The Sunday Salon: Undercover

Earlier this month, there was a wonderful article in the New York Times by Joe Queenan about book covers–“When Bad Covers Happen to Good Books”. It talks about how you can be turned off from reading a book by a particularly inept or off-putting cover. As someone who loves digging through thrift stores for books, I see a lot of covers for a lot of books. I’m rarely turned off by a book cover. The last time I was truly appalled by a book cover was the Wuthering Heights cover that mimicked Twilight, including a little button declaring it to be “Bella and Edward’s favorite book”. I must admit, I felt a little ill when I chanced upon it in K-Mart.

However, I still think a book cover can definitely enhance your reading experience. Let’s take Wicked, one of my favorite novels. For the handful who don’t know the story from either the musical or the novel, it’s the life and times of the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba Thropp, as reimagined by Gregory Maguire. (Word to the wise, if you’re reading the whole series–skip A Lion Among Men.)

The paperback I have has the cover above, which is the first of the three covers available for Wicked in the United States. I, quite frankly, love it. There’s a “fairy tale with an edge” quality to the cover. The small circle where Elphaba is depicted is actually a cutout that looks onto another cover page, which depicts Elphaba surrounded by her animals. The image is a reference to one of the folktales of Maguire’s Oz. It’s all very severe, but there’s still something whimsical about it. You definitely know what you’re getting into–this is not a happy story, despite its connections to The Wizard of Oz. I would also like to mention that, if author blurbs must be used, I vastly prefer the one with a punch than several. John Updike’s praise is short, concise, and doesn’t overwhelm the book. The cover to Robin McKinley’s Sunshine does the same thing very well. While you may not realize what the cover is advertising, after you read the novel, you realize how perfect the cover is. I am, of course, fawning, because it’s the cover I have.

The next cover released is a tie-in with the musical adaptation of Wicked, so it uses the main piece of art produced for the musical. I really love that work of art–it’s eye-catching and really emphasizes that the relationship between Elphaba and Glinda is at the heart and soul of the play. I spent a vacation in New York where I couldn’t escape it. However, I think it misrepresents the novel a little. The novel and the musical are two different beasts. The novel is much darker, and the play is much more… well, playful–it pokes fun at the film version of The Wizard of Oz and certainly isn’t a slave to the novel. The poster reflects that, so having the cover art reflect the musical feels a little disingenuous to me.

I came across the latest cover in Little Shop of Stories. It came out in September. I think it’s gorgeous! While we are looking at a young Elphaba, I can imagine this Elphaba wincing in pain at her own tears in a way that I can’t see the musical Elphaba. While it does lack the fairy tale quality of the original cover, there’s something epic to a young Elphaba staring directly at the onlooker against a cloudy, possibly even stormy, sky. It’s definitely engaging and fresh. The only reason I prefer the original over this is because of the companion cover to Son of a Witch, the sequel–while it’s marvelous, it depicts Liir, the protagonist, in a t-shirt. My inner fantasy purist was ridiculously offended. Could the model simply not toss a military jacket on?

Still, I think you can enjoy Wicked no matter the packaging–I’m just nitpicking over the perfect cover for one of my favorite novels.

In other news, I’ve been too busy to read this past week, due to the holidays. I had a lovely Christmas with the family, including my brother and his new wife, who thoughtfully got me a lovely copy of Graceling of my very own! I settled down and ended up finishing Rampant Friday night. The review ought to be up on Monday, providing I write it today! I’m going to start on One for Sorrow today, and perhaps Uglies right after. I ought to be so burnt out on speculative teen fiction by then that I’ll turn my attention to other affairs… perhaps even review a travel book, since I’m reading it anyway!

What are your favorite covers for your favorite novels?

12 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: Undercover

  1. I like all three covers of Wicked – I think if I were going to choose one to own, it would be the original. (Conveniently that’s the one I do own.) Just because it looks sort of, I don’t know, that sort of old-fashioned that I always imagined Oz to be. Slightly steam-punkish?

  2. Hee, I rather like the Wuthering Heights cover! Of course I haven’t seen Twilight yet (what universe am I *from*? 😉 and crocuses are my fav flowers together with snowdrops 😉

    • I wouldn’t mind a cover so derivative of New Moon‘s cover if it wasn’t for that awful button trying to advertise it to Twilight fans. While I think there’s nothing wrong with a teenage girl reading Wuthering Heights because of Twilight, the cover seems awfully desperate to me.

  3. This is a great Sunday Salon. I love the newest Wicked cover. I saw it in a bookstore at the airport the other day and it was an autographed version.

    I definitely wanted American Gods, but I wasn’t allowing myself to buy too much, considering all the un-reads I have at home, and my mom ended up getting the Earthsea trilogy for me, but I definitely will pick up Gaiman at some point in time. Thanks for visiting!

    • An autographed version in an airport? Wow!

      I understand limiting yourself, it’s just that American Gods is one of my favorite, favorite novels… and I think you would love it! But, by all means, attend to your unreads first!

  4. Ugh! I saw that Wuthering Heights cover in Barnes and Noble recently, along with a matching Pride and Prejudice and Romeo and Juliet. The cover copy on Pride and Prejudice was also a mess:” The love that started it all” on the front cover and back cover copy that made it sound like a novel of grand passions, rather than a comedy of manners. I’m all for reaching out to new, tennage audiences, but it might be best to have covers that match the mood of the book.

    • Twilight all over Pride and Prejudice? I’m horrified. Honestly, what’s so apparently off-putting about the pretty girls in Regency dresses that usually adorn the Austen canon to the Twilight crowd that they need to do this?

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