Judging a Book by Its Cover

It’s not Maupassant’s fault, but I have a grudge against him already: his book stinks.

The librarian had to retrieve it from The Stacks. The first thing I noticed as she returned was its size. At more than 1300 pages, it thudded on the counter. Then, as she swiped my library card and pushed the book toward me, I smelled it. Musky. Old. Like a 1950s house that hasn’t been aired out in decades. Like puke-colored green shag carpet.

The cover itself isn’t too bad: the top two-thirds has the long title and subtitle and editor written in plain print across a faded (and stained) orange background. Bizarre green faces stare at me from the bottom third of the page.

Then I opened it. The text is about 8 point font. A story ends and the next begins on the same page (that bothers me: a story should stand by itself). And each page is as thin as skin. The book is probably 11 inches tall and 5 inches wide, so with 1300+ pages, a heavy cover, and Bible-thin pages, it’s kind of hard to curl up in bed for some comfort reading.

The book is The Complete Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant. I’m ashamed to say that if it wasn’t for my How to Read and Why reading list goal, I would return this book right now. No: I’d never have picked it up to begin with.

I requested this particular volume (edited by Professor Artine Artinian; copyright 1955 by Doubleday under the imprint Hanover House, no ISBN number) because two reviewers on Amazon insisted it was the best volume of Maupassant’s works, and my library happened to carry it. I fail to be convinced. To begin with, having read the introduction and skimmed the front matter, I fail to see any evidence for who actually translated the stories in this collection. Dr. Artinian doesn’t claim that; he only claims to be editor. I want to know who translates. Besides, if it’s so good, how come nobody else on Amazon could find it? Why isn’t it in print anymore? Why doesn’t it have an ISBN number? Why hasn’t it been republished time and again?

If you want to read Maupassant, maybe go for a “selected works” collection. Having all 270 stories in one volume is a bit unwieldy and overwhelming, to say the least.

I know it’s wrong to judge a book by its cover. I intend to read Maupassant, at least some of these stories, despite the stench emanating from the pages. I never realized I was so easily swayed by format. This post is just an explanation of why it’s taking me so long to give Maupassant a try: I’m biased against him already.

Have you judged a book by its cover? Were you right about it, or was it merely unfortunate? What is the worst cover you’ve come across?

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  1. Thanks for checking in Rebecca! I was sick and the internet died, but everything’s better now. 😀 That book sounds intense, and not in the good way-I hate when stories run into each other too.

    I bookmooched one of the Father Brown story collections, and it had this god-awful bright yellow cover with a guy dressed up as Father Brown (I’m assuming he played him on TV) and the font was itty, bitty. It had a hint of that 50s smell too. I almost skipped it, but then I ended up really enjoying the stories!

  2. I tend to like the smell of old, dusty books. It’s one of the things I like most about used bookstores. But, I have judged a book by its cover… and its font, its format, its pages, its smell…

    It used to bother me that I was so particular, but I’ve found that if something about the format of the book bothers me I’ll be distracted every time I read. For me, a book that’s pleasing to look at and hold makes the entire reading experience much better.

  3. Eva, Glad you’re alright. It’s too bad that some books give off that vibe of “I’m not worth reading” but I’m glad you tried Father Brown all the same!

    J.S. Peyton, I like some smells of old books. This one isn’t very good. But overall, I think I like new book smell best!

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