Penguin Books came under fire last week after revealing the new Modern Classics cover for Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Teasing the announcement, Penguin asked its followers to match the cover to a book – a tactic that backfired after guesses for Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita were made instead – and its ultimate revelation to be the 50th anniversary edition of a classic children’s book has been met with criticism that the cover is inappropriate and unnecessarily sexualised. There’s been a long-standing practice in publishing to create different covers for the same book to appeal to different ages – Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and the Divergent series are all good examples of this – but how important are book covers when deciding what to read? The Culturefly writers share the book covers that have influenced them below.
The City & The City by China Mieville (Recommended by Megan Davies)
Whilst the old saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ may be true, you have to admit that the first thing that draws you to a book is the image on the front. Most of the books on my bookshelf have been chosen for that reason but one of my favourite books was recommended to me by a tutor with the condition, “I can’t even tell you what it’s about, that would ruin the story”. He even recommended choosing a kindle edition so we couldn’t be influenced by the synopsis, or the book cover. I ignored this advice and chose a paperback version of The City & The City by China Mieville because my book-loving brain hasn’t quite gotten round to the idea of e-books replacing a library just yet but the cover actually turned out to be something amazing: a plain black background with stark red and white lettering and a x-rayed profile of a head intersected by a line just underneath the brain. The cover provokes more questions than it answers but comes into an entirely new meaning of its own once you’ve finished the novel – altogether a very clever, very brilliant choice.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (Recommended by Natalie Xenos)
I’ve always found book covers for the old paperback classics horribly dated. Sure, they fit the era, but they don’t exactly entice you to pick up the book. The Wuthering Heights Clothbound Classic, with its winding blue flowers, is another story. I’m a sucker for a hardback book and this foil-stamped collector’s edition is both beautiful to look at and hold in your hands. Having had my fill of classic literature at school, Wuthering Heights never appealed to me, but I couldn’t resist this cover. It’s now one of my favourite books, but had I not seen this particular edition, I might have avoided the novel forever. Who needs eBooks when physical book covers are this delectable?
The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly (Recommended by Beth Webb)
The cover that I’ve chosen is for John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things. Rob Ryan designed the red and black cover art and I love his work, so that initially drew me to the book. I’ve now read it four times and Ryan’s beautiful silhouettes compliment the sinister nature of the story even more with each reading.
Don’t Let’s Go To The Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller (Recommended by Nell Young)
It wasn’t the title of this book that made me choose it, but the monochrome photo of the little girl. Her expression seemed to say a lot about the story I was about to read, and her haircut and clothes were evocative of the era that it’s set in. Even if the title had been more mundane, I would’ve still chosen to buy this book because I wanted to find out about that little girl on the cover and her African childhood.
Popular Penguins Range by various authors (Recommended by Johnny Hunt)
I hope you’ll forgive me for bending the rules here slightly but my favourite book cover is a series of covers: the Popular Penguins range from Penguin. Famed for the classic orange and white block colour look, they eventually came in different colours equally as enamouring. I once went round a friend’s house and she’d created wallpaper out of the series in her bathroom – it looked fantastic. In light of the vintage revolution British society is experiencing at the moment, from charity shops becoming cool to vinyl sales going through the roof, Popular Penguins are more culturally significant than ever. When I read today, I enjoy the escapism from modern life and technology. I really feel like I get a heightened sense of that when I open these particular covers.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon (Recommended by James McAllister)
Few other stories have continued to have such a profound impact on me as Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time. Though the book had two previous covers upon first release (one for adults & another for children), it is the reprint edition that particularly catches the eye. The use of untidy, childish writing for the title perfectly juxtaposes with Peter Ward’s simplistic illustrations, exuding Christopher’s young innocence. Yet the picture of the eponymous canine lying on its back and impaled with a pitchfork remains a startling image that embodies the underlying darkness of Christopher’s story. Together they conjure a subtly unsettling atmosphere, which echoes throughout Haddon’s sensational prose.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (Recommended by Chloe Dobinson)
Discovering that A Clockwork Orange was banned, while the film had been described as gruesome, grotesque and garish, only tempted me to read and judge the book for myself. The numerous printed versions of the Anthony Burgess novel have featured many illustrations, with my own personal copy – a penguin edition – displaying a striking white against orange cover with the words ‘Banned Books’ sprawled across it. My favourite cover, however, is the ‘Modern Classics’ edition, which features a simple glass of milk. This image is both intriguing and appealing because it doesn’t give any hints as to what the story might be about, and it doesn’t try to influence the reader with fancy illustrations or words.
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell (Recommended by Vanessa Pinto)
If I had to pick one book cover it would be the clean, straightforward one for Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. What I originally thought would be a mundane and slow read, as is depicted by the transparent cover, was the complete opposite. The reader is taken through fascinating accounts of how we make split-second decisions and how these instances amaze us later on when we see how they turn out. Blink is the true epitome of how too much information can actually cloud our judgment. In an instant so to speak, I purchased the book and have since read it over five times, and very often reference chapters and parts of the text.
The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey (Recommended by Sue Sheard)
I love this book for many reasons and the cover is just one of them. I was browsing for a really good read when I came across it in the bookshop. I hadn’t heard of the author and the fact that it had been nominated for the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2010 did not draw it to me. It was the illustration. The light and shade of a green silhouette pedalling between two palm trees, unkempt vines tangling and creeping around the edges of the font curiously coloured in white and red, hinting at bloodshed. To me it suggested intrigue, colour, vibrancy and carefully crafted storytelling. I was not to be disappointed.
Double Game by Sophie Calle (Recommended by Amy Salter)
Sophie Calle is an artist, not an author. Her book is an adventure, but not a novel. Double Game‘s cover, from the Violette edition is gorgeous, playful and provocative, and so unlike any other cover out there. The delicate ribbon and overtly feminine image on the cover distract the eyes: it suggests coyness but is also suggestively seductive. It is enticing, dreamlike and slightly bizarre – precisely like the contents of Calle’s book (more like a beautifully wrapped record of Calle’s artistic projects), from autobiographical sketches of stalking (where Calle herself stalks strangers in the street and even follows an unknown man to Venice) to colour-coordinated food diaries. It’s not fiction… or is it?