judging a book by its cover

Judging a Book by its Cover: Among Others

(This post was originally published at my old blog.)

I have this thing about Among Others. I can’t decide how I feel about it. I liked parts of it and didn’t like other parts of it, and I’m not sure I’ll ever reconcile those bits into a book I have a definite opinion about.

Among Others

I thought it was a strange design choice, because it doesn’t hint at all about the fantastic/magical realism elements that make this book this book – but it is right there in the title, 図書室の魔法, “Library-room Magic,” or “The Magic of the Library,” as best as I can translate. But it looks, visually, like a school story; I get an almost Anne of Green Gables-ish vibe out of these. They looked much “younger” than the book; I think this is just “kawaii” in action.

Among OthersI read this in ebook format originally, and thus I rarely even saw the cover as I was reading – one of the major drawbacks of ebooks, if you ask me. I have a lot of opinions about cover design, which is why I write this series. (Obviously.)

So of course, I went to Goodreads to investigate.

Morwenna’s injury and her subsequent disability is a major part of this book, and the American edition (left) shows a slender girl frolicking in a field, wearing a floaty white dress. I think the hazy photograph captures the feeling of the book, but maybe not the orange.

Among OthersThe French edition, retitled Morwenna, has the same vibe: a white girl in a white dress, skipping and surrounded by stars or glitter or fairy dust for some reason. This one is a little more excusable; I think this is little girl Morwenna, before the accident, working magic somewhere as a young girl.

What gives with the frolicking? Morwenna is a protagonist with disabilities. The French and American editions erase that part of Morwenna’s character which, in an age of #WeNeedDiverseBooks, is honestly a bit disappointing. Even the oddly kawaii and not-at-all magical Japanese edition clearly shows her with a cane in the first book, though she’s lost it in the second where she’s holding hands with her friends.

(*Note on Japanese books: many longer books are published in two or three sections to make them smaller and easier to carry. Among Others is split into two, 上 and 下 (first half and second half); other books are divided into thirds, 上, 中, and 下.)

Among OthersThe Spanish-language version ignores Morewenna’s cane and looked too genre for the book, which I guess is a strange thing to say about a story that’s a love song to science fiction/fantasy genre fiction, but I don’t think that’s the tone of this story. This cover comes off too paranormal romance for my tastes. This isn’t a book I would be “selling” to my students, but if I was trying to get a friend to read it, I’m not sure this cover would tell them what I want them to know, going in, about the story I’m asking them to read.

I ask people to read this book a lot. I’m always saying, “I don’t know how I feel about this, please read it.” I want someone to make up my mind for me. I want someone to work out the tangle of opinions I have about this book, because I can’t decide how I feel, and so I ask people – smart people, people I trust, people whose book recommendations I always accept – what they think.

Among OthersIf I had my pick of any cover, I would go with the Polish edition. Morwenna is depicted, and although you can’t see her cane in the cover art, it also isn’t not there; there’s no reason that it’s not just out of the frame. I think this artwork captures some of the magic of the story, carrying over the sparkles and stars from the French and American editions without any frolicking in sight.

It also recalls a specific scene for me, which I think is strong cover design. I like the aha! moment when you read a book and realize, this is that picture. Maybe that’s just me, though.

The reflection is a nice touch. I don’t want to spoil the story, but I think that adds a lot to my fondness for this cover. This is the one I would most like to give to a friend and say, “read this.”

Among Others

The next-best option would be the Turkish edition. Morwenna isn’t depicted at all, which is un/fortunate: fortunate, because at least she’s not depicted frolicking, and unfortunate because it missed the opportunity to say, this is a book about a protagonist with disabilities. But it gets the mood right for the story. It highlights the awards won, and the Ursula K. LeGuin review quote signals what kind of fantasy we’re in for, here; Among Others is a magical realism/urban fantasy border story. It’s an ode to the kind of story that Ursula K. LeGuin writes, and the kind of story that wins genre awards.

I would hand this book to my friends, if any of my friends read Turkish.

Among OthersI think the Polish cover deserves a special mention. It’s got the genre (although this “reads” a little more sci-fi and a little less magical realism, but that could just be me), the awards, and it very prominently features Morewenna as she’s described in the book, using her cane. I wish I liked this cover better. It has everything that I said I wanted, but somehow it doesn’t speak to me. However, if I were buying this book for the secondary library, this is the edition I would want… too bad our collection is mostly in English, not Polish.

I think I would actually like to suggest this for the secondary library. Regardless of how I feel about it, it won the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, and the British Fantasy Award. There are kids in my school who need to read this novel, and this is the cover they’ll first encounter in my library:

Among Others

judging a book by its cover

Judging a Book by its Cover (& Title): The Girl with No Shadow

3427448I have a very… hm, complicated relationship with The Girl with No Shadow. Someday, we’ll sit down together over a cup of tea (or hot chocolate) and I’ll tell you all about it. There are cults and ghosts and boys disappearing through magic doors.

For now, let’s just talk about the book. No. We’re not even going to talk about the book: we’re going to talk about the cover (and the title) of the book.

In the U.S., the book is called The Girl with No Shadow. In the U.K., it was published as The Lollipop Shoes.

Both titles echo in the plot: The Girl with No Shadow recalls a story told within the story, about a boy who sells his shadow to an old beggar in exchange for immortality, but, oops, the old beggar was the devil and the shadow was his soul, and so now he’ll be forever alone. Yanne(/Vianne) tells it a lot more eloquently than that, but you get the gist.

The Lollipop Shoes are a reference to Zozie’s fantastical shoes: she’s wearing a pair of candy apple red pumps when she meets Yanne(/Vianne) and Annie(/Anouk) and she later uses them to create a display in the chocolaterie window. Zozie uses her glamour (like a fairy glamour) to draw in Anouk and the people of Montmartre.

2227371The warm toned cover, with the old fashioned automobile, is the edition I own; the blue cover with the street, presumably Montmartre, is the cover on the Overdrive audiobook I’m borrowing from Boston Public Library right now.

Neither one shows any of the characters. I suppose the romantic setting – a chocolatrie in Paris! – is itself a selling point; I know I’ve found myself daydreaming about my imagined Montmartre while I listen. (I’ve never been to continental Europe, so I’m sure my imaginings are as wrong as the way I was pronouncing all that French in my head.)

The German edition gives it an entirely different title: Heavenly Wonder. I’m not entirely sure (read: I have no idea) how that fits with the story, but… Okay. It is not the weirest thing we’ll see today.

Honestly, I’m kind of surprised how few of these covers actually feature Zozie’s signature – titular, even – red shoes. The Lithuanian and Dutch versions do.

The Dutch version even recreates Zozie’s display: the red shoes with the gold-wrapped truffles, against a blue velvet background. The other covers all seem to use stock images, like this inexplicable Russian edition:

25947191What’s going on, here? No. Seriously. I have no idea why they chose this painting and not any other (presumably public domain painting) in the entire Western art canon. Is there something I’m missing? We just don’t know.

26841359.jpgSpeaking of oddballs: I try to feature only covers with decent images available, but I had to share this one, even though I could only find it in thumbnail: This Czech edition, with a chili pepper, coated in chocolate, against a bright yellow background. All of these things are relevant to the novel – Yanne uses chili in her hot cocoa to give it a bit of zing! – but, uhm… Wow.

Coming back to the story, we have some covers with Yanne, and (presumably) Anouk:

I assume the little girl in red is supposed to be Annie, and would someone please fire whoever designed the Hungarian cover? It is a mess. (I used to be a graphic designer. That’s why I write these things.)

Interestingly, only one cover I could find featured Zozie herself, and it referenced both titles: The Lollipop Shoes and The Girl with No Shadow.


judging a book by its cover

Judging a Book by its Cover: The Gunslinger

ea0535a6defd730f788c7e3c9bdd35b91485441730_fullThe other day, I was trying to figure out if the film adaptation of The Gunslinger had a release date for Japan, where I live. (According to IMDb, as of this writing, it does not. #expatproblems) While Googling around, I stumbled across an article (which I can’t even open #thanksJapan) about new covers for the Dark Tower books.

I was intrigued, because Japanese covers are often very different.

Really, I shouldn’t be surprised by the very bishōnen man in black. He’s a strong candidate for Draco in Leather Pants, what with his lankiness and sense of humor. (Whenever I’m trying to explain to someone why I liked Dark Tower, which is really not my usual jam, I tell them about the Wizard of Oz scene. (Ironically, my favorite scene in the series takes place in my least favorite book, Wizard & Glass.))

18003I bought all of the Dark Tower books and read them in three countries (Japan, U.S.A, Korea, and then U.S.A. again) over the course of about a year. My mom sent me the first one, The Gunslinger, in a care package. It looked like this.

At the time, there was no complete set of the series available, so half of mine are in this style, and the other half are totally different. They’re even different trim sizes. Kill me. (Oh, and The Wind Through the Keyhole is, again, different from the rest of the set.)

So imagine my delight/dismay to see the whole new line of cover designs.

They’re so cool! They’re all the same size and design, like an actual series! They’re good, but I don’t quite love the series enough to invest another ¥15,000+ in collecting them all again!

… plus, my weird, battered, mis-matched copies, some of them still wrapped in Japanese bookshop paper and full of odds and ends: a receipt from a Korean Mr. Donut, a ticket stub from my flight back from Tokyo. You know, the kind of thing that accumulates in books when you’re not a bookmark kind of gal.

I wanted to go look at other designs, and I was struck by their similarity. It’s a very iconic book, isn’t it?

judging a book by its cover

Judging a Book by Its Cover: Etiquette & Espionage

(This post was originally published at my old blog.)

When I bought a copy of Etiquette & Espionage to carry to the international librarians’ meeting, my co-worker was surprised by the cover. She had read the Japanese translation, which looks nothing like the American/English cover I ordered.

Like Among Others, the American/English cover looks a lot “older” and fancier than the Japanese translation. I think it looks more “girly,” too. Sophronia looks a lot older than her fourteen years in the American/English cover, more like sixteen, seventeen years old. It looks like the higher end of young adult; I think the actual age range is somewhere between the two covers. (I found the same thing with Castle of Shadows.)

I wonder about the students – girls and boys – who might miss out on this book. I’m not sure I would have read this book in high school without a librarian to reassure me that it’s about steampunk spies. Which I guess is why we have librarians.

EDIT: I finally figured out the Japanese title with help from a friend: ソフロニア嬢、空賊の秘宝を探る, Miss Sophronia and the Treasure of the Sky Pirates.

judging a book by its cover

Judging a Book by Its Cover: The Golden Compass

(This post was originally published at my old blog.)

I never used to buy a book until I had read it. This was in school, when I had access to a well stocked public library and parents who were happy to take me to the library at least once a week. When I got older, I would walk there after school every day with my BFF.

Only once I had decided I loved a book would I go buy it. (Exceptions were made for Redwall and Harry Potter new releases, because I knew for sure I would like it.)

Somewhere along the line, I think I owned a set of His Dark Materials books. I was so strict about my book buying (or perhaps, my parents were so strict about it) that I even waited the two months it took for someone with The Subtle Knife out overdue to return it so I could find out what happens next – but I got it eventually, and I loaned it out, and it was never seen again.

The Golden CompassThis is the version my mom checked out from the Johnson State College library children’s section for me one summer during TDI. I read it sitting in the dorm closet/wardrobe in the dorm room I shared with my mother. (They ran a “TDI for Grown-ups” back then, too, and it was my first time at sleepaway camp.)

This is also the edition we have in the secondary library at my school. It’s in rough shape by now, but it’s not so ugly that my students tell me, “I don’t want to touch it.” (That’s an actual student quote about an older edition of A Wrinkle in Time.)

When I eventually admitted that I was probably never going to see my copies again, if I ever even had a copy, I decided to go find a new edition. I was so frustrated, because it was right around the time the movie came out and they all had the printed-on “sticker” announcing “NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE.” As a book collector, this was an unacceptable blemish.

The Golden CompassI eventually found a special edition hardcover, with bonus additional materials. It does still have a “sticker” on the front cover, but at least it’s advertising the new material instead of that awful movie.

From a book collector’s perspective, it’s a nice cover. As a librarian, I don’t think this is the version I would want. It doesn’t tell me anything about the story. It’s a collector’s edition, for people who already know the story, but it wouldn’t tell my students anything about what’s inside. The version I first read told me there was a girl, at least – an important factor for me, then and now – and a bear and a mouse, and it took place somewhere cold. (The British title gives a better idea of the setting with Northern Lights, but I like the continuity of titles in the American editions.)

Another consideration is the age range implied by the cover art. The version I own is the “adult” cover, but His Dark Materials has been published as everything from children’s/Middle Grade, to YA, to adult. Our school only has a copy in the secondary library, but elementary students may visit to check it out. (We don’t often double up on copies for budgetary reasons.)

The Golden CompassThis Spanish edition looks like a kids’ book. It would fit in comfortably with my collection in the elementary school, and I think the high schoolers would pass it over as too “childish.”

I like that this tells me a lot about the story, more than most editions. We have a girl, a bear, a man, a cliffghast and and a woman. You can’t, however, see anyone’s dæmons. I remember flipping back to the front cover of the version I read and realizing the little mouse was Pantalaimon. I guess this cover has the same pleasures of realization: oh, so that‘s Lyra, and Iorek, and Lee Scorseby, and Serefina!

The Golden CompassI like this Dutch edition a lot. If I had free choice for a new copy, and this cover was available in English, I would want this one for the secondary library. It looks like a YA book, but it still says a lot about the story: the bridge to the stars, the alethiometer, and Lyra herself. The cover is a lot darker over all, which I think fits the story better, and it adds to the “older” feeling of the book. The detailed illustrations make it feel less childlike, but students might find the style dated, and kids are harsh art critics when it comes to book covers.

(Why isn’t she wearing gloves? Are her fingers freezing to that gold?)

This is the only cover so far that doesn’t feature Iorek. I guess huge armored talking polar bears are just that awesome.

The Golden CompassMost of the covers depict one of a few scenes. This German edition shows the same point as the American edition that I read in school, or the scene just before the Dutch cover. The Spanish edition above is the only one to show a completely different part of the book, although Iorek still features.

I wonder why this scene, and not something in Oxford or London? Is it the “Rule of Cool”? Some other reason?

Only one version goes a different way, and that’s this American version from Scholastic, which features a Balthus painting that we’re probably supposed to think is Lyra, possibly in the dining hall at Oxford?

The Golden CompassThis must be one of those editions for “grown-ups,” because it would be a hard sell to most kids. It lacks the action and adventure in the other covers – hot air balloons! polar bears! witches! cities in the sky! Lyra is dynamic and active in those covers, in hot air balloons, riding bears, reading her “golden compass” by the light of the aurora where she can see a city in the sky! This Lyra is still, stiff, and the painting is dark.

As a “grown-up,” I think I prefer the hardback special edition I bought. It harkens back to the fact that this is a children’s book, even if you’re reading it as an adult.

2016 update: The thing about dropping everything and moving abroad is this: You can’t bring all of your treasured hardbacks with you. In fact, when I arrived in Japan, I had two books: The Vampire Lestat, and The Girl With No Shadow. (That’s another story for another time.)

Well, it’s been five years now and I’m getting settled in, and getting settled in means getting books. I run the Scholastic Book Club for my school, and so one time, I finally bought myself the special 20th anniversary edition with the shiny cover – and it’s beautiful.


judging a book by its cover

Judging a Book by its Cover: The Dark Tower (Series)

In 2010, my mom sent me a paperback copy of Stephen King’s The Gunslinger while I was living in Tokyo between study abroad semesters. It had been recommended to me by a friend (now an ex friend, but that’s another story for another time). I continued buying the paperbacks. They looked like this:

20007633 They aren’t beautiful, exactly, but I feel like Stephen King’s name is what sells these. Nobody hasn’t heard of him. I assume this is what the designers thought, too, considering his name takes up nearly a third of the cover. So, apparently, does “some other ‘Stephen King,'” peddling his wares by pretending to be Stephen King, author of ‘Salem’s LotCarriePet Sematary, etc.

What bugged me wasn’t even the cover design. For one thing, Japanese bookstores will wrap your books in a paper covering for… some reason? My copies of The Waste Lands and The Wind Through the Keyhole both have these paper dust jackets (from Junkudo and Maruzen, respectively).

5091What really annoyed me was that, up to Wizard & Glass, the covers all had a certain aesthetic, and then suddenly, starting with Wolves of the Calla, they look completely different. (They even have a different trim size, to my endless irritation.)

If you didn’t know this was the same series, would you known this was the same series?

Don’t get me wrong. I think I like the more colorful covers better. But there was no way to go back and buy The GunslingerThe Drawing of the Three, etc. in this new (and improved?) design. Nope. I was stuck forever with two halves of a set which, for a book collector like me, is a major annoyance.

12106746-1Oh, and then The Wind Through the Keyhole came out, looking like neither set. It’s the same trim size as the older books, but a completely different design aesthetic. It doesn’t bother me as much, given The Wind Through the Keyhole‘s rather odd status as Dark Tower #4.5.

Well, with the upcoming movie adaptation in the works somebody somewhere decided it was high time for a proper set with the same trim size, aesthetic, etc. The new books feel more like “literature,” too: I found these at the local foreign bookstore, so I got to hold it in my hand, run my thumb over the pages. The paper is thicker, the cover feels… nicer. My current paperback set has the feel of an airport book. (Which is accurate: I read Dark Tower in Japan, the U.S.A., and South Korea, and in between/on the way to and from all of those places, over the course of about a year and a half.)

29430671… but they’re way too scary for little ol’ me. Look at this cover for The Waste Lands. Brr, no thank you!

I know I’m not exactly the target audience for The Dark Tower. My favorite TV show is Steven Universe; I think Philosopher’s Stone is the best Harry Potter book; and I like Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys better than his American Gods. I don’t “do” horror. I’ve never read anything else by Stephen King and I probably never will.

I read Dark Tower during a very … strange time in my life (not because of the country/continent-hopping) and someday I’ll go back and reread it, then let you know if I still even like it at all.

I’ll probably keep my books, though. They hold so many memories – even if they don’t match.

judging a book by its cover

Judging a Book by its Cover: Prisoner of Azkaban

I first got interested in book covers because of Harry Potter. I would spend hours pouring over grainy .jpg scans of different editions. At the time, each language had its own cover. (Although that’s changed. I have a copy of the new American cover by Kazu Kibuishi cover in Russian.)

I even have a collection of Sorcerer’s Stone, which I’ll share with you another time, but for today, I wanted to post about Prizoner of Azkaban, which I’m currently listening to on audiobook.

28143415 This is the audiobook cover, right? and it’s really nice. I was like “Why don’t I own this yet?” Well, because, as far as I can tell, it’s not a print cover. The Pottermore ebooks and audiobooks got new covers, but those new covers never got print editions. (Bummer.)

I like this cover. It reminds me of the “adult edition,” but with just a hint more magic. I mean, it’s 2016. It’s Harry Potter. Nobody cares if a “grown-up” is reading it – and if they care, they’re snobs, ignore them.

5The Mary GrandPré editions, of course, are what I grew up with as an American. My auntie bought me a boxed set of the first three books in hardcover for Christmas one year, after I had borrowed them from the library and read them feverishly since the summer.

In my mind, these – hardback cover with the dust jacket, art by Mary GrandPré – will always be the “real” Harry Potter books. Don’t get me wrong, I love the other covers, too (or why would I have a collection of 20+ Sorcerer’s Stone?), but these are the books of my childhood and I was little bit sad when I replaced them in the library with the new British editions.


Which, of course, are gorgeous. I noticed that both the new American and new British covers switched from focusing on the hippogryff flight to the same scene of Harry casting his Patronus in the fight against the Dementors.

Why? I have no idea. Is it a coincidence? Is it because the hippogriff flight was kind of a thing with Harry/Hermione ‘shippers, and the Harry/Hermione vs. Ron/Hermione ‘ships is the stuff of fandom legend?

Here’s a collection of Prisoner of Azkaban in translation, which all feature the hippogriff flight. For some reason, Hermione isn’t with Harry in the Dutch and Swedish covers. (Maybe it’s not the flight to rescue Sirius, but the first time Harry flies on a hippogriff, in Care of Magical Creatures with Hagrid?)

I could go on about Harry Potter covers all day, but I won’t. Instead, let’s end with two editions that show a scene not depicted on any other covers: the 2015 Spanish-language edition, featuring the scene where Harry meets Buckbeak for the first time, and the original German edition, which shows Sirius/the Grim.

The 2015 Spanish-language cover clearly drew inspiration from the movies – check out that uniform. I wonder if future editions will learn from fandom, and we’ll see Desi Harry or a “racebent” Hermione?

I hope so. I’ll definitely buy those editions.

P.S. If you live in a country with a different Harry Potter cover is sold than the U.K./U.S./Japanese editions, send me a message. I’ll pay you to pick it up and ship it over!