Sometimes a book cover can sell me the book, or just as easily put me off one for good. For instance:recently I was feeling a little ambivalent about wether to read Marisa Pessl's Special Topics In Calamity Physics, but the beautiful pastel roses on the cover finally endeared it to me. Similarly, I put of reading What I loved for a few extra weeks just because the cover was so inelegant.
Now this may strike you as a rather shallow approach to the sacred act of reading, but my recent reading material is the perfect example:
The cover captures the mood of the book perfectly, beautifully, without restricting the reader's imagination. It's dreamy, but there's a slight feel of terror to it. It is the perfect introduction to Rhys' novel.
A book is an object like any other. If you are at all an aesthetic, you look for beauty in the objects you have around. It is in our nature to have taste, likes and dislikes, and to reflect them onto the objects we acquire, regardless of their use, or purpose.
Obviously I would not recommend buying a book just because it has a beautiful cover, but the cover can also, to some extent, imply something about the content. For instance, a cover in any shade of pink, or any other pastel, with a silhouette of a woman on it (or a martini glass, or a handbag, or heck, a poodle), is usually a marker of a genre of literature, I am not too enamored with. Not to be a snob, or anything (like one could be a snob after saying they read Special Topics).
Similarly, there are markers that indicate, not only the obvious genre, but the literary, and even emotional characteristics of a book. Sombre black-and-white images, often of a building, or a desolate landscape, or some detail, like an arm, or a stairway (whatever suits the content better), denote a serious-man-book, your Auster, your Updike.
You've got the black-and-white-picture-of-the-author-on-the-cover-variety, for those pesky dead greats, to remind you that you ought to read them just to keep up with the canon.
For the young, hip first novelists, there's the quirky, stylized lettering, maybe with lurid, contrasting colors, or more silhouettes. Your Safran-Foers, your Ferrises, get these.
And, last but, not least, there's the photograph of a decapitated, or otherwise torso-ed young woman, which universally stands for emotionally compelling writing, loved by serious girls (the imagery is necessary to ward off the unsuspecting male folk). The latter style extends to anyone from Ali Smith, to Alice Hoffman, and even Siri Hustvedt (and apparently Tolstoy!). Lauren Groff had fun things to say about this.
I could go on, but I think I've made my point. A beautiful book is a joy to behold. And while that old simile we all know, may be partially right, isn't beauty, along with emotion and enlightenment, the very essence of literature?