Saturday, November 25, 2006

I Judged a Book by Its Cover, Literally

It was something I thought a bibliophile like me would never ever do.

Prior to yesterday, it has been almost a year since I last bought a new book, much less finished one. That’s quite unbelievable for a chap who used to devour three full pocketbooks a week back in his younger days. I enjoyed all kinds of books -- sci-fi, fantasy, classical, mystery, non-fiction, heck, even musty history tomes and medicine books. (I remember myself poring over a gigantic dictionary for hours upon hours; unfortunately it didn’t turn me into the vocabulary monster I had hoped to be!) Once I saw a book lying around in the house that I hadn’t read yet, I’d set to conquer it.

I finally ended my book-drought yesterday when I bought three books -- two fiction, one non -- from a certain bookstore in the Power Plant Mall at Rockwell. I don’t know what precisely triggered me to buy three expensive books with my own money, which I had never done before. Was it the sight of so many titles I had never seen in the “regular” bookstores, or the fact that I had a wad of hard-earned cash in my wallet ready to heed my caprice?

Whatever the reason, for the first time in almost a year, I felt that unmistakable thrill of picking out a book from the shelf, browsing it with excited fingers, letting the scent of the pages waft to your nostrils, and finally bringing it to the cashier so it is finally, irrevocably yours.

At the end of the day, I lost 1,600 pesos but gained three gems. Were these gems as truly brilliant as they appeared in the bookstore? You bet…except for one.

The Historical Hardcover
world war ii 100 book langer
The World War II 100 by Howard J. Langer

This book was the last of my picks, and the steal of them all. Howard J. Langer’s The World War II 100 ranks the one hundred most influential figures of the maelstrom. Merely seeing the title and the faces of Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin, and Hitler on the cover from afar was enough to reel in this history buff. Knowing that its price was slashed was of secondary value.

Priced at 459 pesos, the hardcover book is now part of my treasured collection of history books, composed of massive hardcovers ordered from the US and cheap paperback editions used in school. Getting The World War II 100 was like a pledge to myself to not forget my passion for history, which has been eroded by non-stop work.

To think that this all started when I, barely out of prep school, came upon my cousin’s discarded, photocopied-for-school pages on Tamerlane and his conquests makes me gape at my doggedness.

The Very Short Stories
flash fiction book
Flash Fiction by J. Thomas, D. Thomas, and Hazuka

The smaller, thinner, paperback Flash Fiction: 72 Very Short Stories, priced at a whopping 767 pesos, might seem a bad investment, especially when compared with the previous book. However, I’ve always believed that words woven by artists have more value than words written to fill the gaps between facts, theories, and corollaries.

Ia, who was with me, pointed out the aesthetically-ridiculous cover of the book. However, my scheming skimming eyes pointed out the sterling literature written on the pages, and I decided to make the purchase.

A good part of the fiction I’ve written (some of which you can find on this blog) fall under “flash fiction”, which wasn’t part of my plan when I started to take creative writing seriously in college. I’m not sure if my buying of the book is a subconscious effort to learn more about flash/sudden fiction, and I’m quite excited to see if the 72 “very short stories” are going to affect my writing in the future.

The Doppelganger
tangled webs book new cunningham
Tangled Webs by Elaine Cunningham

The first rows of shelves I go to in a bookstore is the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section, which is perfectly understandable -- one of my first-ever writings was set in a magical world, and most of the “three books per week” mentioned earlier were sci-fi titles bought from bargain shops.

And so I came away with Elaine Cunningham’s Tangled Webs, the second book in the Starlights and Shadows saga. Cunningham is one of my favorite authors, and her dark elven heroine Liriel Baenre is one of the most intriguing characters I’ve ever met in any form of fiction. Still, the book wasn’t on my “to-buy” list. So, what made me buy the book?

You guessed it -- the cover. The 384-peso paperback featured the great new cover art found in recent Forgotten Realms releases. Sitting beside the book on the shelf was Book 1 of the saga, which I knew I already had just by looking at its cover. The cover of Tangled Webs looked foreign to me, and thinking that I had probably missed the sequel to Book 1, I bought it. Why not? It was new!

Big mistake.

Just before bedtime, I skimmed over the first pages of the novel (as I am wont to do). Oddly enough, the text looked familiar. Chills running down my spine (incidentally, I was also having the real chills after an exhausting day), my fingers sped to the last page. To my horror, I recognized the ending. I had read this novel before!

Sifting through my collection of novels, I had trouble finding the “duplicate” copy. No other book looked like my new Tangled Webs! Where did I first read the story? There’s no Tangled Webs here. Look, here’s Daughter of the Drow, the first book of the saga. And here’s Elfshadow. And The Magehound, Thornhold, Tangled Webs

Tangled Webs. I was holding my new Tangled Webs in my hand, and staring at another Tangled Webs. With a different cover.

tangled webs book old cunningham
My old copy of Tangled Webs
I was right. No other book looked like my new copy. My old Tangled Webs was published way before Forgotten Realms changed the style of their cover art. And with my hundreds of owned titles getting the better of my memory, I simply got blinded by the “great new cover art” of the book. Turns out I purchased Book 1, which also had new cover art -- after I read Tangled Webs, the second book. Heck, I probably didn’t even notice that I had finished the whole saga already!

I tell you, it was a humiliating day to be a bibliophile. Or at least to claim to be one.

* * *

I judged a book by its cover, and what did I get? A duplicate, a few hundred wasted pesos, and a lesson in life. So next time you hear one of those wise sayings, take them to heart, and if possible, take them to heart literally.

22 Comments:

Anonymous ia said...

Hey, I didn't mean to point out the cover's shortcomings especially because of that "life lesson". But I do like exploring books through interesting covers. Some people care only for the words; I am also interested in the art.

You need one of those book-cataloguing software or something. Now I see the need for it. Especially a mobile version.

2:51 AM  
Blogger Corsarius said...

speaking of covers, i think one of us should've bought Machiavelli's The Prince. the cover of that edition was simply one of the, how shall i say this..most unique i have ever seen.

book-cataloguing software, eh? i planned to write one back in 2nd year college. i planned to work around the code of the original Fantasy Gamers' Database Program, hehe.

3:16 AM  
Anonymous ia said...

You should've done it for CS174!! :D That'd be cool. Except that RecordStore for MIDP sucks. It has to be low-level I think. :P

3:20 AM  
Blogger Corsarius said...

hmm...ah, to turn back the hands of time. anyway, if it's low-level, i'm backing out - LOL!

i just realized that we might be scaring off people with the geeky talk, hehe ;)

3:29 AM  
Anonymous Garro said...

the cover is a huge factor in how well a book does (well, initially anyway). it's probably the only thing besides news articles and the author's reputation that make someone pick a book up.

flash fiction, huh. =D 72 stories is a staggering amount. andami nun!

4:34 PM  
Blogger Cyberpunk said...

hmm i've also experienced buying 2 books, getting home and trying to read them, then realizing that they looked awfully familiar...because i already have them!

so welcome to the club :)

7:10 PM  
Blogger Corsarius said...

garro, i agree with you, though for my part i've somehow ended up with many books with lousy covers. probably because when i go to the bookstore, i tend to pick up a lot of books regardless of how they look, then skim through the first few pages of each one, before finally deciding which copy strikes my lit taste.

well, most of those 72 stories have less than 700 words, which means you can quickly read four of 'em before bedtime...and before the month is over, you'd be surprised that you've finished the anthology! ;)

11:27 PM  
Blogger Corsarius said...

cyberpunk, thanks for that. it's a little bit comforting to know that i'm not alone in my fate ;) but -- 2 books! at the same time? whoa.

11:31 PM  
Blogger Senor Enrique said...

This is why book designers command a lot of money for their eforts. :)

If you have some books you wish for others to appreciate, where would you recommend a good place here in Metro Manila to donate them?

8:17 AM  
Anonymous j4s0n said...

Book covers are somehow similar w/ Website Front Page, it has to catch our attention.

Although, not my case. I have books on my shelves which entirely have similar titles except they vary by edition.

8:48 PM  
Anonymous Ferdz said...

Oh. That's sad. Usually when I buy a book, I also look at the cover, when it looks interesting I check the back for the story.

Anyways, you're money may not be at waste since it's christmas, you may give it to another friend of yours as a present :D

Blog hopping from ia...

1:37 AM  
Blogger Corsarius said...

senor, unfortunately, i can't think of any place except for the national library, especially for hardcovers and fiction. actually, now that i think of it, any library will do (i was going to say UP diliman's library, but that would be too biased ;))

of course, school and children's books can be donated to local book drives held by TV networks and malls like SM.

4:07 PM  
Blogger Corsarius said...

j4s0n, are those fiction books? if yes, then at least you can consider them as collector's items hehe.

ferdz, i do that, too; however in this case, the story teaser at the back was also different (the earlier edition only had an excerpt).

actually, i will be giving it to ia ;) thanks for the visit!

4:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

kaya pala wala na ang iyong shoutbox. aheheheh.

mukang busy ka ha, no new posts?

4:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

si miniq pala ito... hehe

4:17 PM  
Blogger {illyria} said...

picked up any good books lately? i find myself enamored by what's inside; i usually flip to a random page and see if anything there captivates me. (being captivated is RARE and even if that comes in some shit cover, i'd still buy it.)

12:40 PM  
Blogger olrayt said...

ako naman i judged a book by its thickness. para sulit yung bayad hehe

10:31 PM  
Blogger claudzki said...

man, i feel your pain..sucks when that happens..it happened to me when i was buying paperback classics for school..

4:47 AM  
Blogger Nostalgia Manila said...

It's been a great year for bloggers. May you prosper in the new year!

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

--Nostalgia Manila

6:37 AM  
Blogger Andy said...

It's been a long since i've been here... how are u dude? and where's your tag-board?

11:00 PM  
Blogger Corsarius said...

miniq, mamamatay na nga ako sa trabaho e...but still partly my fault. workaholic :(

illyria, we're the same, that's why i end up with shitty covers, too (the duplicates are another pesky matter). though in my early youth i'd just buy any sci-fi or fantasy book on the shelf that i can afford, hehe.

olrayt, that's what you call wais. magandang ideya!

5:06 AM  
Blogger Corsarius said...

claudzki, paperback classics? yeah, those titles have lots of different covers going around. i think we have some classic duplicates around here, too..

nm, merry xmas and a prosperous new year to you, too!

andy, here, still alive and kicking, hehe. needed to shut down my cbox, it was spawning popups like hell in IE (or so I was told by someone who came across my site), and my replacement tagboard was the spawning ground of spammers...argh. :P

5:12 AM  

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