On a side note, when I was buying the book I couldn’t decide which version to pick up. The print by Faber and Faber (paperback) or the Alfred A. Knopf (a hardcover) version. Both were for the exact same price and I walked from Borders to Kinokuniya twice because I couldn’t decide which one to pick up. I eventually picked up the hardcover because it somehow seemed more apt for a collection of essays and because the pages were so wonderful – thick rich paper, slightly jagged at the side. This despite the fact that I love the cover of the Faber version (it’s a picture that first appeared in Istanbul. The young Orhan Pamuk still dreaming of being a painter). And also despite the fact that Knopf spells colour as “color” and I do actually prefer the British spelling. In any case, once I had bought the book there wasn’t much I could do but I did agonise over my decision.
This sort of anal pickiness over which book to buy is so typical of me. I have hardly been buying books for the last few years because they are just so expensive and also because the library is so good that my library card is my single most valuable possession. So when I do buy a book it is a sort of emotional investment. I chose the copy with the better cover, sometimes smell the pages, always try to get a hold of how it feels in my hand. Other Colours has been my first purchase since I started work and now that I am earning I keep eyeing books that I really want to own (top of the list is this version of the Shahnameh). Clearly this is where all my money will go.
But here is the thing. After all the fretting about which copy of Other Colours I should buy because of the cover I felt a bit validated when I read this essay in the book:
Nine Notes on Book Covers
- If a novelist can finish a book without dreaming of its cover, he is wise, well-rounded, and a fully formed adult, but he’s also lost the innocence that made him a novelist in the first place.
- We cannot recall the books we love most without recalling their covers.
- We would all like to see more readers buying books for their covers and more critics despising books written with those readers in mind.
- Detailed depictions of heroes on book covers insult not just the author’s imagination but also his readers’.
- When designers decide that The Red and the Black deserves a red and black jacket, or when they decorate books entitled Blue House or Château with illustrations of blue houses or châteaux, they do not leave us thinking if they’ve been faithful to the text but wondering if they’ve even read it.
- If, years after reading a book, we catch a glimpse of its cover, we are returned at once to that long-ago day when we curled up in a corner with that book to enter the world hidden inside.
- Successful book covers serve as conduits, spiriting us away from the ordinary world in which we live, ushering us into the world of books.
- A bookshop owes its allure not to books but to the variety of their covers.
- Book titles are like people’s names: They help us distinguish a book from the million others it resembles. But the book covers are like peoples faces: Either they remind us of a happiness we once knew or they promise a blissful world we have yet to explore. That is why we gaze at book covers as passionately as we do at faces.