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Don't judge a book by its cover--judge it by its shape!

2003-02-03 - 7:13 p.m.



Last night El Jefe stood in front of his bookshelf trying to decide what to read. He chose a book he�d received for Christmas, written by the guy who wrote �Sleepers,� and decided to give it a shot. But he put it back and frowned.

�What�s wrong, El Jefe?� I asked.

�I kind of want to read this book,� he said, ��s square.�

At first I thought he meant the book was un-hip, that it would not get stoned if someone offered it a one-hitter.

But then El Jefe said, �It looks like the kind of book people buy at the grocery store.�

This got me thinking.

Most readers can tell you that Anne Rice novels, John Grisham books, and most others of the page-turner variety come in the same kind of paperback package: four or five inches tall, dark covers with gold foil lettering, sometimes little windows cut out of the cover. (Totally V.C. Andrews). They are often turned into movies. These kind of paperbacks were not on your Comp and Lit 101 syllabus in college.

Obviously there�s a kind of shape-related hierarchy in the literary world. The smooth, sleek, oblong David Sedarises and Pam Hustons and Dave Eggerses, with their brightly-colored covers, are the prom kings and queens of Literary High School, while the Clive Barkers, Elmore Leonards, and even John Irvings, (El Jefe�s favorite author), are the shorties who couldn�t even get a date.

But it begs the question: is Steven King�s writing on par with that of books featuring bare-chested Fabio men on the cover?

(Or are those sold-next-to-the-tabloids romance novels really good, and I just don�t know because I�ve never ventured to the short, soft side of town?)

And if the short-paperback shape of a book is related to its lacking in literary relevancy, than why is John Irving a square?

And what dictates whether a book is printed as a Pocket Paperback or as a more elongated, "New Yorker"-approved version?

It seems that page-turners are the fat people of the book world: they get discriminated against by the skinny-lovers simply because they�re short and stout. And yet I am no one to talk: the only shortie on my shelf is The Shining.

El Jefe, who was at first self-conscious about being a fan of some perpetually-in-paperback writers, later decided my bookshelf possessed a distinct air of shape-related snobbery.

�You know what you are?� he said, pointing at my shelves of eight-inchers. �You�re a book-shape elitist.�

Then he thought it over and revised.

�You�re a literary shapist.�

And he skipped off to read his new paperback, which really wouldn�t fit in anyone�s pocket, anyhow.



Now here�s a good question for you. I�m sure he�d have some choice words for Doug Ross.

that was then - this is now

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