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Judge a Book by its Spine

2013 October 15
by Brandi Smits
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The phrase “Don’t judge a book by its cover” has been around forever.file0001438926965

Adults have been telling younger readers for years that it’s what is on the inside that matters, not the cover art.  However, this is like telling a child to stop making that funny face because it just might freeze that way.  We’ve all heard it, but no one believes it.  Similarly, you can tell readers to merely look at the book’s description to discover its appeal, but you might as well be talking to the wall.  Everyone, no matter what they say, will have an emotional reaction to the cover art of a book.  It’s specifically meant to draw your attention.  For the most part, books look fairly similar on the inside and, without reading a bit, the only way to gauge a reaction is by looking at the cover art.

Now to take this one step further, face-out displays are a fabulous way to get someone to stop and ponder reading a book.  The cover might be bright, mysterious, or just plain beautiful.  But here is another question to consider: what about the book spines?  Libraries and book stores will have intriguing displays showcasing books.  When you hit the shelves, what makes you pick up a book?  Is it the title?  Is it the color of the spine, which doesn’t always match the cover of the book?  Is it the font of the title?  Is it a prominently displayed author name?  All of these things are factors that persuade a reader to either pick up a book or pass it by.

I asked a group of teen readers what exactly they look for in a book spine.  One girl said she picks books with interesting titles.  Another girl said she likes to pick up books with dark spines because they are probably scary.  There was also a reader who picked green spines because she likes the color.  This got me thinking a little bit.  I thought about all the book spines that catch my eye and then I shifted over slightly and considered the books surrounding the eye-grabbing title.  How often are these titles overlooked because they live in the shadow of the super-appealing book?  So begins my quest and my challenge to you.

Often I will go up to my library’s bookshelves and randomly pick a book off the shelf.  Why did I pick a particular book?  I think I’m picking something randomly, but there must be something that has drawn me into this particular title.  My new challenge is to shift my glance to the books next to my initially chosen title and pick one of the surrounding, not necessarily noticeable books.  Who knows?  Maybe that mundane book spine might be holding an unexpected sleeper hit.  So I hit the stacks.  The following books caught my attention– by not catching my attention:

Restoring Harmony by Joelle Anthony

Molly lives in a world where electricity is generated by solar panels.  Oil is scarce and most people survive by crops from their own farms.  When Molly has to leave her home to find her grandparents, she faces more than she expected including dealings with a crime organization.

The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine by April Lurie

While helping her friend out by starring in her film, Dylan deals with the troubles withing his family including a weed-smoking brother and  a mother who has abandoned him.

Inside Out by Terry Trueman (2004 Best Books for Young Adults2004 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers top ten)

Zach, a schizophrenic, is caught in the middle of an armed robbery at a coffee shop where he is held hostage.

So, in closing, here is my challenge to you:  take a chance and choose a book that you would have passed by.

-Brandi Smits, currently reading The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

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