Arthur Fiedler, the famous conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra, once said that it was the album cover that caught the individual’s attention. A classy cover would sell more recordings. A brief look at the covers of LP’s recorded by the Boston Pops under Fiedler’s direction will reveal how seriously he followed his own advice.
I think the same can be said of book covers. I googled “book covers as art” and came up with over ten thousand references. Numerous internet sites address the topic of book, magazine, and comic covers as a form of art. Do you like a classic book cover, but cannot afford to buy the book? Well then, you may purchase it as a poster, postcard, or even on a T-shirt.
To put it bluntly, covers sell books. Studies suggest shoppers wandering around in a bookstore will decide to purchase a book they have heard of within ten to twenty seconds. What grabs their attention? The cover!
I can testify to the truth of this in my own life. When I walk into the local Barnes and Nobles bookstore just to browse and enjoy a cup of coffee, I peruse the book displays on my way to the coffee shop. Always, my eyes are drawn to a book, or books, that “look interesting.” To put it another way, a book cover catches my attention.
The cover may be great, but what makes the sale is the first sentence or two. If the first sentence does not “hook” me, I set the book down and continue browsing. How could one resist a novel that begins, “What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died?” Everyone, or nearly everyone, will recognize that as the opening sentence in Erich Segel’s bestseller, Love Story (1970). If that doesn’t sell you, then read on: “That she was beautiful and brilliant? That she loved Mozart and Bach, the Beatles, and me?”
There are many memorable opening sentences. The American Book Review has a list of “100 Best First Lines from Novels.” Number one is “Call me Ishmael” from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (1850). At number twenty-two: “It was a dark and stormy night . . .” popularized by Snoopy in the Peanuts cartoons, but actually penned by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton in his novel, Paul Clifford (1830). I do not know anyone who has actually read it. I suppose most are waiting for Snoopy to finish writing his book.
While browsing in a store recently, my wandering eyes were drawn to a book lying on a table. On the cover was a watercolor of a young couple, obviously walking hand-in-hand down some Parisian street. I assume Paris, not just because of the title, Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes, but because of what the young lady is carrying. She has a fish-net-like shopping bag over her shoulder. In it are a fish, a loaf of French bread, and what appears to be lettuce. The book’s title and the author’s name, Elizabeth Bard, are done in black script as if written with a small paint brush.
The romantic picture aroused memories of a visit to Paris in the summer of 1968, two months after the famous May riots. There is no other city quite like Paris. The very name instantly conjures up images of the Eiffel Tower, sidewalk cafés, green parks, running fountains, art museums, the Moulin Rouge, romantic music, and so much more. Of course, my memories are somewhat romanticized. Reality was not always as much fun.
I picked up the book because of the cover art. Out of curiosity, I turned to the opening chapter and read the first sentence: “I slept with my French husband halfway through our first date.” I thought, “Now that’s the way to start a book.” I had to continue reading the first paragraph: “I say halfway because we had finished lunch but not yet ordered coffee. . . . The question was posed lightly: It looked like rain. We could sit it out in a café or, since his apartment was not far, he could make tea.” She goes on to explain in the next paragraph: “It seemed like a simple choice; I like tea.”
That was enough for me. I was hooked. I had to read the book.
Lunch in Paris (New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2010) is a memoir of
finding love along with good food and fine wine in, of course, Paris. Elizabeth Bard was living in London when she first met the love of her life in the person of a Frenchman named Gwendal. The initial meeting was followed by an exchange of emails over several months, and finally Elizabeth’s journey to Paris to see Gwendal.
From the first, the reader discovers that Elizabeth’s romantic passion is not for Gwendal alone, but also for French food. From their first lunch at a noisy canteen opened for business in 1896, to Bard’s ever more frequent trips to spend weekends with Gwendal, to her decision to move to Paris and share Gwendal’s tiny apartment, the book is a fast-paced, often humorous memoir of love and food.
Each chapter is followed by a selection of French recipes and directions for preparing them. Among “Recipes for Seduction” are “French Mint Tea” and “Pasta à la Gwendal.” There are recipes for special occasions, classics like onion soup, and even a recipe for a comfort food Bard calls “Gwendal’s Quick and Dirty Chocolate Soufflé cake.” I am tempted to try some of the recipes—e.g., “Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble.” Others, I would not try, even if paid to do so. Do people really eat snails? You can call them by a fancy French name, “escargots,” but a snail is still a snail.
Lunch in Paris is a book to read and enjoy. It does not have any deep philosophical message, unless it is that all those romantic stories about discovering true love in an exotic environment do come true, sometimes.
Should you choose to read Lunch in Paris, I recommend a comfortable chair, a footstool, a café latte, and an almond croissant.
Until next time, be good to all God’s creation, and always live under the mercy.
For some very fine examples of book covers as art:
“100 Best First Lines from Novels” may be found at: