Let’s Judge Some Books by Their Covers: A Book “Beauty Pageant”

I like beauty pageants.  (The feminist inside of me just shrieked.  She does every time I admit this.)  My involvement in pageants (as a contestant and a director) has waned because of my discomfort with the swimsuit competition and the focus on perfect figures and poufy hair, insubstantial qualities that do not matter.  However, pageants helped me to gain confidence as a teenager and to overcome some of my introverted tendencies, which I wrote about here.

So of course, I had the idea of a book beauty pageant while reading a feminist book.  That’s the natural response to an Elaine Showalter text, right?  Well, I couldn’t help it because of the book’s beauty.  When I received it in the mail from Amazon, I wanted to hug it because of it’s beauty.  This has prompted me to proclaim it contestant number one in today’s book beauty pageant.

A Jury of Her Peers: Celebrating American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx by Elaine Showalter

The orangey-pink spine and the silhouetted figures of women with their books on the cover speaks to me each time I pick this book up.  It is one I am reading slowly, a chapter or less each night, savoring it’s information about American women authors.  I find it fascinating.

Contestant number two is Arabian Nights, translated by Sir Richard Burton.

This is one of those Barnes and Noble leather-bound books.  It is gorgeous because of the hues of blue and the gold scrolling.  I have read a few chapters of this, but haven’t gotten to it lately, so it may be one of those books that takes me years to read.

Contestant number three is Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy.

I find the black with white crystals to be striking. However, the true beauty of this book is the inside.  It is a collection of short stories.  Meloy is one of my favorite authors.  She’s contemporary and truly gifted.

Contestant number four is Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros.

This book’s cover is colorful, like a Mexican fiesta.  I am drawn to the turquoise and red combination, and truly wish I could find some children’s bedding in those colors so my girls’ rooms could be as bright and lively as this cover.

Contestant number five is The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.

This is another leather-bound contender from Barnes and Noble.  Again, it has the blue and red combination, but with more dark tones.  I just got this one for Christmas last year, but I have not yet read it.  It is on the BBC book list, so I will be reading it soon.

Contestant number six is The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

I love the deep brown tones against the white on this book. Yes, it’s another fancy version from Barnes and Noble.  This book, although more beautiful in a masculine way, has it’s true beauty on the inside, which I wrote about here.

Contestant number seven is Mary and O’Neil by Justin Cronin.

I am again drawn to the cover of this one because of it’s colors.  The cool blue and sea green compliment each other nicely.  I also like the abstract portraits of the title characters.  It makes this contemporary book feel modern before even opening it.

Contestant number eight is Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple.

You already know of my love for Whipple, which I wrote about here.  And this book is one I have already dedicated a blog post to here.  However, the cover deserves it’s own recognition for the beauty of the woman the contrasting colors.  The poppy red and grey stand out to me as a brilliant combination.  Way to go, Persephone Books!

Contestant number nine is The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

She’s a little plainer than the others, but that peachy-tan cover is a perfect neutral in any room.  The contents of this book are what makes it special.  I first read this book in seventh grade and instantly declared it to be my favorite book.  It held that title for many years.  I felt so enthusiastic about it that I chose it for a school book report and even used quotes from it to adorn my writing portfolio that year.  The Good Earth went into seventeen printings in 1931, it’s publication date, and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932.

Our last contestant is number ten, Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann.

I like the colors on this book, the bright red against cream.  It also sports an interesting picture of a funambulist above the streets of New York.  The story is intricately woven, and addresses the issues of uncertainty, fear, terror, confusion, and brotherhood that we all felt on September 11, 2001, except it does so through the story of a tightrope walker who actually walked between the twin towers in 1974.  I was struck and emotionally moved by the author’s description at the end of the book of his father-in-law’s shoes, which sat in their hall covered with soot from the World Trade Center after that horrific day.  It won the National Book Award in 2009, and deservedly so.

On that sobering note, which of these “top ten” contestants deserves the title “Emily’s Most Beautiful Book”?   You be our panel of distinguished judges.  What’s your vote?  Let’s see who wins.



25 thoughts on “Let’s Judge Some Books by Their Covers: A Book “Beauty Pageant”

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  1. I LOVE this post — a clever and thoughtful way to focus on some great books. I just hate it on the design shows when they cover the books with plain paper or turn them backwards so the “colors” don’t show to ruin their design plan. Yuk.

  2. What a fun blog post! I love all your pictures and I love all your books – they’re beautiful!
    I looked at all the pictures and judged based on which cover most made me want to pick up the book and read it.
    #1 – Contestant number eight, Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple
    #2 – Contestant number five, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas
    #3 – Contestant number ten, Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
    Runner Up – Contestant number four, Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros

    1. That’s a good way to pick. Which one do you actually want to read after seeing the cover!?! Honestly, sometimes I skip books because their covers are drab or corny.

  3. Beauty is a very subjective thing! In the eyes of this beholder, I find “A Jury of her Peers” to be the most beautiful-looking of your books – the design on the cover is so crisp and inviting. My second choice would be “Let the Great World Spin”.

  4. 1. The Count of Monte Cristo – I’m biased here because I majored in French lit and have a soft spot for the story, but I think the gorgeous cover would draw me in anyway.
    2. Someone at a Distance – I love the reflective expression on her face and the choice of colour.
    3. A Jury of Her Peers – The silhouettes and bookends nicely highlight the theme of the book.

      1. Yep, I was pretty lucky. Four years of reading French lit, and I got to do the third year abroad in France. I had friends who majored in English and were able to go to Leeds for their third year, and that would have been wonderful, too.

  5. I’m so torn! It’s either A Jury of Her Peers and Caramelo….. graphically both are so engaging, so “I-want-to-read-you-able”. ok, ok, if I HAD to choose one, I’d go with A Jury of Her Peers, there’s a simplicity there that is very alluring. Fun post 🙂

  6. Judging the books by their covers, I’d like to read Let the Great World Spin followed by Caramelo.

  7. Before I can place my vote on which book deserves the title “Emily’s Most Beautiful Book”. I need to know if any of these book contestants have the talent of being a sock puppeteer. I have read on this blog that Jude the Obscure is an excellent sock puppeteer. BTW I’m your #1 blog fan.

  8. Based solely on which cover speaks to me….. I’d pick up The Picture of Dorian Gray. That cover is stunning. You know me. I’m all about the brown. =)

  9. I really like your blog and the reviews you give on books. This section is especially cool because I often find myself drawn to book covers depending on how they look. I’ve seen the Arabian Nights one and wondered if it was good so let me know when you get to read it ! 🙂 My page on here is http://www.muffinsandmocha.com . You are welcome to add me!

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