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There is an implicit code that customers rely on. If a book cover has raised lettering, metallic lettering, or raised metallic lettering, then it is telling the reader: Hello. I am an easy-to-read work on espionage, romance, a celebrity and/or murder. To readers who do not care for such things, this lettering tells them: Hello. I am Crap. Such books can use only glossy paper for the jacket; Serious Books can use glossy finish as well, but it is only Serious Books that are allowed to use matte finish.
Diminutively sized paperbacks, like serial romances or westerns or dieting and astrology guides, are aimed at the uneducated. But diminutively sized hardcover books are aimed at the educated—excepting those that are very diminutive, which are religious books aimed at the uneducated—and unless they are in a highly rectangular format, in which case they are point-of-purchase books aimed at the somewhat-but-not entirely educated. However, vertically rectangular diminutive softcover books, which tend to be pocket travel guides, are aimed at the educated. But horizontally rectangular diminutive softcover books—a genre pioneered by Garfield Gains Weight—are not.
Then there are the colours. Bright colours, and shiny colours, are necessary for the aforementioned books with raised lettering. Black will work too, but only if used to set off the bright and shiny colours. Because, remember, with the customer base in mind, the book will need to be a bright and shiny object. Conversely, a work of Serious Literature will have muted, tea-stained colours. Black is okay here too, but only if used to accentuate cool blues and greys and greens.
Woe and alas to any who transgress these laws. A number of reviewers railed against The Bridges of Madison County, because it used the diminutive hardcover size and muted colour scheme of, say, an Annie Dillard book—thus cruelly tricking readers of Serious Literature into buying crap. Not to be outdone, the Harvard University Press issued Walter Benjamin’s opus The Arcades Project with gigantic raised metallic lettering. One can only imagine the disgust of blowhard fiftysomethings in bomber jackets as they slowly realised that the Project they were reading about was a cultural analysis of 19th century Parisian bourgeoisie—and not, say, a tale involving renegade Russian scientists and a mad general aboard a nuclear submarine.
Finally, on Serious Books and Crap alike there will be a head-shot photo of The Author sitting while looking pensive or smiling faintly into the indeterminate distance—the one pose that has no existence in the author’s actual daily life. The size of this photo will be in inverse proportion to the quality of the book. If the photo is rendered in colour, it is not a Serious Book. If there is no author photo at all, then it is a Serious Book indeed—perhaps even a textbook.
If a colour photo of the author occupies the entire front cover, the book is unequivocal Crap.
(swiped without permission from Paul Collins’ excellent Sixpence House )