Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover: What You Read on Your E-reader

Downbelow Station Cherryh 18dydguk6gpqsjpg

Would You Read This Book at a Coffeehouse?

I was amused by a recent article in Business Insider, “No One Ever Wants to Admit the Real Reason to Buy a Kindle.”

The writer, Madison Malone Kircher, claims that reading on an e-reader “lets you peruse guilty-pleasure stories without anybody around you having to know.” She interviewed co-workers who admitted to reading dicey titles like Fifty Shades of Grey on their Kindles because they didn’t want fellow subway riders to see what they were reading.

cherry downbelow station dicey cover 15905We’ve all been there. I am enthralled by C. J. Cherryh’s Downbelow Station, a fascinating, angst-ridden science fiction novel, which won the Hugo Award in 1982.  (But doesn’t the cover scream science fiction?)  Cherryh, who is a classicist, tells the story of Pell, a space station established by a merchant corporation on Earth.  It is suddenly overcrowded by refugees of war, many of whom are violent and stole identities to get on the ships. They are locked up in Q, the huge quarantine wing of Pell, and gangs run wild and everyone lives in terror.   The ruling dynasty of Pell, the Constantines, are humane, but in addition to the overcrowding problem and displacement of citizens they are targeted by the rebellious colonies at war, because Pell is a crucial station.  The Constantines must also manage the planet “downbelow,” which is populated by a workforce of simple, kind native aliens and human beings.  They must assimilate some of the refugees.

This is a stunning novel.  And yet did I whip out my paperback at the coffeehouse?  No, because of the cover.  And the cover is not that embarrassing.

Prospero's Cell Lawrence Durrell 71LxYZeF78L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Now, mind you, I also had my Kindle, so I was happy to read an e-book.  I’m not exactly secretive about what I read (I was reading Lawrence Durrell’s Prospero’s Cell, a travel book), but it is true that there is no title at the top of the screen.

But e-books are not private or secret, because ALL e-book companies track what we read.  My real reasons for having a Kindle (and my previous e-readers, the Sony Reader and the Nook) are convenience and low prices.  I  carry my Kindle in my purse so I can snap it open and read on the go.  And e-books are usually cheaper, though I read more books than e-books.  There is something magical about finding a book you’re looking for and instantly downloading it on to your device.

Of course you all know that. But I should have had the paperback of Prospero’s Cell with the non-embarrassing cover, and the e-book of Downbelow Station!  But that’s not the way it goes.

6 thoughts on “Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover: What You Read on Your E-reader

  1. The one book I’ve ever felt uncomfortable about reading in public is Lolita – because of how people misjudge it! That would be a good one to have on the e-reader!

  2. I’ve scissored covers off because I am embarrassed in front of myself. I believe people when they say they use kindles because it saves house space — but I see a deeper cause for this. Most people don’t value books. I rarely loan any because it’s rare I’ll get it back — the person doesn’t believe I care; they don’t care.

    Covers and titles are there to mislead a lot — the publisher assumes the person with brains might know the content is better than the cover and wants the fools who might not read the book anyway. My sense is mistitling is more counterproductive — publishers are aware of this more pointed distortion and so they sometimes have the dual title. That risks losing those who would take that to signal “serious” book (aka academic) but if they have the first half, well then: this morning I read about a good book called Harlots, Hussies, and Poor Unfortunate Women: Crime Transportation, and the servitude of Female Convicts, 1718-1783 by Edith M Ziegler. I daresay the cover is worse but the book is actually good based on archival research, intelligent, compassionate.

    • Yes, so much of it is marketing! Swashbucking bodice-ripper covers used to sell historical novels and occasionally something like Moll Flanders. Science fiction covers keep many of us from reading great books like Downbelow Station. Yes, the Harlots, Hussies title is awful, but I wonder if it will actually sell outside of its scholarly audience.

  3. Not being a reader if anything remotely dodgy 🙂 the reason I sometimes read on Kindle is convenience, availability of old books via project Gutenberg etc and the comfort in the text size.

    • Free books are definitely a motivation! And it IS nice to adjust the text size. It is an advantage to be able to download a (free) classic and read parts on the Kindle on the go and then go back to the book.

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