Monday 6 July 2009



Are you secretly seduced by the cover of a book…..


….or is it the title that whispers suggestively to you?


Of course, there are authors you grow to love and you wait avidly for the launch of their latest book,  but when you go into a favourite bookstore how do you make your selection while wandering in a state of bliss between the shelves and around the tables stacked high with literary delights? 

While I admire the graphics and artwork on many book covers, it is the title that does it for me.  Here are a few books I treasure whose titles whacked me right there in the middle of my hypothalamus and where the content was as profound and as memorable as it’s appellation.

dancing to the precipice

Dancing to the Precipice - Caroline Moorehead

An absorbing biography of Lucie de la Tour de Pin and the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.


Beachcombing for a Shipwrecked God – Joe Coomer

Coomer crosses the gender line and speaks to the soul.


The Tree Where Man Was Born – Peter Matthiessen

The power of vast open spaces of Africa is tantalisingly balanced against a desperate fragility of a truly wild place.


The Blue Afternoon – William Boyd

Another masterpiece from the man who appears to have no end to his inventiveness, and no tell-tale style except perfection. It is an unforgettable tale of love found, lost then found again.

still love

Still Love in Strange Places – Beth Kephart

A rich and and hugely involving memoir, written with an acute and sensuous observation of memorable characters and evocative settings.


Pigs In Heaven – Barbara Kingsolver

Kingsolver, with a wonderful lightness of touch teaches us a lot about tolerance and seeking out the best in competing cultures while giving us a novel which is almost impossible to put down.


Skating to Antarctica – Jenny Diski

A voyage of self-discovery to the white emptiness that is painted as truth, despair, calm and madness - all at once.


A Dance to the Music of Time - Anthony Powell.

A literary mammoth – to be read little by little…..and savoured forever.


A Dry White Season – Andre Brink

Every so often you discover a writer who is so good you feel you have to read all his work. Brink is such a writer. His ability to disseminate the inherent prejudices and corruptions of South African politics is wondrous. I cannot rate this novel highly enough.


Lullabies for Little Criminals – Heather O’Neil

This is a deeply moving, luminously written and troubling novel exploring the dark side of urban life, where, all too easily, children are still left to struggle against impossible odds.


Ghost Train to the Eastern Star – Paul Theroux

Retracing a journey taken 30 years earlier, this is a brilliant chronicle of change and an exploration of how travel can sometimes be 'the saddest of pleasures'.


Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil - John Berendt

Wildly funny, occasionally alarming and utterly enthralling – and infinitely better than the film.


The Earth Hums in B Flat - Mari Strachan

There is no sentimentality or mawkishness about this tale, merely lovely – often moving - story-telling.


Audrey Hepburn’s Neck – Alan Brown

A story of love and obsession and the clash of two wildly different cultures - this novel is a little gem.

**I’d love for you to share your favourites with us here in the comments - and whether you, too, are hooked by the title or if it’s the cover art that appeals to you first.**


xxx said...

What a wonderful seductive collection and a delightful post.

I'm currently reading... "Playing with Water A story of a garden"
by Kate Llewellyn
"They F*%k You Up" by Oliver James

the first was a recommendation and the other... I like the author and the title

best wishes

Debra Keirce said...

I'm in 2 book clubs...We'll have to check some of these out next time we need some book suggestions! Right now we're reading "A Wrinkle in Time" and "The Year of Living Biblically."

Reya Mellicker said...

Titles grab me, but cover art really does its trick on me, too. I also buy wine according to the way I react to the labels.

Marketing people love me.

Anonymous said...

I also am first drawn to the title - I love words, so the more "poetic" the title, the more likely I am to pick it up. I am currently reading "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" by Lisa See. It tells the story of women in 19th century China and the secret form of writing that they established. I love the way See writes, and I am anxious to read her newest book Shanghai Girls.

Angelique said...

I'd lie if I didn't say covers didn't have some pull for me. Not only graphics, photography, and fonts, but the texture of the book's cover, it's weight and fit in my hand. Some combination of these things led me to buy Jeanette Winterson's Art & Lies some years ago; I'd not heard of the author and, knew before reading the blurb on the back, I needed to nestle down somewhere with this book. (Other paperbacks by the same publisher--Vintage--have a strong allure, too. I think it might be the soft matte finish on their covers.) (Winterson's books, btw, are highly recommended. I've devoted a chunk of my bookshelf to her ever since that first purchase).
Looking over said bookshelf, most books are purchased based on recommendations (personal or reviews I've read) or my own knowledge of the author; among the few random inspiration purchases, I think many were decided on based on reading the back cover or the first two pages, not the cover or title. Exceptions include:
Midnight Champagne by A Manette Ansay (cover)
The Museum Guard by Norman (cover)
The Pull of the Moon by Elizabeth Berg (title)

Alexandra MacVean said...

Love your collection of books. It is usually the cover for me, when I look for a new book. Then I go straight to the back to see what it is about and if it intrigues me at all. If so, I read the first few pages and the last few pages of the book. If it still "gets me", I buy it.

Meri said...

I'm reading The Tenderness of Wolves and have a huge stack of things recommended by women in my book club whose tastes are similar to mine. It's a nice contrast to the stacks of nonfiction I've been drawn to recently. Your post is beautiful. I think I'll stay a little longer to explore.

pink dogwood said...

I get attracted to both the cover and the title.If I like an author I will read anything by them - such as Barbara Kingsolver, Tracy Chevalier, Pearl Buck, Amy Tan, Alexander McCall Smith, Jhumpha Lahiri.

Great list of recommendations - I have only read two from this list.

pRiyA said...

Its the visuals that do it for me Tessa. But when i read the titles here, i think i would have bought all of these...

Tess Kincaid said...

Thanks for the lovely suggestios. I've only read the Guernsey. I'm drawn by both the titles and the covers!

Anonymous said...

I am an advertisers dream. Bright, big and bold do it for me every time ... and I wonder why I always end up with children's books! ;0)

Holly said...

I've returned for my second look in two days and I realize I've been gone too long as I lost track after you took off on an excursion!

Thank you for the book suggestions:
You're the second to suggest the Gurnsey book so I'm going to have to start with that one.

As to what makes me decide? I'm attracted first by the artwork, next by the title...then I flip through a few pages to see if I like the 'voice'.

I suppose like a great many folk, I read from the outside/in!

I'll be keeping this list close as I consider my pile...which is as high as the arm of my reading chair. Nothing new can come in till some of current waiting ones is reduced!

I'm glad to be back to your blog!

Irene said...

I'm sad to say that in this moment of my life, I am unable to read literature anymore. I don't know what has happened, but it fails to catch my imagination like it once did very much. I used to be such an avid reader and now, nothing, although all the covers of your books appeal to me and I want to own them all for the day when I'll start reading again. If that day ever comes.

Ces Adorio said...

I admit my mind was captured by the cover with the magnificent tree. Other than that, I prefer my books to have leather binding and gilded with gold and a page where they describe and origin of the font used for printing the acid-free paper. Thus I only try to invest in books worthy to be printed in such expensive quality which means I don't read a lot modern love stories and romance novels, I find them very trashy and trite. But never mind me. My sister-friend told me yesterday I am weird because I was reading Michael Faraday's the Chemical History of a Candle. So I tried to come down to earth and read a coffee table book about turning a house into a home and sanctuary.

Tracy What'shername - ACK ACK ACK! Disugusting bed! EEEOW! Art?!

adrienne trafford said...

(originally i posted this in "shaky" by accident)

i am seduced by both the title AND the art on the cover...i guess i'm easy that way?

i really needed a new book...The Good Life sort of stopped me in my tracks - now where to begin with this incredible list??? xoxo

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Lovely to have you visit my blog and leave such a nice comment. And lovely to be led here! Thanks so much! I know I shall be a frequent visitor, and Edward and I welcome you at our place anytime!

I share your love for book covers. They seem to have replaced the hole that was left by the demise of the record album for me. I have stood in front of that statue from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and yes, the book was much better than the movie! I recently picked up the new Kate Morton... The Forgotten Garden... wonderful cover, both inside and outside!

Happy Monday to you!

Elizabeth said...

Thanks for the heads-up on all of these, many of which I haven't read! I'm headed to look at Beth Kephart (I remember reading A Slant of Sun)...

Caroline said...

This came at just the right time! I'll be needing a new book and will search out one from your list! Often I go for the cover, but then see another with an intriguing title and can't make up my mind between them (typical Libran trait!) so have to buy both! I'm currently working my way through Doris Lessing's novels having first been seduced by both the title 'The Grass is Singing' and the book's black and white cover photo of waving grasses. Thank you for this super post!

Lori ann said...

Haha I was pulled in just by the title of your post. Love that word.

I've just been loaned The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, my friend practically shoved it in my hands and said you MUST read this!

Great great selection of books Tessa, i'm off to Amazon to fill my cart!

I LOVE books of all kinds.

love to you,

Cindy said...

There's a compilation of Pablo Neruda's poems: "Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon: Selected Poems of Pablo Neruda". That title makes just makes me blush! ...And imagine standing under a fruit tree on a hot summer's night in South America. Incredible.

Elizabeth said...

You are quite right about book covers.
I used to think it would be a wonderful job -like the covers of Penguin classics.
Sarah Laurence did a recent post about the different covers of the same book in the US and in England.
I loved the cover of Austerlitz by WGSebald.

I'm currently reading "The Fortnight bt the Sea"
by R.Sherriff --a Persephone book.
Published originally in 1931 about a family from Dulwich who go to Bognor for 2 weeks in September.

Michelle said...

What a wonderful collection of books.

I recently asked a similar question on my own blog, since I had no choice in the cover the printers gave my own book. A cover I'm a bit "ambivalent" on. It worries me that others might ignore the book based on the cover. :-\

As for my own reading choices... it's been a mix of both, but I realised that although an attractive picture makes me pick a book up it's the title that makes me take it home.

I bought Tanith Lee's "Drinking Sapphire Wine" and "The Electric Forest" from a book group brochure (no cover pictures) purely for the gorgeous titles.

I just realised that all my short stories have had long titles and my book has a short title. LOL Not sure what that says about my brain!

Bee said...

I guess that everyone is thinking of their summer reading, Tessa! Just today, I was in Borders Bookstore -- scanning the featured titles on their "Buy 1 Get 1 Half Price" table. I picked up The Elegance of the Hedgehog, partly because of its intriguing title and partly because it is set in Paris.

Although you say that you choose more by title than by illustration, I thought that there were many beautiful, tempting book covers here. I was AMAZED that I had read so few of these - only the Kingsolver, Berendt, and some of Powell, in fact. So many wonderful new books -- always -- and thank goodness for that. I never tire of reviews and suggestions. I'm off to Spain soon, and still haven't decided on the contents of my book bag.

(BTW, I've read Luard's Family Life -- WONDERFUL. And didn't you like the way Craig wove the fairy tales through In a Dark Wood? Craig's blog is very good, although I'm sure you don't need any more blogs to read!)

Sarah Laurence said...

I love this post! I often wonder about what compels people to pick up a book and read it. The biggest draw for me is a good review in a newspaper or blog or a recommendation from a friend. You are right that some covers and titles are irresistible.

Dancing to the Precipice is the best title. You are reminding me to read The Tree Where Man Was Born, resting in my bookcase. I loved all of Kingsolver’s novels and the Potato book too. I will have to come back to this fun post next time I need another book recommendation.

In a bookstore I usually head to the new release section and look at all the new novels. I try not to let the art or title affect me, as I now know how little it may have to do with the book. I do appreciate a good binding job and rough-cut pages. I love old leather bound books. I usually skim the first chapter before buying a book to avoid cover seduction and buyer remorse. I still enjoy looking at covers.

I enjoyed your sketch below too and post on Pimm’s.

Beth Kephart said...

Oh gosh. Once again, you have me. I was comparing, trying to get at the heart of what makes for a good title for you, reading along.... and then.

Thank you, Tessa.

I was just talking to a few people who won't read The Elegance of the Hedgehog because of its title. Which is such a shame because it is SUCH a fabulously good book.

As for STILL LOVE IN STRANGE PLACES, all credit goes to my son. Who suggested that such a title might work.

A Cuban In London said...

Well, what seduced me about your post was the rich and exuberant language you used, the language we all have in common: the language of books. It is a secret lingo that unites kindred souls yearning for the same intellectual satisfaction.

Even before amazon came up with its 'Readers Who Choose This Book Also Chose...' I already had the same inclination. I read a lot of good and bad literature in my late teens and early twenties (Jackie Collins, where are you? Don't hide!)) so became more selective in my mid-twenties.

I have to admit that I have not read 90% percent of the authors on your list and I am ashamed to say, too, that I have been scribbling down their names and adding them on to my books' wishlist. My shame has no end :-). I have read Paul Theroux, but not that title particularly.

Cover artwork might do the trick on me sometimes, but geenrally I am not really fazed by them, unlike in music, wheres sometimes a cover design shakes and rattles my inner self.

Many thanks for such a fantastic post.

Greetings from London.

Renee said...

Tessa, boy there are so many I don't even know where to begin.

But I definitely get hooked to a book by the title.

Love Renee xoxo

Michelle said...


Thank you for the kind words about my book cover.

Please - if you buy my book and the front acknowledgement says "Sandy" instead of "Alexander"... it's the old version that wasn't proof read properly. I had the name change in the front to make it easy to check.
Old version with errors - 304 pages and Sandy.
New proof read copy - 308 pages and Alexander.

kendalee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kendalee said...

Aaah, in light of the above post, this musing makes even more sense. For me it's a bit of both. I have chosen several of those on your list for their titles too, most recently read The Earth Hums in B Flat - loved the title AND the cover!

While I won't buy a book solely because of its cover, I might not buy it because of its cover, if that makes sense? I find it hard to buy a book if I hate the cover, no matter how intriguing the story might be, so I might never pick it up to read the synopsis in the first place. It's not fair to the book, I know. But it's true.

Tessa said...

Gosh, thank you so much, everyone, for your input. I can't begin to tell you how much I appreciate your comments. I really enjoyed this particular exchange of points of view. Overall, it seems we are drawn by both title and cover, don't you think?

kj said...

tessa, how many posts i've missed while mud wrestling with blogger.

my most interesting title this month is book on writing called 'shitty first drafts.'

how apt is that?!

i also am drawn to the book ribbon mentioned, "They F#@k You Up". i must be into quite expressive colorful foul language words lately!

when the muse(s) FINALLY gave me the title for my book, The Light Stays On,' I was so happy and relieved because i liked it. the title was the hardest part for me. you're so right how important it is