“That,” I thought, looking at the author’s photograph, “is a really interesting face.” She wasn’t pretty, nor by any means young. The face was quite ‘lived in’ and had probably never been more than vaguely attractive by any conventional or accepted criteria, yet it was a face that had stories to tell. Her eyes sparkled, even in monochrome. Her mouth had a humorous twist… she looked as if she viewed life from her own particular tangent and found it amusing. I knew that I would enjoy the book. And that got me thinking.
We are not supposed to ‘judge a book by its cover’… though we do, all too often, and probably miss some of the finest content by doing so. We are not supposed to judge people by their faces… but we do, all the time, forming that all-important ‘first impression’ as eye meets…or avoids…eye.
The cover of a book, we are told, should be genre-specific and in line with current literary fashions. There are genre-specific fonts that immediately tell us something about the book, even before we read the title. The size of the author’s name says a lot too and, unless you are a mega-best-seller guaranteed to net readers by reputation alone, the author’s name should never be bigger than the title.
Romance novels should be either pink and flowery or have a bare-chested hunk on the front. Humour needs a quirky font. Horror needs gothic colours, full moons and probably blood, while crime novels need weapons…and probably blood. And heaven forfend you risk limiting your readership by putting anything on the cover that appears to narrow the parameters of who might enjoy it.
One glance takes in all these details, makes a snap judgement and either moves on or buys. There is research to suggest you have less than three seconds to hook a potential reader on Amazon… and that means all you have to offer is a small thumbnail picture on which the title may not even be readable. The book is judged by its cover.
And it is the same with people. There are subliminal signals that tell us if a person is likely to be someone we will like or with whom we will have something in common. The crinkles and the warmth of a smile, the availability of their eyes, their willingness to share a momentary glance… and before they open their mouths to speak, we have made a snap judgement that can be difficult to change.
This instant reaction is a manifestation of self-defense and part of our instinctive survival mechanism. Cultural standards of attractiveness, the appreciation of symmetry that is an integral part of our judgement of a suitable mate and the signals that speak of trustworthiness or danger… we cannot always identify why we react the way we do. Some reactions seem pre-programmed to keep us safe or find us the right mate and, by extension, identify potential friends. Such programming has its place and serves a purpose, but we will not always make the right judgement.
And what happens when we look in the mirror? When we see a photograph of ourselves that we do not like? What judgements are we making then?
We are all getting older, like it or not, every single day. Our faces change, our bodies change, and we may not be happy with what we are seeing, simply because it is different from our inner vision of who we feel we are. Sally Cronin has an interesting article about ageing that looks at how we ‘fix’ an age for ourselves in our minds… and that can be gravely at odds with what the mirror shows.
How are we judging ourselves? Do we apply the same criteria that we instinctively would for others, or are we instead holding that inner vision of ourselves up as the yardstick and finding our reflection wanting… simply because the two do not match?
I picked up a book to read because I liked the face of the author and I felt I would like the woman who wore it. She was not pretty… barely attractive by conventional standards… she was not young, but she had an interesting face, one that was lived-in, one that had laughed, cried, loved and seen many things leave their marks almost imperceptibly carved in her smile. That is a beauty that is ageless and timeless… and one to which we can all aspire. Let’s face it… we would all prefer a book to be interesting, regardless of its cover.