Jhumpa Lahiri’s essay-turned-into-book, The Clothing of Books, has given me a new perspective of looking at book jackets, as clothes that book wear.
Ever since I started reading, I have taught myself to believe that a book cannot be judged by its cover (cliché, I know). After having finished this essay, I have realised that books like The Dark Side etc. have dark covers, just like the stories inside.
Moreover, when I come to think of it, many books on shelves have covers that put a face on the stories. I enjoy looking at different book covers. I like it even more when the spines of my various books can transform an ordinary bookshelf into something quite beautiful.
Having a writer father, I found it rather odd that Jhumpa wasn’t involved in the process of picking out the covers that would jacket her books. It was as if she threw a tantrum about that in her essay. Complaining. I think that’s also why her essay wasn’t jacketed and it has only her name and the title on it. It is what she calls a “naked book”.
Her essay also showed me what goes through the writer’s mind when the covers are chosen. She writes, “If the process of writing is a dream, the book cover represents the awakening.”
I find that it is true that the cover creates the first impression on the viewer. At times I wonder, “ Well, that cover’s bad. How good can the book be?”
If Jhumpa were to design the cover of her books, she would choose a still life by Morandi or a collage by Matisse. The cover would mean nothing to the reader or the publisher, but she identifies with the abstract nature of the work of those painters. The visual representation speaks to her.
One morning, she discovered that Rome was host to two exhibitions: one of Morandi and one of Matisse. As she stood between both posters, she imagined herself being transformed into the pages of her book and being jacketed by both Morandi and Matisse.
The intricacy and detail of her essay fascinated me, and it most certainly was a very enjoyable read. Jhumpa said that sometimes, she buys books because they had good covers. That is not something I would do. I like the fact that I have read every single book on my bookshelves. When I am fond of a book with a good story and a bad cover, I wish the cover could have been better to do justice to the plot and now, author.