Saturday, January 30, 2010

No cats allowed ...

... but I'm going to make one more post about a dog, and you can't do a thing about it.

1) Recent discussion here came down against the covers of J.F. Englert's three novels narrated by a literate, reflective Labrador named Randolph. I complained that the covers might mislead readers into thinking the books cuter and cozier than they are.

In the covers' defense, though, they reproduce skillfully executed artwork, apparently commissioned for the books, if one can judge by Englert's thanks to illustrator Dan Craig. I've taken part in discussions of copycat covers, the phenomenon that results when different publishers rely on the same stock of photographic images. Why can't the publishers spend a few extra dollars for an artist, illustrator or photographer, and avoid looking cheap and cheesy? I asked. Englert's publishers do this. More power to them.

2) I also like a couple of bits inside the book, A Dog About Town, including:
"He crammed what looked like a Maryland crab cake into our deeply troubled refrigerator, the interior of which had remained a shadowland of petrified broccoli and pizza since the bulb burned out months before."
and
"His reputation in the writing life had been launched and sustained by this pedigree of mid-twentieth-century entitlement and superiority, which by the time of his death in the twenty-first century, was anachronistic."
and, for what it says about Randolph as a palatable contemporary vehicle for sentiments that might seem precious, dated or eccentric in the mouth of a twenty-first-century human fictional detective, this:
" ... the detective is the last true humanist, standing at that intersection where observation and reason meet emotion and intuition revealing the secrets that measure our fragile, inconstant, but extraordinary beings."
© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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39 Comments:

Anonymous Randolph said...

Dear Peter:
I agree about the cover and the importance of originality in book covers. Actually, I found myself flattered by the painterly tummy tuck of Daniel Craig's art and overlooked the minor point of standing on two legs (uncomfortable and extremely bad for a Labrador's back).
As for those quotations... Thank you, very well chosen and heartening to Yours Truly, sir.
Sincerely,
Randolph

January 30, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm thinking -- hmm, is there a teasing implication of an opposable thumb supporting the bowl of that pipe?

January 30, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It crossed my mind that someone reading that second quotation might think it a swipe at J.D. Salinger, which would be unfortunate timing. But your guy is more social than Salinger was, I think, and made himself more of a pain in the ass than Salinger did.

January 30, 2010  
Anonymous John H said...

We just got a new cat. A 12 year old Persian and he just acts like he's renting a room.

January 30, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

At last it doesn't act like it owns the house.

January 30, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

One thing about those covers is that though they won't initially sell the books, they are distinctive enough that once the books take off, as I hope they will, they will be instantly recognizable. Unlike many.

January 30, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

What kind of a cover will initially sell a book? These discussions notwithstanding, I'm not sure a cover has ever sold me on a book (or turned me off one), though I certainly will admire an attractive cover and wrinkle my nose at a cheesy one.

January 30, 2010  
Anonymous John H said...

I like to look at covers but frankly don't recall ever buying a book because of one. I generally have already made up my mind before I see the cover. Most of what I read is authors I know I like or recommendations from friends. I never buy books at places like grocery stores where the covers are prominently displayed.

January 30, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

An outstandingly good or bad cover might make me take a second look, but, like you, I'm unsure it has ever been the deciding factor in my decision to buy or not to buy a book.

Seana is a bookseller, so I'd be interested to read her opinion of covers' influence on customers' decisions.

January 30, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

I read this book because of this cover and was not disappointed.

January 30, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's a fine, attractive, disturbing cover. But McCarthy's got enough of a rep and you're enough of a reader that I'm surprised it took the cover to sell the book.

January 30, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

I'd say that the cover is just a lure--no one buys a book solely because of the cover. Unless of course it's a brand of some kind. Like Randolph's book covers may be some day.

But why someone picks up this book and not another everything else being even, well, the cover is highly influential for most people. Some statistics were reported at one of our staff meetings on a poll done by I believe the ABA on what caused a person to buy a book and the cover was way up the charts. Higher than I thought, and I'd already thought it was high.

I'd say that a good cover reveals the kind of book it's going to be. A great cover tells not only that but conveys something about this book's unique appeal. I don't people are just being idiots when they judge a book by it's cover. They are using a lot of subtle perceptions that may not be articulable. Or I may flatter myself that this is true. The fact is that I pick books out of a stack of galleys, say, by the cover all the time. Doesn't necessarily mean I'm going to go on and read it, but picking one book out of many is what any publisher is hoping you will do and if they could figure out a way to make you even pick something up, they would pay a lot of money for that info.

Which makes me wonder a lot about how this will all play out when more and more people will be reading digitally.

And, though Adrian may have had a background in McCarthy, ATPH's breakout bestseller status assures us that many people didn't. The cover--and the title-- and then word of mouth was pretty certainly how this one played out.

January 31, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Many thanks. I may post several replies to this, as it's a bit much to digest at this late hour.

I have no doubt that covers are immensely influential in whether or not a browser picks up a book. I hope we never have the technology to measure accurately how often this translate into sales.

E-book sellers could always offer electronic covers, unless the seller happens to be Amazon and the publisher Macmillan.

January 31, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Yes, of course ebooks can and do offer images and often very effective ones. It's just in what context will they be displayed and browsed that's the question. I do think that there is often an intuitive kind of leap that happens when you see a book and you just think that's the one for me. I don't think quite the same thing happens when you see a two dimensional image of one. I don't mean you don't get intrigued or interested--I just don't think it's quite so visceral.

January 31, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

At that stage I had read Child of God, Blood Meridian and Outer Dark and when the reviews of Pretty Horses started talking "love story" and "surprisingly tender" and "beautiful landscapes" I thought nah this isnt for me. But then Chip Kidd did his thing and I decided to become a C McC completist.

January 31, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, you're right. Being lured by a cover, opening the book ... that probably a more thrilling act than just clicking on to one more electronic page that happens to reproduce what once would have been called the cover of a book.

My v-word is appropriately nostalgic: press

January 31, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ah, so the cover did its job and rose above the babble of competing, er, discourses about the book.

I wonder when in the history of book packaging covers and jackets became the lure that they are. With the widespread introduction of paperback books, I suspect.

January 31, 2010  
Blogger Pat Miller said...

I'm not sure if this carries over to book-buying, but in my public library they have recently been doing a much larger presentation of books face-out and by all accounts it has had quite an impact on loans. A new talking book service using eBooks has just 'hit the shelves' and most titles were out on loan within the first week. This was a bigger pickup than was initially expected. Book covers appear in the library catalogue and must have some impact on selection. It will be interesting to see how popular the new format becomes. No doubt there will be a customer survey about it in due course.

January 31, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That makes sense. I always notice when libraries have thematic displays of books. At the recent Murder in Muskego conference at the public library in Muskego, Wisconsin, for example, the staff had prepared displays of crime fiction, including books by authors attending the conference. I saw evidence of the displays at work, when a patron not attending the conference stopped attendees to ask about the books and solicit recommendations.

So, yes, covers or some facimile thereof apparently pull readers in. It will be interesting to see what happens once books start appearing only in electronic versions (I hope this will never happen, but I fear that it will.)

January 31, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

It will. What I'm more afraid will happen though, is that books will become available only on certain dedicated ereaders and not others, with Amazon and Apple and the like competing for exclusives. That, I think is what will really end the world of books as we know it.

January 31, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yeah, I've said that anyone who buys an e-reader before there is complete compatability across systems is willingly enslaving himself or herself to big corporations -- which makes no sense, as computers and e-readers themselves are necessarily made by pretty big corporations, I think.

Yep, our world is getting smaller, all right. Welcome to it. It seems astonishing now that all those bright visions of the future we were fed in pop sci-fi and advertising never included corporations controlling the world.

M v-word is the tantalizingly ambiguous unnity

January 31, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

I've read almost no sci-fi, Peter, but I believe that the theme of large corporations controlling the world was a recurring one in the books of Philip K. Dick. One of those books was called 'Lies, Inc.'

January 31, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've read about as much sci-fi as you have, but I'd bet that William Gibson has had a thing or two to say about corporations. The closer predictions of corporate control come to reality, the more depressing they will get to read. I wouldn't mind good stories about rebellion against that sort of control, if anyone has any suggestions.

Did you notice that in one of the Austin Powers movies, the bad guy's headquarters had a Starbucks at the top of it? Starbucks is so sure that its brand of moral corporate paternalism is benevolent that it was apparently willing to spend big bucks on product placement to make fun of itself.

January 31, 2010  
Anonymous John H said...

I doubt we have to worry about the corporations taking over the publishing business. It is changing rapidly though. I get snippets from a friend. We normally talk about the wonderful game of baseball but over the years a few details of his business have come out. Frankly I'm not sure exactly what he does but he's a publisher/agent/rep/author or something along those lines.

Apparently a new book no longer needs a big first print run because they can be printed as needed now. That allows publishers to take more risks with new authors because their upfront costs are less. Also the electronic media is never going to be closed. Just look at the music industry for example. It a runaway distribution process. Obscure artists have their own websites to generate sales. Think of those websites that distribute out of copyright material. They offer a slew of formats for down load. The kindle will no more monopolize books than sony betamax was able to monopolize video tape. I suspect that old fashion types will be able to order a book and have it printed of the spot. In the electronic business as soon as someone tries to hog something someone else figures out how to bypass them.

I been reading a few downloaded detective novels I would have never been able to find in print. In fact most of them would have disintegrated by now.

February 01, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

It's funny that big publishers are so risk averse since this is the case. And I do think the corporate takeover by non book businesses does have something to do with it.

For some reason, they can never believe the book biz operates with so low a profit margin.

February 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's the upside. But back when corporations competed, they would promote books and edit them to a much greater extent than they do now. These days (and I have heard this from authors), the burden falls on the author to a much greater extent. The downside of being able to publish and promote a book yourself is that you have to pubish it and promote it -- yourself.

The short-term result is like much else in American society: an ever-growing division between rich and poor, megaseller and midlist, big and small, celebrity and the rest of us.

February 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, amid the recent news of Amazon's attempted revenge against Macmillan, I had forgotten that Macmillan announced not long ago its intention to lower royalties paid to authors on e-books. I wondered, from my outsider's perspective, how a technology that promised almost infinitely lower distribution and production costs could justify a reduction in payments to authors. Who can figure out what publishers do? (Macmillan, the put-upon little guy last week, probably would prefer that we forget that earlier story.)

At least in the short term, authors and readers are getting screwed. In the slightly longer term, publishers might be screwed as the Amazons of the world peddle visions of a utopia in which everyone can be his or her own author ot publisher.

I do like one comment that arose from Amazon's attempt to shut out Macmillan. The commentator referred to readers as something like civilian casualties of the business battle between Amazon and Macmillan. It's a heresy to be pessimistic in America, especially about business, and even more so about technology, but he was right.

February 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Here is my post from those heady autumn days before Macmillan went from bully to victim.

February 01, 2010  
Anonymous John H said...

I'll ask Bill some questions next time I see him. I have gotten the impression that the book business is rapidly changing behind the scenes so to speak. In some ways he's not happy about it.

February 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, it's changing rapidly, all right, and people are being hurt in the short term -- authors, readers and maybe publishers, too. I suppose there is no reason to believe that the industrial barons of previous eras were any more benevolent or less predatory than Jeff Bezos is now. But it's scarier to see it happening in one's own time.

February 01, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

At the risk of sounding like a complete Philistine, I have purchased many books for their covers. I collect books in several subject areas. Covers are an essential component in my decision whether or not to purchase a book in about 4 of these areas. In 2 children’s book areas (1 author, 1 subject) in particular I am always on the lookout for more pristine dust jackets in order to upgrade my collection. Another subject area I collect in covers the years 1880-1919 and fine, decorative bookbindings influence my purchasing decisions here. Robert Minsky’s blog, “The Art of American Book Covers” http://americanbookcovers.blogspot.com/ is a useful place to get an idea of the allure of fine bookbindings.

On the other hand, if I want a book in order to “only” read it, the book’s cover is not really an issue in my decision to read or not to read. However, when it comes to crime fiction, I am put off by some of those cheesy period covers that have impossibly buxom babes on the covers, especially if she is in a scanty outfit, wearing high heels, AND carrying a gun. I realize these books weren’t published with the female reader in mind, but crikey! I have to read these books in the privacy of the home.

And I have sometimes jotted down the title of a book that looks interesting but the cover is so off-putting for one reason or another that I will first check to see if I can borrow/purchase the book with a different cover.

February 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I would never call you a Philistine. For a while I would buy a Modern Library edition of a book, if it was available, as long as it came in one of the attractive, old-style jackets, and not the newer plain-brown-wrapper ones. That's no different from buying a book for its cover.

Speaking of buxoms babes with guns, I’ve always thought this one seemed to be doing a lot at once without, however, destroying the pleasing composition.

February 01, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, "[she] seemed to be doing a lot at once without, however, destroying the pleasing composition."
But this cover illustrates my whine completely! No woman tries to take off her bra AND keep her hand on her gun at the same time. She either keeps the bra on until she feels safe enough to put down her gun or puts down the gun to take off the bra. Besides, most dames would want to keep their bras on if gunplay is in the immediate future. Not only does a woman not want her breasts bouncing around, she certainly doesn't want to give her (presumably) male opponent any additional target to grab onto--that long, unbound hair makes her vulnerable enough! Along those same lines, I’ve never been able to convince the wolves I know that no woman wants to wear a bikini AND high heels at the same time, in spite of all those automotive/motorcycle calendars to the contrary.

This kind of cover begs the question: why is she doing these 2 things with her hands in the first place?? I guess the potential male quarry, I mean reader, wants to put down his 50 cents to find out why. Me, I’d probably want to read this book, too, but again it would have to be in the privacy of the home.

February 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Exactly. The two actions are mutually incongruous, and that's why I chose that cover to illustrate your complaint. And you're right; I have never known a woman to pull a gun while removing her bra. But then, I have never given any woman reason to do so.

But the cover painting is something like the Mannerists work, or maybe more like Ingres' "Odalisque." The position depicted is improbably, if not impossible.

The book will run you $6.99 or $7.99, not fifty cents. It's part of Hard Case's wonderful line. And Hard Case is Exhibit A in the case for original covers.

February 01, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

See, there I was, slow on the uptake again. I didn't realize you were illustrating my point. And I meant the cost of the original p'back (which was actually 35 cents), according to:

http://vintagesleazepaperbacks.wordpress.com/2009/09/22/the-vengeful-virgin-by-gil-brewer-fawcett-gold-medal-1958/

I love the cover blurb for this one.

And neither of those dames looks anything like an 18-year-old virgin... But I guess that's also the point?

Mannerist -- hey, I like that comparison. If she had nothing on at all I'd compare her to one of François Boucher's many nudes-from-behind women.

coincidence or...? v-word = brateli

February 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Speaking of Hard Case covers and great artists ...

February 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

In fact, Ingres' Grande Odalisque is probably the more pertinent comparison. Try to follow the lines of her body, to figure out what leads where, and you'll develop joint pains. But a lot of people like the painting.

February 01, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Other than some of his gorgeous portraits, Ingres has always given me a bit of the creeps. But the "Grande Odalisque" still looks more comfortable than his "Sleeping Odalisque" in the V&A. Sleeping, my eye. She knows she's being watched.

http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O17322/oil-painting-a-sleeping-odalisque-etude-dapres/

But my favorite Odalisque is Edouard Manet's:

http://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/collections/works-in-focus/search.html?no_cache=1&zoom=1&tx_damzoom_pi1[showUid]=4042

February 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"La Grande Odalisque," known informally as "The Big O," always gave me the creeps until I met her in Paris. Then she made an interesting study. The Sleeping Odalisque is an invertebrate, and Manet's "Modern Olympia" takes no guff from anybody.

My favorite Ingres is the Bertin portrait.

February 01, 2010  

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