Warning Signs or, Do Judge a Book by Its Back Cover

We were sitting at the dinner table, talking about books we'd gotten/given as presents, and the tricky, sticky prospect of picking out a book for someone else. And we ended up talking about reading the back cover, and whether that can tell you anything at all about a book.

And Diana said, "If I see the word rollicking on the back cover, I know it's not a book for me," which left me filled  with envy over both her self-knowledge, and the power with which it is wielded.

It got me thinking, too, about those back-cover words that tip the rest us off: Chestnut says awesome means it will be bad. My own off-putting terms are lapidary (ugh) and exquisite. Less troubling, but still suspicious, is elegiac

I never realized it before she said it, but there are all sorts of code words that set me off. Really, it's like some backwards taste-identifying key. Though I feel I will never identify one so clearly damning as rollicking.

It's not just us, right? You guys have them too?


16 thoughts on “Warning Signs or, Do Judge a Book by Its Back Cover

  1. My issue isn’t so much that cover copy turns me off; mine is that it sometimes oversells the book and you can’t help but be disappointed when the book doesn’t live up to the hype. I am particularly wary of books described as “magical.” (I love books that I describe as magical; Little Bee was not magical, but you should see what the cover said!)


  2. Oh yes! Please keep these comments open because while I cannot think of one except “Romp” off the top of my head, I have a very specific Taste Dictionary when it comes to book copy – which spills over into movie describing territory too. I should teach this to my students…how to look for Your Words.


  3. My warning sign is when a fantasy book starts mentioning Tolkien and C.S.Lewis on the back cover – trying to sell the idea that this book is as good as theirs. It never is.
    Also, I’m wary of “If you liked xxx and yyy, you will love this book”. It seems I never do.


  4. Emotionally riveting. Profoundly Moving. Grace. Wisdom.
    These are signs to me that the book is going to hit me over the head with the profound and moving emotionalness of it all.


  5. Erika took mine. “Luminous” is the Word Of Doom at our house, both for books and for movies. “Hilarity ensues” is a bad one, too. Book-jacket people always seem to have a very low bar when they estimate levels of hilarity. Often, their “hilarity” and my “offputtingly tedious” are pretty much the same.


  6. I agree with Teri–if a book is described as hilarious, you can bet it’s not. And I like humor, so it’s such a disappointment.
    I hope there are some editors and publishers reading these comments!


  7. I was browsing the book aisle at Target yesterday. One book was described as “magical” and another book as “exquisitely written.”
    I thought about this post and almost started laughing 🙂


  8. So true. I have found, for instance, that there is no one, really, who writes “like Douglas Adams”–no matter how many books out there have covers that say so.
    (I know I’m late, but that is how strongly this post & its comments speak to me–I’m posting this anyway. Much to my embarrassment.)


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