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Don’t judge a book by its cover–literally

Don’t judge a book by its cover–literally

So, apparently, when men ask for less girly covers, authors and artists hear them. (Read the link.)

I think it’s pretty cool that guys want to read “girly” books, and sensible that they want to read them without fear of judgment. The funny thing is, as a woman, so do I.

Take for instance the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs. Most of the covers have a woman somewhat scantily clad, with cleavage or underboob (and sometimes both) showing. She only occasionally holds a tool of her trade (car mechanic), and when she does, it looks far more suggestive of *ahem* adult funtimes than of “I’m actually a decent mechanic”.

Now, if Mercy was a seductress who allowed payment in sex for mechanical services rendered, I’d understand the covers.

But she’s not.

She’s a freakin’ shapeshifter, and I’m pretty sure she is described quite clearly as wearing the same sort of coverall that most mechanics wear. Because, you know, car maintenance is messy. A few strategically placed smudges of oil and grease, along with some tousled hair, might conjure a sexy image, but in reality, after I’ve done maintenance (yup, little white girl can change her own oil and tires, thanks very much), I want nothing more than to take a shower because my hair is frizzy, and the crap I get on me is really, really hard to take off, and smells horrible.

Don’t get me wrong—Mercy is supposed to be attractive. I don’t mind her being portrayed as such, but there’s a huge cognitive dissonance in that for me, especially because in one of the books, Mercy is assaulted by a guy because he thinks she’s hot and that she’s interested, but she’s not interested in him. It was pretty heart-wrenching to read. I mean, the woman doesn’t flaunt her looks, but even if she did, that still wouldn’t change how I feel—I wouldn’t think she deserved it or anything because she’s hot.

Sex at all is kept to a minimum in the books, though I will admit that there is a romance or two that takes place. Other than that, the books are dedicated to solving mysteries within the community of mystical creatures and testing the bonds between people.

Interestingly enough, the UK covers are much less racy than their US counterparts. If you do a quick search on Amazon’s UK site, you can see the difference immediately. I much prefer those covers. They have the more mysterious, adventurous feeling about them that the books are supposed to have. (For the record, if a book is based around sex, I have no problem with it having a sexy—or “sexy”.)

But it’s interesting, isn’t it? And hard to deal with—we all have a different idea of what the cover for a book should look like, but we’re drawn to certain ones regardless. It is hard to get someone interested without a gripping cover, but covers can be gripping without the hint of sex. They can also be gripping to their target audience without catering to the “normal” tastes of one demographic or the other.

But there’s also the problem of thinking that we can’t or shouldn’t read books because of their covers. I totally get not wanting to read a book in public because it’s got a disturbing cover, but why should we judge guys who read books with “pretty” covers or girls who read slasher novels? Books are supposed to take you away to a different place, and not one where you’re worried about what people around you think of you.

I’m not going to go on a full-fledged rant about gender roles in society here, because that would get messy. Suffice it to say, book covers are strange, strange things, and some of them could be done a hell of a lot better. Also, they reflect gender issues in society.

That is all.

(Well, not really, but… yeah. Stopping now.)


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