Book By Its Cover: Classics

Nikki: Do you judge books by their covers? I…must confess… I do. I can’t help it; I’m a visual person! That’s not to say I won’t read a book with a tacky cover… It just means I will search high and low for an alternate cover or make my own cover for it or cover it with a blank sheet of paper with only the name of the book written on it because I would rather look at a blank white cover than a tacky one.

Anyway, Claire and I decided to get bitchy about book covers, but we’re not outing bad ones. So let’s all take a minute to get shallow and consider the way our favourite (and not-so-favourite) stories are visually presented.


And funnily enough, I just found this (super addictive!) game the other day about judging book covers and EVERY SINGLE TIME I’m told I’m, like, Super McJudgey Pants to the Max.. But that’s not fair really. Just because I can admit that a book has a crappy cover doesn’t mean I automatically think it’ll be poop. Ultimately, I prise stories above covers! …But I will definitely search for the least terrible cover if I’m going to read the book…I like to be accurate about my editions on Goodreads and I don’t want the covers fuglying up my Read list too much.

But, it’s actually incredibly hard for me to choose favourite classics covers. Classics have been around sooo long, they’ve had a lot of time to accumulate some GORGEOUS edition covers. So to really narrow this list right down, I’m going to prioritise the ones with cover editions that I physically own (and, preferably, books I love). I regret to inform you that probably nothing here will surprise you…


1. The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck

I really love this book. It was a quick read and the story behind its use as allied propaganda was interesting. I’ve been a little exhausted with World War 2 stories recently. It doesn’t always feel like there’s anything new to give to the stories (even flipping it around to the enemy’s perspective is pretty played out). But this story was still an enjoyable little read because that’s what Steinbeck does.

Now, the cover is what drew me to the book when I first saw it in Waterstones. It’s all very simple, but it captures a certain mood very well for me. And, in person, the un-glossed, slightly rough texture of the cover just works.

illustration by Jim Stoddart


2. Ariel by Sylvia Plath

I am not a ‘poems-person’ (if there is such a thing). And I didn’t know anything about Plath until after I’d read The Bell Jar (somewhat arbitrarily) and fell in like with it. I was moved by Plath’s knowing. Her ability to describe a feeling just right.

When I first saw this cover–again, on a fateful day in Waterstones!–got curious about her poetry. Let me reiterate, not because of what I’d heard about it really. But because I saw this cover. I thought: dang. Better check out what’s in thaaaat. Because I’m a sucker for limited colour and overlay/screen-printed effects used well. I won’t pretend to have understood all of the poems right the way through, but I really loved many of them.

illustration by Sarah Young


3.Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Oh! What’s this? Another Steinbeck? Yeah, whatever, guys. You need to read to believe. He good.

Okay. You know the drill! I was in Waterstones…again(!) when I saw this cover having previously known actually nothing about the book. (Damn you, Waterstones! You precious, precious book palace that I will never stop supporting unless you get involved in terrible unethical corporate crap!) It’s now occurring to me how often I’ve been clueless about major popular classics and just read them without knowing about the hype and fallen in love with them. I think that’s great! But also I’m concerned with how clueless I can be….hmmmmm But that’s a worry for another time.

I’m also seeing a trend in the type of covers that strike my fancy. Again: limited colour. siiigh. It’s just so classy (and also sometimes fun), dang it!

illustration by Jim Stoddart


4. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Okay so, despite its crazy popularity, this was definitely not my favourite Christie mystery. It’s a bit too zany and farfetched for me, but the journey was really fun (…which is more than the guy who was murdered on the Orient Express can say. BaZing!).

The cover, on the other hand, I really like. I was tempted to put my (limited colour, screenprint-lookin’) cover of Toward Zero, but this is my favourite mystery cover so far. There’s just so much atmosphere! I love it.

cover design (it’s actually a photo!) by Ghost Design


5. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

I think it would be fair to call this series a classic at this point. I love Brett Helquist’s illustrations for each book and I think they really capture a lot of the fun, off kilter, but very immersive world in with the story takes place.

It’s maybe not a series for everyone, but if you like ordered silliness (or weird logic?)–think pun/word humour–with a backdrop of enjoyable eeriness and dismay, this might be for you!


So the way that I attacked this post, is I chose 5 classics that I quite admire or like (which, I will be frank, is not many as I am generally not a fan of this genre) and chose one of my favourite covers for it.

BookByItsCoverAsh11. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

I tried my best to find out who designed and did this cover but I couldn’t, and I don’t have my copy with me in the UK, so if someone figures it out I’d love to note them down and give them credit.

Wide Sargasso Sea is hands down, my favourite book of all time. The copy I had in school was battered and quite ugly to be frank but when i saw this in the store I fell in love with it all over again. It’s simple but fits with a recurring style I’ve seen in Caribbean novels. It doesn’t scream classic but it does scream pick me up, well I’m biased but I think it does. The entire book is enigmatic and the woman in the front fits that.

BookByItsCoverAsh22. Dracula by Bram Stroker

This cover is part of Penguin’s hardback Clothbound Classics series and designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith.

This entire series just makes me curl my toes and smile. As I said earlier, I am generally not a fan of the classics but I’ve wanted to pick up every single version I’ve ever seen in stores. There is something so elegant, fun and simple about every single cover. This one is naturally darker and I am intrigued by the flowers they chose for this but it suits it quite well.

You miiiight see more from this series here.

BookByItsCoverAsh33. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

This cover is part of the Penguin Threads initiative and done by Jillian Tamaki, who is one of Nikki’s favourite artists and I’ve been fortunate to see in person. I didn’t speak to her but was just awed by her smile alone.

I love the idea of adding some flair to a classic cover through embroidery- I am a big fan of the medium and it is good to see it getting the artistic credit that it is due. The other covers in this series are also amazing. What I like about this particular one is you can feel the energy, even though it’s a 2D horse, I can see him moving and how better than to catch an eye than an embroidered horse?

BookByItsCoverAsh44. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

This is the Special Collector’s edition in Hardback and I want it so badly. Every time I go into a book shop I just hold it and whisper one day. Again, I also have no idea who designed this cover so if someone knows, please do tell me!

Besides that, come on, what’s not to love? I love this whole series and though I have a copy already (painted by Alan Lee) but I want this one too! I’m starting to notice a preference for minimalist, highly-designed covers. I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea so I am interested in hearing whether you like this or not.

5. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. MontgomeryBookByItsCoverAsh6

This copy is published by Aladdin Classics series through Simon and Schuster and again, I can’t find out who did it! This struggle to give credit to artists and designers is immensely frustrating and has opened my eye to the bias in book covers- yes the book cover is amazing, but come on guys we have to give credit when we can. So pleassse, if someone owns this copy can you crack it open for me and note who did it.

Again, I like this copy because of its simplicity but integrated use of artistic mediums, such as this paper cut design. It’s understate and elegant, and definitely a version I want to purchase for my personal library.

Are there any book covers that speak to you? Illustrators or designers that make your favourite books rock?



About Claire (BWB)

It's Claire (aka Quirky) from Bitches With Books, an online book blog that serves up a healthy dose of book reviews, lists + literary madness.
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3 Responses to Book By Its Cover: Classics

  1. Pingback: Claire x Nikki Review September 2015 | Bitches With Books

  2. rgdole says:

    I’m not a fan of Wide Sargasso Sea… but man it really does make you rethink Jane Eyre in a huge way… and I can always appreciate when an writer comes at such a story from a new angle…

    but of the covers I love the ones for the Cinder series by Marissa Meyer… I like it when they’re clean and simple… not overly done and yet done in a way that really ties them all together… they each use that bright red color that draws the eye… though if I have to pick my favorite of them I’d have to say Cress… unlike the other 2 the name doesn’t really give a clue to which fairy tale it’s referencing but you of course immediately know… and even the others would be obvious without the names which you have to give props to…

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