Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Judging a Cover by Its Book

This just received from Ryan Christiansen at New Rivers Press: the cover art for my novel, sized for e-book sales at the unusual (to my eye) proportions of 1562 X 2500 pixels.

Seeing what was once a daydream made digitally concrete made me wonder how I should describe, in casual conversation, what the book is really about. When I was writing it, I used to say it was about a woman's search for sperm. That summary still holds, more or less, although it's not immediately apparent from this image.

Of course, many of us don't use the cover to choose what we read. The two books on the top of my pile at the moment are Clarice Lispector's The Hour of the Star and A. St. J. MacDonald's Circumventing the Mahseer and Other Sporting Fish in India and Burma.

Originally published in 1977, The Hour of the Star was translated from the Portuguese by Benjamin Moser in 2011. The book is very short and very fine. Some of the sentences are so odd that they defy memorization. Others, like this one, have a sort of fractured indelibility:

Because she needed to find herself and suffering a little is a way of finding.

MacDonald's book was first published in 1948 and contains many of the worst notions of empire-builders and so-called sportsmen, with no distinction made between catching and killing and little sense of either limit or proportion. Page 81 includes this advice:

There is no better way of meeting the local people than to talk to them in their own homes about sport and their crops. Play the gramophone to them, dress their sores, give the children a few sweets, and keep both ears open for local ideas. The primitive people, such as one usually meets on a fishing trip, are largely dependent on their wits for fish and flesh, and have experience handed down to them for generations. Exploit and adapt their suggestions and ideas, and with your own knowledge you can very soon arrive at a killing method.

Until today, I had never really wondered how readers discovered such books (other than by lucky chance), or how they might find mine. Another reason to be grateful for publishers . . .

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