Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover, Literally | Stripping


This month’s issue of The Believer is one of the best for some time, and carries one of the most interesting book reviews I’ve read for ages.

The book being reviewed is Momus’ Book of Jokes, but what makes the review so interesting is that the reviewer was given no information about the book at all, simply the text:

Its covers, front matter, and endpages had all been stripped, and the spine blacked out with a Sharpie. I didn’t know what it was called or who wrote it or who was publishing it or when. I didn’t know if it was the author’s first or twenty-first publication. Fiction? Nonfiction? Genre? Self-published? I didn’t know anything (and at this writing, I still don’t) except that it wasn’t poetry. What could I do? I began to read.

As the reviewer notes, it’s incredible what subtle information we pick up from a book cover, from endorsements, from the quality of paper or type used. And it’s amazing how much differently we read a book when we know the author who has written it – we either trust them or desperately want them to be as good as their last book.

In other words, most reviews are bullshit, and this is perhaps the only honest and true way that a book can really be judged: stripped naked and read without prejudice.

Yet I battle against this too, and with my new book coming am already involved in a campaign to gain readers’ attentions with discussions about the cover, and requests for endorsements. I want people to read the text, and the rest to disappear, and yet know that this is impossible, and, for the most part, unwanted.

The text can never speak for itself. We won’t let it. And this is the fallicy of ‘bible believing belief’ that I want to look at in another post.

(Pic is a mock-up of the cover for the book – not quite right text yet, but liking the concept a lot)


3 responses to “Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover, Literally | Stripping”

  1. Acetate monkey

    Really interesting piece.

    I publish research, and that is blind reviewed prior to publication. Again so that author, institution and previous ouvre are ignored and the piece speaks for itself (as research worthy or not). I suppose the difference is that some of the readership have already judged that they want to read X journal and all it contains so they come trusting the finished piece as endorsed by journal X. Others will be doing an engine search and discover it. Both types of reader (if they’re being intellectually honest) should still weigh it up as good/bad research before accepting it. That’s critical reading.

    As a book author you might want them to just judge the words but you’ve got to persuade them to pick up the book (versus the grillions of others) in the first place. The cover, endorsements etc is the culture that the book fits into in the same way maybe that the bible is culturally interpreted. Maybe as an author you have to trust the readership: there will of course be some (probably myself) who stick to the safe pastures of trusted authors, publishers, endorsers, subject areas, but hopefully many of us who will engage with something not normally to our taste because we want to challenge ourselves, stretch our minds. It might be the cover that stimulates that engagement but like the scientists we’ve still got to read critically not just lap it up unthinkingly.

    Do you apply such thinking to this blog? It does after all have a skin too.

    In addition, even if your book was nameless and coverless it might still be placed on an eyelevel shelf in the store or recommended by Amazon, or in a sale. Like you say, we never read because of the text alone.
    Irrelevant prattling over!

    I do like the mock-up, looking forward to the content. 🙂

  2. Tom Wateracre

    From the other perspective, there are blogs like which only review the covers and not the content at all.

  3. I don’t know…last time I saw Dan Hughes he handed me a chapbook, hand photo-copied and folded…no art…no author…a radical French collaborative politicocultural discourse. (I haven’t read it yet, sadly.) All that to say, if you write something dangerous/radical/interesting enough, it won’t have a cover and your name on it, by necessity.