Call ’em like I see ’em or Judging books by their covers: A Review

“You shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover.”- someone once upon a time

We’ve all heard this adage, we’ve (almost) all said this adage.  The point behind it is you shouldn’t judge a person before you get to know them, because how they look isn’t all they are.  Fair enough, a person’s value shouldn’t be determined by how they look.

Moving back to actual books: OF COURSE WE JUDGE BOOKS BY THEIR COVERS!  It’s ridiculous to think otherwise.  When you’re browsing in a book store and pick a book up you are caught by two things: Title and cover layout.  Both are on the cover.  I’ll admit title usually weighs more for me than cover layout, but I’ve definitely had cover layout that’s turned me off an otherwise intriguing title.  And perhaps you’ll open the book or flip to the back to read the description of the book, which is generally seen as the clincher for getting you to open the book to read it more in-depth or just buy it then.  So we can all agree that book covers are important.

Recently my library got a book in that my coworker saw and wanted to recommend to me, because it’s just the kind of thing I like (Warning, unless you ACTUALLY have some knowledge of what the person in question reads, don’t make assumptions on off-hand comments).  It was Cool Japan Guide pictured here.

The summary blurb isn’t much better: emphasizing otaku culture and comic festivals too much for me to take it very seriously.  I do like anime and manga, very much so in fact, but I know it is but a VERY small portion of Japanese culture even if it was my first introduction to Japan.  So I was honestly a bit annoyed that someone would assume that this obviously poorly drawn, narrow-viewed take of Japanese culture travelogue/travel guide would interest me when I’ve read the beautifully drawn travelogues of Lucy Kinsley (Relish, while not technically a travelogue, is one of my favorites).  So I decided to read it and find out just how bad it was.

Turns out, it’s really not bad at all.  The art is mediocre at BEST (and sometimes downright awful, I forgive quirky drawings of food and vistas but stay away from people), but the actually travelogue is pretty good.  It’s written in a friendly, approachable style that is very personal and personable.  It’s a very broad overview of large parts of Japan and the kinds of places, events, foods, and activities you can enjoy there as well as some warnings to avoid culture shock.  It offers some basic vocabulary words and a phrase or two one might find useful.  The best part, in my opinion, is it offers a few apps you can download to your phone to help during your stay in Japan. There’s no set chronology to the chapters outside of the first and last ones really, which could be seen as a minus, but since I wouldn’t recommend this as any kind of definitive guide it’s not that big a deal.

If I were going to bother recommending it I would suggest reading it before the trip to get some ideas from it and get a more useful travel book to take with you during the trip.

So, at this point it seems a safe bet to say this is a good reason to not judge a book by it’s cover.  I’m actually going to argue against that.  My problem is that this book is pretty decent and not a bad or terribly long read so why would you present in a way that’s gong to turn off a decent chunk of your crowd?  Why would I think poorly drawn “anime” style art on the cover mean the book is any good.  In the case of nonfiction, especially books that purport to be authorities on a subject, professionalism is imperative, even if the book is supposed to be a more casual style of travelogue.  If a person shows up at an interview for a banking position in ripped jeans, a tank top, and flip-flops they won’t get the job because they haven’t presented themselves appropriately, no matter how brilliant a banker they are.

In the end I’m fine with having read it, it was an interesting diversion for an hour, but it wasn’t life-changing and I doubt it would convince anyone going to Japan was a good idea unless they already wanted to go.  It also wasn’t personally compelling like over travelogues so it doesn’t really make for a great entertaining read.  So in general, meh.  But it wasn’t terrible, so in that it was better than I was expecting from the cover.

Ultimately I suppose the question is: Is it right to judge a book by it’s cover?  What’s your opinion?

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