Saturday, July 20, 2019
The Semiotics of Covers :: Books Reading Essays
The Semiotics of Covers I'm going to buy a book today - but not a school book, a real book - a bestseller. I walk past the harmonica man standing outside of the Brown Office Building, clamping my ears shut against the discordant melodies he's spewing out at me. I enter the Brown Bookstore - my Mecca, my Graceland. I strut past the tables near the door and walk toward the bestseller wall, my being allthewhile bombarded by hardcovers seeking my wandering eyes. Howard Stern in drag screams out at me from the left, something about Colin Powell and a journey crys out from the right. Wishing not to be manipulated into buying an expensive book, I squint my eyes and keep on walking, eventually reaching the ordering counter. I pause, close my eyes and turn around. As my eyes slowly open, my field of vision becomes filled with paperbacks. Hundreds of them, displayed out before me like some crude mosaic, each one lined up and facing me on tiny little shelves. They're all roughly the same size, all the same shape - the only thing that differs is their covers. Each book is showing me a different picture, a different color, a different font. Each book juxtaposes its elements in a different way, highlighting certain objects while de-emphasizing others. Each book is telling me something, trying to appeal to my gaze. What are they saying? Will it work? The study of these elements of the cover - each book's signs and the images/ideas they signify- is particularly appropriate in the case of bestsellers. This is not to say that the covers of bestsellers hold a monopoly on sign/signifier possibilities - nothing could be farther from the truth - its just that in the case of bestsellers, the effect these signs and signifiers have on the aura of a book are just more interesting. Proof of this all but surrounds us. Take a look at almost any other section in the brown bookstore: almost all books, with the exception of bestsellers and the very new releases, are presented on shelves with their binding pointing out. The only thing one can really ascertain when gazing upon these books is the title and color on the cover. Such elements are important, but don't grab the eye. Unless you're looking for a specific title or author, what you see on these shelves doesn't really effect one's eyes.