You Can’t Judge A Book By Its Cover

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I’ve always heard that you can’t judge a book by its cover, but I’m not sure that is totally true.  First impressions are lasting impressions and when it comes to reading material, the design of a book’s cover is the first thing that garners one’s attention.  When I was working with publishers in the design and subsequent selection of a cover for both my books, it proved to be a tough process.

For my book BITTER OR BETTERA PERSONAL WALK THROUGH GRIEF, I ultimately decided to keep it simple and settled on an old photo of Ronnie and me with just the title of the book chronicling the storyline.  Actually, I’m giving myself too much credit. Truth be told, if I took any of the credit it would be a misrepresentation of the facts. 

I chose the black and white photo with the horizontal book title located across the top of the cover at the insistence of my wife and kids and every other person that looked at the options we were given.  No one apart from myself thought the cover I liked best was a viable option.  It included too much information. Everyone who was asked for their opinion opted for the simple and inviting picture of two little boys that looked alike without adding in a lot of extra stuff. They thought it represented the most appealing invitation to read the book.

Frankly, I would have opted to select the cover design that took the person responsible for creating the design the most thought and time to create. I never met the man, but when I saw his creation, I thought he was a genius.  I remember thinking: “Wow! Wow! Wow!”  I was absolutely amazed with the design.  Perhaps because I knew the story from the inside out, the cover design option with the EKG was my pick. From my perspective, a quick glance at the cover visually reflected an enormous amount of information.

Instead of the title, BITTER or BETTER being located horizontally across the top of the cover, the words “BITTER or” were printed horizontally on a white border near the right hand corner at the top of the book. It was immediately under a green border that framed the top and right outside edge of the book.  The vertical white border located inside the green border included the word BETTER written vertically under the word “or”.

Above the picture of Ronnie and I, there was an overlay of an EKG line. The line above Ronnie was a flat line. The line above me reflected some sharp variations for about half of the space and then it too was flat.  I shared in my book that when I first learned that Ronnie was Missing In Action, “I felt half dead”. Apparently, the designer picked up on that concept because the pictorial message with the EKG line couldn’t have been clearer. Of course, for someone who hadn’t yet read my reflection in the book, it might have been difficult to sort out the symbolism.

Perhaps because I had lived through the experience, when I saw the cover with the green wrap-around border and EKG line, my mind was immediately made up. The symbolism wasn’t limited to the EKG line. Think about it.  BITTER was on a horizontal line and BETTER was on a vertical line.  If you haven’t connected the dots, give it more thought. You’ll figure it out. It was a perfect illustration. At any rate, no one else other than me viewing the three options favored anything other than the simple title of the book at the top with the picture of the two young boys. 

One day this past week I stood just inside the door at H.E.B. waiting on the General to get groceries.  The General either wants me to stay right next to her like a three-year-old as she shops so she won’t have to look for me when she’ ready to go or for me to pick a location where she can be fairly certain to find me.  I opted for the latter.

Simply watching the shoppers and staff at H.E.B. was an eye opening experience for me.  It was an aha moment for sure.  I think I now know how Dorothy must have felt when she first realized she was no longer in Kansas. I looked around at the people shopping in Dripping Springs, America and they didn’t all look like me.  I wasn’t sure I was still in Dripping Springs. This was not the same place I moved to half a lifetime ago.

Of course, even I looked pretty unkempt.  I was wearing khaki cargo shorts, a blue pull over T-shirt, my blue Buck Naked Underwear and a pair of Keens.  That was it. Back in the day, I wouldn’t have been caught dead in public looking like that. I would have been embarrassed. Well, it’s a new day. I’m retired now and I don’t need the look of a workingman.  I’m still the same guy even if I dress differently. Don’t judge a book by its cover! In case you missed it, I said: “I’m still the same guy.”

Maybe I’ve watched too much HGTV and failed to get out in the real world often enough. Wow!  Like I said, “Walking into H.E.B. and looking around was an eye opening experience”. I thought at first that maybe I had wondered in BookPeople on North Lamar in Austin. The only time I was in that store I thought it was an interesting variety of people. How’s that for putting a positive spin on diversity?

Don’t judge a book by its cover.  I really didn’t want to overstep my boundaries, but I was tempted to start taking pictures of the shoppers.  Of course, that might get me arrested or punched in the face.  Had I managed to do so, it would have certainly made a good pictorial blog. I could have entitled it: “Would You Look At That”.

The guy with the long sleeve shirt (I mean tattoos that looked like a long sleeve shirt) caught my attention.  It was a nice shirt; I mean artwork.  I guess the nice thing about it is that you could wear it on the warmest of days and not feel like you were hot because of the sleeves.  Of course, you may have thought you were hot because you had the permanent look of wearing long sleeves. Hot is a term that can express any number of things.

The “long sleeve look” is what first caught my attention, but the guy was pushing two small boys in the grocery basket. I made the assumption that they were his sons. I watched the way he interacted with them and I was favorably impressed.  I intuitively liked the guy even though we were dressed differently.  I thought it was too hot outside to wear long sleeves. That’s why I was wearing cargo shorts.

Next I noticed several folks at different times that could have been part of the cast from Duck Dynasty.  You know the look I’m talking about. Wow!  I didn’t know that long beards were the order of the day. That look makes it really challenging to eat barbequed ribs without getting it in your beard.  Too bad for them.

Where did these people come from?  I momentarily even fantasized that the guys with long beards were part of a popular music group whose name I can’t remember and that on the count of three, the quartet would appear and start singing. I actually would have enjoyed that, but it didn’t happen. Had it happened, I might be more inclined to shop for groceries.

The lady with the trellis and red roses tattooed over her body must have really liked the concept of having a rose garden.  Both the back and front of her summer dress was low-cut and roses were not in short supply.  I had the thought that it would be funny if her name was Rose.

I’m not really a fan of pierced eyebrows, but what do I know?  Maybe I’m missing something. I looked at the crowded store in Dripping Springs and had the thought: “This isn’t the Dripping Springs I know”.

Regardless of which cover I selected for my book, the content inside the cover was already in place.  Even if you opted to wear a spiked dog collar around your neck and follow someone holding your leash through H.E.B., that doesn’t mean you don’t have value. It just means that you don’t mind letting someone else be in control.  I don’t like that feeling. That’s why I didn’t follow the General through the grocery store. 

I sensed that the guy with the tattooed long sleeves was a loving and capable father for his sons.  I made that assumption from watching them interact. They went past me several times.  The way we look and dress is just a façade to the stuff that really matters. It is who were are inside that determines our value. 

Could it be that the time I spent watching people at H.E.B. was a learning moment for me?  Times are a changin’.  Maybe I needed to remember not to be judgmental. After all you can’t judge a book by its cover.

All My Best!

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Don

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