My son called me to ask if I’d seen what he’d been up to. I duly admired the striking new layout of his blog, acknowledging the amount of work that had gone into making it visually memorable, particularly for Nick as, regardless of appearances and voice recognition software, working with a PC is not easy when you have a lack of coordination on your dominant side and damaged eyesight.
He is justly proud of what he has managed to do with his blog, and will, knowing him, continue to tweak and hone until it feels right for him. Yet he is very well aware that while making an eye-catching site that is easy to navigate, is all well and good, it is the content and what he hopes to share that is the important thing.
We are told we should never judge a book by its cover… nor indeed a blog by its appearance, though perhaps some things can be learned about the writer from them… and possibly even more about the reader by what it is in that cover that catches our eye in the first place! Many of my most treasured tomes have no more than a battered cloth cover, but their content is amongst the greatest gifts I have been given. Even so, I have grown fond of many old illustrated covers, and find myself disapproving of their rereleased and probably much ‘better’ editions; at least in the eyes of fashion.
Indeed, some of my favourite books have had to be replaced over the years, thumbed to their demise by avid re-reading, and now wear covers so inappropriate to their content, in deference to the prevailing fashion, that I feel like covering them in brown paper like the school books of old. Yet their stories still enchant and transport me to other worlds where their cover is forgotten.
Yet writers strive to do the best for their books, choosing and designing as best they are able something that is little more than wrapping for the words and which has no impact on the value of their story or message.
I got to wondering about that. We do it when we give gifts too, wrapping them in brightly coloured paper and ribbons, which will only be either discarded or recycled, while what they conceal will be, we hope, treasured or useful. Either way, the true value of the gift lies in the giving and receiving, not in the wrapping… though perhaps the wrapping has more of a part in that than we think.
It has become a convention, but just why do we wrap gifts? To enhance the surprise of the moment with a little suspense? To make it more special for the recipient… showing with a small and unnecessary gesture that their pleasure matters to us? The cynical might say that some givers wrap to create a better personal impression of themselves or even to hide the lacunae of the gift beneath a glossy facade. Yet most of us know that the best gifts need no wrapping at all and from simple paper bags we may draw the evidence of a careful choosing and sharing.
Perhaps it goes deeper than that. Maybe we wrap our books and sometimes our gifts in the best way we can to try and convey what they, and their recipient, mean to us, the giver. To show how deeply we value the reason for our giving… In just the same way as we ‘make an effort’ when seeing someone we love, placing flowers on the table, giving the house an extra polish or just making ourselves a little more presentable than usual.
You could argue that we do these things to ‘look good’ and doubtless there are times when we do. Sometimes no doubt we do them through our own insecurity too. Most of the time though, we do them, without any conscious thought, for the very people who couldn’t care less what we wear or whether there are flowers or dust on the table. They are there for us and see beyond the surface straight to the heart… and because they love what they see there.
We do not re-read a book for its cover any more than we revisit a blog for its design. We do not love another human being for how they look, but for what they are within the story of their life and ours. Nor should we judge the human ‘book’ by its covering of flesh, which may mislead us to believing in an inner beauty to match the outer … or lead us to dismiss as without value those who may hold within them a story that could change our lives.