Reading in Print, Curators and Book Covers

— on March 25, 2019 by in Reading

I read a lot. More precisely, I listen to a lot of audio books, 96 in 2018. Most were not short. Those 96 books included the first four novels of The Expanse (about 2200 pages total), all three available Stormlight Archive books (about 4000 pages including a re-read of The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance before Oathbringer) and the first 2 books in The Broken Earth series (another 1000 pages). These books were not unique in their length, but that is what happens when you listen while doing other things like working on the teardrop trailer or driving cross country.

Missing the Experience

One of the things that I miss with audio books is the experience of browsing a book store, seeing the covers, getting a feel for the book from it’s size and binding. Audible and Overdrive show cover thumbnails, but it is not the same as walking through the rows of shelves. It’s lack the serendipity of a real book store. It lacks that art of an actual printed cover.

The thumbnail browser in Overdrive media's web site.

The “Fantasy” section of Overdrive Media via the library.

Audible isn’t really much better despite a fancier interface and a wider selection of what I want. It’s fundamentally just grids of thumbnails. Still, it fills a need: delivering audio books.

There is a notable absence of many good brick-and-mortar bookstores in the age of online retail. I find myself in Half Price Books on a regular basis, but mostly to browse old photo-books for my collection. There aren’t many other options.

My Photo book collection plus a flying spaghetti monster.

Recently I discovered Mysterious Galaxy. It is less than a mile from my San Diego house and as a result I’ve started reading print books again. It’s a locally owned community book store and they are doing a lot right.

Mysterious Galaxy's Book Shelves

The section title is misleading… About 90% of the store is some form of Sci-fi or Fantasy fiction. The rest is related in some way (non-fiction about writing, etc).

99% of what I read is science fiction and fantasy with the occasional non-fiction sciency book thrown in for variety. Mysterious Galaxy is a sort of heaven for me. Their collection includes pretty much every book I could think of, and in just a few trips I’ve found new authors and new stories I never noticed in on-line catalogs. And yes, I’m reading physical paper books again mostly because of this store.

That is partially due to the magic of knowledgeable curators that loves the subject matter they work with. I’ve had a couple of conversations about what to read next and their staff all clearly love the genres they sell and know it well. It’s also a result of being able to see the covers of the books, right there in front of me. There is no search bar, no “next page” button, no grid of thumbnails and most of all no annoying ass pop-up hover boxes (looking at you Audible!). There are only real physical books, many with their covers proudly displayed.

Some Beautiful Book Covers

And many are beautiful as art and design on their own, not just as marketing for the book the enclose. Below are a few covers I’ve noticed and liked. Some I’ve “read” and others are now on my list.

The Themis Files

I listened to Sleeping Giants early in 2018, but I had forgotten about it until I saw it displayed at the book store. Seeing it’s cover, reminded me that I had not read the rest of the series, despite it being an excellent book. I’m now reading Walking Gods in print.

The Themis Files Cover Art

The Themis Files covers, shamelessly stolen from the series web site. Yes, you should read it.

I love the star field and the central line art and the color scheme of the three covers. They fit together thematically and fit the material nicely.

Catching the Eye

The danger of a store like this, and so many masterfully designed covers, is that I find myself wanting to read them all, even when I’ve already read the book or I’ve got a full waiting list. I read Robopocalypse in 2013 and the rest of the series in the mean time. The cover is still incredibly eye catching, as is Guardian Angels and other Monsters, which I have not read yet.

Book covers on display - Daniel H Wilson - Robopocalypse

Hints But Not Spoilers

I listened to A Natural History of Dragons when I saw it’s cover online. The cover is even more eye catching in print. I would love a print of it hanging on my wall. The book proved to be a good read cover to cover.

Book covers on display - Marie Brennan - A Natural History of Dragons and Made to Kill by Adam Christopher

I haven’t read (or even heard of) Made to Kill, but the cover is also amazing. While A Natural History of Dragons cover is old-timy, and looks like a scientific sketch done by a talented artist, Made to Kill is art-deco and comic bookish. Dragons’ cover gives you a good idea what reading it will be like without spoiling anything.

I have no idea what Made to Kill is about, but I have a strong guess that it will be set in a 1930sish comic book style setting and will involve robots. At a minimum it should have a totally different tone than A Natural History of Dragons. And yes, I would also hang a poster of its cover on the wall.

Serious Sci Fi

The Three Body Problem got a lot of press, at least in my circles. Ball Lightning is not from the Remembrance of Earth’s Past series but also sounds amazing. The cover alone makes me want to read it, which is sort of the job of a cover. It also gives me an idea of the tone of the book: serious sci-fi.

Book covers on display - Cixin Liu - Ball Lightning