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Judge by Title?

Like many readers, I judge a book by its cover—moderately. Just because the cover is a picture of people walking around in 1800s outfits doesn’t mean the book is boring. It just means that that book is probably historical fiction. Honestly, I love the cover of Fifty Shades of Grey, the tie and the masquerade mask—but that doesn’t mean I’ll read the book. So it really depends. You have to look at the descriptions or read through the first few pages. What about title? While author has little control over the cover, an author almost always comes up with his or her own title. If the title is stupid or pretentious, chances are that the book will be stupid or pretentious. If the book title is clever or intriguing, maybe the book itself will be clever or intriguing. It doesn’t always work out that way. But I’d rather judge a book by its title than by its cover.

I’m saying this because this morning at the coffee shop I had a conversation with an acquaintance over what title might draw readers to pick up a book. Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling. She asked what the title means (She is not a native speaker). In politics, a casual vacancy is a situation in which a seat in a deliberative assembly is vacated during that assembly’s term. Casual vacancies arise through the death in J.K. Rowling’s novel for adults. Part of the appeal is Rowling herself, I’m curious what kind of novel she would write after Harry Potter. My friend’s take of the title is an empty seat on a train or a romantic implication. Rowling or not, I’m likely to pick up a book called Casual Vacancy. It’s intriguing title because I want to know more. What about the vacancy? What will happen? Who will fill it?

What about you? Do you judge a book by its cover or title?


9 Responses

  1. I hadn’t thought about title before but I must. I know when I saw the book 100 Year Old Who Went Out the Window I picked it up immediately and had to read it because it was so amusing. I think covers affect me more but Yes, I guess titles do also. Will keep in mind next time I’m shopping.

    • Visuals can be powerful. A picture is better than a 1000 words. Intriguing and provoking titles play an equal role for me. I wouldn’t pick up a book called Stoner had it not been for the bookstore clerk who recommended to me on two different occasions. I didn’t realize Stoner was someone’s name, and how interesting can a book titled after a person’s name be?

  2. Both. When it comes to titles, assuming that I’m not familiar the title, I tend to pick up those that pique my interest or make me curious (e.g. Mice and Men, Middlesex). As for book covers, I recently wrote about it 🙂 http://angelinahue.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/john-steinbeck-the-winter-of-our-discontent/

    • Hmmm I am on the same page as you’re on book titles. Titles can be misleading. I tend to skip anything that suggests chick lit, i.e. a cover with Jimmy Choo, a handbag…

  3. I’ve never thought about judging a book by its title. What an intriguing concept.

    • Usually titles tell me the sub-genre a book belongs to. Something that is more descriptive but less subdued would point to a literary fiction. Something like “Good Christian Bitches” can go either way. “Death with Interruptions” caught my attention in a sea of books, but of course that was also written by Jose Saramago.

  4. Working in publishing has made me even more of a judge of cover – not necessarily whether or not I’ll read a book, but instead the fact that there’s a whole team of people who sat down and tried to figure out the best image to convey an entire story, the one that would sell the most copies and still stay true to the actual book. So when they get it wrong, I do judge! I’m also just very curious about the reasoning behind a lot of covers. Titles I think are always interesting, especially when they change from one thing to another – why the change? And what about when an author has their heart set on a title, but the publisher has other ideas? I wish I could know the start to finish for every book I read. It’s fascinating!

  5. I like how you draw the correlation between imagery of cover and the book’s content. It seems very practical and common-sense until you look at all these very awful titles, especially the movie tie-in ones. I gravitate to more abstract book covers that employ visual symbols to express the theme. I’m usually weary of actual pictures of people on covers.

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