Judging A Reader By Their Cover

Edd McCracken

Staff Writer

Edd McCracken lives in Scotland, dislikes book spine breakers and loves when small words harmonise to make big ideas. Follow him on Twitter:  @EddMcCracken

When the great Venn diagrams of this world are drawn, and what a day that will be, one of the most unlikely will show trashy romance novels overlapping with cutting edge technology to produce the ebook boom we are currently enjoying.

The impulse behind this most unlikely of unions is not that the white heat of new technology is a powerful aphrodisiac, although some Apple acolytes might disagree, but more akin to the aftertaste of a furtive fumble at the office party.

Shame, says the Guardian, is the motivating factor.

According to publishers Ebury, part of Random House, an e-reader’s lack of cover to judge is one of the reasons it has launched head first into bodice-ripping ebooks with four new digital offerings a month via its Rouge Romance imprint. Mills and Boon’s digital output of 100 books a month now outstrips its print equivalent.

Ebury editorial director Gillian Green explains: “One of the many reasons why we believe romance readers have taken so quickly to ebooks is that there is an inherent snobbery towards romance as a genre in the UK. It’s sad that this is the case but dedicated e-readers and tablets allow readers to read whatever they like in public without giving anything away about what they are reading.”

This is great for e-reader manufacturers, terrible for the human race. Shame should never be on the emotional spectrum whilst reading.

I doubt that any reader of Assignment: Seduction has been accosted on a bus by thugs wielding the latest Jennifer Egan, but it is saddening (if a tad ironic) that romantic fiction fans feel the need to hide their racy tales in dowdy, featureless garments for fear of causing offence.

We know the power of book covers in public. They are as self-consciously selected as the clothes we wear. We want to be judged by them.

But by either bending too readily to the literary taste makers or choosing to hide our selections behind a machine, surely this is the same as everyone stepping out wearing either clothes from Gap or plain grey overalls. Where are the punks?

Instead, next time you see someone reading Crazy About Her Spanish Boss in public don’t tut, stare or snigger. Applaud, cheer, carry them high on your shoulders. For these are the true punks. And they should be celebrated.