Why I Frequently Judge a Book by its Cover

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While I’m far from what might be called a prolific reader (I’m still working my way through Andrew Marr’s The Making of Modern Britain, received as a gift (and started, I might add) at Christmas 2009 and only recently returned to. Jolly good it is, too.) I do nevertheless always like to have a book to read in bed. Sometimes it’ll be a book we actually own – possibly even a re-read (the most recent being The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher – a novel that apparently has also been a film and a stage play; amazing what you can learn from a glance down Google results without clicking on any if them…). More often than not, however it’ll be a good old library book.

Now, I don’t care how many Kindles or iPads are in circulation, I predict that collections of physical, printed books will endure, and hold a unique attraction, for some decades yet. And every so often I enjoy (at least at first) the indulgence of randomly prowling the shelves seeking inspiration for my next bedtime page-turner. (Incidentally, is it just me or is the phrase “a real page-turner” slightly ridiculous? Isn’t that the definition of every book? And in our electronic age will there be a new version – “this one’s a real scroller”? OTOH (you see, I am actually down with the kids and not boring and middle-aged after all) I can see that it has some validity for me since if I find myself not caring what happens on the next page then I no longer bother turning. Out comes the bookmark and the offending volume is relegated to the top of the chest of drawers pending return to whence it came.)

Where was I? Ah, yes – prowling the shelves in search of gripping entertainment. (Yes, I’ll admit to being fairly shallow in my book tastes – thrillers that make me want to know what happens next, or comedies that make me laugh and are worth the read regardless of the grippingness – or otherwise – of the plot. Well, maybe it’s a slightly wider spectrum than that but those two genres do tend to form the mainstay of my literary input.) And here, finally, is where we get to books, covers and judging.

For as I scan the spines, I take in title and author, obviously, but also observe font, colour and graphic style (not to mention those helpful little “genre stickers” applied by the staff – at least in my library – meaning I can instantly skip family sagas (woman holding child), historical dramas (castle) or seafaring tales (galleon), for example). The combination of title, style, images and sticker must arrest my attention in an instant to warrant a closer look. And there is a further factor. Because for bedtime reads, size matters. I am not one for sitting up reading. I must be able to comfortably hold the book whilst lying on my side. Therefore, a tome passing all other tests but in large hardback format just will not do.

It takes me ages to choose a book.

You don’t want to be waiting for me if I’m looking for a new library book. Half an hour at least. Quite honestly, even I get irritated by how long I take. That’s why I said I relish the process “at first”. But think how much worse it would be were I not judging books by the dozen by their covers.

I’m pleased to report that my current selection is proving suitably page-turnable. It’s distinctly on the comedy end rather than the thriller, and I judged it a possible candidate based on it’s quirky title and it’s large, wacky title lettering. It was only that 0.85 second book-cover-judging process which then led to an extraction, a blurb-perusal process and, finally and mercifully, selection.

I rest my case.

AutoMemory #2 – Vauxhall Viva LJP406K

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The only specific journey I remember taking in our green Viva was on the day Dad brought it home. It was – get this – a brand new car, and the whole family went for a drive.

(Do people do that any more – just “go for a drive”? I have a vague recollection of it happening more than once – probably on a Sunday afternoon – even when we hadn’t just got a new car…)

Well, the route of our family test drive escapes me but what remains with me is the incisive yet concise review delivered by my Mum – that the Viva had “a funny little gear stick and a horn like a raspberry”.

Jeremy Clarkson would have been proud.

What Mum’s review lacked in detail – it said nothing of handling, brake horsepower or maintenance intervals – it made up for in accuracy. For compared to the Ford Cortina (see AutoMemory #1), the Vauxhall gear lever was indeed noticeably stubby. And her description of the horn wasn’t unreasonable either.

With those two less than enthusiastic observations one could be forgiven for thinking that Mum didn’t much care for the Viva. I’d like to think, though, that in true Clarkson fashion, the real verdict would have been quite the opposite – yet only revealed, with a cunning verbal twist, in the closing moments of the review as the driver slams the door and the car heads off into the sunset.

*** To be read in Clarkson-esque fashion ***

“So. It’s not especially powerful. It has a funny little gear stick and a horn that sounds like the driver’s blowing a raspberry. And I guarantee that you’ll need to claim on the six-year anti-perforation warranty several times and have both front wings replaced within the first week or two.

It is, however, a fine family car and highly suitable for driving around Lancashire in the early seventies. I say – viva the Viva.”

While I accept, knowing Mum, that she probably never would deliver an extended car review or, in fact, impersonate Jeremy Clarkson, it’s a nice thought. Mind you, we did have both the front wings replaced so Jeremy (had he been on telly at the time) was right about that.

Mum – thanks for the memory.

AutoMemory #1 – Ford Cortina BJP566D

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THE maroon Cortina is the first family car I remember. Frankly it’s so long ago that I really only recall two things: the distinctive rear light clusters and my confusion over registration numbers. Well, three things if you include it being the first time I’d heard the word “maroon”.

And what, you may ask, was the thing with registration numbers? Simply that on one occasion Dad mentioned that the registration plate showed that the car was made in 1966. Since the number 66 was part of the registration I naturally assumed in my five-or-six-year-old way that it was the numbers you had to look at. It was several years before I understood the significance of the registration letter. Trauma indeed. Ironically nowadays it is indeed the numbers that matter – it took a few decades but I was right in the end.

There you go – the mark 1 Ford Cortina, circa 1966. I know there were earlier family vehicles (a Ford Popular and an Anglia, for example) but they were before my time so they don’t count.

More AutoMemories will follow. You have been warned.