Thursday, February 23, 2017

You Can't Tell A Book By It's Title... Or Can You?

There is one award winning author who has quite a bit to say on that subject. Jhumpa Lahiri has written a small book titled, The Clothing of Books, on the subject.  It truly is a small book, 4.5 inches by 6.5 inches and 62 pages long. Don't be deceived by the size, she has a lot to say and reading it is well worth your time. I admit I took it out of the library. I also admit I will own it very soon.

I never would have believed that a story about wearing school uniforms could be linked to the cover of a book. But that is how this book opens and, from this author's perspective, it makes perfect sense. In many ways your personal identity is covered by the uniform. Whatever the uniform you wear it is chosen for you by someone else. It does not represent who you are. You appear to the world in a manner decided for you. So is, she shares with us, the cover of your book. Authors do not select the covers for the books they write. It appears they do not have much of a voice in any part of the original decision. Not the selection of the artist, the layout, or the wording. They may ask for changes but that does not appear to happen very often. Someone else is selecting the 'clothing' for the 'body' you have created.

It is possible that the artist had the response to what you had written that you, the author, had hoped for. But what if the interpretation does not come close the reaction hoped for as the book was completed. What if it gives away what the author had hoped would be a message or even a secret that would emerge quite late in the book? How painful that must be when you have struggled long and hard to tell a story and you look at the cover with great sadness and disappointment.  As Ms. Lahiri says in her book, "But what is wrapped around my words -- my book covers-- is not of my choosing,"(p.10)

Her discussion of the role of the cover on any book is very thoughtful. As a reader it gave me a new insight into how an author might feel. Following along with this author's thoughts when first seeing a new book made me think, in new ways, about the author's personal responses. She talks about the realization that the book is really finished, that it had been read by others not involved in the editing/rewriting process. It had been read by strangers and judged by them.

 As I read her words I had to reflect back on my own book selection process. I had never really wondered what influence the covers displayed in a bookshop had on my process of book selection. One question that was not answered was who wrote the inside cover 'blurb'. Would it have made a difference if it was the publisher, the cover designer, the author writing it was influencing my choice?

I can't answer that question.  Ms. Lahiri reflects on the many book she has read over the years that have no summary blurb, no author photograph, no author biography or list of awards. Ah, another piece of my own book selection process comes to mind. Do I want to continue to go through that process or do I want the book to stand alone, on its merits, letting the author be the only person that influences my response to the book.

Jhumpa Lahiri then takes us into her home and describes the role of covers in her own world, on the books of others that sit on her shelves. Her unique way of displaying her book collection will also provide new ways to think about your own library. This is the first of Lahiri's books that I have read. It will not be the last. The Clothing of Books is back to the library and on order from my local bookstore. I need to read this again and again. The Namesake is sitting on my desk. I purchased it  after looking only at the cover, the title and the name of the author. I have not read the inner flap or the back information. I will start the book without doing so. And I am most certainly looking forward to it.

LAHIRI, JHUMPA. CLOTHING OF BOOKS. New York: Vintage : A Division of Penguin Random House LLC, 2015,2016. Print. Translated from the Italian by Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush

No comments: