Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover?

One of my bookshelves

One of my bookshelves

I recently had a friend accuse me of “judging a book by its cover” and I would like to explain what is wrong with this cliche.

First: It is obvious that the only way to accurately judge a book is by reading it. HOWEVER, since there are exactly 42.7 gazillion books in the known universe, and since I can not read them all or even read a significant portion of them, I must somehow choose which of those books to read.

I have several tools I use to make those choices:

  • I do in fact use a book’s cover as one of the ways of deciding to read a book. Why do you think they bother to put covers on books? The purpose is to entice you to purchase and read the book. The front cover gives you the title, author and a very brief idea of what the book is about. Those are necessary, but usually not sufficient bits of information. The back cover usually has recommendations by other authors or experts. I generally look at WHO is recommending the book rather than what they say since only positive recommendations are ever given. Then the inside flap gives a summary of the actual book. All of these are useful in making a choice of whether to purchase or read a book. Is the book by an author whose work I have previously enjoyed? Is the title intriguing? Is the genre one I find interesting? Is the actual subject of the book something that peaks my interest? Saying not to judge a book by its cover eliminates a helpful tool useful in deciding whether to read/purchase a book.
  • I value the recommendations of friends who know what books I tend to enjoy.
  • I read the book’s reviews on Amazon. I always look for the most highly rated positive reviews and the most highly rated negative reviews to try and get a feel for a book.
  • I listen weekly to several book oriented podcasts and often select books based on the comments and opinions they have about books they have read and recommend. In particular, I find value in the podcast about general fiction called Professional Book Nerds and on sci-fi and fantasy books from the podcast Sword and Laser. There are other good ones, but these two are among my favorites.

As a man who will turn 61 next month, I have become aware that my time to read books is bounded. I have therefore put a high value on choosing which books to read, and even more difficult, which of the books I have begun are worth finishing.

Actually dumping a book – not finishing a book i’ve started – is something that has been very hard for me. Maybe it’s OCD, or some other malady, but i have a compulsion to continue plodding through a book which simply isn’t holding my interest. Nevertheless, in the past year or so, i’ve begun to be more ruthless about moving on from a book that isn’t doing anything for me either in an entertaining way, or isn’t providing a useful perspective or information.

I have enough unread books on my bookshelves to last me several years, yet I continue to purchase more books. There simply are far too many great books waiting out there to be read to waste time on books which aren’t (to me at least) great. I have found that there is value in judging which books to purchase and read, in part at least, by their covers.

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Books About Books

One of my bookshelves

One of my bookshelves

Because i won’t be teaching on the Epistles of John this Sunday due to Mother’s Day, i want to post this for all my bibliophile friends.

I love books. It’s an irrational thing. I enjoy reading them, but i actually LOVE just having them. I love seeing them lined up on my bookshelves. I dream about having a library room with wall to wall books. The thing is, i have more books than i am likely to ever be able to read, and still, i continue to buy them and put them on my bookshelves. I often justify this in my mind by thinking i will leave my sons and grandson a wonderful library. However, they’ve never actually expressed a desire for a wonderful library. My oldest son, Mike, has a similar taste in books to mine. My younger son, Aaron, is not wildly crazy about books, but if a book is on a topic he is really interested in, he will devour it (he doesn’t like people to know that). I take great joy in passing along my love of books to my sons and grandson.

eBooks vs Physical Books

I own more ebooks than i do actual physical books. Because of my Bible software Logos and because of iBooks and Kindle, I have more than 4,000 ebooks. I would guess that if i counted the books on my 4 bookshelves and those in boxes in the garage, i would have around 1,000 actual physical books. I have a prejudice. eBooks are easier on my eyes to read, they don’t take up ANY room in the real world, and you can carry them all with you wherever you go. And i’m not even going to mention how much work moving a thousand physical books is whenever you relocate your residence.

Nevertheless, i very much, vastly, passionately, and intensely prefer physical books which i can hold in my hand and look at sitting on their shelves. It makes no sense. Actual books have fixed fonts which i can’t make larger by tapping a setting. They are hard on my eyes and give me headaches. Holding them for hours (at least the hardbacks) drains me physically and makes my arms and hands hurt. It simply isn’t rational, yet i love real books more than digital books.

Recommendations from My Library

This post is my recommendation for you of Books About Books. It’s not a popular genre. You won’t find a section in Barnes and Noble full of books about books. Nevertheless, for a bibliophile, it’s a genre worth indulging. Below are 5 books i recommend with descriptions and links to them on Goodreads. If you love books, you should set up an account on Goodreads (it’s free), and when you do, please friend me there.

Here we go!

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader 

Ex LibrisI finished reading this book by Ann Fadiman last week. It consists of essays she wrote over a number of years about books and reading. Here’s a link to the book on Goodreads followed by a description:

Ex Libris on goodreads

Anne Fadiman is–by her own admission–the sort of person who learned about sex from her father’s copy of Fanny Hill, whose husband buys her 19 pounds of dusty books for her birthday, and who once found herself poring over her roommate’s 1974 Toyota Corolla manual because it was the only written material in the apartment that she had not read at least twice.

How to Read a Book

How to Read a BookThis is a highly regarded and recommended book which i’ve wanted to read for many years. The book has a subtitle: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading. Last week someone at church brought a box of books in free for the taking and a pristine, unread copy of this book by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren was in the box. I instantly grabbed it. I haven’t started it yet, but just the heading of the first chapter lets me know that it’s going to be great: The Activity and Art of Reading.

How to Read a Book on goodreads

How to Read a Book, originally published in 1940, has become a rare phenomenon, a living classic. It is the best and most successful guide to reading comprehension for the general reader. And now it has been completely rewritten and updated.

The Little Guide to Your Well Read Life

The Little Guide to Your Well Read LifeThis is a small hardback book written by Steve Leveen, the founder/owner of Levenger. If you are unfamiliar with Levenger, you absolutely must click on the link in the last sentence. Levenger is a company completely dedicated to all things reading and writing related. They have the most esoteric selection of things designed just for readers and writers. Steve Leveen wrote this book as its subtitle says, to tell us How to get more books in your life and more life from your books.

The Little Guide to Your Well Read Life on goodreads

“Perfect for all of us who can never get enough time with good books. It not only urges us to indulge deeply and often, it shows us how.”-Myra Hart, professor, Harvard Business School

“Readers and want-to-be readers will be encouraged by the advice to read more, more widely and more systematically.”-Michael Keller, university librarian, Stanford University

Speaking of Books

Speaking of BooksThis is a book which combines two of my passions: books and quotations. This book consists of quotations about books by hundreds upon hundreds of special people collected and edited into topical chapters by Bob Kaplan and Harold Rabinowitz. It’s subtitle is: The best things ever said about books and book collecting.

Speaking of Books on goodreads

In every generation . . . there have been new voices expressing the pleasures they take in books and reading. Speaking of Books contains hundreds of the best of those expressions — entertaining and thought-provoking quotations about the reading and enjoyment of — not to mention obsession with — books. The collection includes examples of bibliophilia that range across the centuries and around the globe, from ancient Chinese proverbs to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, from the Bible to Woody Allen, from Jane Austen to Mark Twain, and from William Shakespeare to J. D. Salinger.

A Passion for Books

A Passion for BooksEdited by the same two book lovers who edited Speaking of Books, the sub title of this book is:A Book Lover’s Treasury of Stories, Essays, Humor, Love and Lists on Collecting, Reading, Borrowing, Lending, Caring for, and Appreciating Books. A collection of 60 essays about all things books, written mostly by authors with a Foreword by Ray Bradbury.

A Passion for Books on goodreads

“When I have a little money, I buy books. And if any is left, I buy food and clothing.” — –Desiderius Erasmus — Those who share Erasmus’s love of those curious bundles of paper bound together between hard or soft covers know exactly how he felt. These are the people who can spend hours browsing through a bookstore, completely oblivious not only to the passage of time but to everything else around them, the people for whom buying books is a necessity, not a luxury. A Passion for Books is a celebration of that love, a collection of sixty classic and contemporary essays, stories, lists, poems, quotations, and cartoons on the joys of reading, appreciating, and collecting books.

I hope that each of you will be hunting down copies of these books to add to your personal library. It’s been a true joy for me to share these books with you on this blog post.

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