Monday, February 27, 2012

Books and their covers

Have you ever thought about why you buy the books you buy or choose the ones you borrow from the library? Some may come recommended by friends or pastors. You may have a specific author that you love to read. If you are a browser of books, however, likely you can recall picking up a certain volume solely because of its cover. The picture intrigued you, the binding felt good in your hands, the color is your favorite... Whatever the reason, that cover drew you in and you opened the book.

Authors tend to be preoccupied with what is inside the two sandwiching pieces of cardboard to the point that it consumes us. We don't want any spelling mistakes or grammatical errors and we want our message, no matter what that is, to come across loud and clear. We write and rewrite, massaging our words until they are smooth and concise, vivid and relatable. Once we are done with that (which is a myth, by the way... I still see things in my published work I want to redo and reword, clarify and ... well - you see what I mean...) we have to start thinking about something that is intrinsically difficult for a writer to entertain. We have to start thinking about marketing our work.

I don't know what it is about selling my words that makes me cringe, but it does. I am assailed with self doubt, I want to rewrite and rework, all the while knowing it is a reaction to having to market a piece of me. One of the most difficult steps of this marketing my soul (yes, I am being over dramatic) was to put together a pleasing and relevant book cover. Any publisher worth their salt will tell you, "Covers sell books." I wish it were not so, but I have purchased many a tome on just the cover alone. Sad, but true. When it comes to books, we judge them often by their outsides. We look at the picture, or feel the leather bound edges. We want the cover to speak about what is inside and to give us a good feeling when we open it to read out its contents into our minds. Covers matter.

In books, covers tell at least a part of the story inside the pages. That would be why they are so important. It stands to reason that this too can be applied to our daily lives. Our outsides, our visage, our makeup and clothing, they are all a part of our "cover." We present to the world what we want folks to know about who we see on our inside pages. The catch is, with humans, this isn't always a fair representation. We don't put everything on that cover for all to see. We hold some things deep inside our inner chapters and the fact of the matter is, we hope that the cover will be good enough for most of you out there looking. We don't necessarily want you cracking open our volumes to know the real us. Just check out that cover, isn't it lovely?

We present our best face to the outside world. We tell those who ask we are doing great. We dress the part, whatever our part is, we put on a little "color" as my southern ladies would say, and we smile when we don't feel like it. We lay out our cover art for the day and we attempt to keep the world at bay because if they knew what was on our inner pages we might be ostracized like lepers on the outskirts of town.

We don't want anyone to know about the filthy home we are living in, the late bills the collectors are calling about, the abusive husband or the struggle with alcohol we have. We hope that no one will crack that cover and discover who we really are. We keep up our appearances and we smile through our pain. Most of the time.

Every once in a while the binding cracks and pieces of our ugliness come spilling out of the pages. We might be sitting in a cafe when our order comes and it is all wrong. It seems like such a small thing to the other diners at the table, but to us it is just another layer on the insults we have endured beneath our facade. We rip into the incompetent waitress as if she should have known that when we said no croutons it is because we cannot have them not because they aren't on our diet. We rail at the sales clerk who sold us the wrong computer accessory and made us drive back into town because we think he should know that we live more than forty minutes away. We present our cover and we expect that people will glean all the pertinent information from it alone. To add further insult, we also peruse the covers of others and think we know all about them. How can we think such things when we ourselves are hiding so much behind our own flimsy toppings? Easy. We are human. We believe the lie that we are all alone and that everyone else has it so much better than we do. We are so very gullible.

Covers, when it comes to human beings, are a bad thing. They may sell books, but they are only the surface of a man. They do not tell our whole story, they do not explain our actions. They are misleading and can be the source of so much pain and misunderstanding. The covers we present to the world are designed to protect and guard us, very little of them are the entire truth. I don't say these things in judgement, thinking that we all should wear every bad habit and bruise on our shirt sleeve for the world to see, on the contrary... What I am saying is this:

The next time you look at someone and think you know what their life is like, think again! They are presenting to you their cover art. It is designed to give you a small taste of who they want to be. Some of it, most of it, may have truth to it. But lest you assume that they have it all figured out, that their life is without stressors or ugliness, remember your own binding. Think about your deepest, darkest secret and, for practicalities sake, imagine they are dealing with the same issues. Imagine that they too have the very same problem you have and that they too are just as wounded and broken as you are. Imagine that their life is a shambles like yours is... Would your approach to them be different? Would your assumptions fall away? I hope so. If we can all treat others as if they too were struggling with the same issues we are and we approached them with the compassion we want to be approached with, the world would be a better place marked by empathy instead of prosecution.

It is my goal that those who look at my cover, though they will not always see the real me, hurting and wounded, will see the face of God. I have had some dear friends commend me on my faithful visage. I have to laugh! That was definitely not me they were looking at - That was God. Every day I pray that those who look at me and think I have a smug attitude, that I know it all, that I am preaching from a broken stump, will take just a moment and see only the face of my Lord. I do not pretend to be a whole human being without frailties and failings. There was only one of those and He died nailed to a cross. I am wholly broken and wounded, just like you. I desire that God will shine through these words to comfort your heart to let you know that you are never alone. He knows the story on your deepest inner pages and He loves you still, no matter what it might read.