Book covers are generally how we sound out a book’s quality, yet the cover of is rarely the author’s choice. “I do wish I had a dime for every email I get that says, ‘Please put a non-girly cover on your book so I can read it. - signed, A Guy’”, she wrote. “A man and a woman can write books about the same subject matter, at the same level of quality, and that woman is simply more likely to get the soft-sell cover with the warm glow and the feeling of smooth jazz blowing off of it.”
Within minutes, an internet meme was born, whereby Johnson’s readers digitally remastered some literary favourites in order to show the inherent ridiculousness of gendered marketing. Hence we saw Neil Gaiman’s Stardust transformed into what looked like girly romantic fiction, complete with tagline – “love is the greatest magic of all”, and Stephen King’s Carrie revamped as a Nicholas Sparks-esque all-American smushfest, complete with Southern belle.
And yet none of these jarred so much as some of the real-life attempts that I’ve seen produced by genuine designers, some of which are so far off the mark that you wonder whether they had read the book at all. And, unlike publishers such as Pulp the Classics, which recasts classic novels in a pulp style, these designs were actually intended to be taken seriously. Such as:
The Bell JarLast year, Faber’s revamping of Plath’s nom de plume sparked internet outrage. This paper called its chick-lit cover “laughably inappropriate for a work tracing a descent into near-suicidal depression”, and they’re not wrong. The whole thing looks like a right old girly romp. Battle with mental illness, attempted rape, and harrowing electric-shock therapy? Pfft, girl problems.
Pride and PrejudiceWay to debase and trivialise a literary classic, Headline. Rebranding Austen’s searing social satire as a romantic novel arguably misses the mark, especially as there’s nowhere near enough snogging for it to qualify as part of the genre. It also contains such profound reading group questions as “Did you initially find Mr Darcy attractive?” possibly encouraging a whole new generation of women to grow up fancying fictional characters, something which I know from bitter experience rarely brings fulfilment. Speaking of which …
Wuthering HeightsBy cashing in on the popularity of Twilight, you could argue that publishers are bringing the gothic novel to a brand new, young audience, but if these readers are expecting a tedious virgin of female protagonist Cathy then they’ll be sorely disappointed. Yes, there’s Sexy Heathcliff, but despite a spot of possible necrophilia, there isn’t a vampire in sight, though I did always imagine him as having rather pouty lips.