Thursday, March 27, 2008

Booking Through Thursday

While acknowledging that we can't judge books by their covers, how much does the design of a book affect your reading enjoyment? Hardover vs softcover? Trade paperback vs mass market paperback? Font? Illustrations? Etc.?

Ok, I will admit, I am a sucker for a neat looking book. I am attracted to the gorgeous cover art of the likes of Wendell Minor ("Then Came Heaven" by LaVyrle Spencer and William Ireland ("Evening Class" by Maeve Binchy). It was the cover art that drew my eye to the Jan Karon "Mitford" books which, of course, turned out to be absolutely lovely books.

I don't care for books with artwork from movies. In fact, I don't really like reading a book if I have seen the movie. Bad memories of an oral book report on "Mutiny on the Bounty" circa 1964. I have a copy of "Chocolat" that has a photo of Juliette Binoche on the cover. I have to say that, as much I like Ms. Binoche as an actress, I don't like the cover of this book.

Hard back vs paper back? Well, I really prefer hard backs if they aren't too thick. They just hold up better because I tend to carry a book with me every place I go and they are more propable. If they are too large, however, they are difficult to hold with my weak wrists. I do buy many paperbacks, however, and have to admit that they are more "purse-able". I think it just depends on how the mood strikes me and whether the book will become a permanent part of our little library or perhaps passed around to friends.

The typeface is another matter, however. It needs to be dark and easy to read. While I am not quite to the point of buying "large print" books, I can see it out on the horizon. Another negative about the "Chocolat" book -- small print on the greyish side.

All of this has to do with the initial attraction to the book, however. Once I have read the dust jacket or an excerpt from the book (mostly done while standing in the store juggling all the magazines I tend to buy), I know whether I am going to enjoy the book in spite of the cover art. I have reshelved many "cool looking" books because they just weren't for me. Unfortunately, I have probably never taken a second look at some great books because the packaging just didn't grab me.

I read/collect children's books and I am drawn to the illustrations -- who isn't. Again, however, if the story falls flat, I won't purchase the book just for the art -- it has to be a complete package. Like jlshall, I wish adult books could be illustrated -- they should be illustrated. I like the street maps in the Mitford books -- they create a visual for the reader that really puts you into the book.

At the end of the day, however, it is the content that matters and once I am "into" a book, the cover matters not a whit. All the decoration in the world won't "make" a book nor will lack of decoration doom it.

Great covers do make book shopping fun though and I am sure turn a good profit for the dealers.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

My seventh book for the Young Reader's Challenge is "Number the Stars" by Lois Lowry. It is a Newberry Award Winner published in 1989 by Yearling, a division of Random House.

"Number the Stars" is the story of 10 year old Annemarie Johansen who lived in Denmark in 1943 after Denmark had surrendered to the Nazis. She lives with her parents and her younger sister, Kirsti in an apartment in Copenhagen. Her best friend is Ellen Rosen who lives upstairs. They are fast friends and would do anything for one another -- and do.

This book is different from "Letters from Rifka" in that it shows more fear, more danger and more heroism. In the beginning, Annemarie sufferes deprivation to a point -- childish things like pink cupcakes -- but she is fortunate that her family is intact, except for an older sister, Lise who died in a vague "accident". She and her friend, Ellen, go to school and life continues pretty much as usual until one day -- the Jewish New Year -- when things change. Ellen's parents leave for a while to an undisclosed location, Annemarie, her mother, her sister, and Ellen make a hasty trip to visit her Uncle Henrik in the country. Annemarie could sense the tension and danger and was becoming very aware that the world they new was changing quickly and not for the better.

When they arrived at Uncle Henrik's, Annemarie realized that there was a serious movement going on and that her family was part of it. Her family was involved in the hiding and transporting of Danish Jews across the ocean to Sweden. Ellen was reunited with her family and then embarked on a quick but very dangerous journey in the false bottom of Uncle Henrik's fishing boat.

Annemarie's family realized that she was being very brave and so they gave her bits and pieces of information. She was growing up quickly and had many questions. She learned that her sister, Lise, was part of the resistance movement along with her fiance, Peter, and was killed while fleeing from a meeting. Annemarie learned that her Uncle Henrik had been helping people flee for a while and he told her of the tactics he had for not getting caught.

The last chapter of the book has the Johansens together two years later. The war was over and life was returning to normal. Annemarie hadn't forgotten her friend and was looking forward to being reunited with her at some point in the future.

The afterword is quite interesting because it explains the book -- what is fiction, what is not, what is documented historical military fact.

This book is well written, flows flawlessly, is edgy and tense without being unbearably sad or grotesquely graphic. You know, without a doubt, that the Rosens are safe and will return home at some point and you can feel the relief of the end of the turmoil.

I would recommend this book for the older reader in our age group. It is very readable, the content is not objectionable, you can feel Annemarie maturing and her parents realizing that they can trust her with precious information. I might even read it again, myself.