual effect is one of them.