Do You Judge a Book By Its Cover (I Do) + More Questions for Readers

I thought it would be fun to do another round of reader questions! These definitely struck a nerve the last time (mostly the fact my Dad reads the last chapter first, which was universally seen as horrifying) and I’m back with another random assortment of questions.

1. What was your favourite book from childhood?

If I had to pick a single book, it would be The Trolley Car Family by Eleanor Clymer. This lesser-known book (published by Scholastic), tells the story of the Parker Family who moves to the country when their father loses his job. They are joined by their miserly neighbour, Mr. Jefferson; romance and hijinks ensue. I just loved this book as a kid, and continue to read it each year with my own children (who also adore the story and characters).

In terms of a series, it would have to be Nancy Drew (I only started reading Harry Potter when I was a teenager).

2. Do you have a favourite quote?

My favourite book quote – and the one that started me on a decades-long obsession with recording quotes from books – was the following:

Out of the thousands and thousands of lines in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, only one has stuck with me since the day I first read it. Uttered by Bilbo Baggins in The Fellowship of the Ring, he mused:

“Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.”

I do know what you mean, Bilbo. I know that feeling exactly. I’ve tried to scrape butter over too much bread. And I’ve felt that way, too, in body and soul. To have a fictional character so accurately capture a life experience moved me in a unique way. I committed the line to memory and thus started my quest of recording quotes, quips, aphorisms – any collection of words that illuminated, encouraged, or entertained. 

3. Do you eat/drink while reading?

Most of the time, no. I’m not a big snacker. I do drink tea sometimes while reading, but most of the time, not even that. Even if I’m eating a lunch solo while the kids are at school, I’m not overly likely to read a book.

4. Have you ever met a ‘famous’ author?

Nope. I’ve also never stood in line to get a book signed, but that does sound like a fun bucket-list item.

I talked with Laura Vanderkam for an hour last summer over the phone which was pretty cool. Does that count?

5. Is there a book you’d like to see made into a movie?

Most of the time I’m underwhelmed by film adaptations (The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Meghan Follows Anne of Green Gables movies aside).

I would like to see A Gentleman in Moscow transformed into an epic cinematic masterpiece. I’m not sure who should be cast as the Count (thoughts?!), but feel like Cate Blanchett – who seems to show up in every single movie that gets produced on any subject (anyone else notice this?!) – would be the perfect Anna Urbanova.

And The Trolley Car Family if it stayed true to the book in every single way.

Oh, and a really great version of the original The Boxcar Children book by Gertrude Chandler Warner.

6. do you have any overdue fines on your library account?

NO! In fact, our library system recently did away with overdue fines. Before introducing this new policy, they also had a Food for Fines option every year where people could bring in non-perishables for the food bank in exchange for clearing their account fines.

That said, even before they eliminated overdue fees, I almost never got them. I visit the library every week, so it’s relatively easy for me to stay on top of what books need to go back (and I get auto-emails that remind me when books need to be returned – love, love this feature).

A few times I’ve had notices that books are overdue and further investigation has revealed they went back, but didn’t get scanned properly (or some such thing) and were back on the shelf after all. This has happened about 4-5 times in the last few years. Every single time I panic and search high and low for the book that I KNOW I returned, and every single time it ends up having been at the library all along.

On a related note: years ago, when I was relatively new to the area and didn’t really know the librarians, I brought back a book that I had transported down the hill in the bottom storage pouch of our stroller. Somehow it got wet during the trip and the head librarian approached me the next time I came in to say the book was irreparably damaged. They had kept the old, waterlogged book to show me as evidence (I had just put it into the returns bin with the rest of my stash and didn’t realize it was wet). I was SO embarrassed. I paid to replace the book, of course, but felt like I deserved to wear my own version of Hester Prynne’s scarlet letter. A D perhaps, to signify I was a: “Destroyer of library property – loan materials to her cautiously”.

I’m glad to say that has been the one and only time I’ve had to replace a book, but it really did feel shockingly humiliating (the librarians were incredibly nice about it, I hasten to add).

7. what fictional character would you bring to life?

Because it’s so relevant to my reading life right now, I think I’d say Anne Shirley. She seems like such a force for positive change and a true “kindred spirit” in my pursuit of joyfinding.

Cheat alert: Mary Poppins (movie version/Julie Andrews, because ‘book’ Mary Poppins is just too mean and conceited) is also pretty wonderful. If she could teach my kids to snap their fingers and have all their toys (strewn in a most festive manner over their bedroom floors at the moment) march back into their storage bins, I’d be all over that magic.

8. Do you judge a book by it’s cover?

Yes. Absolutely. Doesn’t everyone? Nothing pains me more than a bad cover. Except terrible writing. A good cover is just such a joy to me as a reader.

9. Do you prefer Hardcover or softcover? And what about Book Jackets?

Hardcover all the way.

And the first thing I do if I buy a hardcover book is remove the dust jacket and throw it away. I can’t stand them. I love the minimal aesthetic of “naked” hardcover books.

10. do you come from a family of readers?

Yes and no. My father, brother, and I all read extensively (books and news articles). My mother reads more now in retirement, but virtually only fiction and no news at all; neither of my sisters are big readers.

11. What book do you wish you’d written?

So tough. All the good ones? I love reading and would love to write a book some day!

The Happiness Project, maybe, because I appreciate Gretchen Rubin’s writing style so much and that book has had a huge impact on my life.

Runner-ups: Jane Eyre, Lord of the Rings, and the James Herriot books.

And The Trolley Car Family, of course.

12. book Pet peeves?

Yes – inconclusive endings. I prefer happy endings (to fictional tales at least), I really do. But if it has to be sad, at least let it be sad and final. Every once in a while I’ll get to the end of a book and wonder if I’ve lost the last few pages. Like…did the author forget something? (Remember in the movie Elf where they print off books that are missing pages and Walter basically says people are too stupid to notice? I notice.)

Also, books that try too hard to be “stylish.” I don’t know how to describe it, but sometimes the voice just doesn’t match either the material or how I perceive the author to really speak and I find the perceived disconnect to be off-putting.

And books that repeat the same thing over and over again. In general, I think most books are at least 30% too long. Say it once, say it clearly, and move on. Do a streamlined chapter summary if you must. I’m not stupid, promise.

BONus: Do you like finding something inside your library book?

I quasi-regularly find something left behind in a library book. An old renewal slip (I don’t get my “receipts” printed off because each trip would kill a small tree, but others often do and must use them as place holders?), a grocery list, a bookmark.

I always find it to be a very weird sensation. I know other people have read library books, but somehow I don’t believe it until I find some vestige from someone else’s interaction with the book and I find it…oddly unsettling.

That said, I think if someone planted something whimsical inside books – like a short poem or a positive affirmation – I’d find that to be a welcome surprise. Maybe some inspiration for the books in my to-read pile? It could be fun to start leaving little notes of encouragement for future readers to find. Or maybe I could write down a favourite quote from the book at the top of a slip of paper and encourage the next reader to do the same in a pass-it-on format as a bit of a reader collaboration.

Okay – what’s the scoop. Are you a fellow book-cover judger? Do you secretly owe $126 in overdue fines? Do you treasure book jackets and think it’s horrific I throw mine away?

Header photo by Guzel Maksutova on Unsplash

29 thoughts on “Do You Judge a Book By Its Cover (I Do) + More Questions for Readers”

  1. Okay, let’s see how many of these I can do (it’s 4:30 and I have about five minutes to comment)
    1) Little Women was my number one favourite, and I still love it.
    2) My favourite quote is from To Kill A Mockingbird where Scout says something to the effect that she and Jem don’t have much else to learn, except maybe algebra. Second favourite is from The Five People You Know In Heaven which is to do with the old man thinking of his wife and what he wouldn’t give to eat taffy with her again, he says it would take his teeth out now, but he would eat it anyway.
    3) I sometimes eat and drink while reading. Also sometimes I cook while reading.
    4) I feel like the answer is yes but I can’t think of who. Hmm.
    5 and 6) no no
    skipping to 11) I wish I could write like Elizabeth Strout, David Sedaris, or EM Delafield
    Also, I found a ripped out cartoon in my library book the other day!

    1. Little Women is pretty great! Also, To Kill a Mockingbird (which I read in high school) is one of my favourite books ever. I read a book all about Harper Lee in 2021 and it was fascinating to learn her back story.

      Reading while cooking – I do sometimes do this if I need to take breaks (i.e. waiting for water to boil for pasta), but this seems so very elegant. I’m picturing you in your heeled slippers holding a towering classic in one hand and a glass of wine in the other while your homemade ravioli simmers. I’ve got the picture correct, right?!

  2. I’ve never been able to pick a favorite book. My kids and students regularly ask me, and always seem so disappointed in me when I can’t. Ha.

    I have met lots of writers–famous and not–because of work and they are the rockstars of my world… I feel star struck in their presence… and learn so much.

    On Twitter, people have been sharing all the inappropriate stuff they read when they were kids–there’s a lot of V.C. Andrews and Stephen King in there.

    1. Fair enough. I think I’d be hard-pressed to pick my favourite book of all-time, but from my childhood, the answer is easy.
      Also, that’s very cool about meeting lots of authors.

  3. You prefer hardcovers? I’m dumbfounded by this. They’re heavy and hard to hold and I hate them. If I can’t read it on my Kindle, I’ll accept a softcover as a substitute, but I get grumpy if I have to read a hardcover.

    I used to live in a small town in Minnesota and the local library would put a blank book plate in some of the books and borrowers could write their thoughts about the books. I loved this! It made it seem like a mini-book club with strangers. I also regularly use the receipts we’re given with each book (at our library, every book with a hold already has one printed out, so I the tree has already been sacrificed) to take notes about favorite quotes, words I need to look up, and things like that.

    I went to a David Sedaris reading at a bookstore in Minneapolis and had him sign my copy of his book. That’s the most famous author I’ve ever met. He was nice!

    1. You prefer softcover? I have never once thought a book was heavy, but I guess I can see that…?
      I really, really dislike softcover books (even for picture books with the kids). Maybe this isn’t a preference but actually a “weird but true?”

      I love that library idea for the blank book plate. I should suggest that!

      What a great use for the holds receipt!

      1. I can’t believe I forgot this, but Anthony Doerr (All the Light You Cannot See, Cloud Cuckoo Land) was a grad student at my alma mater when I was an undergrad. My best friend was a creative writing major and I went to a bunch of readings where Tony read. He was hilarious and, according to my friend, a great teacher. I have met him, been to a party with him, and he’s terrific.

  4. I pretty much always remove the dust jacket of hardcover kid books. I don’t do that for adult books, though. But it is way too annoying for a kid’s picture book and will definitely get tore if I keep it on.

    So I prefer ebooks which I know some will say is blasphemous. But I appreciate the convenience of them! If I had to choose between hardcover and softcover, I’d probably choose softcover because they are less heavy. I’m very sensitive to how heavy books are! I think that is mostly due to my RA. I often get flares in my finger joints so holding a heavy book can be quite painful for me. For our kids, we only have hardcovers right now because of the stage of life we are in since we are reading board books and picture books. And I do prefer to read hardcover picture books because they are easier to hold open – and holding it fully open is key so Paul can see the pictures. I bought him 2 chapter books for Christmas, though, and those are both paperbacks. He isn’t interested in them yet but maybe in the coming year!

    And library fines? No freaking way! Our library doesn’t charge them either. I love the food donation idea, though! I do all of the library pick ups/returns in our family and I recently checked out a book for my husband. I was ON HIS CASE to finish the book so I could return it on time, even though there aren’t fines. Because it is rude, in my opinion, to keep a book longer than the 3 week lending period. It wasn’t eligible for renewal since it had a hold list. He teased me about this a bit because I am the rule follower in our house, but he held up his end of the deal and finished it on time so I can maintain my pristine borrowing record!

    I need to answer these questions and the other batch soon!

    1. I’m so sorry about the challenges of RA, Lisa. To think of books being painful to hold is something I never considered, but can see that softcover – but in particular e-books – would be a real practical advantage. Anything to make reading more pleasant!

      Gold star for the pristine borrowing record. I have had a handful of fines over the years, I think? Like 25 cents here and there…but definitely nothing lately. Though, as I mentioned, I all but break out in hives when my account says I have something overdue and every. single. time. it turns out to be a false alarm and the book is back on the shelf. The unique sources of stress for the bookworm, I guess. It’s a risk worth taking, though.

      A few weeks ago I had a book that I couldn’t renew and I almost…almost kept it one day longer because it would have been a) more convenient to not have to make a special trip to the library and b) I wasn’t quite finished. But I couldn’t do it. I skimmed the final chapters and made the special trip because…rules are rules and I’ll jaywalk until the cows come home, but I want to obey the letter of the law at my local library.

  5. Do you mind if I borrow this idea for my book blog? I just love all these questions!!!

    I definitely come from a family of readers. Books were always my “treat” whenever we went shopping, and I still find them such a delightful thing to buy to this day!

    I have met MANY famous authors!!! This is partly because I went to school for writing, so I got to work with professors who are published authors. But I met Patricia Cornwell at a book-signing once (and have been to several other readers where I didn’t end up meeting the author). And I went to school with Anton DiSclafani and TaraShea Nesbit, who have each written amazing works of historical fiction. (And I am not just saying that because I know them — their books are truly fabulous.) That’s it – that’s my claim to fame LOL.

  6. Well, all I love books! Hardcover or softcover (although hardcover is a little harder to carry around) but I don’t read e-books. I’ve never tried but don’t think I would like it. And, book covers never really excite me or bother me- I guess I’m just not a visual person.
    Our library no longer charges fines, but I had a lot of overdue fines when the kids were little. There was always some complicated situation where the library said the book was overdue but I thought I returned it…. finally I would pay for it but find it in my house a week later, then try to get a refund from the library…. arg! I’m glad those days are over. Now that my kids are older I’m much more organized.
    I don’t think I could pick one favorite book from childhood- I just read all the time. I definitely loved the Nancy Drew books though! Favorite books of all time are the Harry Potter books, although I read them as an adult.

    1. Nancy Drew really take me back; I’m kinda sad Abby isn’t really into them. Oh well – books definitely aren’t one-size-fits-all, and Harry Potter has been a runaway success.

      I’ve never even HEARD of getting refunds from the library. That sounds complicated and very frustrating.

      That’s interesting you don’t notice much about covers. Ironically, since I remove the dust jacket of books, the covers become very plain very fast (most of the time), but if I BUY a book and remove the cover, I already know I like it. A weird quirk, I guess, now that I think about it. But in the context of selecting reading material online/from the library stacks, I really do care what the cover looks like.

  7. 1. I find it so hard to choose favourites, it would probably be one from my teenage years I love Katherine by Anya Seton, all the Miss Read books and those by Josephine Tey. I can see a bit of a history theme here, they were all recommended by my Mum who loves history……
    2. I am utterly hopeless at remembering quotes, I have lots written in the front of my diary which I transfer to the new one each year. I don’t think any of them are from books though. I have one by Anaïs Nin: ‘We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are’ I have no idea where she wrote that though.
    3. No I only read in bed and that could get a little messy…..
    4. No
    5. I am sure there has been a book I have read in the past that I have thought would make a good film, have no idea now. I haven’t read much fiction in the past five years.
    6. In the past, I think I have had fines, small ones. Not recently though I have not set foot in our library for nearly two years.
    7. See 5.
    8. Yes
    9. Soft all the way, when you read in bed it is much easier to read a paperback (that is the UK word for a softcover).
    10. Yes, parents and siblings were avid readers, my parents house is full of books and so is mine. We grew up without a TV so we all spent a lot of time reading.
    11. I may, one day write a non-fiction book but I do not have the skills to write a work of fiction.
    12. Inconclusive endings are a bug bear for me too. I really really struggle to find fiction that I really like, I will read a really good book and then it will be six months + before I find another that read right until the end. My reading really changed when I became a mother, there were so many books that I could no longer read because of the subject matter. I also really need to feel connection to the characters and so many books I have tried recently I have not been able to make that connection at all. I think I am becoming cantankerous with age! I am also an introvert who is totally happy with her own company 😉

    1. Your answer to #12. Yes, yes, yes. I have definitely changed what I can watch/read since having kids. I’ve said this so many times; I have much less scope for anything related to childhood trauma (especially fictionalized; non-fiction is a bit different) and I don’t like things that are dark/scary/suspenseful.
      Pre kids to read almost exclusively fiction, and post-kids I read almost entirely fiction. I’m sure it’s not just the “kid” thing, because many mothers read lots of fiction, but my personality has shifted a lot post kids in ways I didn’t anticipate and it has most certainly impacted my reading preferences.

      1. I wondered if others had the same thing happen with a shift in tolerance for the dark/scary, etc topics. I also can no longer watch or read anything in this realm. If I try, I end up doing the same as your dad! (and jumping to the ending).

        Although I have to say, I couldn’t’ imagine throwing away a dust cover!! lol. I think I gasped when I read that! I think I like the covers on the books I have too much to do that.

        1. Same thing about the watching. I once saw someone else watching a movie on a plane with domestic violence and I could not handle it. I read children’s advisory reviews of almost all movies I watch…for myself. And I often decide against watching something because of the content.

          It’s so weird because I do appreciate really nice covers (and the library books all have laminated dusk covers)…but if I OWN the book, I no longer care and can’t stand the dust cover.

  8. I definitely judge a book by its cover, have bought because they looked pretty (not knowing what it was about!). I’m almost tempted to subtract a star from a really good book, if the cover doesn’t match the awesomeness LOL

    Book pet peeves – inconclusive endings and loose ends. I get really upset when things are not tied up. Then I keep wondering what happened to X and how did Y turn out?!

    Do I come from a family of readers? Yes and no – my Mom has always been an avid (and fast!) reader, my Dad – for years – only read sports literature (he was a P.E. teacher, tennis coach, skiing instructor, what have you)… but I’ve heard him talk more about other books ever since he’s retired (so maybe he finally had the leisure to enjoy something else :)) .

    1. There almost needs to be a separate rating system on Goodreads – one for the text and another for the covers. Though, admittedly, it sounds like there are many others that don’t give two hoots about the cover.

      We share the same pet peeves.

      Your family sounds like mine in reverse; my Dad is a FAST and avid reader and has been my whole life while my Mom always said she didn’t have time for reading when I was a kid, but now in retirement really enjoys puttering her way through books.

  9. totally judging by the cover!!! what I find interesting is most of best sellers are not too bad at the end, so I do read reviews in amazon and goodreads before deciding to get it or not.
    Hardcover all the way too, just feel a bit good about it. hehehe

  10. I do judge a book by it’s cover, but not necessarily if the book will be good or bad, but what type of book it is. You can usually even tell from the spine if something is a romance, thriller, etc. I also love hardcovers, and specifically ones from the library. I love that crinkly clear cover! I am not opposed to any format though, and occasionally read e-books if that is only the format I can find, or if I’m traveling and need to cut weight. My mom is a huge reader (she was a librarian) and we routinely share suggestions, it’s great. And pet peeves – when the author holds back information that is necessary for the story. Like on page 200 all the sudden they mention that the book takes place 100 years in the future… come on! You should have told me that already!

    I can’t believe the librarian shamed you! That’s not cool. I’m sure you would have paid for the book without having the evidence shoved in your face.

    1. Very good point about withholding information for a long time. That is also a pet peeve that I neglected to mention.

      The librarians were very nice about it…but it was humiliating (and they didn’t know me at this point, so perhaps didn’t know I WOULD pay for it without evidence).

    2. Sarah, I totally agree that you can often tell what type of book it’s going to be just by the spine – in fact, I would say this is a very pragmatic reason to go ahead and judge books by their cover. Perhaps, as you say, not so much in terms of whether or not they’ll be good, but at least in terms of how much they align with your usual reading preferences or what you’re in the mood for in that moment.

      That’s actually exactly how I choose which books to pull of the shelves and read the summaries of, when I’m browsing at the library. My theory is that the publishing industry probably puts a lot of time and effort into making sure that their book covers are designed in such a way that will attract the types of readers who will probably want to read/buy that book, so I might as well benefit from all their efforts and let myself be guided by the colors and font on the spine!

      A related observation: book covers are designed completely differently in other countries (I grew up in the US and now live in Italy) and I feel like it makes such a difference – I have actually picked up books here in Italy that I have actually already and read and enjoyed in the US and thought ‘wow, good thing I originally found this one back home, because I don’t think I ever would have even considered it based on this cover’. (As far as I can tell, the covers are bizarrely uniform here – often the same format, font, and size, and the only thing that changes is the picture in the center of the front cover). Come to think of it, it would be interesting to ask an Italian friend what they think about this – either they don’t judge books by their covers at all, or their responses to book covers are calibrated completely differently from ours. Hm…

      1. It’s always so interesting to see book covers published in another country/language. They can look SO different.
        And it’s very true that a cover (even title) isn’t necessarily indicative of if a book will be “good” but if it aligns with already identified personal preferences. I feel slightly guilty – yet also really enjoy – judging books by their covers and titles.

  11. I’ve met a few famous authors, thanks to some author events near me. I met Taylor Jenkins Reid, and she was just a complete DELIGHT. I also met Lisa Unger, who is a local author who writes thrillers.

    I prefer paperback books to hardcovers because they’re just easier to hold. But if I am reading a hardcover, I always take off the dust jacket (unless it’s a library book).

    Our library just did away from their fine system a year or so ago, and I am really grateful! I definitely continue to adhere to returning books on time (though I have no problem extending my time period if the book isn’t on hold for anyone else).

    I don’t really come from a family of readers. My mom used to be a huge reader, but now she reads maybe 1-2 books a year at this point. Nobody else in my family reads, though! I’m the outlier. 🙂

    1. Wow! Taylor Jenkins Reid!

      It sounds like most libraries are getting rid of fines? I didn’t realize it was so widespread.

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