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Let’s Chat: Conversation-Starting Book Covers

Jamie Canaves

Contributing Editor

Jamie Canavés is the Tailored Book Recommendations coordinator and Unusual Suspects mystery newsletter writer–in case you’re wondering what you do with a Liberal Arts degree. She’s never met a beach she didn’t like, always says yes to dessert, loves ‘80s nostalgia, all forms of entertainment, and can hold a conversation using only gifs. You can definitely talk books with her on Litsy and Goodreads. Depending on social media’s stability maybe also Twitter and Bluesky.

I wince every time I see the book I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy, which is often, considering it’s in my library. It’s pretty safe to assume the title and cover are meant to elicit a strong, immediate reaction. Which: A+ job. It’s not meant to be a joke, as the book centers McCurdy’s life as a child star, a dream of her mother’s, and the abuse she suffered. It’s a memoir about growing up with an abusive parent, and healing, the boundaries we deserve between our abusers, and a lot of topics we don’t speak openly enough about. But before you even read the book, the title starts conversations.

So as this title was swirling around in my head I’d started thinking about book titles and covers that not only immediately draw a person in but also start a conversation. The books that left out on your coffee table, read in public, and/or sitting on your desk at work would have someone ask a question. Or tell a story. Or elicit a memory that led them to open up in some way. This is obviously subjective, as everyone brings their own lived history into situations, but these are some covers that made me think of the conversations they could, have, or should start. There’s poetry collections, horror, nonfiction, and even a picture book. So many conversations to be had.

cover of Alive At The End of the World by Saeed Jones; photo of person in an orange jumpsuit and a space helmet pushing a silver car in the middle of a grassy field

Alive At The End Of The World by Saeed Jones

I mean, an apocalyptic title in itself seems like a conversation starter in a world that has become increasingly more hostile toward people of color and marginalized people since 2016, which then had a nice pandemic covering layered on top. But that’s not all! I have questions! There is a person in a space helmet? And an orange-is-the-new-black outfit? Pushing a flight-of-the-navigator-shiny-level car? I want to talk about the world this very scene is in and where we fit in it — or don’t.

cover image for  100 Animals That Can F*cking End You

100 Animals That Can F*cking End You by Mamadou Ndiaye

This is a grab a bucket of popcorn and lean in kind of title. Certainly there are people who read this title and immediately raise their hand with a story of a time an animal fucked them up — obviously it didn’t END them since they’re telling the story, but you get it. Also, the cover has the obvious alligator (or crocodile, I don’t know) and scorpion, but there is a beak on there, so some sort of bird. Have you ever been chased by an angry peacock who is fighting the hubcap of your car? Because I have, and I know not to mess with them. And I’ve seen people run away from territorial geese like they’re in the Olympics. What animals do you know not to mess with?

Cover of Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency

Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency by Chen Chen

This is THE most anxiety inducing title ever. Seriously. Like is there a protocol for this? What if both you AND your emergency contact are in an emergency at the same time and neither can answer the call? Does anyone even volunteer to be an emergency contact? What if someone put you down as an emergency contact without you even knowing?! I do not like this conversation.

cover of The Weight of Blood by Tiffany D. Jackson; black and white photo of a Black prom queen drenched in red blood

The Weight of Blood by Tiffany D. Jackson

Let’s go literal here and ask: how much does blood weigh? Okay, I just went to the Google — my search history is such a mess, please ignore me NSA — and the first hit was how much the weight of blood in a human body is. To think we once lived in a world where you would have to go to the library or know a scientist to maybe get an answer. Anyhoo, who was the first person to weigh blood and more importantly why? Is there a blood fetish?

cover image for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs written by Judi Barrett and illustrated by Ron Barrett

Do not judge me: I am equally hungry and curious. Is this like an apocalypse forecast, or do you just put on a helmet and bib and grab a fork and knife on the way out the door? Do vegans have to stay home? Are there vegan meatballs? — the internet says yes, and claims many are THE BEST. Should everyone switch to wearing red and brown colored clothes? Seems like white clothes would immediately go out of fashion — no more arguing over whether white after Labor Day matters.

cover of I Want to Die But I Want to Eat Tteokbokki

I Want to Die But I Want to Eat Tteokbokki by Baek Sehee, translated by Anton Hur

My brain had two thoughts at the same time (yes, this is possible): Is this nonfiction or fiction?; I need to find a picture of Tteokbokki. Answers: “therapy memoir;” Korean rice cakes. One part of my brain wants to have a whole conversation on the history of this dish, where it’s most popular (I know it’s in Korea, but is it street food? Is it eaten in certain areas?), and how many variations are there. And the other part wants to talk about mental illness and mental health and how desperately as a society we need to get to a place where it can be discussed with the level of non-judgement as a cold.

Clap When You Land cover

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

I knew immediately what this title meant, being Latina, but wondered how many people didn’t. It also made me think about a few families I knew whose parents always took separate flights when going to the same destination, even on family vacations. There are things that, at least in my life, I’ve only ever encountered amongst Latin Americans. If you’re on a plane with mostly Latin Americans, the second the wheels touch down on the ground, there is a sudden, collective burst of clapping that fills the cabin. I’m not sure why it always makes me emotional — in a good way.

I'm Glad My Mom Died cover

I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy

And of course, the title that inspired this post.

Now if you want to laugh while discussing book covers, maybe you’d like to take a gander at The Worst Covers of Classic Books.