Reading Rights: A book advertising itself?

Magdalena Waz

(Drawing by Annie Raccuglia)

I caught myself the other day checking out a new book from the library only because I liked the feel of its cover. At first, I was just happy that I had time again to check out books, and after I got back to Hiett, I made everyone touch it. The matte, grainy texture was pleasing to most. Some complaints were voiced about the squeaky, glossy jackets that publishers seem to prefer for hard covers.

I said multiple times that night, “Sometimes, I only read books because I like the way the cover feels.” People agreed, mumbling things about the jacket’s tactile appeal. And it wasn’t for a couple of hours that I realized how absurd that statement was. I was attracted to the book by a superficial detail, but one that indicates to me that perhaps the jacket detail is the first in a series of aesthetic decisions that I’ll find pleasing, too.

That is how advertising works, after all. It’s the selling of a lifestyle more than the selling of a product. Even though it is illogical, I have a hard time convincing myself that books must advertise themselves. If they didn’t, we would still be buying identical little tomes that varied only in the title inscribed on the spine.

Dover Thrift Editions are, for the most part, unadorned paperbacks that feature only the text between their covers. But they’re very cheap and maybe not too aesthetically appealing. My copy of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” is a Dover Thrift Edition, and I remember my reading of the play was in no way sullied by a cheap and almost ugly book. I was reading for school, though. I had no choice but to start reading it in the first place.

It would appear that what draws our attention to books these days is maybe not the content. We are more impressed by the review blurbs on the first few pages, or the quality of the jacket photo, or maybe even the attractiveness of the author him/herself. Even before I touched the book, I admired the beautiful green color in the photo.

The book played me like a Coca-Cola ad. And now I’m contemplating not even reading it because it might be a disappointment that proves to me that advertising the book on the book itself is not the way to go. There’s no surprise that classic novels that most people read in school almost never need the fancy cover to convince us to buy it.

While I am dismayed, I can think of at least one way that this pseudo-discovery can be positive. The advertising worked, which means that it could work for other people. Ultimately, that means that the publishing industry is maybe catching up to other types of media in terms of knowing how to advertise and making reading cool. I don’t know if a matte cover is cool, but if it worked for me, I’m sure it worked for others.