Judging a book by its cover

I’ve been thinking about e-books & e-readers lately. The pros & cons. I’m not even a little bit tempted by an e-reader in my everyday life but I do think it would be useful in some circumstances. I can see myself using one if I travelled a lot. There might be room in the suitcase for a few more essentials like shoes if the first consideration of packing wasn’t which books to take & how many? Travel guides would be much more practical on an e-reader if it was of a size to pop in a bag & carry with you all the time. I know the ability to increase the font size is a great benefit to many people.

But, the greatest loss to me would be losing the physical book. The author of an article I read somewhere recently was almost lyrical in his praise of the physical book. I love to fully examine new books. If they’re non-fiction, I look at the pictures, read the Introduction & the Bibliography, check the Index to see how much I’ll find about authors or subjects I’m especially interested in. All this before the book is either read immediately or shelved for another day.

Then, when I was rearranging my tbr shelves the other day, I found myself looking at the different covers of classics from OUP & Penguin from different eras of cover design. You can see four different styles of Penguin Classics above. This is something else I’d miss if I no longer had the physical book, if it was just loaded onto an e-reader. The books on our shelves also say a lot about who we are. Sometimes it’s a way to show off, sometimes it’s a way to give an impression of the person you wish you were. I’ve been told that the walls of bookshelves & hundreds of books in my house will make it very difficult to sell. Too many books put off prospective buyers. To me, too few books would make a house unliveable.

Looking at the classic covers on my tbr shelves set me off collecting books from all my bookshelves. I found lots of favourites so I thought I’d share them. This is the latest version of the Penguin Modern Classics, replacing the older version with the silver or green spines. I love these. The paper is so white & crisp. Much as I love Penguins, I love Oxford University Press Classics even more.

This is the oldest version I have from the early 1980s. I love the font of these books (it’s a bit hard to see in the photo) & the way they lie so beautifully in the hand without needing to crease or break the spine to read comfortably.

My favourite OUP covers are these from the 1990s.Again, the books themselves are easy to read, the font is readable & the paper is a lovely cream.

Then, OUP changed to the design used for Mrs Dalloway here, my least favourite. I always found these books quite stiffly bound & the font a little small.



The latest version of the OUP Classics is just beautiful. I love them almost as much as the 90s version. I’ve found myself buying new copies of books I already own just because the OUP cover is so lovely. I also like reading different Introductions & Notes for classic novels so I do have some excuse for having more than one copy.

I had a lovely time trawling the shelves for all these books, admiring the covers & remembering how much I enjoyed reading the contents. I haven’t even mentioned other publishers whose books are prized for the beauty of the object as well as the contents – Virago, Persephone, Hesperus. While publishers continue to produce such gorgeous objects, I’ll continue to resist the convenience of the e-reader.

10 thoughts on “Judging a book by its cover

  1. I feel the same about the e-reader. The only way I could ever see owning one is if I traveled a lot. I don't – so I won't. I too love richly designed and produced books, even in paperback. LOVE trade paperbacks, dislike mass market. Though I still love the covers of my few battered (non-trade) Agatha Christies from the 60's. But then, mass market was different then.

    It was fun reading about your favorites, your books down from your shelves. You have a wonderful collection.

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  2. I'm glad I'm not the only one who is so particular about books and covers — I will order a particular edition specially because I prefer a certain cover! I haven't yet gotten to the point where I'll buy multiple copies, however.

    And how sad is it that too many bookshelves turns off potential buyers? that is so wrong. Sigh.

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  3. I had no interest in an ereader until a couple of weeks ago, when I finished The Leavenworth Case and discovered the rest of Anne Katherine Green's books are on the Gutenberg Project but not in print. Now I want one to be able to easily read more obscure classics! I would never replace my physical books with eversions, though.

    Loved seeing the cover comparisons! My favourites are the newest OUP. 🙂

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  4. Like Eva, I think I might be pulled by an e-reader at some point for certain things–but I'm much too enamored by looking at my books surrounding me when I am home. It feels like a confirmation of who I am. And I know I only feel like I've really begun to know my friends after I've poked through their shelves.

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  5. I do love my e reader but I love the real thing much more and always will, but when you discover a site like
    http://girlebooks.com/ and all those free out of print books just there for the downloading that little electronic device holds unique pleasures of its own too.
    OWC my favourites and I will always read a classic in their edition if its available. I was at a meeting at OUP just before the re-branding was about to happen and expressed my reader-nervousness about it all. I was lucky enough to meet the Editor in chief and bent her ear with all those fears about paper quality and typeface etc and they reassured me that all would be well. In fact I hardly notice the change now and I do love the new covers, fantastic, the Virginia Woolfs are my favourites.

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  6. You're right, all those out of print books available as e-books will probably tempt me to get a e-reader one day. Lynne, I had a look at girlebooks, what a wonderful selection of classics! Especially the less available 18th century ones. I think I'll always want both, even if I do buy an e-reader at some point. Just being able to get up & find a photo or check a reference & know exactly where it is, it just wouldn't be the same without the real thing.

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  7. I love the look of the Oxford world classics and also love that they are on the whole a pound or so cheaper than their nearest rivals. Value and quality in one lovely package feeds my addiction to new books. Couldn't imagine living in a house without book space.

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  8. The new OUP classics are divine. I hate buying new paperbacks personally – I only really buy old second hand hardbacks as I can't abide cracked spines and prefer the look and feel of old books, but even I was so enamoured by the new look that I bought a couple of them last year.

    I quite agree about e readers, though I can see occasions where having one would be useful, such as for holidays and downloading hard to find texts. As a commuter, using an e reader would also do wonders for my back, as I am often lugging heavy books around with me. Even so, I'd still want the hard copy on my shelf, so I would object to having to pay for a book twice!

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