Yeah, expectations can be a tricky thing, and are the subject of what I was planning on writing about yesterday morning when I saw your post. So I’ll just keep to it: bad covers. We’ve talked about covers before: how to judge a book by its cover and why NBA Winner Goblin Secrets changed its cover while still in hardcover. But today I want to talk about the truly terrible covers of a couple of books I read over the weekend–terrible both because I think the artwork is atrocious and because I think they give entirely misleading expectations to the prospective reader.
The first is a “new” story collection by Janet Frame called Between My Father and the King. I put new in quotations marks because, of course, she’s been dead for a decade, but it is new in the sense that these stories have never been collected before (and many of them never published). First, take a look at the cover to the right and think about what it might be about. If you’ve never read Frame before, her writing can be bitingly sarcastic, heartbreakingly moving, and formally inventive. She writes sharply about her childhood, her time in a mental institution, the hypocricies of small-town life and much, much more. None of that is even vaguely hinted at by this dreadfully boring photograph of the New Zealand countryside (or at least, I hope it is New Zealand, since Frame is New Zealand’s preeminent writer).
The other book I read over the weekend was Jaclyn Moriarty’s A Corner of White, which was suggested by our friend Beth Fama, though she hasn’t read it yet. I read the Janet Frame collection because I know she is great and I’ve read one of her novels. In the case of the Moriarty novel, if I hadn’t been stuck on a plane for five hours on Friday, I wouldn’t have read it at all. Honestly, I was embarrassed to be reading it. The novel itself is funny, with a distinct hint of Pratchett, with a nice metafictional conceit–Elliott, who lives in the magical Kingdom of Cello, and Madeleine, who lives in The World (that is, the “real” world) begin to communicate by letter through a crack between the worlds. But Madeleine is convinced that she is communicating with a fellow real-world teen with an overactive imagination, and quickly begins critiquinig the more cliched aspects of Cello’s fantasy world. There’s much more to the book, and I quite recommend taking a look at it. But the point is: that cover! It looks like it’s advertising a direct-to-DVD Disney movie or something. The sparklering stars! The flying umbrella! The red rain boots! None of that has anything to do with the novel, by the way.
As I was looking for a jpg of the cover for the novel, I noticed that there’s another cover out there. Moriarty is Australian, so presumably this is the original cover. I’m not terribly crazy about this cover either, but at least 1) the rainbow has something to do with the plot (too complicated to explain), and 2) the photograph is mildly aesthetically pleasing.
Anyway, I don’t particularly want to get into a discussion of the worst covers ever, or anything, but the connection between these books gave me a good excuse to let you know what I’ve been reading, and, as I said, I think it ties into questions of expectations, since in both cases, the intended target audience of the cover art is a very different group from the intended audience of the book.