Could Do Better book tag

Something juicier than reviews today- I’ve been tagged to share some covers that could be better by Marija, who is the reigning queen of Judging Books By Their Covers content! At least two of her choices in this tag were the first titles that came to mind for me as well, so be sure to check out her spot-on answers! And for more Could Do Better cover fun, you can check out this youtube video filmed by the creator herself: CJ Reads.

And as an added challenge, I’m going to try to find books for each of these prompts that I’ve read and rated highly (4 or 5 stars), because while I do believe we can get useful information about whether or not we’ll like a book based on its cover appearance, sometimes a perfectly adequate and lovable book falls victim to subpar cover art and I want to focus on a few of those books today. So without further ado, the prompts:

Say it Don’t Spray it: cover with the most offensive use of type

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak

Something that I tend to dislike in title appearance is when the words are broken up so that the reader has to assemble it. I also do not like curved titles (and these curves are not uniform- why?!) or people on book covers in general (but that’s another matter). It’s got black AND white typeface but they’re close to the same size so the eye (my eye, at least) doesn’t know where to go. This title is also using the most obnoxiously boring font imaginable (it’s ranking right up there with comic sans for me). Furthermore, why are we highlighting the eye with that title placement? If this face is supposed to represent the MC… well, she’s dead, so a staring eye makes no sense, and the fact that the eye is YELLOW is making it impossible to ignore whatever weird orange washing is going on with the photo. An artful title might have gone some way toward making this cover more palatable, but alas.

She’s Serving Reese’s Book Club: cover with the most commercial book club energy

Actress

Actress by Anne Enright

When I think of book club covers, I think of images that are pretty in perhaps too obvious a way; often they seem to have contrasting colors, sort of abstract or symbolic images, something that maybe looks nice enough but really doesn’t give any hints as to what the book’s about. So, Actress. The only image we get here is half of a head, presumably the actress in question. Her red hair provides the color contrast with the green background, her expression is maybe supposed to entice us, but ultimately it doesn’t give us anything the title isn’t doing already (and again, people on covers just don’t work for me. They interfere with whatever image I might create in my own head of the characters). And then, that nebulous green background. What is that. My best guess is blurry background trees, like in portrait mode. It’s a nice enough color, but why are blurry trees 90% of the cover image? Just for the sake of the jewel-toned cover catching the most possible eyes on the shelf.

Yes Girl, Give Us Nothing!: cover with seemingly no energy put into it

Ninth House (Alex Stern, #1)

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

I actually really like this monochrome color scheme and have no beef with the font. But this cover gives us… nothing. A line between the title and the author’s name, and that generic YA book snake that has starred on so many covers it really deserves a proper name at this point. It is our pet, whether we like it or not. Admittedly it’s been at least half a year since I read this, but are there even any snakes in the book? There’s so much worldbuilding going on in Ninth House, with magic and secret societies and ghosts, and the dismantling of Harvard traditions is pretty enticing in itself; the design team really missed an opportunity in putting literally ANYTHING interesting on this cover. And sadly, as the first book in a series, I suspect that there will be some attempt at matching going on with future volumes so it’s especially disappointing knowing we’re doomed to more of this nothingness in the future, as well.

A Face Only a Mother Could Love: a cover that is so hideous, but the book is so good, you can’t help but keep it around

Her Body and Other Parties

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Perhaps a controversial opinion? This cover just does not work for me, but I want it to! It’s so close! And yet, for over a year I had this book on my shelf and could not even tell what the cover image was- I thought it was a floating red party dress, a bit disheveled, with a green snake coiled around it. What? It’s actually the musculature of a neck, with a green ribbon. I get it now. But it took me three stories beyond the green ribbon one in the book for me to figure it out! Probably I’m just dumb, but even knowing what it is, the skinniness of the green ribbon looks snakelike and repulsive to me, I’m sorry. Why is it not wider. Why is it floating. Why does the musculature just end at the collar, where are the shoulders. Why is the title divided into individual words and why is it directly on top of the only imagery we’re given. I don’t know. But I loved these stories, so it’s here to stay.

Take One Thing Off Before Leaving the House: cover that could use one less element

The Bass Rock

The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld

This is another one that I want to love. I like the color scheme a lot, and the cutouts in the black background. The face is striking, and I want to make an exception for it in my strict ‘no people on covers’ stance. Even the animals, fine. Except all together, it’s too much. The title and author hardly even seem to fit, like they’re an afterthought, and it bothers me that the background scenery is continuous in all of the cutouts but the people and animals don’t extend past individual cutouts. I get how that fits with the premise of the book, with so many lives layered on top of this one unchanging place, but it doesn’t work visually for me as well as it works thematically. I keep thinking the girl is just a head with a whale tail and the fox is growling at her and the rest of the whale (or shark? I believe there’s only a whale in the book but the image looks shark-like to me) is just flying through the air, disembodied. There’s just too much going on to really appeal.

Hypebeast: cover that is clearly going for all the trends at the same time

Mexican Gothic

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate this one. But it just screams “I want to be popular!” It’s got florals. It’s got print. It’s got a person, in that recently popular way where some part of the face is obscured or out of frame. It’s got a vintage dress. It’s got contrasting colors, managing to be simultaneously dark and bright. It’s got a blurb right on the front so you can be reassured that people are loving this one. It mentions more of the author’s work under her name, to draw you in with another title you might’ve heard of and maybe even already enjoyed. It just really doesn’t want to be overlooked! And it hasn’t been, evidenced by that “New York Times Bestseller” line stamped proudly across the middle, so clearly adhering to cover trends works. Apparently we really are that easy to please.

My Bonus: No Explanation Necessary!

Because I’ve run out of prompts before bad covers, here are a few extras I’ve disliked in the last year (including some with lower personal ratings) that I think speak for themselves, for your viewing displeasure!

Redhead by the Side of the Road
Call Down the Hawk (Dreamer Trilogy, #1)
Midnight Sun (Twilight, #5)
Mother Daughter Widow Wife
Red at the Bone
A Crime in the Neighborhood

Tagging: anyone who wants to participate! I’ve got another book tag coming up soon so I’ll leave this one open-ended, but if you decide to join in the cover-judging fun please link back to my post so I can see the covers you’ve hated!

And just a reminder that this is all in fun and completely subjective; if you’ve loved covers I’ve mentioned disliking here, it’s totally your right to do so and I’ve got no complaint against it. Let me know below if you agree or disagree about any of these covers!

The Literary Elephant

26 thoughts on “Could Do Better book tag”

    1. Yay, I’m glad I’m not alone! I’m kind of over the black-and-white-photo-cover trend too, but the UK cover of Actress really is preferable in this case. At least there’s a bit of artistry and intrigue to it, which is more than I can say for the US version!

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    1. Lol, I’m so glad I wasn’t the only one seeing it as a dress! I think with “parties” in the title our brains just go right to party dresses… I really said “oh wait!” out loud to myself when I eventually spotted the neck, haha!

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  1. Ha, this is a brilliant tag! I usually prefer US covers to UK ones, but you’ve managed to find some definite exceptions. The UK cover for Actress is genius https://www.waterstones.com/book/actress/anne-enright/9781787332065 (in fact I think it sells the book too well given that I didn’t really get on with it) as is the UK Her Body and Other Parties https://www.waterstones.com/book/her-body-and-other-parties/carmen-maria-machado/9781781259535 (it took me a while to clock the green ribbon!). Unfortunately we were stuck with the same boring cover for Red at the Bone.

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    1. Thanks, it’s definitely a fun one I’d like to see around more often! There are some cases where I like the UK covers better, and Actress and Her Body are two very strong instances of that, haha. I wouldn’t have minded Red at the Bone so much if not for the bright orange, I think. The random background shapes are indeed boring but for me it’s the orange going against the rest of the color scheme that almost hurts to look at!

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      1. I enjoyed it while reading, but found it incredibly forgettable almost as soon as I’d finished, so I’d have to agree there!

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  2. “It is our pet, whether we like it or not.” LOL, Emily. It’s like when people leave their window open at night and find themselves the owner of a rando cat that climbed in and gave birth.

    I will say I also thought the cover of Machado’s book was a party dress and ribbon. I had to work super hard to even see the neck you mentioned, but when I did, it seemed obvious. They should have colored in some flesh tone and had it dissolve to muscle, or something.

    This post was a hoot and showed a lot of personality. ๐Ÿ˜‚

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    1. Haha, exactly! There’s no escaping the YA book snake, it has infiltrated our lives and is apparently here to stay.

      That’s such a relief, I knew it had to be a neck once I’d read the story and really looked at the cover, but for so long I could only see a red party dress! The word “parties” in the title probably makes the brain go that way, too. Maybe if the neck wasn’t at such a funny angle? Some flesh would definitely have helped.

      Thanks so much, I haven’t done a tag in a while and it was fun to put together! I know you don’t do book tags often, but you should give it a go if you’re interested, I’d love to see more cover complaints!

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      1. I think for the tag you could use any books you’ve seen in any context, I just went with books I’ve read to narrow the field a bit. But no worries, if covers aren’t something you focus on that’s probably a great approach to reading, actually! No matter how young we are when we’re told not to judge books by their covers I have the sense most everyone does it, at least to some extent, even if it is unfair.

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      2. When I took children’s lit in grad school I learned that most cover artists don’t read the book (there’s not enough time), so they create the cover based on trends and a brief synopsis, which may emphasize aspects of the novel that aren’t even important. Thus, you get some wacky covers. I was told the book Weetzie Bat has had some of the worst treatment.

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      3. I did know that cover artists don’t tend to read the books, which makes sense but really is a shame- I imagine good artists could take a lot from the stories and come up with fantastic covers! I bet they’d sell better… Maybe the world just needs more cover artists.
        I had not heard of Weetzie Bat but just looked it up and it does look like it’s been through some unfortunate covers!

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  3. A fun post! I particularly agree on 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World. The cover is complete nonsense, in my view. You are right, we are supposed to be reading about a dead person who reflects now with her mind and soul and does not see with her eyes anymore. Very strange, and one explanation that I can think of is that it looks feminine and, by the looks of it, should have messages in support of women inside. Though I probably only say that because I read the book. In all honesty, if I didn’t know anything about this book, from the cover I would have had this wild guess that it is some not-very-good romance novel, probably from China, maybe about concubines. That’s how far away the cover is from the content inside.

    The Midnight Sun cover is also atrocious, I think. I did not read the book, but it looks as though it is something truly cheap and nonsensical, which I am sure it is not really. I personally would never read a book with that pomegranate (and I hope it forms part of the story, at least!). I also agree that the Mexican Gothic cover looks like it is trying too hard to be liked.

    I don’t think the Ninth House cover looks too bad (though it is much worse if the story does not have snakes). Sometimes I love “minimalist” book covers, though, even to the point where there is nothing but a black background and an author’s name and title in silver or other colour. It is as though they are saying that they do not need any bold or original front cover design or splashes of colour to state their message or be picked up, and the name of the author, their story and the prose inside speak for themselves. The examples which I love are those first two Donna Tartt books where there are just black covers and book titles (well, maybe there is one small snake there too! but The Little Friend is about snakes too!). French publications are also notorious for ignoring what the rest of the world is doing with covers and produce their own “boring” and “uninspiring” book covers. I constantly read how France is much criticised for that.

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    1. Thanks so much! ๐Ÿ™‚

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who finds 10 Minutes 38 Seconds absurd. I could see it maybe being a bad romance novel too, and if I hadn’t been *really* interested in the premise I would never have picked it up based on the cover, even in the hopes of finding some feminism inside.

      There is indeed mention of a pomegranate in Midnight Sun, although it’s symbolic rather than literal and pretty heavy-handed. Even so, the cover is indeed atrocious, I keep thinking it looks vaguely skull-like, and it doesn’t quite fit the red/black/white color scheme she had going with the rest of the series, so odd all around. Meyer had a chance to step into 2020 with that series but from the cover alone you can see she chose to stay in 2005.

      Ninth House really is not painful to look at, and I also like some very minimalist covers! I like having a little more than just the text, but there’s definitely an appeal to having a clean, sleek look to make you wonder what’s behind the cover rather than very cluttered packaging giving too much away. The only reason the Ninth House cover bothers me is that it really does not reflect the content of the book at all imo, and even if there are snakes mentioned somewhere in the book (it’s been just a little too long for me to say for sure, but they definitely weren’t a major component if they were there) that snake image has been copy/pasted onto so many fantasy covers in the last couple of years that it feels like a joke at this point. ‘Boring’ at least leaves room for imagination, but stock images seem like a step too far in the wrong direction, so perhaps the French have it right!

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      1. “Meyer had a chance to step into 2020 with that series but from the cover alone you can see she chose to stay in 2005” – Very well said! And, yes, perhaps, the French do have a point. That single-minded pursuit of beautiful and “symbolic” book covers and all related aesthetics, which Instagram also fuels, can really go overboard in the media and we can forget that that it is the books we are talking about and not paintings or photos in an art gallery ๐Ÿ™‚

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      2. That’s very true! There’s certainly an adjacent book community made up of people who may or may not be readers but are avid collectors of books as art objects, meant to look a certain way on shelves and not really be opened at all. As much as I love books that kind of collecting always horrifies me a little; I can be just as drawn to a beautiful book as the next person, but part of the appeal is also the functionality of them, at least in my mind. A shelf of unread books no matter how aesthetically pleasing is always going to be a little sad to me- having them read, their ideas discovered, seems part of what lends them their beauty, and the books-as-art crowd seems to miss that aspect of it at times.

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  4. I did not get that the Machado cover was a neck. Even after you said that I still had to look at it for a solid ten seconds. I think the ribbon is too rounded, thatโ€™s why it looks like a snake. My book cover pet peeve is covers with a person (usually a woman) facing away, so itโ€™s like youโ€™re standing behind them. Once, while working at a bookstore, my coworker and I made an entire window display of books with that same cover style.

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    1. The ribbon around the neck is a clever idea that fits the book, but the visual really doesn’t seem to be as effective as the concept! Lots of people in the comments are agreeing that they didn’t see it was a neck- I feel better knowing I wasn’t the only one missing it! And I think you’re right about the roundness of the ribbon making it look snakelike. So odd.

      I think people on covers in general is a trend many readers dislike, and I wonder if the recent style of covering the face or cutting part of it out of frame is the first sign that the designers have finally heard the complaints. There are occasionally exceptions for me but I really would not miss human figures being cut out of cover images altogether. The woman glimpsed from behind does seem to be particularly common, and it annoys me as well- it centers the viewer as the active participant and reinforces the woman as an object for others’ viewing pleasure, which is frustrating. It’s also just so overdone! I’m not surprised to hear you were able to fill a whole window with those covers, but I am curious- did it work? Is it a trend that sells well, somehow?

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      1. I like when the story illuminates the cover but the cover shouldn’t be incomprehensible without first reading the book!

        I don’t think we sold more books because of the display but I would say that books with those covers tend to be of a certain type and it helped to gather them together. We also once did a display of books with titles that described a woman in relation to a man (The Magician’s Assistant, The Memory-Keeper’s Daughter, etc.)

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      2. Agreed!

        That’s an interesting point, those woman-facing-away books do tend to have some similarities in type and tone, so grouping them probably does help readers to find new titles if that’s what they’re looking for. I expect there might be a little more variety of content in woman-in-relation-to-a-man books, but that’s a clever idea for grouping and sounds like it would make for an interesting display!

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  5. Ahhh I am really glad you did this, loved reading your answers! The Actress cover is so ugly??? It looks homemade ๐Ÿ˜‚ i can join in and say I had no idea that was a neck. I also love that you added bonus ones (Anne Tyler one is NOT it), but I LOVE the Robin Wasserman one ๐Ÿ˜

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    1. I couldn’t resist! ๐Ÿ™‚
      Ditto on Actress looking homemade, and it really is a relief I wasn’t the only one who had trouble seeing the neck on the Machado! The Anne Tyler is… aggressively boring, imo. And lol on Wasserman! I actually liked the color scheme a lot at first, but the more I looked at it while I was reading, the three different fonts of the title started bothering me and the cover is all text so there was no distraction from it! But I ended up not liking the book as much as I’d hoped, so I was probably just biased on that one, haha. I’m glad it suits you better!

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