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Judging a Book Without Its Jacket

Katherine Marciniak

Staff Writer

Katherine is an over-caffeinated avid reader, writer and college student. She was featured in the anthology Once Upon an Apocalypse, and loves to beta read and edit when she has the opportunity. She’ll do more impressive things after she’s finished her tea…and this next chapter.

They always say “Don’t judge a book by its cover” but there’s a lot of judging we do when presented with book covers. And I don’t think I really realized that until I was suddenly faced with shelves and shelves of naked books.

My college is not a big one. We have a decent-sized library, though, with three floors of sprawling shelves of books. There are a few prominently placed shelves devoted to new “leisure reading.”  These books are rotated out after a few months. I realized early on that the books that were rotated didn’t just disappear. But those floors upon floors of books intimidated me.

Most of my classmates have abandoned our college library when it comes to finding what they want. They go to the local public library instead. That’s all well and good, but if something isn’t working for me, I have to figure it out. Nothing will deter me.

I found the hidden novels last year. Now that I’m a senior, I’m still not sure where the real good stuff is hidden. (By which I mean I am trying to find something in between Twilight and A Farewell to Arms and am falling flat). Part of this is due to the strangest book filing system I’ve ever seen (whatever it is, it sure as heck isn’t Dewey Decimal). Part of this is due to the fact that they confiscate all of the dust jackets before shelving the books. (Maybe it’s a deep mistrust of college students? Maybe it’s some diabolical plot? I don’t know why they do this).

Here’s what I’ve learned:

      1. This is not a browsing-friendly environment.It’s way easier to browse for books when there’s a description on the back or on the jacket flap. If I find a title that floats my fancy, I like to pick it up and read the back cover, and then read the first page. It gives me an idea of what’s going on in the book, and where it’s going. That back cover contains a lot of information. Is this a book of short stories? Is this a murder mystery? Who knows?
      2. Book covers are artCover art can show a lot, whether it’s an idea of the intended audience or genre, it’s kind of an invaluable part of the book picking-out experience. Also it’s pretty.
      3. Book covers tell how old a book isThe real old books are pretty obvious. They don’t usually have cover art anyway, they have fun binding, and they smell nice. Everything else is kind of a crapshoot. Was this written in 2004? 1970? Who knows? Of course I could open it up and find out, like you could with any novel. But sometimes the cover art can give you an idea of how contemporary a book is.

Browsing in my college’s library is not for the weak of heart. I have an idea of the system now and even I get turned around. I could ask for help, but where’s the fun in that? In any case, it’s fun to experiment with not judging a book by its cover.