Do you judge a book by its cover?

rivers of london

Recently I was made to ponder this question, and found that in my case the answer is clearly “yes”! But let me backtrack a bit. How do you choose what book to read? I’m sure that 99% of people do what I usually do, which is to either read a book that has been recommended by a friend or in a book review, or is by an author that I know and like, or simply by picking up the book attracted by its cover and then by reading the blurb on the back of the book. It’s a bit harder to do this with electronic book readers like a kindle, but the latest versions show the book cover in picture format and have the blurb on the back there too. And book covers tend to be very type-specific too; chic-lit books often have a cutesy cartoon image of a sassy young woman and curly writing in pink or purple, whereas books like Andy McNab’s SAS books often have embossed covers and a strong picture of a soldier or weapons on the front, etc. You can immediately see what type of book it is and make an instant judgement on whether you will enjoy it or not.

For the last couple of years I have sporadically attended a book club at my local Waterstone’s shop – sporadically because I work shifts and so often am not available on book club night. But I also have to admit that if I really don’t fancy the chosen book I will sometimes give that month a miss. Life is too short to waste reading something that you don’t enjoy, right? And I’m not very good at number 4 on this advice on how to read more (if you aren’t enjoying a book stop reading it immediately) so often will prefer simply not to start it if I think I’m not going to enjoy it.

Because I miss book club so often, I usually find out which book has been chosen for the month by email. And the book chosen for March was Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch. I had not heard of this book, or the author, but had a dim recollection at the back of my mind that someone had written a non-fiction book about London’s underground rivers, and thought that this was the book. The cover showed a map with the distinctive Thames and the words “In the heart of the capital a different world hides”, which only seemed to support my theory that this was a book about subterranean rivers! I was due to go on holiday and was in the process of loading my kindle with holiday reading material so thought I would add this to my list. And then found that it was in the fiction not non-fiction section. But I just downloaded it to my kindle without reading about what the book was about.

And in the heat of Sri Lanka on holiday I started to read it. The first page got right into the story with a murder that had been committed in Covent Garden and took the viewpoint of the young probationer constable who had been given the unenviable task of spending hours manning the police cordon whilst the murder investigation team detectives set about investigating the murder. So, a crime novel then. I enjoy a good crime drama and so settled into my hammock to read on. But then a little way into the novel things got a bit weird. There was a witness to the murder who was a ghost, and a wizard appeared. At this point I started to get annoyed and angry as I realised the book was a sort of Harry Potter / Buffy the Vampire Slayer type of fantasy book. Now fantasy is not a genre that I have any interest in reading, and I would never knowingly buy and read a book in this genre, so I felt a bit duped. But as I had bought it and started it I thought I might as well read on and struggle through it so that I could go to book club and talk about it. And then as I read on, much to my surprise I found myself hooked, and eagerly wanting to carry on with the next chapter.

It’s an easy read, which is just what you want on holiday. There are some really annoying bits of it, but it is quite funny and entertaining and quite fast-paced. And in the end I actually enjoyed it which was a complete surprise to me, so much so that I’m now considering buying the next book in the series. Looking back at the cover I realise that if I had looked closely at the little diagrams lining the river, I might have picked up a few clues about the contents. But certainly, if I had done so, or had read the blurb and realised what it was about, I would never have read it and that would be a shame – I think I would have missed out.

So, do you judge a book by it’s cover? Well yes, but that’s not always a good thing as then our natural prejudices come into play and we may well miss out on something enjoyable. I’ve certainly decided I need to try to have a more open mind when deciding what to read in he future which can only be a good thing.



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