Judging a Book by Its Cover

Book cover for A few months ago, a shock of red caught my eye as I walked past a display of oversize books at the library. “Cover” by Peter Mendelsund collects in stunning fashion the artwork he has created for book jackets, both new works and reissued classics. If you think you don’t know his work, you actually do. Steig Larsson’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” Jo Nesbo’s “The Snowman” and current bestseller “The Girls” by Emma Cline all have covers created by Mendelsund. Reading about his creative process provides a window into a world readers often wonder about. Just how does the artwork for a book get selected? Does the author have a say? Who makes the final call? And also, why are so many book covers similar?

About the same time that I picked up Mendelsund’s book, I started noticing images or themes repeated in the cover art for novels, particularly images of women in profile, with their features hidden from the viewer. An example:

book cover for Mr. Churchill's Secretary

And another:

Book cover for A Small IndiscretionAnd still another:

Book cover for The Daring Ladies of LowellThis is just a small sampling of the book cover images I’ve collected since I first noticed the pattern. What gives? I assume the women at the centers of these novels have secrets or are somehow unknowable. They have shadowy pasts or complicated interior lives hidden by a composed exterior. But shouldn’t there be a greater variety of ways to indicate these characteristics in the cover art?

What trends in book cover designs have you noticed? Is there a particular one that appeals to you? That turns you off? Let us know in the comments.

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