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The Clothing of Books

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How do you clothe a book?

In this deeply personal reflection, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Jhumpa Lahiri explores the art of the book jacket from the perspectives of both reader and writer. Probing the complex relationships between text and image, author and designer, and art and commerce, Lahiri delves into the role of the uniform; explains what book jackets and design have come to mean to her; and how, sometimes, “the covers become a part of me.”

74 pages, Paperback

First published November 15, 2016

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About the author

Jhumpa Lahiri

101 books12.6k followers
Nilanjana Sudeshna "Jhumpa" Lahiri was born in London and brought up in South Kingstown, Rhode Island. Brought up in America by a mother who wanted to raise her children to be Indian, she learned about her Bengali heritage from an early age.

Lahiri graduated from South Kingstown High School and later received her B.A. in English literature from Barnard College in 1989. She then received multiple degrees from Boston University: an M.A. in English, an M.A. in Creative Writing, an M.A. in Comparative Literature and a Ph.D. in Renaissance Studies. She took up a fellowship at Provincetown's Fine Arts Work Center, which lasted for the next two years (1997-1998).

In 2001, she married Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush, a journalist who was then Deputy Editor of TIME Latin America Lahiri currently lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children. She has been a Vice President of the PEN American Center since 2005.

Lahiri taught creative writing at Boston University and the Rhode Island School of Design. Much of her short fiction concerns the lives of Indian-Americans, particularly Bengalis.

She received the following awards, among others:
1999 - PEN/Hemingway Award (Best Fiction Debut of the Year) for Interpreter of Maladies;
2000 - The New Yorker's Best Debut of the Year for Interpreter of Maladies;
2000 - Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her debut Interpreter of Maladies

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 584 reviews
Profile Image for Glenn Russell.
1,359 reviews11.8k followers
June 25, 2022

Up for a dose of delight? Treat yourself to an hour of sheer joy as you read or listen via audible as Jhumpa Lahiri narrates her reflections on a subject near and dear to the hearts of all booklovers: the art of book covers.

What is a book cover for a writer? How much attention does a potential reader give the cover of a book? Should commercial interests override aesthetic ones? These are just three of the many questions Jhumpa Lahiri addresses.

“Personally, I think it deplorable to place the words and opinions of others on the book jacket. I want the first words read by the reader of my book to be written by me.” I wonder if Jhumpa was thinking of her book below when she wrote these words.

“The right cover is like a beautiful coat, elegant and warm, wrapping my words as they travel through the world, on their way to keep an appointment with my readers." The disadvantage for an author working with a large commercial publisher - loss of control in the process of creating a book cover. I myself had the good fortune some years ago to create my own book cover when I worked with a small publisher. Here it is: I did both the cover design and the montage art.

"Like a translation, a cover can be faithful to the book, or it can be misleading." I suspect we all can agree Penguin has consistently done a fabulous job in choosing art that captures the spirit of the book. I wouldn't be surprised if thousands of readers have a special place for this Jane Austen edition in their personal library.

"The writer's voice is a singular one, solitary. Art is nothing other than the freedom to express oneself in any language, in whatever manner, dressed any which way.” Here's a cover for Hermann Hesse's masterpiece that instantly attracted me to the novel back when I was in my early 20s.

A book cover counts for so much. The artwork on the cover of this Penguin captures the spirit of Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Devils. I vividly recall looking at this cover each and every time I read the novel.

Those publishers of science fiction back in mid-20th century came up with covers for their pulp paperbacks that were colorful, riveting eye candy. Then when the works were republished for a new generation, the colors and design became a slicker form of eye candy. I recall the exact day I walked into my local bookstore and saw an entire shelf of the new Vantage Press Philip K. Dick novels.

New York Review Books does a great job with its cover design which includes not only the title and author but also a note on the writer who has written an essay to go along with the work. Here are my two favorite NYRB book covers.

Likewise, Europa Editions takes the needed time and energy to create an attractive, informative book cover.

One of the goals for Tartarus Press is to produce high quality books that will be valued by collectors many decades from now. As part of their publishing aesthetic, their book covers are all simple, elegant and clean. I myself have a special shelf for my Tartarus Press books.

Below are three modern book covers for international classics. One of the great advantages of our current global culture: millions of readers around the word have instant access to these fine novels.

Jhumpa Lahiri has much to say regarding older books and books destined to be made part of a set of classics for the ages.

If my review prompts you to give this short book a go, I've done my job, for sure. Also, please feel free to share your own favorite book cover in the comment section.

Profile Image for Brina.
904 reviews4 followers
December 5, 2017
Jhumpa Lahiri is fast becoming one of my favorite go-to contemporary authors. She writes luscious prose about timely issues in both English and Italian, and her short stories contain such depth that she practically tells an entire novel in each one. I am always on alert to see if one my preferred authors has written a new book, and, while I was not met with euphoria that she had written a new full length novel, I did discover an essay penned by Lahiri in Italian last year entitled The Clothing of Books. In this short length talk that has since been translated into dozens of languages including English, Lahiri discusses her feelings about book jackets and how they create an entirely new language for each individual book.

Lahiri commences her talk with an anecdote about school uniforms. I can relate. My children started wearing uniforms this year. The students are dressed the same yet each is a unique individual. This is Lahiri's feeling about books and their jackets. Each book as well as each edition of a book has its own jacket which clothes it. Without the jacket, a book is considered unfinished, naked. Lahiri can identify her own books in a variety of languages based on the jackets. She is allowed to consult with her publisher in order to put her unique flair into a book which she has spent years revising. How many times have people been drawn to books based on their covers? Lahiri points out that the cover itself comprises a distinct language, separate depending on the translation. Each country puts its own stamp onto a book, contributing to it becoming a classic, best seller, or, in some cases, a bust.

In one instance, Lahiri noticed a different book with the jacket to Interpreter of Maladies, her award winning debut collection. Immediately she notified her publisher but to no avail, and the two books, while entirely different, would begin to share a history. Lahiri does not appreciate that in the United States, publishes prefer that her covers contain Indian imagery, even though her books take place on American and now Italian soil. Yet, it is Lahiri's Indian heritage that draws me to her books, and she can not separate herself from her family's immigrant experience no matter how much she tries to associate herself with the Italian language now. By all respects, Lahiri is a polyglot, an immigrant to two distinct countries, and her books and their covers tell a distinct story in each continent, country, and language.

The Clothing of Books could be a nice gift for a book lover at this holiday season. It tells a distinct story and provides many jumping off points for discussions even though it is under one hundred pages in length. This coffee table book can be read in under an hour but should not let the plain blue cover fool the reader into a sense that this is a book to be taken lightly. Although one of the shortest books I have read this year, it is written by one of my favorites, and, as Lahiri notes, it is duly important to judge a book by its cover.

4 stars
Profile Image for PorshaJo.
453 reviews659 followers
December 15, 2017
74 pages on thoughts on book covers. Yup. But it was quite fascinating. I'm a huge Jhumpa Lahiri fan and have read all her books. I was recently looking at my library list of new audio books and saw this was there. I was so excited and immediately started it. In The Clothing of Books, Lahiri details how she feels about book covers, really feels about them. She has published 5 books and that sums up to over 100 different book covers/jackets. 100 different! Different covers for hardcover, paperback, ebooks, audio and then for different countries. If you are a lover of books this is a wonderful read. Very short, less than 1 hr to listen to via audio, which is also narrated by Lahiri.

She also talks about how sometimes authors don't have a choice on their book covers. For her books, the covers typically have Indian themes when in fact, her books take place in America and now Italy. I also found it interesting that she said books should sell the author, but many book covers have so many quotes from OTHER authors telling you why you should read the book. But does the cover sell the author, in most cases, no. I am one who is drawn to book covers. Sometimes I have picked up a book solely on being lured in by the cover. Other times, I shunned books due to horrible covers. I finally gave in on one of these horrible book covers and found such a gem (I'm looking at you The Animators). I'm sure as book lovers, many people 'judge' a book by it's cover. Another interesting item is that if a book does not sell very well, the cover is changed.

As I was listening to this one, I could not help think this was done as a way for Lahiri to practice writing in Italian. Her last book was about her love of the language, written in Italian. In the end, she notes that this was a talk she wrote to deliver at a festival in Italy and turned into this gem of a book.
Profile Image for Jola.
180 reviews248 followers
July 15, 2017
Believe me, it’s such a glorious feeling to find out that one of your favourite authors has written a book on the topic you feel passionate about. And as far as Jhumpa Lahiri is concerned, it has happened to me twice. In 2015 she published 'In Altre Parole' ('In Other words'), a book about her love for the Italian language, which I share in 100% or even more, and in 2016 an essay on book covers, 'The Clothing of Books'.

I must make a confession here: I’ve been obsessed with book covers since I can remember. I love staring at them, comparing them, deciding which one is the best, finding the relations between them and the contents of the book, which is a challenge at times. If you are at the bookshop next time and notice a woman gaping at covers, with dreamy eyes and an ecstatic smile, murmuring something in delight, it might be me. Needless to say, I felt euphoric when it turned out that Jhumpa Lahiri shares my hobby.

I adore Jhumpa Lahiri's books and I have a feeling that if we ever met in person, we would get on well. According to her, 'Like every true love, that of the reader is blind'. So is probably mine, but I suspect a less enthusiastic reader might not find 'The Clothing of Books' perfect. Let me draw your attention to the fact that it has got only 74 pages (!). This scarce number and the feeling that I'm not getting enough was one of the issues I had with this essay. The lack of illustrations bothered me even more. What a weird idea to publish a book about covers without even one picture! A book? Well, it’s actually an altered version of a lecture Lahiri gave at a literary festival. Please, bear all these things in mind, so you won’t feel disappointed eventually.

For me it was utterly fascinating to look at book jackets from a writer’s point of view. Such a pity the process of creating a cover is so impersonal nowadays, the example of cooperation between Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell sounds like a fairy tale. Lahiri observes that in our time the function of a cover is 'much more commercial than aesthetic' alas.

It turned out that the covers of the books she's written awake strong emotions in Jhumpa Lahiri. I’m so curious which one she means here: 'There is a certain awful cover for one of my books that elicits in me an almost violent response. Every time I am asked to autograph that edition, I feel the impulse to rip the cover off the book.'

Jhumpa Lahiri's opinion on book covers is summarized nicely in this passage:
'The right cover is like a beautiful coat, elegant and warm, wrapping my words as they travel through the world, on their way to keep an appointment with my readers.
The wrong cover is cumbersome, suffocating. Or it is like a too-light sweater: inadequate.
A good cover is flattering. I feel myself listened to, understood.
A bad cover is like an enemy; I find it hateful.'

The covers Lahiri likes are simple, minimalistic, ascetic. She hates aggressive colours, blurbs, quotes, additional photos, biographic details. I think she would like the lovely one I saw yesterday, especially given the fact that she is a fan of Einaudi series and Italian designs in general.
Einaudi, 2008.
Einaudi, 2008.

In 'The Clothing of Books' you will find not only Lahiri’s opinions on covers but also on series of books, the differences between books published in Italy and the United States, the gap between publishing house’s expectations and writer’s ambitions, paintings by Richard Baker, her Italian friends, image stereotypes, being bullied, clothes, and many more.

One of the things which astonish Jhumpa Lahiri, is the variety of covers and artists' interpretations. 'How is it possible that one book, the same book, can generate this panorama of images?', she wonders. This morning I had very similar thoughts when I saw a few editions of ' The Blithedale Romance' by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Just have a look. Spotting the difference won't be hard.
Modern Library, 2001.
Modern Library, 2001.

Penguin Classics, 1983.
Penguin Classics, 1983.

If all the words were deleted, would you believe they are both the covers of the same book?

'The Clothing of Books' is really tiny so I’d better stop here, as I would like your encounter with this essay to be as personal and satisfactory as possible.

My ‘telepathic’ connection with Jhumpa Lahiri amuses me, though I’m fully aware of the fact that it’s just a funny coincidence. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t be much surprised if new books by this author were about dachshunds or wild strawberries or the dusk in the mountains or baking bread or the colour lilac. These are a few of my favourite things.
Profile Image for Heather K (dentist in my spare time).
3,861 reviews5,640 followers
November 2, 2016
When I saw the blurb for this book, I was really intrigued. As a former art history major in college and a voracious reader, I was immediately interested in the relationship between a book cover and the content inside. Understanding and interpreting art has been a passion of mine, so I figured that this book would delve into the intersection of art and reading. However, this book let me down. Big time.

The Clothing of Books is 80 pages of filler. What is written here can be summarized in a short essay detailing how Jhumpa Lahiri feels like her book covers sometimes represent her work and sometimes don't, and how the cover of a book is a more consumer-driven industry than she would like. That's basically it, folks. The rest is really purple prose rehashing the same sentiments time and time again.

I wish this book was entirely different. There were some personal stories there, but I was actually bored by this one and had a hard time finishing it. There just wasn't enough meat to the story, at least not in the way it was told.

I was really hoping for something that merged the history of book covers (that's covered a little) with some notable covers throughout time, and something more art-related. I think I just wanted something more compelling, and that isn't what I got.

I'll be sticking to Jhumpa Lahiri's fiction from now on.

*Copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

Profile Image for Rincey.
786 reviews4,587 followers
January 9, 2017
I meaaaan, it is a book about books (well, book covers) by Jhumpa Lahiri. I am literally the exact target audience for this essay collection.
Profile Image for Reading_ Tamishly.
4,297 reviews2,294 followers
July 3, 2022
This tiny book talks about what the author feels about judging a book by its cover, how readers get swayed by the cover rather than the content of a book; how she feels when her views about the cover of her own books get looked over; how as an author she feels the cover of a book gets more attention/given importance to; how bookcases show off beautiful book jackets; how she herself gets drawn to books just for their covers!

☑️The book is divided into 7 short chapters:

1) The Charm of the Uniform

Where she compares book covers with wearing uniforms.

2) Why a Cover?

Where she defines what a book cover is; the pros & cons of having a book cover.

3) Correspondence and Collaboration

Where she expresses her opinion on collaboration with a writer and an artist as well as the publishers & the editors. ''Book jackets are often blamed if a book doesn't sell well.''
How such things decide the fate of a book today!

4) The Naked Book

Where she writes about how she grew up reading hundreds of books with covers that would not tell much about the books that she read which she refers to as 'naked books'; books without blurbs on the jackets or the author's photograph VS how such things are considered as important before choosing a book to buy today.

5) Uniformity and Anarchy

Where she talks about the same book having different cover designs at different parts of the world.

6) My Jackets

Where she talks about conflicts between the cover & the contents of a book, how a book cover gets judged by the author's background. The aesthetic issues of a book jacket.

7) The Living Jacket, the Dead Jacket, the Perfect Jacket

Where she talks about ebooks, the concept of a perfect book jacket, covers telling the identity of authors & original book covers instead of commercial prospects of a book based on its cover.

Loved the genuine contents of the book.

Expressed well the different aspects of judging a book by its cover from an author's view as well as a book lover's point of view.

The book justifies it's content with its simple cover
June 7, 2022
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3 ½ stars

In this short and meditative piece, Jhumpa Lahiri examines the role that book jackets play in a person's reading experience and the responsibility they have in not only conveying the book within but in catching someone's attention. Lahiri looks back to her youth and recalls how the books she borrowed from at the library were 'naked'. Lahiri considers how book jackets have changed over the years, the amount of information that gets added, sometimes, too much or simply rather irrelevant. Yet, she also realises just how important book jackets, particularly the book covers, can be. I appreciated how she also notes how different countries do jackets differently, and the analogy involving school uniforms. In discussing book jackets Lahiri inevitably turns to the ones of her own books, and, without mentioning names or titles, she does express her disappointment and frustration over some of them. Because much of her fiction centres on Indian-Americans many of her covers contain rather clichéd imagery related to India (when most of her work is set outside of this country).
I found it really interesting to read her personal thoughts on book jackets, and she makes some great points regarding the importance these have. While I am someone who is often lured by pretty covers (although i rarely buy books anymore before i go on to buy a book i try to find photos of its spine so i can envision how it will sit on my shelf...yeah, i have a problem) ugly covers do not prevent me from picking up a book, let alone loving it.
If you are bibliophile who is keen on Lahiri I would definitely recommend this, it makes for a quick yet reflective read.
Profile Image for Lorna.
683 reviews366 followers
August 4, 2020
The Clothing of Books was a delightful essay by one of my favorite contemporary authors, Jhumpa Lahiri, as she explores the meaning of book covers. Quite a few years ago when we were in the process of renovating our home, I remember being horrified at the suggestion of an interior designer that I should remove all of the covers from the books in my library. I couldn't imagine anything worse than stripping my beautiful books of their unique identity. Lahiri explores the meaning of book jackets to her as a writer and their significance throughout the world. It was a delightful read that was first presented as the keynote speech for the Festival degli Scrittori in Florence, Italy in June 2015.

"If the process of writing is a dream, the book cover represents the awakening."

"The right cover is like a beautiful coat, elegant and warm, wrapping my words as they travel through the world, on their way to keep an appointment with my readers."

"If I could dress a book myself, I would like a still life by Morandi on the cover, or maybe a collage by Matisse. It would make no commercial sense, and would probably not mean anything to the reader. But I recognize myself in the abstract eye, the chromatic palette, the language of each of these painters. It would make sense to me."
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,470 reviews565 followers
January 15, 2019
Lahiri's essay, clothed as a small book, is a wonderful ode to book covers. I am reminded that sometimes a book cover has as much meaning as the pages within. When I remove a book from my shelf, the worn cover often brings back a sensory rush and I am reminded of the experience of reading that book (even if I can't remember the plot!).
Profile Image for Sue.
1,244 reviews534 followers
December 30, 2016
This interesting short work from Lahiri is from a speech given fairly recently. It is very specifically on book covers as the outer presentation of the words they represent. It is not about the art of book covers but more about the theoretical presence, existence of book covers themselves. It is a very thoughtful presentation and really made me think back to various times in my life, how I approached books, what use I made of the information on covers, what I might be gaining or losing from the information I encountered there.

In the chapter "The Naked Book", Lahiri discusses having read hundreds of books without covers over the years, books that were naked, without a summary or information on the author, plot,etc. on the cover. As she states so simply: "To understand them, you had to read them. The authors I loved at the time were embodied only by their words. The naked cover doesn't interfere." I recall that experience too, especially from childhood when I read books primarily from the library and most didn't have covers as far as I can recall. What I knew about a book was word of mouth--from a teacher from friends, from family, or perhaps, when I was a little older, from reading a review. Otherwise, I discovered a book purely through the author's words.

I'm wondering now when I have done that recently. I suppose that reading an ebook may approximate the experience but, even there, there are summaries easily available (and it's impossible to download without seeing descriptive information). I also wonder how many wonderful books have been hidden from me by deceptive clothing. I probably should take some wild chances more often...walk through the library and choose more randomly every once in a while..just see what happens. Make my own "naked book" experience. Of course there is much more in the book but this is what struck me most deeply.

This is an interesting look at the outer appearance of the books we read and what it means to the author, herself, and its influences in the book world. It's a more theoretical look at these collections of words we enjoy so much.

As always with Lahiri, I enjoy the way she writes. She did not disappoint here and I look forward to whatever comes next.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Jason.
200 reviews70 followers
February 17, 2017
This was a cute little essay, readable in less than an hour. An interesting dissection into the thought behind the book jacket, what it means and does for the book, and what it represents to both reader and author.

I liked it because it's sort of an awakening. Often readers don't give much thought to a book jacket, yet someone is designing them, someone is behind the decision to place this jacket on a book versus that jacket. I was interested to hear that the author has less input than I'd thought. At least, that's been Lahiri's experience.

I'd be curious to hear how much input mega-selling authors have in the jackets on their books, such as the Rowlings and Pattersons and Steels of the world.
Profile Image for Henk.
851 reviews
November 25, 2019
A brief personal meditation on the importance of covers in the book industry
If the writing process is the dream, the cover is waking up.

Jhumpa Lahiri in this book gives some interesting glances on how book covers are created: I had a very romantic idea that this was a synthesis between the author and an artist but everything is nowadays handled through email actually, with the publisher in charge for the most part.
Lahiri shares her personal reflection on the influence book covers have had on her. As some of her own book covers reveal, every cover interprets and puts emphasis on certain aspects of a text, leading to vastly different outcomes. Commerce and blurbs play an important role, which lead Lahiri to reflect on series of books, on how they can have a coherent and often minimalistic style, embodying a promise of quality but also a risk of being pompous.

Very relatable was how Lahiri says that only one edition of a book feels like the right one, when you grew up reading that one, and that sometimes she just buys books based on the esthetics of the cover. Finally The Netherlands come back in the book as an example of how a bookstore shows the preferences of readers, how book covers form an unmistakable landscape reflecting a language and a country.

A nice read for any booklover, although the very high price of the Dutch edition made me feel fortunate that I could read this book in one brief sitting while visiting a book festival.
Profile Image for Ian Laird.
297 reviews59 followers
October 25, 2021
'The right cover is like a beautiful coat, elegant and warm...'

Really interesting short 'reflection' on the nature and role of book covers in the context of the authors reaction to the issue practically and aesthetically.

Lahiri takes little part in the process of producing her covers, accepting that it is a marketing exercise, but acknowledges that she can like or dislike them depending on whether they reflect her notion of what the book was trying achieve. She also talks about the need for changing covers over time, a practice which I find runs the grave risk of making the image anachronistic. I was unable to establish whether Ms Lahiri likes this one of hers: Unaccustomed Earth. I really hope so.

I am also struck by the staggering number of different images a work can acquire over time, some appropriate, others not so much. And I readily concede my shelf called 'favourite covers', is simply my personal taste, eg Crossing to Safety.
Profile Image for Anne ✨ Finds Joy.
276 reviews66 followers
April 21, 2018
Quick read (74 pages/1 hr audio) - insightful 

In this short personal reflection,  Jhumpa Lahiri writes about the complexities of the relationship between books and their covers, author and designer, art and commerce.

It was eye-opening for me to realize just how little input the author is given towards their book covers, and what it must feel like for an author to see their books covererd with so many different designs that they may love or not!

Jhumpa writes a very personal story here. There's some commentary on the role of the book cover and the evolving trends in the industry, but it's mostly a reflection of her own personal experiences, both as a reader and as an author. Like her feelings of immense dislike for one particular cover on one of her books (she doesn't name it, of course), and how each time she is asked to autograph that particular book edition, she has an overwhelming impulse to rip the cover off!

A thoughtful reflection like this serves nicely as a springboard for your own reflections on how covers have played into your own book choices and reading experiences.
Profile Image for Selva.
334 reviews56 followers
March 20, 2017
Before getting into what the book is all about, I wonder why this should have been a book. I mean it is a slightly lengthy essay. At 72 pages - 40 pages if a regular font face and all the space is used - it is the size of a short story. So I felt, at 200 bucks, it was just a money making exercise cashing in on the tremendous popularity of the author. But thinking abt it another way, Jhumpa could have bloated it to say 100+ pages easily if she had so desired. So I guess she had written something and they just put it as a book. Anyway, it is just a meditation on every aspect of book covers - whether they are good or bad for a book, whether the authors always like it, if the ppl who design the covers actually read it, do they capture the author's vision etc along with how she, as a child, read books that had naked covers, with no blurbs, no recommendations and you form your opinion only after having read the book, and finally what she would like as book cover for her books. You don't need me to tell that Jhumpa writes well. she does. I liked it enough to complete reading it at the bookstore itself :) I was actually amazed at her ability to think so much on something we give little importance to. We either like a cover or don't. Giving it 4 stars just for that. I liked the cover :)
Profile Image for Cynthia.
633 reviews43 followers
January 6, 2017
This tiny book (70 something pages) is about the relationship between the words in a book and its cover art. Lahiri's book is derived from a talk she gave in Italy, her adoptive home at least part time, about the import of jacket cover art plays both in the perception of what a certain book is about and how it impacts authors. This doesn't sound like the most scintillating of topics but Lahiri makes it interesting. Her main theses is a broader one about how people are conflicted because they both want to fit in but at the same time to stand out. The art work and the blurbs supplied by other authors as well as the inside flap synopses and author background information have become an expected part of promoting books. The last two but especially the cover are what makes a book stand out enough to catch a reader's attention.

Lahiri makes a lot of interesting points but one that caught my attention was her mention that Virginia Woolf's sister Vanessa Bell did the illustrations for Woolf's first edition which were consequently published by the press run by she and her husband Leonard. It was called Hogarth Press.

Here's a link to a few of those covers:


They're very simple, almost simplistic, yet they have emotional impact. This is in contrast to most of today's jackets which seem to scream at shoppers. I don't think I'm alone in the experience of finishing a book only to spend perplexed time gazing at the front cover wondering how it tied in to what I'd read. Lahiri shares the author's love/hate relationship with these representations attached to their words.

Profile Image for Barbara H.
692 reviews
January 18, 2019
This is an intriguing, wafer thin book, which stimulates much thought on a topic which seems of little import. It is based upon a talk which Lahiri had given in Italy, where she had been living. She presented many angles for viewing the purpose and result of book covers. We all know the saying not to “judge a book by its cover”, but most of us do and the author states her case about why this is true.

Many thoughts on the presentation of book covers are given, both negative or positive. Briefly, they are attraction, identity, image and the mask or hidden appearance of the contents of a book. The appeal of the artistry often belies the contents. Of importance to an author, Lahiri states, is “how am I seen? “

Strangely, I learned, the author often has little input in the “clothing” of her book. The designers are often unknown and the publisher arranges its acceptance.

I certainly could continue on with Lahiri's defense or negative senses of the various jackets on her publications, but this is after all, a sliver of a book. It is a quick and interesting read.
Profile Image for Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac).
667 reviews586 followers
December 24, 2016
There are probably only a very few insightful things anyone could say about book cover design. Lahiri has said them here, and also said several other things. I do judge books by their cover, sometimes wisely, sometimes not. In this case, neither the cover nor what was inside proved to be all that terribly interesting. Still, one or two things I took away to think about.
Profile Image for Naddy.
286 reviews42 followers
January 17, 2021

“Why do covers exist? First and foremost, to enclose the pages. In centuries past, when books “were rare and precious objects, luxurious materials were used: leather, gold, silver, ivory. Today the role of the cover is more complicated. It now serves to identify the book, to insert it into a style or genre. To embellish it, to make it more effective in the window display of a bookstore. To intrigue passersby so that, once attracted, they come in and pick it up, so that they buy it.”

“I confess to having bought a book for its cover more than once, simply because I could not resist it, because I fell under its spell. I trusted the image, even if the content was less convincing.”

A brilliant novella from exceptional author about the experience of clothing of book and it’s after effects !!
Profile Image for Alaíde Ventura.
Author 4 books1,043 followers
December 29, 2022
Honestamente no tan fan de los libros que nacieron como conferencias, pero respeto su existencia. No entendía por qué una editorial mexicana optaría por la palabra "cubierta" en vez de portada, que es tan oronda. Ahora veo que no es mexicana-mexicana, aunque impreso en la colonia Guerrero. No entiendo bien, pero no hace falta. Igual, de Lahiri yo agradezco cualquier cosa.

La verdad todavía no decido si le faltó espacio o si le falló el formato, o si simplemente no había más tema, ahí quedaba, y hay reflexiones en voz alta y a otra cosa mariposa.
Profile Image for Erin.
2,078 reviews72 followers
November 2, 2016
ARC to review - EPD November 15, 2016.

This slight volume (it was originally presented as a keynote speech given at a festival in Italy in 2015, then expanded) explores book covers and jackets - what they mean to readers and to the writers whose books they cover and it's a fascinating, very thorough explanation of the topic. Early on she notes that often she is forced to accept book covers that she doesn't like and, while does accedes, she is still resentful - it's so interesting that the work inside, the real meat of the thing is generally fashioned by only one writer, who has often worked for years to get the thing letter perfect, while the book cover, the face it presents to the world and often the way it will be identified is decided upon by a committee that doesn't even include the writer.

And in Lahiri's opinion, most of the book jackets for her works just don't "fit" (especially the fact that so many of them include stereotyped references to India regardless of the setting of the book). She "wants [her] covers to reflect the sense and spirit of [her] books" but the covers are designed by professionals - they want to do a good job, of course, but the book doesn't really matter to them, or, at least not in the way it does to Lahiri, of course. She notes that with one of her books she owns twelve different translations of the same book and notes, "how is it possible that one book, the same book, can generate this panorama of images....every sentence is the same. And yet [from the covers] they seem like twelve different books, with twelve diverging themes, written by twelve different authors."

However, as much as she doesn't always love the covers to her own books, as she looks around a library or a bookseller, she loves the "lack of visual order" which comes directly from the differing styles and types of covers. She notes "there is visual confusion, but also a sort of joyful exuberance. It reminds me of a motley crew, a party made of odd individuals who enjoy one another's company," which is the precise explanation about what us book lovers love about just being in libraries and bookstores - the jumble of possibilities. And perhaps this book about books will only appeal to book-crazed nuts like me, but the writing is lovely and it's an interesting exploration of.....yep, you guessed it.......judging (or not) a book by its cover.
Profile Image for Moonkiszt.
2,053 reviews212 followers
September 27, 2022
More of an essay than a book, this short journey did take deep dives, all about the "clothes" of her books. All the effort that went into writing a book, and then she is faced with the pressure and tension of dressing her creation. . .it stresses her out, but again she realizes this is part of the process.

It was something I'd never really thought about. I've come across wonderful books with AWFUL covers. And, have opened exquisite covers only to discover an an unreadable offering. Neither situation stopped me from reading great writing or compelled me to continue wasting my time with unreadable drivel.

A lens and perspective I've never had the opportunity to peer into - thank you Ms. Lahiri!
Profile Image for Richa Bhattarai.
Author 1 book169 followers
March 14, 2019
A short, interesting work on the cover of books, and the author’s relation to them.

The topics were all intriguing, peppered with anecdotes and examples. Enjoyed reading through the comparisons of a cover with a uniform, the feelings of a new jacket on your hands, the love and resentment towards your own book jackets. The anecdote of Virginia Woolf’s sister designing her book jackets was fascinating. I was also reminded of the series of similar jackets - say, for a Penguin classic - that acts as a uniform.

My two gripes are that the subject was not explored as deeply as I’d have liked, and that the language appeared very child-like and simplistic at times, perhaps because it’s a translation.

Like many readers, I have an intimate relation with book jackets, I even like what it’s called - a jacket. My favorites are undoubtedly filled with color, motifs, and are hardbound. Quirky, creative, unconventional jackets attract me. I do judge a book by its cover. The most recent ones I liked were ‘Everything Under’ by Daisy Johnson and ‘The Little Friend’ by Donna Tartt. I can’t stand movie book covers, but other than that, willing to give anything else a chance.

• Authors have almost no control over the book jackets.
• Jackets are location-specific, the reason the same book has different jackets in different countries.
• Jackets can be, and are often, repeated from one book to the other.
• Jhumpa’s ideal jacket is a painting by Marion.
Profile Image for Gorab.
630 reviews104 followers
December 27, 2021
After reading this, you are going to judge a book by its cover :D
This book is a series of essays on the book covers and jackets.
Loved the author reminiscing about old books and her love for libraries.

Personally, I have observed a close friend putting on covers and index numbers on all of their books - around 1400. I have also observed some book friends who arrange the books by the shade of their spine colors, making beautiful patterns.
I prefer to keep them uncovered, in random order, enabling their beauty to be soaked in visually!
Profile Image for Liza Fireman.
839 reviews144 followers
December 30, 2017
I loved every book by Jhumpa Lahiri and I read all of them that are stories and novels. I loved the The Namesake, Interpreter of Maladies, The Lowland and Unaccustomed Earth.
I didn't like this one much, and I think it is because she brings a very specific opinion because she is talking about the clothing and covers of her books, and that is always different when someone else creates a cover to something that you created. It is always harder, but I find that I do not share her opinions because I am more removed than her personal experience.

So here it is: The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that a cover is a sort of translation, that is, an interpretation of my words in another language—a visual one. It represents the text, but it isn’t part of it. It can’t be too literal. It has to have its own take on the book. Like a translation, a cover can be faithful to the book, or it can be misleading. In theory, like a translation, it should be in the service of the book, but this dynamic isn’t always the case. A cover can be overbearing, dominating. I would say, a cover is a great way to draw the reader interest, it can be deceiving of course, but so can be a title. I do not take covers very seriously, especially now that I have GR to help me with choosing and prioritizing books. I stick to some writers no matter the cover (just look at the cover of this book :)), and try new ones, mostly based on friends ratings. So maybe today, covers are not as important as they were in the past.

She looks at covers in different countries: American book jackets reflect the spirit of country—little homogeneity, lots of diversity.
In Italy, I have gotten to know another type of book cover: that which belongs to an editorial series. These covers, so different from American designs, have a powerful effect on me. I find their simplicity and seriousness admirable. They seduce me, just as my cousins’ school uniforms did.
I think it is even more interesting to look at generations, covers has been changing massively with years. And if a personal opinion is important, I can't stand all the book covers that are updated after a movie came out. I do prefer them clean and original, without Hollywood stars, even if the movie was great.

Not sure what to do with this. Too specific opinion that doesn't deal with a topic that many has an opinion about. Not even very interesting for most of us I guess. I'll go with two stars, with with all of my love to Lahiri's writing.
Profile Image for Karen Germain.
811 reviews51 followers
November 15, 2016
Thank You to Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group for providing me with a copy of Jhumpa Lahiri's, The Clothing of Books, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT- In this short, non-fiction book, award-winning author, Jhumpa Lahiri, explains the process that the publishing industry uses to create book covers. She explores her own feelings on book covers, as both an avid reader and famous author.

LIKE- I'm a huge, huge fan of Lahiri, and I was thrilled for the opportunity to review, The Clothing of Books. As a book lover and hopeful author, I found her take on book covers to be both informative and thought provoking. Although my manuscript is far from ready to even send out in search of agents, I'm well aware of the book cover process, how the author may have very little say, with the publisher picking the cover that best fits their vision for marketing. Lahiri writes about this process, confessing that some of her own covers did not fit with her personal vision of her stories. She writes about her experience of having her books translated and how publishers in other countries, would pick covers based on what works for their culture. A popular cover in one country, could be disastrous in another, even though the book is the same.

Lahiri relates the theme of book covers, to her own cultural background. She was born in England to parents from India, but immigrated to the United States as a small child. Living in America, she attended public schools, without a dress-code. On her summer trips back to India, she envied her cousins who attended schools with uniforms, wishing that she could wear a uniform in America, so that she wouldn't stand-out so much. Making matters more difficult, were her parents didn't quite understand her wish to fit-in, and would purchase American style clothes for her that was budget-friendly, not trendy for teens. They had her dress in traditional Indian clothing for occasions spent with other Indian immigrants. Lahiri never felt like she belonged anywhere. To layer this further, she speaks of her father, a librarian, and how her childhood experience with books was all at the library, where the covers are often removed.

Lahiri writes about the beauty of covers. On her recent move to Italy, she could not bring many of her possessions, so she used books, facing the covers forward on her shelves, like pieces of art, to breath life into her rented home with its generic furniture. She mentioned never having spent so much time admiring covers, as when they were displayed in this fashion.

DISLIKE - Only that it was too short.

RECOMMEND - YES!!! If you're a reader, writer, artist, et.., The Clothing of Books is a must-read. Really, anything by Lahiri is a must-read. She's brilliant.

Like my review? Check out my blog!
Profile Image for Nancy Abraham.
11 reviews
July 30, 2020
Why was I so captivated by such a banal topic. There were some pretty interesting ideas on a cover/jacket of a book in this analytical yet emotional essay. She touched upon a lot of sides. Thoughts that tag along with them, the process of designing a cover by the artist and successful dissemination of copies to readers. Much of on what a writer goes through, their itch on irrelevant illustrations, defeatism to publishing houses on commercial practices and readers basking their eyes with catchy covers that sometimes don't justify the quality of text inside.

Only disappointment was how short it was. She touched on a lot of interesting examples from history which I would have loved to read more on. She quite briefly brushed through her internal turmoil which if you have read her book 'In Other Words', feels a bit redundant yet very honest and engrossing.
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