7 books that prove sometimes you CAN judge a book by its cover.

For the 2015 Reading Challenge, I’m blogging through one category per month, in order. (Don’t worry—you don’t have to read them in order.)

So far we’ve covered:

  1. a book you’ve been meaning to read
  2. a book published this year
  3. a book in a genre you don’t typically read
  4. a book from your childhood
  5. a book your mom loves
  6. a book that was originally written in a different language
  7. a book ‘everyone’ has read but you

The 2015 Reading Challenge. I'm starting now!

“Don’t judge a book by its cover,” the saying goes. But most of us do it anyway.

I certainly do: I can’t think of a time I’ve chosen a book for its cover art alone, but I pick up books because they have a beautiful cover and a great title all the time. (The title is on the cover, after all, and I think this is a huge part of making snap judgments about what we want to read.)

Of course, this cuts both ways. Just this weekend I recommended a book to a friend, and I explicitly told her to disregard its terrible cover. (It was The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber, and if you’re anything like her, you’ll cringe when you click over and take a look!)

I’ve been very careful about which books I’m choosing to highlight here. It’s hard for me to talk about books I don’t like here on the blog (although I am trying to do this thoughtfully). It’s too easy to remember a book you saw on MMD (especially if it has a great cover) and not remember anything else I said about it. That’s why I’m sharing (with one exception) books I chose because of the covers, then ended up reading and loving.

If you’re thinking about reading a book based on the cover, share what it is in comments, and those of us who have read it can weigh in. (I’ll share mine: please tell me what you think!)

7 books I chose because of the cover:

2015 Reading Challenge: a book you chose because of the cover
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

This is the story of an endearingly cranky bookseller and how his life changed when an unexpected package showed up at his bookshop. For devoted readers, this book is a wonderful reminder of the power of books, and how they can bring people together. But be warned: this book can explode your to-be-read list. At the beginning of each chapter, the narrator recommends a book—or sometimes, a short story—to his daughter, describing what it’s about and why she’ll enjoy it. (He’s a bookseller: he can’t help himself.) I love how the bright cover of the hardback edition seems to beckon you to step inside the story, but don't miss the other editions: the U.S. paperback edition has a fun inside joke (note which book is on display in the shop window) and the U.K. cover is also terrific. More info →
Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

This former Summer Reading Guide pick from Arrested Development writer Semple is written in many formats: emails, letters, emergency room bills, police reports, even correspondence between a patient and psychiatrist. The story is unconventional and a little off-kilter, so the author specifically requested a bold, graphic cover that would hint at the comic, satirical story within. She got it: the cover is so eye-catching that booksellers are telling the author the great cover is why the book continues to sell so well. More info →
Secrets of a Charmed Life

Secrets of a Charmed Life

I've heard good things about Susan Meissner's historical fiction for years, but I must admit, it was the cover that convinced me to give her latest work a try: it was popping up all over the MMD Reading Challenge pinterest board for this category at the beginning of the year! Now that I've read it, I have a difficult time connecting the stylishly dressed woman on the cover to any characters in the novel, but since the teenage protagonist dreams of becoming a fashion designer it's not too far off. The story takes place during the London Blitz, which is probably why it reminded me so strongly of Kate Morton's The Secret Keeper. Enjoyable and moving. More info →
Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World

Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World

I've gotta tell you: this is the only book on this list I haven't read yet, but I'm hoping to soon. (Publication date: August 18.) But this is Emily's fourth book, and I feel familiar with it already just because she's been doing such a good job sharing the heart behind the story on her blog and social media. (Please go check out the #itssimplytuesday hashtag on Instagram!) The book is about finding grace in our everyday lives: not in the big-deal spotlight moments, but on a regular old Tuesday, the smallest day of the week. This shiny gold cover makes me smile every day I see it: it's carefree and happy and the nod to Emily's bench (that she talks about all the time on her blog) is perfect. More info →
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

The titular hotel is a real place: it's Seattle's Panama Hotel, and it's where Ford's wonderfully titled debut novel opens. But the cover shows us a scene from Seattle's waterfront, beautiful but sad, even wistful—much like the novel itself. In the story, an old man looks back to his 1940s childhood (thanks to a recent discovery at the Panama Hotel) and remembers with fondness his friendship—and maybe something more—with his young Japanese friend Keiko. They lose touch when Keiko and her family are evacuated during the Japanese internment. (I learned so little about this in my U.S. history classes that when I first read the book back in 2009 I kept googling Ford's historical references to see if they really happened. They did.) The prose too often veers from subtle to sappy, but it remains very readable and sheds light on a shameful (and overlooked) period of American history. More info →
All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See

You don't need me to tell you to read this one: it's everywhere. But I think one of the (overlooked) reasons it's everywhere is that this gorgeous novel has an equally gorgeous cover and title. Pictured there is the walled French citadel of Saint-Malo, situated on the English channel. The book's setting is crucial to the story, and as I read, I kept flipping back to the cover to stare at its scenery and imagine the characters scurrying through its streets. This is a beautiful novel, and entirely deserving of its place on the bestseller lists and awards rolls. More info →
Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore

Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore

This fast-paced book is mystery, quest, and love letter to the written word, all rolled into one: think Harry Potter meets National Treasure. It's not a technically brilliant book, and it's unlikely I'll re-read it, but its back-and-forth journey between Google headquarters and the literary underground operating out of the title's bookstore is plenty of fun for book lovers. The terrific cover (which glows in the dark) is no coincidence: author Sloan works for Twitter and understands that there's more digital content readily available than ever before. He wanted to make this book something worth buying in the physical edition. More info →

The books I’m currently considering reading because of the cover: The Making of Us by Lisa Jewell, The Center of Everything by Laura Moriarty, Oh! You Pretty Things by Shanna Mahin. Have you read any of these? I’d love to hear your thoughts in comments.

7 books that prove sometimes you CAN judge

What books did you decide to read because of the cover? What books have great covers that are catching your eye? Tell us all about them in comments.

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Leave A Comment
  1. Sara K. says:

    I read Hello, Love by Karen McQuestion. I have to admit I was pulled in by the adorable dog on the front cover. The story is sweet if predictable.

    I know there are others that got my attention simply by the beauty of the cover though the titles escape me at the moment 🙂

    It’s hard not to judge a book by it’s cover. When you are browsing (whether online or in a bookstore) you are presented with the cover and title first. Something must compel you to pick it up to even find out what it’s about!

  2. Amanda Roby says:

    I won a prize at my local library during their Adult Summer Reading Program. It was a book Bingo theme, and one of the categories I read from to complete my bingo was a book read *solely* based on its cover. I hated picking it out! I decided that meant I couldn’t read anything about the book, and that I couldn’t base it on an author I’d read before. I ended up picking up “A Thing of Beauty,” by Lisa Samson. I liked it! I was quite surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Shows me I can be surprised by going outside of my comfort zone.

  3. Anna says:

    I choose many books based on the cover- picture and title. The most recent one that I’ve read was “The Sweetness of Forgetting.” It turned out to be a book that I loved.

  4. laura says:

    Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. I couldn’t resist the nostalgic, technicolor picture of the little Italian village on the coastline. The book did not disappoint either!

  5. Michelle says:

    I read and enjoyed Mr. Penumbra’s 24 hour bookstore. The fun read shows that our increasing dependence on data might not always be the best option. Old school books and collections will always be important.

  6. Veronica says:

    Both The Light Between the Oceans and Life after Life drew me in due to their covers. Also the YA book The Game of Life and Death attracted my attention with the title and cover. I didn’t realize Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore cover glowed in the dark. Fun – I’ll have to pull it out and take a look.

  7. Hannah says:

    Ok, lightly veering off topic. As a writer, this strikes terror in my heart because it seems to indicate (and my gut knows this already) that if a publishing house chooses a ‘meh’ cover for one’s work, it’s probably a bigger deal than we’d like to think…

    • Anne says:

      I’ve heard this (depressing) stat: book sales are 1/3 cover, 1/3 title, and 1/3 author recognition. I feel like I owe you some kleenex to wipe away your tears …

  8. Jenny says:

    I read Where’d Ya Go Bernadette earlier this year for the “Book Cover” challenge category and loved it. I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought the cover was fun and intriguing, which could also describes the book. I’ve added a few more titles to my want to read/buy from this post. Thanks!

  9. Amanda says:

    I worked at Amazon for many years and everytime I shelved Wicked I wanted to read it based solely on the cover. It was the first gift by one-day husband would give me. And for our first anniversary he took me to see the musical. We later took our daughter to see it for Christmas when she was 8-years-old. So my cover-coveted book had a happy ending 🙂
    PS I ended loving all of Gregory Maguire’s books

  10. liz n. says:

    “Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English,” “The Hangman’s Daughter,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and “Watership Down.”

    “The Hangman’s Daughter” was good, but not great. The other three are among my favorite books of all time.

    (I actually passed over “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” because the cover annoyed me! I should probably re-think that choice.)

    • Anne says:

      I think Bernadette is a great beach read but it’s not one I recommend a lot. And you’re not the only one who was put off by the cover. What I really want to know is if the people who didn’t care for the cover weren’t going to like the book anyway. 🙂

      • liz n. says:

        I picked it up at Half Price Books yesterday afternoon. I’m a third of the way through, and so far it’s okay…I don’t hate it, but I definitely don’t love it.

      • Anna says:

        I didn’t like the cover to Bernadette, but decided to read it after a close friend loved it and thought I would like it. I really didn’t get into it at all. Maybe that’s just a coincidence?

        • liz n. says:

          Well, I’ve finished it.

          I’m glad I read it so that I know what people are talking about, but it isn’t anything I will read again. I don’t think it’s a terrible book; it just isn’t my thing…but I have a friend who would looooove “Bernadette”, so I’m going to give it to her!

  11. Beth says:

    I loved “Where’d You Go, Bernadette”! I thought the format was fun, and the story was such a page turner!
    I just finished listening to “The Girl on the Train.” It is set in London and hearing it read by British people really added to it. It started out kind of slow, but then I had to know what happened!

  12. Liesl says:

    I read 24 Hour Bookstore, and, and it just wasn’t as good as I thought it would be – I thought it would have more action and I felt it was anti-climactic 🙁

    I read Little Beach Street Bakery based on the cover – the UK version has an adorable cover (I ordered that version from Amazon) – I enjoyed the light and breezy read for the beach 🙂

  13. Suzanne says:

    I read Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore a couple of months ago (not for the cover, because the premise sounded right up my alley), and was totally freaked out when I woke up one night to find it glowing on the nightstand next to me. I guess that’s a fun and unique way to design a cover, but I can’t say I really want a glow-in-the-dark book on any bookshelf in a room where I sleep.

  14. Mary says:

    I read the Chemical Garden trilogy after the cover of the second book really caught my eye. The covers are absolutely GORGEOUS, and I loved the series! Thought-provoking and creepy and disturbing, in all the best ways!

  15. ruth says:

    I started The Storied Life of AJ Fikry last night and sniffed my way through the ending this afternoon. What a lovely new friend to have made! Now I want a bookshop where I can buy a paperback of it. (Because almost all my real book friends are paperbacks.) Till then, I’m off to hunt Scribd for Mr. Penumbra. Thanks for a great recommendation.

  16. Katie says:

    “State of Wonder” by Ann Patchett. The gold embossed paperback version with scrolling leaves and butterflies spoke to me…I knew nothing about the book and had never heard of the author but I was compelled to purchase it. I’m looking forward to [finally] reading it, instead of just using it as decor…;-)

  17. Jo Yates says:

    The cover of The Fatal Tree by Stephen Lawhead caught my eye at my library’s new books shelf. Of course I had to read the first 4 books in the Bright Empires series, The Skin Map, The Bone House, The Spirit Well, and The Shadow Lamp first. I loved this series.

  18. I love the covers for all of Kate Morton’s books … they are all so evocative and English and slightly Gothic. Luckily, they always end up being great reads as well.

    My cover obsession goes back to childhood, when my friends and I chose our Nancy Drew books from the library solely on the basis of the cover art. The best ones were the ones from the 40s and 50s, which featured actual spooky scenes, often with some tiny villain-like person sneaking into a window in the corner somewhere. The ones from the 70s were more symbolic and abstract and not nearly as appealing.

  19. And while we’re on the subject: Does it bug anyone else when the cover design for a historical novel doesn’t get the time period right? That is one of my major pet peeves.

    Last year I read “Poldark” by Winston Graham (yes, the book the fabulous BBC series is based on). Although it takes place in Cornwall in the late 1700s, there was a tiny figure on the cover who looked like a modern American cowboy, wearing jeans and a ten-gallon hat. It bugged me no end. I know; I need to get a life.

    • liz n. says:

      That. Drives. Me. Insane.

      But I’m also the person sitting next to you in the movie theater squirming uncomfortably and quietly hissing when Hollywood messes with history. If you were in Dallas too see the Lincoln movie with Daniel-Day Lewis and heard a woman exclaim, “What the h–l!?” at the last scene with William Lloyd Garrison (played by Tommy Lee Jones), that was me getting irate with a HUGE re-writing of history!

      I’m not even going to talk about “Braveheart.”

  20. Susan says:

    This is the first month I haven’t done exhaustive research to find the perfect book to fit the category. I took two seconds to decide on a book from the library shelf because I liked the cover and title. And then I read it in a day. Couldn’t put it down. Hmmm, maybe a strategy for selecting books from now on? Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal.

  21. Ginger says:

    I love a good book cover! I’ve been known to hold onto a book simply because it was pretty.

    I’m also obsessed with how often book covers look alike: https://instagram.com/p/vlZdHwiydM/
    In the case of All the Light We Cannot See, I mistakenly read the other book because they looked so similar. #mistake

    On my “to read” list because of its pretty cover: Fierce Convictions by Karen Swallow Prior.

    • Anne says:

      Oh my goodness! I’ve read All the Light, and I’ve seen The Steady Running of the Hour, but I’d never seen them side by side. They are SO similar!

  22. Hannah says:

    I loved Where’d You Go Bernadette? and will probably read it again the future. Thank you for the recommendations, I’ve added a couple to my list!

  23. donna says:

    Great post, Anne!
    Books I decided to read because of the cover:
    The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman (one of the best books I’ve read in years)
    Oh! You Pretty Things by Shanna Mahin (currently
    reading and loving)
    Kitchens of the Great Midwest
    by J. Ryan Stradal
    The Ice Cream Queen of
    Orchard Street by Susan Jane
    What Was Lost by Catherine
    O’Flynn (check out the UK
    Villa America by Liza
    Before I Met You by Lisa
    The Restoration of Otto Laird
    by Nigel Packer
    Read Bottom Up by Neel Shah
    Happy reading and thanks for the great recommendations!

  24. donna says:

    Books with eye-catching covers I’m considering reading:
    Love Fortune and Other Disasters by Kimberly Karalius
    The Secret of Raven Point by Jennifer Vanderbes
    The Betrayers by David
    Ana of California by Andi Teran
    Landing Gear by Kate Pulling
    Peony in Love by Lisa See
    Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia

    The Shore by Sara Taylor

  25. Julie Richardson says:

    I recently read City of Ember due to it’s simple, bold (and gold!) cover. Covers like that immediately catch my eye. 🙂 I liked the easy read so much (and even read some parts aloud to my 8 and 9 yr olds) that I’d like to read the rest of the series! And of course, all those Anna Bond books with gorgeous, to-die-for covers make me want to read those classics! The only one I’ve read out of those is Anne and part of Little Women. (gasp! hangs head in shame..)

  26. Wendy says:

    I chose Shadow and Bone as my based-on-the-cover entry. I was only mildly interested in the book, but loved the cover so much that I got it anyway. I’m also a fan of all the paper cut out covers that you see in MG novels lately, like Shiver, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, and A Tale Dark and Grim.

  27. Rachel D says:

    The Lake House by Kate Morton. Loved the way it was written – switching from present day to the past.
    The Good Girl by Mary Kubica. Again written in such a way to keep the reader guessing. Glad I judged by the covers!

  28. Suzy says:

    I picked up my first Terry Pratchett as I was drawn to the cover and now have a complete discworld collection.

  29. Susan Krzywicki says:

    Oh yes. Always. I can skip over entire chunks of books by noticing the color of the spine. Black/red, black/gray, modern type, bold type, italic-modern-bold-all caps type: not for me.

    Fluorescent colors: skip. Dark blue/black: skip. Guns: skip. Men running: skip. White/black/red: skip. Battleships, Nazi symbols, lightning bolts: skip.

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