Exceptions to the Rule: Books You Can Judge by Their Covers

How does one choose what book to read next? There are indeed a plethora of ways to discover your next literary treasure. Certain authors may interest you, you may be immersed in a genre, you may have been stunned by a book’s reputation, or you may pursue an interest in either something you love or something that is new to you. There is one approach, however, you supposedly should never use to choose what your next literary adventure will be, and that is judging the book by its cover. However, while this rule does apply to almost the entirety of the publishing world, there are always some exceptions.

A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

Cover image by W. H. Chong

A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing is a brazenly sui generis novel about a young woman’s relationship with her brother and the struggles she has had to endure concerning his childhood brain tumor. However, the definitive wonderment and awe that lie within the pages of the text derive not from the already riveting plot but from the exceptionally unconventional structure of the text. Given the intrepidly unique, enigmatic, and musing nature of McBride’s 227-page novel, it is no surprise that the book has a cover that faithfully functions as a representative of the author’s innovative prowess. The cover, minimalist in nature, appropriately reflects the anarchic quality of the text by presenting the reader with a bold abstract image. The title of the book acts as one with the artwork, evoking the chaotic anima of the protagonist as well as the imaginative and modernist characteristics that dignify the novel.

Book of Longing by Leonard Cohen

Cover art by Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen is undoubtedly nonpareil in talent as a gifted singer, songwriter, novelist, poet, and artist. Book of Longing is an admirable collection of Cohen’s poetry as well as his drawings. It gives voice to truth, emotion, passion, and profound thought. The brilliance of the cover of Book of Longing lies in the fact that it features one of Cohen’s own drawings—and the only drawing depicted in color in the entire collection. Although he is a talented artist, Cohen is not known to mix his media. Therefore, to have a book of Cohen’s poetry with his own art adorning the cover is truly special. The image is of a simple songbird sitting on a tree branch, with the colors of the bird and the branch creating a wonder for the eyes. The lone songbird is representative of Cohen himself, who for years famously wrote and recorded music addressing his pressing loneliness and perceived isolation from the rest of humanity, all the while creating beautiful, gentle, original, and articulate music adored by masses of fans and critics alike.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

Cover art by Pollen, New York

In the crucial and venerable nonfiction exposé and New York Times best seller The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, civil-rights litigator and legal scholar Michelle Alexander presents to the populace the appalling truths behind the United States prison system. This enlightening publication exposes the racist and classist systematic practices that oppress people of color, most notably Black men, through unjust imprisonment. This powerful, dynamic, and groundbreaking book has a petrifying and ominous cover to match its harrowing and deeply disconcerting contents. The cover depicts the hands of a Black person desperately clutching prison bars. The identity of the character is erased by complete darkness, just as the judicial system erases members of the Black community. This depiction speaks volumes and is a fitting representation of the book, though nothing is as moving and provoking as what is written inside.