Title: The Clothing of Books
Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Publisher: Vintage Books
Publication Date: November 15, 2016
Rating: 3 Stars
Dear fellow book cover judgers,
Lets get straight to the point for once. We read books because the cover appeals to us. We have read the reviews and have become enchanted by the life it seems to mysteriously live. Isn’t this true? Don’t we all “read” the cover of the book, compare the awards it has received with it’s counterparts?
In this deeply personal reflection, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Jhumpa Lahiri explores the art of the book jacket from the perspectives of both reader and writer. Probing the complex relationships between text and image, author and designer, and art and commerce, Lahiri delves into the role of the uniform; explains what book jackets and design have come to mean to her; and how, sometimes, “the covers become a part of me.”
This fetish-like independence that the book jacket in particular assumes is exactly the subject o The Clothing of Books. If any of you have already read this petit 74-page essay you’ll understand exactly what I mean when I say that this book (if we dare even call it that) could have been shortened by ten thousand words and still maintain the EXACT same arguement, or it could have have been extended by ten thousand words to strenghten the EXACT same arguement. And for those of you that haven’t yet spent your Sunday afternoon with this darling must be exuberantly thinking: “stop babbling Delphine and tell what this ‘arguement’ is!” Well fellow book judgers… it’s EXACTLY as I stated from the very start: Our choice of books is, in essence, controlled by (kinda creepy huh? A book cover taking a life of its own? YOWZUH!) the visual that is supposed to be “representative” of secret held within the typed characters of a book.
Even though I can’t exactly say I feel totally enlightened or felt enthralled at any particular point while reading The Clothing of Books, and was thus a bit hesitant to blog about it, when we move past Lahiri’s repeated chapters about the consumerism involved in the book jacket, I think the essay as a whole resonates a lot with us book readers, buyers, reviewers, lovers. I mean, just think about whatever book you may be into now or whatever author you’ve become utterly swept away by lately? Where did you hear about them? What was the first thing that caught your attention? Isn’t it true that you saw the cover before you knew what the book was even about? Is it a mistake to say you were recommended this book? You knew it won the Pulitizer Prize? And then how happens when you’re halfway into your book and suddenly realize that the murder mystery has absolutely NOTHING to do with the animated flying witch drawn on the front cover which is EXACTLY what lead to your choice to begin with? What then? Still wanna play high and mighty and say you are not a book cover judger like the rest of us?
There are so many factors contributing and influencing our reading choices. Whether you try to defend your position as a « holistic » or « neutral reader » or simply passively read this post during your lunch break at your seemingly meaningless career, there the books we choose, buy, read, enjoy have A LOT to do with factors existing independently of us. Before I head over to The Last Bookstore (holla L.A. Born and raised!) or wander over to Barnes & Noble (only if my mama is willing to pay for my purchases… It’s literally impossible for me to buy just one, just two, just three books…. I literally have NO self control when in a bookstore with someone else’s credit card…but omg Delphine stop your babbling, get back to book covers, or whatever pointless idea you’re getting at!) I always scour through Goodreads to see what’s “trending”. There always seems to be that one book from that one author that is being read and talked about! Lately, if you haven’t gotten a chance to attempt to sit through and make sense of my last two posts – How to review a quasi Proustian novel: Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and A Little Friend: A Portrait of Tartt’s Mississippi – you’ll catch my drift that Donna Tartt has of lately been THAT author. So… being first immersed into the world of Tartt as it was being described in pleny of book reviews at the time it was the objective of my book store trip on this particular occassion (but that’s not to say I didn’t mean to also stalk up on some new Agatha Christie editions, gotta keep up with the classics ya know!). I came especially for The Goldfinch, but when I saw the book… larger in heighth and width than what is the norm, I was somehow strangely intimidated and, even though I had seen a visual of the book on Goodreads, nonetheless was surprised by its massive size and, dare I say, ugly cover. It wasn’t only the size but even the visual masking the Tartt’s content. I knew the book had something to do with a young boy who loses his mom and obsesses over an ancient Dutch painting that leads him into an underground life of crime and deceit but the cover just did not seem representative and do justice to my expectations. I knew knew KNEW the book had to be amazing, but like, seriously. Take a look at the cover guys… The white front, bland spine, messy black font, and a funky little Tweetie bird bursting through a torn frame… the cover designers should NOT be allowed back into their offices after producing such a pitiful visual.
So, sad to say, I left the book on the shelf and wandered through the aisles waiting for something vivid and colorful to catch my eye as I had been in a dismal mood dealing with a thesis for university that was driving me BONKERS (and still is, in case you’re wondering). I was looking for something to bring my mood up. If any of you shop at Barnes & Noble and find yourself parousing the aisles on a weekly basis you’ll notice that there always seems to be a different set of books on display. All arranged in alphabetical order across with spines neatly arranged, you notice that some are arranged with their covers directly facing us so we have no choice but to pick it up. On this day in particular, , my book excursion ended with a handful of novels which were all (yup…here comes the Babbler’s confession) display pieces (this time it just so happened to be We Have Always Lived in this Castle, A Tale for the Time Being, Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories , and The Magic Toyshop – all animated and with colorful and sensual colors, instantly enhancing my mood and making me forget about my dreary thesis waiting my return home and my frizzed out afro head of hair ). Of course, I later returned for The Goldfinch which remains my all time favorite book, but this book-shopping experience, I feel, reflects Lahiri’s feelings towards the book cover as a life form independent of the author’s writing.
Today, the book is something separate from it’s book cover and the books we choose have something to do with our mood, life experiences, and momentary thoughts. The book cover is created independently of the author. What we see first in a book is its cover, not its content. Sure, this seems totally obvious but I’m curious… Can any of you relate? What are your experiences with the book jacket? Surely there is something about the colorful or “naked” visual on the front which lures your interest… What is it?
Similar experiences? Totally disagree? Comments? Reflections? Lets babble!
(Book image credits go to Goodreads).