Thursday, October 25, 2007

Sapphira and the Slave Girl

It sounds like a bodice ripper, but it isn't; it's a novel by Willa Cather, set in Kentucky before the Civil War. It is a meditation on what it means to own slaves and whether it is right; the sympathetically-drawn characters show how good people could end up on both sides of the question - or stuck in the middle. I read it a couple weeks ago and loved it, so I ordered a paperback copy for myself. It came in the other day and I went to pick it up, very excited. But the copy was the ugliest book I have ever seen. The cover trumpets "A Tale of Jealousy Set in the Pre-Civil War South" (which is sort of accurate, but not what the book is about at all - like calling the Odyssey a travelogue) and the art is horrible. The type inside wasn't any better. So for once, I turned down a book and will try to find a used hardback copy over the internet.

Why in the world do publishers try to turn a book into something it isn't? Anyone who really wanted what the cover promised would be disappointed in the book, and people who would enjoy the book won't buy it. And how they can justify turning out something not just utilitarian but flat-out ugly is beyond me.

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