Judging a book by its cover…

I am not afraid to admit that I do judge books by their covers!  I can’t help but disagree with the ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ advice. I like to think about the illustrator, and the hard work they put into producing designs for book covers. I love the fact that writing and graphic design are industries that consistently support one another. In terms of the contents of the book, of course you cannot judge its merit on the cover alone, but until you’ve read the book, sometimes the cover is the deciding factor if you have too much choice (let’s face it). Perhaps judging a book by a cover is appreciating the book as an aesthetic treasure as well as a writing feat?  I also admit, if a book has an awfully displeasing cover, I will have to be talked into buying it. I can’t help but judge an author (only if they’re still alive obviously) upon how much time and attention they’ve put into choosing the right cover; after all, their book is product that will benefit from diligent marketing. To me when an author is conscientious of what cover will grace their book, it is then graced with a somewhat endearing sense of pride making it all the more attractive to the potential reader.
When you are in a bookshop and faced with hundreds, if not thousands, of books, judging a book by its cover can simply be the most effective way to whittle down your choices. Of course I completely agree that you should never judge an individual by their ‘cover’ as this would effectively be agreeing that someone can be defined by their circumstance, which is SO wrong. However, I’m merely suggesting that as far as books are concerned, I do enjoy having books on my shelf that look handsome and frame the story with the air of achievement any author deserves for their art. 
So… here are some of my favorite book covers:

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Will I Ever Be Able to ‘work out’ Dick Diver?


I’m not going to deny that Tender is The Night isn’t without its flaws (compared to The Great Gatsby) it took Fitzgerald nine years to write, yet arguably it reads as though it were still in draft state. However, I actually think that such flaws are appropriate! After all, the novel is all about flaws. Initially everything seems overtly romantic, idyllic! Between the settings of the French Riviera littered with gorgeous couples with glamorous names, and the title of the novel, taken from Keats ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ an expectation for the devastatingly beautiful romance we know Fitzgerald masters is certainly put in place. Yet, below the surface of the title, and below the surface of the characters, there is darkness, secrets, infidelity, and devastating personality flaws.

Out of all the characters, Dick Diver frustrates me the most. I just cannot work out who he is, or why he behaves the way he does. However, I do know that I can’t help but have an annoying sympathy for him. It feels ridiculous to have any sympathy for Dick, he spends most of his time in the novel in an alcoholic stupor making it difficult to fully understand and engage with his character, and he is unfaithful to his wife. That said, I was still almost reduced to tears by him. I see Dick as a deeply troubled, perhaps even a reflection of Fitzgerald himself, I see him as a man who cannot bear himself. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I excuse infidelity. However, I think that I only came to the conclusion that Dick has such a dark relationship with himself, because of his behavior. Rosemary Hoyt is 18, and Dick is a married man twice her age. It is interesting to analyze exactly how he reacts to her instantly falling for him. It is most interesting that initially he doesn’t entertain her advances, he’s married and she’s just a ‘naïve child’ compared to him. Yet, it really isn’t long before this changes, and before he quickly lets his ego take over. This makes me question whether his alcoholism and infidelity are ‘cries for help’ ( I suppose I like the irony of the psychiatrist who turns out to be the most mentally damaged) or whether he is in fact simply demeaning and disrespectful to women.

My interpretation of the sudden change in his course of action with Rosemary is that it is indicative of someone battling inner demons. The fact that his wife is also his mental patient makes it all so much worse. As a psychiatrist, one would expect Dick’s character to be the sanest; they may read his infidelity as being a selfish action by a selfish man. However, I still believe that Dick is possibly the most mentally troubled character in the novel. Spiraling deeper into alcoholism, he spends more and more time drunk, his prose becomes difficult to follow, his actions contradict. I suppose I also feel sympathy towards Dick because if I consider him as being ill, I can accept the way in which he can be seen to use women. Perhaps I’m deluding myself, and Fitzgerald has given us a character we are supposed to hate and that’s that. However, arguably he only married his wife because her mental illness provided him with the opportunity to write the psychiatry manual, that was his life’s most successful work. In terms of Rosemary, perhaps their affair was not purely blamable on Rosemary’s naïve behavior driven by an infatuation that blinded her morally. Perhaps Dick was using Rosemary as an ego boost, a validation of his virility? Who knows? Even so, I struggle to work out whether I despise him, or whether I feel sorry for him. Maybe I’m infatuated by him! (not that I get that emotionally invested in novels I read…).

Even if the novel has flaws, and even if the characters are flawed and they contradict. I am still in love with the novel, and its challenged. Tender is The Night certainly doesn’t disappoint in terms of providing a rare and exquisite type of romance that glistens from every page. The moment whereby Rosemary instantly falls for Dick on the beach illustrates how magically Fitzgerald crafted and weaved words.

“He looked at her and for a moment she lived in the bright blue worlds of his eyes, eagerly and confidently”

“Everyone is a reader… some just haven’t found their favourite book yet”

Everyone is a reader some just haven't found their favorite book yet

I find myself deeply frustrated when I ask someone what their favourite book is or what authors they like to read and they reply something along the lines of “I don’t like reading, it’s not for me” or even worse, “reading bores me”. Before I start, let me just note that my frustration does not come from a pretentious place. In fact quite oppositely it comes from a place of sympathy, for I really do believe that there is the ideal book out there for any and every one. I study English, 90% of my life is centred around books and reading, but there was an experience I had to have, that I believe everyone can have, in order to realise I was in fact a keen reader. This experience is not the first book you read, but the first time you read a book and it shifts you, and places you in this space whereby all you want to do is think and think, you have tons of ideas, passions, opinions etc. and they are simultaneously all consuming and all addictive; it’s kaleidoscopic.

After you find your favourite book you will want to read more and more! It gets you onside, it convinces you that reading is too enriching an experience to deny yourself. When you read you are introduced to places, ideas, emotional spaces, characters and philosophical depths that you may not otherwise get to spend time with and learn about. Of course it is impossible to enjoy every book you read, but when you read a book and you dislike it you can enjoy exploring the reasons why. Why did that character annoy you? And what does that tell you about your own character? Reading encourages you to be self-reflective and to meditate upon questions of selfhood, which are imperative things to do in order to have a healthy relationship with yourself.

(Okay I can’t stop myself, cue a delve into the benefits of reading…) Reading makes you a wittier person. When reading you enter a form of dialogue with the characters yes, but also with the imagery, the lexis, even the syntax. As you analyse and judge the merit of this book you are also perhaps unknowingly becoming a faster thinker. In those moments whereby you disagree with a character, or you notice something that intrigues you about the way they see the world and from your facial expression as you read on, you notice yourself reacting, you’re animated with strong opinions. Even if it doesn’t help you to sharpen your own wit, reading does provide a lovely little opportunity to ‘borrow’ certain witty statements from the characters you come across and slip them into your non-fictional conversations. As well as broadening your vocabulary almost sub-consciously.
Whether you read to study, or read as a hobby, reading is company and to be honest yes we shouldn’t read just for entertainment but sometimes we do and its okay, it’s comforting. Just think about the amount of voices you can access from reading a book. You have the narrator’s time and attention and they have yours. Whether you read poetry, short stories, novels, or even a daily column, you are a reader and even if it takes a really long time, I encourage you to persevere and I can almost promise that you and your favourite book will meet in the kaleidoscopic moment that results from the challenge of establishing your individual reading style.

A few suggestions (of varying genres):
Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte (I first read this at 17 and had read a lot before it. However, this was definitely that book that had a kaleidoscopic effect of me! First of all I felt compelled to read it all over again straight afterwards! And second of all, it was the first time I had read a book and broke down into tears, the sadness of which lasting for days! …but obviously I’m not suggesting that your favourite book should be judged on the tears you shed.)
Peter Pan, J.M Barrie
David Copperfield, Charles Dickens (for those that have a lot of time it is definitely worth it, the characterisation is fascinating)
The Plague, Albert Camus
One Day, David Nicholls
Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
Nights at the Circus, Angela Carter
Enduring Love, Ian McEwan
Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen
Tender is The Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
Watership Down, Richard Adams
Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
The Five People You Meet In Heaven, Mitch Albom
The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle
The Sense of An Ending, Julian Barnes
Me Before You, Jo Jo Moyes (for those that want the floods-of-tears moment)
Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
The Outsider, Albert Camus
The Child in Time, Ian McEwan
The Forrests, Emily Perkins
The Silver Sword, Ian Serrilier
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
Dubliners, James Joyce (fantastic short stories)
The Butterfly Lion, Michael Morpurgo (never rule out children’s literature as an adult)

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