Judging a book by its cover is not always a bad thing. I came to this conclusion one day in college when I and a few friends (including my then future/current fiancée, Jess) were at a local comic book store, just being huge nerds. This particular comic book store had three or four racks near the back which contained not-comic books of the fantasy and sci-fi variety, which was fortunate because the only comic book I’ve ever really collected is “Lenore,” and I’m not sure if that one’s still being made. Also, I’m an avid reader of sci-fi, so that’s another reason it was fortunate that this rack existed. At the time, I was really jonesing on all the classic sci-fi authors with a zealousness that makes me quiver in embarrassment every time I think about it now. I would go through the rack looking for Azimov or Heinlein or Bradbury and just dismiss everything else. It wasn’t even that big a rack, and while there were one or two books there by my chosen authors, it was slim pickings. We had been to the store several times, and I always did this. On the occasion of which I speak, I was engrossed in my normal activities, searching fruitlessly for one of my familiar names and silently criticizing all the other authors I’d never heard of. How could they be worth reading, I thought, when I’d never even heard of them before?
That was the defining moment where I literally stopped moving and said out loud, “Oh God… I’m an idiot!” I realized at that moment that there was something very wrong with my thought process. I couldn’t say anything against these authors with a clean conscience as soon as I realized that, God willing, that would be me someday. I’d be that author that nobody had heard of, and would they think the same thing of me? Would they pass up my book for a shiny copy of Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles? As much as I love Bradbury’s work, especially Martian Chronicles, I certainly freaking hope not. The more I thought about it the more disgusted with myself I became. These authors deserved a chance and I was being a jerk. That, and the more I thought about it, did I really want to read yet another story where society is so advanced that they have interstellar travel and flying cars, yet still use magnetic tape for data storage? No, I did not. And I knew by now that if I were to pick something up by Azimov, that is exactly what I’d get.
So it was decided that I would try something new, give a different author a chance, do unto others as I would have them do unto me. But where to start? It was a small rack, but surprisingly diverse, and there was so much there that was undiscovered that it was quite a bit overwhelming. So I did what I had to do, and I judged a book by its cover. I pulled out a book and looked at it. It was bright and colorful and kinda trippy. I turned it over and read the synopsis. Sounded reasonably interesting. I looked at the title, and promptly mispronounced it several times. In fact, I’m still not sure how you’re supposed to say it. It was called Technogenesis (Techno genesis? TechnogenEEsus? I don’t know) and it was by a lady named Syne Mitchell. “Well I guess this one looks cool,” I said, and I bought it. I took it home and started reading.
I’m not going to say it’s the best book I’ve ever read, but that’s mostly because my Dad had me read Stranger in a Strange Land in high school, and I DARE you to find a better book than that. I will say this, though: Technogenesis, however the heck you pronounce it, should be required reading for, like, everybody, I’m not even kidding. It came out in 2002, and that’s twelve years ago, but it is still very relevant and profound and eye-opening, and on top of that it’s a really good story. I don’t want to give anything away, but you should read it. Seriously, go buy it now, they’ve got used copies on Amazon for one cent.
So anyway, that’s what happened when I started judging books by their cover. Or, at least, when I started judging them mercifully by their cover. I guess that’s the defining element right there. It’s okay to judge a book by its cover as long as your judgement is something along the lines of “I’ll bet this is a pretty good book, judging by its cover.” Unfortunately I don’t think that’s ever going to make it to proverb status, but just remember that regardless of a book’s covering, its contents just might blow your little mind, like Technogenesis did with me.
Which, I guess is what most people mean when they say “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”