But I think it is a mistake to think that we stop being told what good and bad books are at the school level. It continues every day. You are informed about a book’s perceived quality through a number of ways. One of those ways is the cover. The cover may be the biggest message-bearer. Other messages include: blurbs (who they are from), comparisons, review coverage, store placement, and categorization.
And the simple fact of the matter is, if you are a female author, you are much more likely to get the package that suggests the book is of a lower perceived quality. Because it’s “girly,” which is somehow inherently different and easier on the palate. A man and a woman can write books about the same subject matter, at the same level of quality, and that woman is simple more likely to get the soft-sell cover with the warm glow and the feeling of smooth jazz blowing off of it. If we sell more — and we often don’t — it is simply because we produce candy, and who doesn’t like candy? We’re the high fructose corn syrup of literature, even when our products are the same. It’s okay to sell the girls as long as we have some men to provide protein.
Maybe this idea that there are “girl books” and “boy books” and “chick lit” and “whatever is the guy equivalent of chick lit”* gives credit to absolutely no one, especially not the boys who will happily read stories by women, about women. As a lover of books and someone who supports readers and writers of both sexes, I would love a world in which books are freed from some of these constraints. Maybe we should do boys the favor we girls received — a reading diet featuring books by and about the opposite sex. Clearly, it must work.
One way we can do that quite easily is by looking at the covers. We’re told not to judge books by them, but… EVERYBODY DOES. That is what they are for. They are the packages that get your attention, that give you messages about what to expect.