We all know that we shouldn't judge a book by its cover. We also know that we shouldn't pop pimples or stay up late reading articles on the internet. And yet. The power of the human will is only so strong. We nearly always judge books just a little bit by what they look like, which can be a problem if those books have totally misleading covers.
A beautiful book cover draws you in. It hints at what's to come, and it's a lovely piece of art in its own right. Nearly every book nerd can think of a time that a truly gorgeous book cover stopped them cold in a book store. You just have to pick that book up and see what it's all about. And hopefully, the cover has set the tone for the whole story, without giving too much away.
And then... there are the less fortunate book covers. Or rather, the hilariously bad book covers and the wildly misleading book covers, which always beg the question, "Has this designer ever read and/or even heard of this book?" When it's a bad cover on a straight-to-kindle bodice-ripper, we can kind of forgive them. But when it's a way off-the-mark cover on a well-known classic... well, take a look:
1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Ah yes, Frankenstein. The famous of tale of a young gender-ambiguous knight, and their quest to... scale Mount Everest? Look, I'm not saying that every copy of Frankenstein needs the same flat-top monster with neck-bolts on the cover... but in what way does the image of a concerned knight represent the story of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster made of re-animated corpses?
2. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Occasionally, you can tell what the publishers are trying to communicate, even with a bad book cover. In this case, the message is "I am a Twilight book." Which would be a fine message for a Twilight book, but it just doesn't quite work for Wuthering Heights. And yes, the cover does advertise itself as "Bella & Edward's Favourite Book." Just in case the color scheme didn't clue you in to their marketing strategy.
3. The Shining by Stephen King
This is a Brazilian edition of Stephen King's The Shining. Maybe the translator took some artistic liberties with the story, to make it a little less of a fantasy-horror, and a little more of a fashion magazine from the '80s? Either way, the best part of this cover is definitely the fact that the woman's face appears a second time in that little box. Is it just me, or do her eyes follow you wherever you go?
4. Night and Day by Virginia Woolf
Night and Day by Virginia Woolf is a love story and complex social comedy, with a dark undercurrent questioning the limited role of women in society and the nature of the human experience. It is not, as this cover suggests, a novel about a model who witnesses a murder and/or a spy who goes undercover at a cosmetics company.
5. 1984 by George Orwell
...I guess that technically this one isn't that misleading. But it does sort of imply that 1984 is full of sexy spies rather than thinly veiled critiques of totalitarian governments.
6. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy
I just... why? The Scarlet Pimpernel is about one man who defies the French revolutionaries to save innocents from the guillotine. It's set during the French Revolution. It's not about a business man who learns to love by adopting a badly photo-shopped kitten. Not even a little bit.
7. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
No. NO. There are a lot of misleading covers of Lolita, making it look like a sexy romance instead of the creepy portrait of a pedophile. The book itself is pretty clearly about a sexually abused 12-year-old girl and the man who preys on her, not about a sultry teenaged temptress. Shut it down.
8. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
I'm pretty sure I owned this copy as a kid, and the cover always mystified me. Why are there a bunch of jelly beans floating over the surface of a CGI ocean? Why does a sci-fi comedy have its title in faux-Papyrus font? What are they trying to tell us? Is this a cry for help? Somebody please find this designer and help them.
9. The Giver by Lois Lowry
Remember that part of The Giver where they go through a time warp into an alternate dimension? No? Neither do I. I mean, yes The Giver is about a post-apocalyptic future where people can transfer memories to one another. But it's significantly less trippy and magical than this cover implies (seriously, why the elephant?).
10. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Yeah, ok. I can almost get behind this one, but that's not even a screw. That's a nut. As in "nuts and bolts." And it's being tenderly held by two wrenches. Obviously the book itself is not about turning screws. It's about ghosts and being a governess to creepy children. But if you're going to go with an overly literal cover, at least use an actual screw.
11. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Really? Really? This is a book about a young woman's mental breakdown and subsequent treatment. Sure, there are some lighter moments, but the main plot centers on mental illness, attempted suicide, and the oppressive sexism of the 1950s. This looks like the cover of a book about a beautiful actress-turned-suburban-housewife, who gets tired of her lot in life and starts murdering everyone on the PTA (I would totally read that book, it's just... a different energy than The Bell Jar).
12. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Did I miss the part of Pride and Prejudice where Lizzie rides into Rome nude? ...that doesn't happen in Pride and Prejudice, right? It's more of a comedy of manners/love story type of thing, yes? I mean, sure, that's a nice painting of a nude woman on a horse, it's just not... really... relevant...
13. Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs
So... is Tarzan trying to seduce that small monkey, or...?
14. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
I get that this Danish edition of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is going for a re-imagining of what an electric sheep looks like. And that's fine. But did they have to make it quite so sexy? It's really, really not that sexy in the book.
15. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
Anne of Green Gables is about a plucky red-headed orphan (a lot of the plot centers on her hair color). She goes to school and gets into scrapes. I'm not sure how "plucky red-headed orphan" become "sultry blonde co-ed," but it seems like they kind of missed the message here.
16. Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz by L. Frank Baum
My favorite part of the Oz books is definitely when the fighter planes descend on Mars. Except, contrary to what this cover implies, that never happens in any of the Oz books. They seem to have grasped the idea that Oz is a world unlike our own, but rather than "whimsical world of magic," they went for "gritty space warfare." Not quite right.