The Clothing of Books, by Jhumpa Lahiri

“I write not only to avoid the question, but also to seek the answer.”

31019618In this personal and meditative collection of essays, Jhumpa Lahiri talks about the love-hate relationship she shares with book covers – of her own books, of the books that surrounded her as she wrote these essays, and of the books she grew up with – many of which were jacketless.

She shares with the reader how she does not like the covers of some of the editions of a particular book of hers. She, of course, has not mentioned which book or which edition, but that isn’t necessary. A book, to employ the cliche of all cliches, is like an author’s child. If you find someone else dressing up your child, in ideas that clash your own, in a way that they seem to have misunderstood the soul of it, you will be rightfully upset.

Being a published author myself, even if I do not have Lahiri’s calibre (or fame), I can somewhat understand her chagrin. Two of my books are self-published, whose covers I designed myself (on my phone, no less!) using a simple photo editing tool called Fantasia Painter (which is by far the best photo editing tool I’ve used, but is, unfortunately, available only on Windows phones (yet another reason to miss my old phone)) Simple as they are, they were still designed by me. As for the other books I’ve contributed to, there is one cover I absolutely dislike and another that I personally felt did not do justice to the theme of the book. Now if I, with my rather insignificant mark in the world of literature, could feel so strongly about the covers that relate to me, it is only natural that someone of Lahiri’s talent and brilliance would feel the same. It’s about your love for your work, your passion for the art. And I, like her, hate the word “blurb” (and its concept).

Another topic she touches upon is that of plagiarism – covers sometimes get copied. I was at a souvenir shop in a hotel I stayed at recently, and I saw a book whose cover was an exact replica of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s Palace of Illusions. I reached for the book thinking it is the Mahabharat saga that Divakaruni wrote, but it wasn’t. I was shocked! I don’t remember which book it was, but I think it was a travelogue of some kind. How much ever Lahiri may hate book covers, the truth is sometimes we remember books by their covers. And some covers are so familiar that seeing different text on it almost unnerves us!

Lahiri’s tone in these essays made me feel she was writing for herself alone, and yet, she was writing for someone to read these words. She was venting out for herself, but she wanted someone to know how she felt. In a way it was like sneaking into someone’s diary and getting to know them a little bit. Her language is simple, a little unlike the luxuriant prose with which she writes fiction, but a pleasure to read nonetheless – the difference between the two could be compared to spending a night in PJs at home, vs., going out partying in heels. A poor example, but I hope it conveys my meaning.

Do you judge a book by its jacket? How important do you think is the jacket and the blurb?

Goodreads | Amazon

Note: I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley/Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. My review is honest and unbiased.

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