A friend and fellow writer on FB tagged me to do a meme. The instructions were to post seven book covers that you liked or were influential in your life, with a brief explanation, then tag other writers to do the same. This was to take place over seven consecutive days. Apart from the problem of getting my head around logging in and posting every day, which, incidentally, I managed, I was a bit worried because I lost a lot of my favourite or most important books in our fires in Portugal, and had to do a lot of googling to get approximate versions of the covers I wanted to use. It was hard to choose the covers. A lot of the books I read early in life had plain covers, and I can’t quite remember when modern covers became the norm. Also, I might like a book but not the cover, or vice versa. I decided to go with the first seven that pushed their way to the front of my mind. I thought you might be interested, so here they are. Obviously, if you read the FB posts you can now stop reading this!
My first cover is of The Fellowship of the Ring, the first part of Tolkien’s trilogy. I ought perhaps to say that most of my books as a child and teenager had plain covers – often faux leather or the Penguin coded ones – and this came as an intriguing surprise. My own copy looks like this but is grey with black, white and red; I don’t currently have a scanner and Amazon don’t apparently have the old version. The elvish script and the way the shape reflects the title, the hint of exotic lands, heroic deeds and a group adventure – these all appealed to me as soon as I saw the book. I had no idea in advance what it would look like – a school friend had recommended it and I requested it as a Christmas present. It is a gift that has kept on giving, as I have read it numerous times, and have referred to the maps and notes when reading The Hobbit and after watching the films. My son-in-law assures me that if I hadn’t actually read my copies of the books they would now be valuable. They are valuable to me, in any case!
My second cover is perhaps a cheat. I have lost my copy, so even if I had a scanner I couldn’t scan it. So I looked on Amazon, in vain, and then googled images. This comes nearest but is not quite as I remember it.
George Macdonald’s The Princess and the Goblin was written in 1870 but still appealed to me when I came across it in the 1950s. The cover hinted at the themes of good and evil, of a child learning about hidden things, and of magical beings. I know my cover had the ‘fairy godmother’ element, and was, like this, a plain cover with a picture superimposed – actually stuck on – in the centre. I’m not sure it was exactly this one; I seem to remember more blueness.
I enjoyed the book and its sequel, The Princess and Curdie. I was never encouraged to read ‘fairy stories’, though perhaps this one was an exception because the author originally published it in a Christian magazine. This may or may not explain my current addiction to fantasy and all things fae! Anyway, I loved the story, though not really for the ‘good and evil’ aspect that the author was perhaps trying to emphasise. I loved the idea of the hidden world of goblins, of their possible interaction with ‘reality’ and the idea that an ordinary girl, albeit a princess, could be introduced to that world. I loved the cover, partly because of liking the contents, but also for its promise of secrets. It’s a precursor of stories like Mary Norton’s Borrowers and Pratchett’s Truckers for younger readers and CJ Cherryh’s Goblin Mirror for adults. It also echoes a variety of traditional tales such as the one about the elves and the shoemaker. I was, I remember, reminded of AA Milne’s Christopher Robin poem about the brownies who might have lived behind the nursery curtain.
Day three. My choice of cover is The Warden by Anthony Trollope. It is, of course, the first in the Barchester Chronicles, a series I loved before the BBC found it. I like the way this cover shows me a picture of rural England and suggests I can enter it and get to know the people and places in the books. It doesn’t try to impose a portrait of any of the characters, either from an artist’s imagination or from a film version, but lets me create them in my own mind. I originally borrowed the books from a friend and from the library, then my daughter bought me a set, (none of which had this cover). In any case, my copies were lost in the fire.
I enjoy the slow unfolding of Barchester life with its sense of place, the gradual character development, and the way the stories never follow traditional tropes or paths but grow out of the characters and their surroundings. I think I prefer Trollope to Austen, though it’s a close call. At any rate, I prefer both to Dickens or Eliot at least partly because there is less high drama and more recounting of gentle individual joys and sorrows. I like nineteenth century novels with their measured pace, so at odds with present day ideas of story-telling. I like modern novels too, but variety is good!
My fourth cover has to be The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett, the book that introduces the Discworld series. Paul Kidby’s covers (to the whole series) complement the stories. Both the illustrations and the stories are detailed, funny, wise, and refreshing. They teach us about ourselves and our world in the guise of fantasy tales and pictures, and repay frequent visits! I had all the books and have rescued some. I also had a calendar of covers which might still be around, buried in a box. I love looking at the pictures and finding the characters mentioned in the story. Needless to say, I love the books, too. I love all their covers and have just chosen this first one to represent the rest.
For the fifth day I’ve chosen The Ancestor’s Tale by Richard Dawkins. This was the cover of the copy I had (before the fire) but my version was a softback. It was quite hard to read in the physical sense – heavy, and difficult to keep open, with shiny pages that didn’t do my eyesight any favours. I had to use a lap tray and be careful about lighting. However, I loved the book and the cover seems to point to the wonders within! I can be irritated with the typical Dawkins stridency about all kinds of things revolving round evolution (even though I agree with him) but this is a purely factual book, presenting the latest in research. It is structured in a way that echoes The Canterbury Tales, which is amusing and holds the reader’s interest. Dawkins and his co-writer Yan Wong take the reader from the very beginning of life on our planet to the present day, taking their time, and exploring all kinds of byways as they go. I enjoy reading about biology, and evolution, and this book is excellent. It is also perfectly accessible to the ‘lay’ person, even though the research is, of course, excellent. If I repurchase it, I will not be going for the landscape softback edition even though the orientation suits the illustrations. It was too hard to deal with, and as a new copy would be mainly for reference purposes, a ‘normal’ book would almost certainly suit me better.
My sixth cover is for A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. It’s a straightforward romance though it’s far more than that and it’s very long (and very satisfying).The story concerns an Indian girl from a ‘good’ family, and the search for the right bridegroom. In the course of the novel the heroine and the reader meet a variety of possible husbands, and it is interesting that the western reader’s choice might well be quite different from the eventual decision reached by the heroine and her family. The book follows the numerous suitors’ lives in some detail, and gives us a lot of insight into life and culture in modern India, including politics, religion and gender issues. I loved the novel, was deeply immersed in the various lives and loves, and was quite startled by the final approval of the suitable boy. My copy (lost) had this cover, which I think gives a good idea of the contents: a gateway to the world of the upper class Indian in the second half of the twentieth century, not long after the partition from Pakistan. The peacock represents India, of course, but also refers to some of the candidates for Lata’s hand, as well as, perhaps, to Lata herself.
My final cover is one I do not possess (and have never had it) but which is firmly on my wish list. Harry Potter – A History of Magic, produced by the British Library, is the book of the exhibition. I don’t often visit London and when I did, I was unable to get a ticket to the exhibition at a convenient time, but I saw the television programme based on it, and would love to have the book. I’d like the hardback version because I know I’d be using it as a reference book and for me, neither e-books nor paperbacks are adequate for that purpose on a long term basis. I love the cover. The phoenix encapsulates the Harry Potter connection plus the theme of ideas rising from unlikely or unusual origins to create a tradition of magic. Since some of my writing involves fantasy and magic, I would hope to find inspiration and information within the text and illustrations. The television programme was tantalising and has raised my expectations.