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The Clothing of Books…Judging a book by the cover?

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri comes up with yet another personal reflection, the previous one being “In Other Words”, a book that was written in Italian.

 The Clothing of Books is a very quick and easy read, more like an essay. In fact, you can trace the genesis of the book to a talk that the author gave, rather, a keynote speech, for the ninth edition of the Festival degli Scrittori in Florence. She wrote it originally as an essay in Italian, and this was translated into English by her husband.

The book explores the author’s relationship with her own book covers, and her thoughts about the concept of book jackets.

“If the process of writing is a dream, the book cover represents the awakening. The news that a new cover is about to arrive elicits ambivalent emotions in me. On the one hand, I am moved because I have successfully brought a book to conclusion. On the other hand, I fret. I know that when the cover makes its appearance the book will be read. It will be criticized, analyzed, forgotten. Even though it exists to protect my words, the arrival of the cover, linking me to the public, makes me feel vulnerable”.

It highlights her own thoughts and views on the book jacket. But somehow, as I read the book, I feel a lot of points have been repeated, and some of them, which could have been discussed in detail, are just touched upon. She mentions the role of collaboration with the book jacket designer or the expectations people have of book covers.

One of the topics I found interesting is contained in the short chapter, The Naked Book. She discusses the role of hardcovers in the library. These books did not have pictures on the cover, or a blurb.

“They had anonymous quality, secretive. They gave nothing away in advance. To understand them, you had to read them”.


I do feel that there is scope for developing the thought. I hoped to read more of a treatise on the topic, because I believe that the theme of book covers does have a lot of potential. In that sense, I was slightly disappointed. However, the scope of the book is restricted to her personal views rather than an intensive examination of the theme of book jackets. 

Penguin Random House India, 2017

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Dhanishta Shah

Dhanishta is a Counselling Psychologist and a freelance writer. She is the Founder of Bookedforlife.