Fix the girly book covers!

Yigggh.
Yeergh.
The abstract symbol is optional, but the Franzen quote isn't.
The abstract symbol is optional, but the Franzen quote isn’t.

Maureen Johnson is absolutely right. This needs to stop.

The author suggested on Twitter: “PROJECT! Redesign book covers by Literary Dudes. Imagine they have been reclassified as by and for women. #challenge.” The responses poured in – HuffingtonPost has a slideshow — and they’re telling.

And we wonder why boys don’t read as much as girls. Since the 1970s, tests have found that they score behind their female counterparts on reading. Is the problem, as some suggest, that girls gladly devour both “boy books” and “girl books” but boys only read “boy books”? If so, the covers certainly aren’t helping.

Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover? Why not? Tyler The Creator does (“I always judge a book by the cover/Never the page”). After all, the person designing the cover knows more about the book than you do, presumably. He or she has already judged the book — and in the cases of many books by women, condemned it to the pastel, cursive, photo-heavy Lady Book ghetto. Every so often, one valiant novel or memoir manages to make a break for it and streak into the genderless This Will Appeal To All Of You territory of a “Hunger Games” or even a “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” (well, no photo, anyway). But they’re the exceptions, not the rules. 

You would think that it would be in everyone’s interest to get everyone reading everything. Girls will devour “Little Women” and “Old Yeller” with equal voracity. Boys? Not so much. Which is a shame. Not reading is a terrible idea — it has dreadful ramifications for your academic success, and confines the circle of your acquaintance to the people you have actually met. But instead of marketing all books to both, which seems unlikely to deter girls and might increase the male audience, we have these bizarre boundaries instead.

As Johnson points out, just the fact that its author is female or its protagonist is female doesn’t mean that a book Can Only Be Read By Women. There’s nothing wrong with books by women for women. Women comprise the majority of readers, and there is no shame in trying to appeal to them. But, can we cool it with the covers?

(Then again, much as it pains me, e-readers might be our way out of this. If the success of “Fifty Shades of Grey” has taught us anything, it’s that once you eliminate the element of subway cover-shaming, people will read ANYTHING. All you have to do is get past the thumbnail.)

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.
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Alexandra Petri | May 9, 2013