Books

Book Covers: Do They Matter?

While reading an article about self-publishing, I happened to stumble upon this fact about book covers:

“75% of 300 booksellers reviewed (half from independent bookstores and half from chains) recognized the look and design of the book cover as the most important part. They agreed the jacket is prime real estate for promoting a book.”

I struggle with this, because, to me, I fundamentally disagree that the cover is the “most important part” of a book, but on a marketing level, I supposed I understand. When I go into a bookstore or search shelves virtually on Amazon, I generally already have an idea of what I’m looking for. It’s either a text that my teacher assigned, a sequel to a novel I’ve been obsessing over, or perhaps something entirely new. But even when I purchase something new, the first thing I do is grab the book, turn it over, and read the description. I don’t see a pretty picture of a bird or flower on the cover, or maybe even a woman, whose back is mysteriously facing me, as is so common in chick-lit these days, and automatically decide the book is for me. But maybe there are readers who do.

In fact, I’m sure they do. As Smashwords founder, Mark Coker, points out in a recent article from The Huffington Post:

“Our brains are wired to process images faster than words. When we see an image, it makes us feel something.”

Or as Naomi Blackburn, top Goodreads reviewer, states in the same article:

“If the cover seems to be nothing more than a catalog photograph with block lettering, I bypass it. If the author didn’t care enough to dedicate time/effort to their cover, I wonder how much time they put into the book itself.”

To be fair, an author might give away the responsibility of cover design when they choose to work with a publisher. If you ever plan on writing your own book or working in publishing, here are a few things to keep in mind during the design process.

For one, it’s important that the cover doesn’t give away too much.

…like the ending.
…like the ending.

It’s also important that your cover doesn’t give readers nightmares.

90 percent of dolls in America are victims of abuse.
90 percent of dolls in America are victims of abuse.
Is the child somehow involved in this? Do we really want to know?
Is the child somehow involved in this? Do we really want to know?

2015: A Moviegoers Guide to Book-Based Movies in January and February

There are two kinds of people in the world: those that prefer to read the book before they watch the movie or those that prefer to watch the movie and then maybe, when they find time, read the book. Whichever kind of person you are, this list of book-based movies can give you the opportunity to either read ahead for the upcoming year or to put these books away and enjoy them in 2016.

Out January 16th, Still Alice

Lisa Genova writes a compelling story Alice Howland, a mother and scholar, and her early onset Alzheimer’s disease. The movie stars Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kate Bosworth, and Kristen Stewart.

Out January 23rd, The Mortdecai Trilogy

Kyril Bonfiglioli originally wrote this black comedy in the 1970s about Charlie Mortdecai, an art dealer with ties to the London underground. In total there are four complete books and one incomplete novel. The movie stars Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Ewan McGregor.

Goodreads Challenge 2015

Last year I pledged that I would read 100 books in 2014 on Goodreads. How’d I do?

Well, okay, I guess.

Percentage wise, I failed. But, when it comes to reading books, everybody wins! Plus, reading 53 books in a year is nothing to turn one’s nose at. In other words, I didn’t reach my goal, but I’m pretty happy with where I ended up.

Missy Lacock, one of our writers, read 10 of her pledged 25 books. But, being a grad student, she has a good excuse.

How’d Melanie Figueroa, co-creator and editor of this blog do?

That’s not so bad.

All in all, 2014 was a good year for books. According to Goodreads, at least.

That's a lot of reading.
That’s a lot of reading.

So how does it look for 2015?

J.K. Rowling: A Draco Tale

If you’re a fan of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, then you probably already know that her interactive site, Pottermore.Com, had a special Christmas present for all the Draco Malfoy fans out there. In Chapter 27, The Lightening-Struck Tower of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, if you click on Draco Malfoy this description pops up:

Draco Malfoy is a Hogwarts student with white-blond hair, cold grey eyes and a pale, pointed face. A Slytherin whose family has been linked to the Dark Arts, Draco often taunts Harry and his friends.

Under this simplified biography, a new story has been posted by J.K. Rowling that gives readers more insight into this pensive, pale, and often times pestilent adversary of Harry Potter’s.

While I won’t give away any spoilers about the story for those that haven’t read it and intend to, I will talk about J.K. Rowling’s comments on why she wrote the story and who the story was intended for. Rowling wanted to give more depth the boy that was the bully of the series.

Zoe Sugg: How Stars Are Diminishing an Art Form

Image via cc.

When celebrities start “writing” literature, most of us understand that these books are being ghostwritten. In fact, ghostwriting, as many novelists will tell you, can be a nice side job—in most cases paying even more than a midlist author can hope to make from royalties on their own titles.

But when YouTube star, Zoella, published her debut novel, Girl Online, this November, breaking the all-time highest first-week sales record, fans were devastated to learn that the book was ghostwritten. Zoella, whose real name is Zoe Sugg, is an English fashion and beauty vlogger with millions of followers. And because this is the clearest way I know how to say this—her books sold more than freaken Harry Potter. Harry. Potter. Okay then. The actual first week sales total was 78,109 copies.

Sugg’s publisher, Penguin, issued a statement in which they wrote “Zoe Sugg did not write Girl Online on her own. [She] worked with an expert editorial team to help her bring to life her characters and experiences in a heartwarming and compelling story.” In other words, they helped her write a book. The Young Adult novelist Siobhan Curham was mentioned in the book’s acknowledgements. Sugg wrote that she was with her “every step of the way.” Though no one has come out to say it, all evidence points to the fact that Curham did, in fact, ghostwrite the book.

Dreams as Inspiration

I don’t really keep a dream diary, but I know of a lot of people that do. Dreams can be weird sometimes. For example, last night I had a dream that I was fighting against an alien invasion at a base that was a super Home Depot and humanity lost, then I had to write an essay on why I loved my new alien overlord. But sometimes dreams aren’t so weird, or parts of weird dreams can be used as inspiration for writing. Below are some best-selling books inspired by dreams.

Robert Louis Stevenson woke from a strange dream of a doctor with split personalities and completed The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ten days after he awoke.

Dystopian Fiction: Where’s the Sexism and Racism?

Literature is reflective of the society it is written in. This holds true for Young Adult (YA) novels and other forms of dystopian fiction. Slate recently ran an article asking why dystopian movies avoid sexism and racism. The answer is simple: a lot of dystopian books that are turned into movies barely touch on racism or sexism, so the source material is lacking the narrative to be put into movies in the first place.

I think it’s easy for people to say “so what?” or to dismiss this concern by saying it’s not the goal of the author or the series to tackle these issues, but that just avoids the issue rather than excuses it. It’s important for us to be critical on the materials our society celebrates so we can better understand the society we live in and our society’s concerns. And, when we find that narrative doesn’t match our experiences, we can question why the mainstream wants to avoid these issues that we hold to be true.

That is to say, just because dystopian literature isn’t talking about sexism and racism doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Anyone who lives in a big city like Los Angeles can look outside and see the racial tensions happening outside of their windows. The rest of us can turn on the news and see report after report of Ferguson or New York or any other place where rights are being violated on the basis of color (and there are, unfortunately, many such cases).

Lena Dunham’s “Not That Kind of Girl”: When A Writer’s Words Are Used Against Them

"Girls: Season 3" - UK Premiere - Red Carpet Arrivals

By now, most people have heard of Kevin D. Williamson’s accusation of “Lena Dunham’s sexual abuse, specifically, of her younger sister, Grace, the sort of thing that gets children taken away from non-millionaire families without Andover pedigrees and Manhattanite social connections.”

But in case you haven’t heard, Williamson is basing his accusation on passages Dunham wrote in her memoir Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned”. Passages like:

One day, as I sat in our driveway in Long Island playing with blocks and buckets, my curiosity got the best of me. Grace was sitting up, babbling and smiling, and I leaned down between her legs and carefully spread open her vagina. She didn’t resist and when I saw what was inside I shrieked.
 
My mother came running. “Mama, Mama! Grace has something in there!”
 
My mother didn’t bother asking why I had opened Grace’s vagina. This was within the spectrum of things I did. She just got on her knees and looked for herself. It quickly became apparent that Grace had stuffed six or seven pebbles in there. My mother removed them patiently while Grace cackled, thrilled that her prank had been a success.

And this:

As she grew, I took to bribing her time and affection: one dollar in quarters if I could do her makeup like a “motorcycle chick.” Three pieces of candy if I could kiss her on the lips for five seconds. Whatever she wanted to watch on TV if she would just “relax on me.” Basically, anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl, I was trying.

In an exclusive statement to TIME, Dunham apologized to her fans, saying “If the situations described in my book have been painful or triggering for people to read, I am sorry, as that was never my intention. I am also aware that the comic use of the term ‘sexual predator’ was insensitive, and I’m sorry for that as well.”

Dunham is no stranger to controversy or criticism. On a recent appearance on The Daily Show, the actress and screenwriter admitted that “It can definitely be challenging. It’s not something when you’re writing in your room and dreaming of this career, you’re necessarily like, ‘I’m going to have a TV show and I’m going to write a book and everyone’s going to hate me on the Internet!'” But that, when criticism inevitably happens, she responds with a little bit of “class and sass.” (Below, one can only assume, is the sass.)

 

A Literary Theme Park

For all of us book-lovers out there, Boston’s latest amusement park was literally made just for us. What am I talking about? Well, Boston is building a tourism industry around its literary history, hoping to attract tourists. This also includes a literature theme park.

This has been a dream of mine since high school – I’ve even written papers on it. Although, I should probably mention, my high school literary theme park was based on Dante’s Inferno‘s levels of hell.

These rides would probably not be that fun.

As long as Boston doesn’t create any Dante-based rides, as I did, I think this theme park would be a great place for the whole family. I can just picture the rides now:

Book Review: How To Be a Woman

One reviewer noted that she was pretty much a dude before she read this book, then magically she turned female. I think I feel the same way.

One reviewer noted that she was pretty much a dude before she read this book, then magically she turned female. I think I feel the same way.

Caitlin Moran is hilarious. Let’s just get that out there. While How To Be a Woman is a New York Times best seller, I didn’t really know about the book until I started researching contemporary books for the feminist book list blog series published on this site.

The overall composition of this book is different from other autobiographies I’ve read, albeit I haven’t read many by comedians. It’s funny, but it’s more than that. How To Be a Woman is composed in a very exact way. Each chapter starts with a childhood memory. For Moran, it starts on her 13th birthday, walking home, and getting rocks thrown at her by some boys. Instead of a cake, her mother makes her a baguette with cream cheese in the middle. She whispers secrets to her dumb dog who just hides under Moran’s bed. But Moran doesn’t just tell us her life story, she connects her experiences with a central moral of the chapter, then brings that lesson into the present. Each chapter is executed in such a fashion, and each chapter contains a different lesson that started in adolescents and can be traced into adulthood.

I think what struck me most about this book was how honest it was. Moran isn’t afraid to talk about herself or the awkwardness that is womanhood that we all go through. She is frank, direct, and recognizes her own ignorance about her own body and the changes it was going through from childhood to womanhood. Moran’s comedy comes from an honest place as well – we need to laugh at ourselves, at this transformation, at the ridiculousness of the world around us. The comedy doesn’t take away from the issues she’s tackling, though, but rather allows us, the reader, to laugh while we think.