You can't remember the name of the novel you're looking for because there is no title on the cover.
Strange, yes. But it seems to be happening more and more. Book covers without words. The front of the just-published "Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President" by Justin A. Frank, for instance, is a big white question mark against a Coke-red background. The dot of the question mark is the head of George W. Bush. That's it. No title, no author's name. No writing on the cover at all. Striking, attention-grabbing, provocative, but ultimately useless if you want to remember the name of the book.
A book without a title on the cover is like: a dollar without old George, a Hells Angel without tattoos, Tiger Woods without any swooshes. Something's missing.
You are reminded of those laminated safety instruction sheets in airliner seat-back pockets -- the ones with the silly, stylized illustrations for people who can't read English. But "Bush on the Couch" is a 240-plus-page book that depends on words to convey certain ideas about our commander in chief.
Shouldn't words be used to sell words?
Not necessarily, says Michelle Ishay. "Consumers are constantly bombarded by words and images," explains the art director at ReganBooks who oversaw the design of Frank's book. "It's nice to finally see an image that makes you have to think."
Ishay adds, "Therein lies the strength."
Frank, a Washington psychiatrist, says of the cover, "I loved it because somehow the people who did the cover understood the essence of the book."
And that is? "The essence of the book," Frank says, "is: Who is George Bush?"
When the author first saw the cover, he didn't understand. "It was all folded out," says Frank, who thought that the title was running up the side of the cover. Someone explained to him that the title was printed on the spine, but not on the cover.
"It never occurred to me to have a cover without writing on it," he says.
It has occurred to other publishers, who have jumped on the wordless wagon. "Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible" by Peter Manseau and Jeff Sharlet was published earlier this year by Free Press. The front of the book jacket is a photo of a Magritte sky -- truly blue with billowing white clouds -- and a large red X drawn through it. No title, no author's name.
Just like that novel you are looking for.
You call a bookseller and try to describe it to him. It was sort of greenish, you say, and yellowish. Maybe there were bricks on part of it. Maybe a wall.
You honestly can't remember.
The bookseller asks if he can put you on hold for a second and go look for it. You say sure, then ask: But what will you look for?
The bookseller pauses. "I don't know," he says.
Then he says he will ask around and see if other booksellers recall it and call you back.
You can't look up the novel yourself on Amazon or barnesandnoble.com. What words can you type into the search box?
There are other examples of covers without titles. The trade paperback version of "Stargirl," a young-adult novel by Jerry Spinelli, has the author's name on the cover, but no title. Instead there are childish drawings of a little green girl standing beneath a yellow star in a field of blue.
Star. Girl. Get it?
You'll get it if you've seen the words, perhaps. But when you show the book to a couple of people at Borders Books & Music on Rockville Pike and ask them what they think the title might be, you get a couple of different answers:
" 'A Girl With a Star Over Her Head,' " says Myles McCool, 13, of Kensington.
" 'Wishful Thinking'?" says Amy Young, 29, of Charles Town, W.Va.
When you show the book to one of your own sons and ask him what he thinks it's called, he pauses for a second. " 'Jerry Spinelli'?"
The bookseller who put you on hold never calls you back. And so you wander on in life without knowing, without any way of knowing, the title of the novel that intrigued you.
You close your eyes and try to envision the cover. It had a picture of a lizard on it. Or a snake. Or . . .