When Dwiputri Pertiwi is not writing or taking pictures for Whiteboard Journal, she spends most of her time in bookstores. Her interests include photography, literature, the Japanese and Korean languages, as well as different kinds of Asian calligraphy. Though currently based in Jakarta, she still wants to move around a few more times before settling down.
Every reader knows better than to judge a book by its cover. As a devout reader myself, I never doubted the purity of my literary interest. But thinking back on the trips I took to many different bookshops over the years, and the numerous purchases I had made at each, I am forced to question one of my most firm beliefs, the belief that I am a “true” reader.
After spending the weekend rearranging my small library – categorizing books and dusting their spines – I realized that a lot of them have pretty covers. It seems that I’ve surrendered to the beauty of cover designs far too often to claim that my love for words is completely independent of other factors. As a result, I felt obligated to think about my book-buying habits. On what basis did I choose books? And it suddenly became clear to me: even though authors, genres or particular topics have always been the initial motivation for me to go hunting, the final decision usually depended on the cover. Nice-looking editions are generally a bit more expensive than the regular ones, so there were times when I couldn’t afford them. But when money wasn’t a problem, I didn’t think twice.
Up until the moment I decided to write about my apparent enthusiasm in the aesthetic aspect of books, I had been in denial – attempting, in every way possible, to make sense of it as a meaningful fascination that went beyond sheer visual attraction. I would go the cashier, take out the necessary amount of money from my wallet, walk out of the store with one or two volumes in my bag, and convince myself later – at home, with the books sitting right in front of me – that the reason why I picked them had nothing to do with the cover. No, no, no! I would say while shaking my head. Why would I, a reader, be concerned with something so distant from the core of any work of literature?
But did I really need to be so upset? Does it take a “purist” to fully grasp the meaning of masterpieces by respected writers? Just because I appreciate books with artistic covers, it doesn’t mean that I ignore their content. After all, the cover only affects my most final decision – after I’ve gone through a quite lengthy selection process.
If the book I would like to read is available in several versions, why should I refrain from purchasing the one I like best? What’s there to lose? Well, perhaps a few dollars or yens, but definitely not my appreciation for the written work itself, right?
Right. While judging a book by its cover might be shunned upon, choosing an edition with the best cover of a book you want to read for “better” reasons can’t be a sin. It can’t be wrong to admire both the inner and outer qualities of books. In fact, it probably has the effect of strengthening your relationship with them.
Visually sensitive and artistically inclined readers might believe that such a connection exists (because I sure do). Unfortunately, really nice covers, ones that can be seen as a separate work of art, aren’t always easy to find. Sometimes, we have no choice but to be content with a dull copy of Orwell’s 1984 or Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. Ben Pieratt of General Projects and Whisky Van Gogh Go’s Eric Jacobsen try to solve that problem. Their website, The Book Cover Archive, as the name reveals, is an archive of stunning book covers. All the entries are equipped with an Amazon link to give direct access to readers who want to buy beautiful editions of their favourite titles. In addition to basic information of each book, such as the author’s name and publication date, the site doesn’t forget to mention the designer’s name and typeface he or she used.
Some of you might cringe at the fact that I think pretty covers can be pretty important. I can’t blame you. Before I realized how much the appearance of a book could increase my motivation to read, eventually enriching my overall reading experience, I cringed at the thought myself. But trust me, it really isn’t that bad. The more reasons there are for a person to love books, the better.