“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” We’ve all heard this maxim plenty of times, and we all know that it’s easier said than done, especially when literally judging which books to read. Despite most people being familiar with the saying, books continue to come out with covers that aren't the most helpful to readers trying to judge their contents. Whether it’s a cover full of bees for a suspenseful murder mystery or a skyline illustration on a book that takes place in a single room, some books have covers that totally miss the mark on representing the plot.
Although this trend arguably adds some surprise and mystery to book shopping, it’s not
very...well, convenient. For popular reads, like some on this list, the title alone may
give away the plot. But if you aren’t already familiar with the books, there’s
no way you’d guess the plots based on the covers. That book we mentioned with bees across the front? It’s The Constant Gardener,
and if we hadn’t read it, we’d have no clue that it
isn’t about gardening or pollination. Each of these books has a similarly
misleading book cover, suggesting an idea of what the book will be about that’s
entirely different from...what the book is actually about.
1. The Constant Gardener
What it seems like it’ll be about: Gardening, bees, and pollination.
What it’s actually about: A husband’s long journey to uncover the truth about his wife’s murder while working as an activist in Kenya. Bees are basically unrelated to the plot.
2. The Virgin Suicides
What it seems like it’ll be about: Carefree teenagers “coming of age,” with all of the sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll that are typically involved.
What it’s actually about: Complex, thoughtful teenage girls who don’t come of age at all (spoiler alert: the title isn't lying). Also, the bulk of the story takes place inside the confines of the sisters' house, so it doesn’t make much sense to have a cover where they’re lounging about in the outdoors.
3. The Last Letter
What it seems like it’ll be about: A modern romance in which the couple composes letters back and forth to one another à la P.S. I Love You.
What it’s actually about: Set in the early 20th century, a woman grapples with the last letter that her mother sent her, in which she explains the family's hidden reasons for moving to the country.
4. The Metamorphosis
What it seems like it’ll be about: Unclear. But something involving a city skyline, vast open spaces, or really anything other than a man-bug trapped inside the same room for the entire book.
What it’s actually about: A man-bug trapped inside the same room for the entire book. Also the Oedipal complex, a reworking of early 20th-century masculine values, and/or the Bible, depending on whom you ask.
5. The House of the Spirits
What it seems like it’ll be about: A girl with mystical powers who can communicate with the spirits of dead people and animals.
What it’s actually about: The complex and evolving dynamics of four generations of a Chilean family against the backdrop of the country’s political turmoil.
What it seems like it’ll be about: Maybe nudists, maybe Mormons (those shorts?), or possibly some raw emotional situation where the protagonist is figuratively naked.
What it’s actually about: David Sedaris as a child and young adult in a series of essays, one of which is about his experience at a nudist resort. To be fair, with 17 nonfiction essays, there’s really no good way to illustrate the entire plot of the book (since there are essentially 17 different, thinly connected, plots).
7. Wrong Turn
What it’s actually about: Your run of the mill mystery story involving a wrongly convicted person and a gutsy female detective out to catch the real bad guy, a serial killer.
8. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened
What it seems like it’ll be about: A rodent magician who struggles to succeed at his dreams of entertaining the world with tiny magic tricks.
What it’s actually about: A witty memoir about the author’s
eccentric Texas childhood, where her taxidermist father constantly embarrasses
her and her anxiety attacks cause her various troubles outside of the home. Annnd now the taxidermied mouse on the cover makes sense.
9. Bird by Bird
What it seems like it’ll be about: A main character who has a strong obsession with bird-watching, which is only rivaled in intensity by a love of chess (or checkers).
What it’s actually about: A how-to guide on writing, including
the advice to tackle goals piece by piece or, as the author’s father once put it, “bird by bird.”
10. A Piece of Cake
What it seems like it’ll be about: Cake? More specifically, it could be about a fledgling bakery, or a person who gives up her love of sweets and goes on an extreme diet.
What it’s actually about: A young woman named Cupcake who struggles
through an abusive childhood, escapes into the world of prostitution, almost
dies from a drug addiction, and goes on to tell her tale in this memoir. Yeah, really not the right place for a cover full of sprinkles.
11. The Female Man
What it seems like it’ll be about: A male-to-female transgender protagonist who leads a confident life full of red high heels and strong martinis.
What it’s actually about: A sci-fi book in which four women from
alternative universes come together and learn from each other. Each alternative
universe has its own unique gender politics, but most still involve female
subordination (and none involve transgender protagonists).
12. The Albino Album
What it seems like it’ll be about: An albino tiger living life, scouting out prey, trying to keep from being hunted by humans, and other lion-y things.
What it’s actually about: A punk teenage girl moves from the South to the big city and encounters all sorts of unique characters and situations. There’s not actually a tiger involved in the plot — sorry, guys.
13. Midnight Robber
What it seems like it’ll be about: A young guy in 1970s California who is notorious for committing late-night, drug-fueled robberies in a sombrero and cape.
What it’s actually about: A planet called Toussaint that has been colonized by people from the Caribbean, and a young girl named Tan-Tan who must adopt the role of the mythical Robber Queen in order to survive as an outcast with her corrupt father.Image: Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr