The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Book Club

The joys of judging a book by its cover
Photo by Delia Brandel

There aren’t many memories from high school I can recall with sharp clarity. However, there are a few that poke out from the depths of my mind. One of these special, shiny souvenirs took place in an English class. 

Four long years ago, my sophomore-year English teacher introduced herself as Ms. Byker. She was very new to teaching, even newer to the school, and her sweet disposition had not yet been weathered away by the Belvidere North High School student body. 

Ms. Byker was in the midst of giving her first day of school spiel, when she began lecturing my class on the importance of reading outside of school-assigned literature.

The room full of 15- and 16-year-olds wasn’t enthralled with this narrative. It was one they’d heard countless times, and despite the fact that each teacher approached the topic with a unique gaze, it always managed to bore.

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I pitied Ms. Byker’s sad eyes as she noted the eye rolls and heaved sighs echoing throughout the classroom, though I admired her commitment to battling through the obvious disinterest she was faced with.

Anxious to grab our attention, she began to delve into the books in the mini library she’d curated in her stuffy, windowless classroom. Ms. Byker held some of her favorites up and encouraged us to borrow her adored novels. Still, only a few students bothered to even look in her direction.

But then she challenged a cliche I’d heard hundreds of times in school over the years, and successfully swiveled nearly every student’s head in her direction. 

“I think sometimes you should judge books by their covers,” Ms. Byker said. “If an author made a halfhearted attempt on the cover of their book, why should you expect the inside of the book to be any better?”

I was baffled not only by the statement itself but perhaps even more so by her bravery in saying it aloud to a class full of students who seemed to have no interest in showing her a shred of respect.

Now, I’m not saying that I agree with this statement in its entirety. Too many confounding variables exist to prove Ms. Byker’s stance consistently valid.

Maybe the author didn’t have it in their budget to create a jaw-dropping cover or maybe their deadline put them in a position where they had to accept a suboptimal design. 

This story doesn’t exist to shame those authors, but rather to lift up the ones who excelled in the book cover category.  

There are undoubtedly plenty of wonderful books with hideous covers out there. On the other hand, there exists plenty of books with covers so lovely that they indicate the prose within is as intentional and glorious as the art that it’s wrapped in. 

In different words, judging a book by its cover shouldn’t always be viewed as some evil, forbidden idea. 

One book that I stumbled upon (in Costco of all places) ended up supporting Ms. Byker’s theory all too well. The novel in question was “The Stationery Shop” by Marjan Kamali, a colorful, informative and warm read. 

The captivating image on the front cover was adorned with brightly colored flowers and shiny, gold detailing. And dare I say, though the cover was one of the loveliest I’ve seen, Kamali’s pleasant writing put it to shame. I wholeheartedly encourage you to give it a read.

I owe it to Ms. Byker and Kamali’s “The Stationery Shop” for teaching me that judging a book by its cover can be an absolute delight.

O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

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