Since I can’t seem to bestir myself to comment on the insides of books I’m reading.
What Does “The Best” Mean?
Here are the 50 best book covers of 2012, as chosen by Design Observer. I have read precisely one of these books, Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You, which is one of the few books in the list that could (loosely) be called genre fiction (can it? I think it’s on some chick lit/women’s fiction/literary fiction border that proves how fuzzy genre boundaries can be). I’ve also read an earlier book by Benjamin Black, who’s represented here. Those are genre fiction (mystery) written under a pen name by John Banville; it’s interesting how his Black website both trades on Banville’s “acclaimed [literary] novelist” status and divorces his genre fiction from it.
Anyway, my point here is not so much that genre fiction gets overlooked again, but that I found it interesting that “good/high” cover design parallels “good/high” literature in some ways. Genre fiction covers are governed by conventions (we all know what they are for various romance subgenres) and, far more than the contents in my experience, emphasize consistent branding, the idea that “you know just what you’re getting” when you grab a book featuring a sword-wielding, tattooed woman in leather pants or a shirtless man in breeches.
These award-winning covers–for a range of fiction and non-fiction, certainly–have their own conventions: they are often spare and abstract. Very few represent people (and even fewer faces that are not distorted in some way) or landscapes. I think you can guess a lot about the principles of good design subscribed to by the jury that chose these covers, and they are not the principles that govern genre cover design. It is often not at all clear from these covers what you’ll be getting inside, and I think that’s meant to emphasize that you’ll be getting something surprising, new or original (and of course “high quality”)–originality being something our culture values in “high art” these days.
Weary as I am of the repetition in a lot of genre covers (another waxed chest, another woman’s back with giant dress falling off), many individual examples are beautiful, striking, and excellently designed for their purpose. But they are designed according to a set of principles that guarantees they’ll be overlooked by this kind of award, just as genre fiction is overlooked by literary awards. It’s good to remember that awards like this promote one kind of good, not the kind of good.
Book Spine Poetry
I loved this Brainpicker post on Nina Katchadourian’s “sorted books,” sentences made by stacking books and reading their titles as a sentence. I remember when people were tweeting “book spine poems.” Here’s my erotic poem, almost entirely composed of out-dated literary theory. Or maybe it’s about grad school?
Judging a Hero By His Cover?
His hair, that is. Carolyn Jewel wrote about an old favorite romance, Karen Robards’ Loving Julia, and how rare its blond hero is in romance novels today. Her post quotes this line: “This man was blond, lean, and blindingly beautiful with the flawlessly molded face of one of the Lord’s archangels.”
I wondered on Twitter whether blond heroes are regularly described as (arch)angelic; I’ve just been reading about Patricia Gaffney’s blond Christy, who is described that way–a bit ad nauseum for my taste. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it before, too, though sometimes as a fallen angel. Marijana Okanovic (@OkanovicM) pointed out that dark heroes are often “devilishly handsome,” and that there is some obvious light/dark symbolism (or stereotyping) at play. But then what are we to make of the dark-haired bad-boy archangels to be seen in some paranormals these days? Perhaps we can discuss this deeply imporant question of hero hair in more depth as part of our Gaffney book club.
Or perhaps not. Really I don’t care in the least about hero hair color (I don’t need the heroine to share my preferences, and I’m not sure I have any anyway) and I kind of wish the romance genre wasn’t so into describing characters in detail and left more to our imaginations.
ETA: thanks to Brie for reminding me of Jessica’s great post (good comments too) on blond heroes.
Under the Covers: What I’ve Read Lately
Max Gladstone, Three Parts Dead Alternate-world, vaguely steampunk, urban fantasy legal thriller. Solid plot, really interesting world-building, liked the characters but would have liked more character development (with all that, something had to give). I’m in for more of the series when it comes.
Lois McMaster Bujold, Falling Free (on audio) I actually have Things to Say about this Vorkosiverse prequel and will try to do a post on the weekend.
Tamara Allen, Downtime My first by her. I know, I know. Great character development and lovely slow-building (m/m) romance. Of course I have more TBR.
Jill Mansell, To The Moon and Back I totally enjoyed this while I was reading it but can hardly remember anything about it. Um, wait, oh yes! This kind of light/humorous take on serious subjects like grief, recovery and finding self worth is not really my favorite thing, but she’s a great storyteller, though I got tired of the instalove in every interwoven plot. It’s not as melodramatic as I often find women’s fiction, but covers some of the same territory. And it doesn’t have that humor from heroine humiliation that I hate in chick lit. It was exactly what I needed when I read it.
Charlotte Stein, Curve Ball A short erotic romance. Stein somehow builds sexual as well as other tension out of anger, misunderstanding, and hurt feelings. I felt really tense reading it, at points. The first-person voice might drive some people crazy, and the characters are definitely drawn in broad strokes, but I thought it worked to get real emotion across on a small canvas rather than seeming caricatured. I think Stein may be the Mistress of Squirm, of various sorts.