How to Judge a Book By Its Cover

Before I plan my travel itinerary, play the process of elimination to decide the appropriate amount of shoes to tote along, or book somebody to feed the cat, there is one task that must be accomplished before all else – the scouring of the library for at least three books to stuff away (and fill at least a fourth of the space in my suitcase).

Today, after dropping off another mundane book from the Amazon Best Books of the Year list, I took the shelves in my usual routine to find my picks for the month – I started by checking out the New Books rack, quickly became overwhelmed and frustrated, and then began a systematic look through the shelves (starting with Z, of course) to pick out some good reads.

While methodically eliminating the crimes of literature from the public library in a matter of moments, I came to an abrupt conclusion – it is perfectly okay to judge books by their cover. And by that, I literally mean books. Before you waste hours poring over books in preparation for your next beach getaway, check out these tips in how to find the best reads from the staggering library shelves.

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“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

– Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451

Image courtesy of  mika@urbex

1. Gravitate towards the hard-covers because no publisher is going to waste their dollars on a crap book for a brilliant hardcover. Soft-cover, little books often seem to be ridiculous chick-lit that feature web-art covers and lame heroines battling singledom or some other typical plot line. If a book is in hard-cover, somebody with taste already decided it was worth being a little bigger than the rest.

2. You shouldn’t need to squint to see the names of the reviewers because nobody puts The New York Times in size nine font. If notable and scholarly publications and authors are big and bolded beneath “SUPERB” then you’re now in the realm of possible English genius. If you’ve never heard of the ten reviewers listed on the book, you may not have such luck, and there could be a reason why no one bothered to say some nice words about it.

3. If someone has 50 books on the shelf, they’re probably kind of old and not to say that elderly authors have outlived their talent, but if that’s not your thing, then it’s best to look a little further down the shelf for those that have, at the most, seven or eight books stacked to one another. Let’s put it this way – I don’t go near Mary Higgins Clark, because really, how many original plot lines can you have when you’ve written almost 50 books.

4. Always read the first few sentences of the first page because if you don’t like the way it’s written there, or if you’re even just not keen to the font or the voice of the narrator, you’re not going to get through the book. I’ve read tons of exciting back covers only to open the book and realize… I have no idea what’s going on and the font is in Courier New. It’s better to learn now than after you’ve wasted 5 solid nights of reading.

5. Err on the side of caution and pick up a few books, if you’re an avid reader. Not only are you going to get through way more books than expected after your plane gets delayed for six hours and your parents forgot to pick you up from the bus station, but you will have no interest further than page 20 in half the books you checked out. It’s better to have more rather than less, and if you own them, you’re even better off because once you’re done, you can leave them for the next lucky reader.

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