Category Archives: Books

Dracula and his many shapes


Academic study of Dracula is a funny subject.

Apparently the readers are not supposed to believe whatever the characters have written.  They are either ignorant or concealing their true thoughts, and they are not the virtuous knights and pure maiden as Bram Stoker described, but just bunch of xenophobic bullies who want to drive away this old man from the East and conservative and submissive woman worthy of Victorian gentleman’s wet dream.  No other literature had its critics deny the credibility of the very text they study.

They even go far to say that the whole story is nothing but a misunderstanding; Dracula, according to some scholars, is supposed to be the heroic super-hero who helps the local people, and when he moves to England for some nice life his dream is shattered by the ignorant racists.  In this theory, every horrendous act of Dracula is nothing but misunderstanding or xenophobic delusion.  Some say that when Jonathan Harker witnesses a woman demanding Dracula to return her baby and wolves are sent by Dracula to kill her, it is actually the opposite – a woman was actually asking Dracula for help to find her baby (Harker does not know the local language so he completely misunderstood it, apparently) and wolves were sent to protect her.  I read this from the note in The New Annotated Dracula and had to laugh a little.  Why?  Because such theories completely turns Stoker’s story around and turn everyone who read it in traditional way into idiots.  There are many literary critics who offer alternative interpretation to the books, but Dracula critics seem to be a little extreme…

Even Neil Gaiman had such moments too.  In the introduction for The New Annotated Dracula, Gaiman confesses that he used to think Quincey Morris was either Dracula’s henchman or even Dracula himself.  I think that notion would make an entertaining retelling of Dracula, but I digress.

So why such extreme reputation with the credibility of “texts” in Dracula?  There are many other books with epistolary formats, but never have I seen such strong suspicions as in Dracula scholars.

Common explanation is that Dracula embodies Freudian concept, therefore all the narrators in this book are unreliable narrators.  Due to the mental blockades and denials often seen in psychological studies, the characters of Dracula become the samples for Freudian concepts.  Do I buy it?  Just a little.  If I am going to take such skeptical scholar’s attitude with the text, I would go further and say that this is actually a Sci-Fi novel where Dracula is actually a mad scientist experimenting on himself and others to create an ultimate immortality project and he moves to London to find more test subjects, and the good guys mistake him to be a vampire.  What about the ending?  Hell, there are scholars who think Dracula threatened Bram Stoker or Jonathan Harker to write that way despite his survival so he could elude the annoying vampire hunters.  I am pretty sure I can say Jonathan Harker was an ignorant simpleton who was seeing things, or the death process of Dracula was a result of his serums.  Fun thing is that this might be even possible route to take (note to myself.  Write this for NaNoWriMo before anyone does).

Anyway, all these theories and reinterpretations used to annoy me a lot.  My Dracula was the charismatic yet sad loner who wanted to keep his dignity of the past but driven away and succumbed by the new age.  But many scholars and authors plastered the story with that reincarnated romance and depicted Dracula as prototype Edward.  I used to hate Francis Coppola’s Dracula for this reason, and I still don’t like it.  However, such movements make it fun to read criticisms.

With Dracula, each criticism becomes almost fanfiction.  Each essay is their take on the story with the familiar characters like fanfiction writers do with their favourite works.  All these interpretations collide with each other but that’s the fun of it.  There is something wonderfully delightful about seeing the scholars discussing what they see in the ambiguous texts.  Perhaps it is the glimpse of their passion that makes re-takes and interpretations fun to read.  I did not read Dracula much but vigorously read any annotations or commentaries on Dracula, because the version offered by each writer is so different.

So to this day, I read Dracula criticism for fun.  Their sometimes outrageous explanations for the events in the novel are entertaining discussions I enjoy in fan forums, and they rarely fail to amuse me.  Recently I obtained Elizabeth Miller’s Dracula: Sense and Nonsense and it is great fun to read as well.  Miller furiously shoots down any misconceptions regarding the book, Bram Stoker, and the historic Dracula.  Her main targets are usual idea such as Count Dracula being strictly inspired by Vlad Tepes (Miller explains that the novel itself was being written under the title “Prince Wampyr” and only after Stoker heard about the name Dracula he changed little details in the story), or the historic Vlad Tepes being associated with vampirism (Tepes was NEVER associated with vampire myth before Bram Stoker’s novel).  It is a shame that this book is hard to find, and the best way to get it is to purchase it through Kobo.

Never has been a book where criticism was more fun than the text itself… Now I’m off to find another outrageous and delightful take on Dracula.  It will be a good night’s entertainment.


The Road to Dune



I still remember my first exposure to the World of Dune.  In 1998, I was reading a feature article on the video game magazine about the history of Real Time Strategy Games.  1998 was the year the first Star Craft game was released and the RTS fever was sweeping through South Korea; there were handful of RTS games which claiming to be unique and authentic (the most of which turned out to be another Star Craft clones), and PC game centres appeared here and there.  Star Craft supported LAN gaming so these PC game centres provided the environments optimized to play Star Craft on LAN, which attracted many kids including myself.  Anyway, that RTS fever was the reason why these game magazines started to examine the history of RTS.  There were some familiar names in the article.  I already knew the presence of War Craft 2 at the time, though did not know anything about the first one.  Command and Conquer (R.I.P?) series appeared several times in the article.  But amongst all, one game caught my attention more than anything.


Dune 2.


The article introduced Dune 2 as the father of RTS genre; you had to collect resources, build bases and armies, build according to the tech tree to access better weapons, and attack your enemies to win – these familiar formulas were completed in Dune 2 according to the article, and I was fascinated with this game.  I already was a bit of history geek since my childhood, thanks to the Romance of Three Kingdoms novel, so Dune 2 seemed to emit blinding aura on me with its historical significance.

I know that there were “Real Time Strategy” games before Dune 2, such as Herzog Zwei, but you have to admit it is the formula set up by Dune 2 that popularized the genre.

Blizzard Entertainment developed War Craft: Orcs and Humans, which exhibited Dune 2’s influence in its interfaces and the base building system (In Dune 2, you have to place building on concrete slabs, and In War Craft 1, you have to place buildings next to roads).  War Craft managed to have its own unique features such as grouping units, special abilities, and more story oriented missions.  War Craft 2 proved to be even more successful, and eventually this success led to the development of Star Craft.  And Koreans went wild.  Trust me, I witnessed the rise of e-sports in Korea with my own eyes, and it was insane.

Dune 2’s own developers, Westwood, started another RTS series, Command and Conquer, which retained some of Dune 2’s interface and system (they ditched concrete/road/ etc system though).  Other RTS games, such as KKND and Total Annihilation (the game which made Blizzard to basically ditch everything they worked on Star Craft up to that point after seeing it on E3 and start over again) appeared and they all tried to be unique.  But in the end, they owed their spirits to the conflict on Arrakis.  Look what that war on the desert planet led to.

For months, the name Dune 2 carried the mystical air in my mind.  Questions popped up in minds; what was the game like (the magazine only showed the cover with the soldier in front with the wind trap in the background)?  Why was it called Dune 2? And what was Dune 1 like?  What was the story? Etc etc…

Some of my questions were answered when Dune 2000, modern remake of Dune 2, was released.  The magazines did the walkthroughs of the game, as well as introductions on the series.  The story intrigued me; three houses competing against each other on the desert planet where the rare and important substance called “Spice” is produced – the story was simple enough but my imagination went wild with its world as I read about the Fremens, and Sonic Tanks.  The desert people?  The tank shooting soundwaves?  All these sounded too awesome for me.  I was only 5th grader at the time, so the world introduced in Dune 2000 was the first “unique” universe I have seen.  Oh, yes I’ve watched countless animes and movies and comics as a kid already, but Dune had very distinctive feel that differentiated itself from many other fictional worlds I had read about.

When I first came to Canada, my family often visited another immigrant Korean family.  In their house, I discovered Dune 2 on their computer.  The moment I was waiting for.

It was very different experience from other RTS games I’ve played till that point.  I could control only one unit at a time, and more strict restriction in constructions made me plan the base building more carefully.  Sandworms were pretty annoying.  But overall, it was pretty enjoyable.  I felt like an archaeologist finding a hidden relic he was seeking for years after finally playing Dune 2.

But Dune faded away, or was buried under the sand of mind for several years, mainly due to all the new materials I had to absorb as the new immigrant to Canada.  I managed to read Two Towers in grade 8, which made me sick of reading for a bit until I started reading other “manageable” books.

I eventually found a copy of Dune in the dollar store.  It was one of older edition which showed the desert illustration with what seemed to be two people in the foreground.  I believe it was supposed to show Paul and Jessica escaping from Arakeen.  Anyway, I was taken aback by the pure size of it(at that time, any book more than 300 pages seemed pretty overwhelming for me), but kept it anyway.

Some time in my high school era, I had a chance to watch Dune movie on the cable.  I was pretty hyped to watch it; for the first time ever, I will watch the story of Atreides and Harkonnens and others fighting for the control of Arrakis!

And I got something very unexpected.

Duke Leto Atreides dies early in the story, the house Atreides is destroyed, there was no House Ordos, and the movie focused on Paul’s awakening as Muad’dib, which was one element never mentioned in any of Dune 2 franchise.  It was not what I expected.  Only the scenery of endless desert and the worms were things I expected to see in the film.  Was I disappointed?  Not really.  I later learned that Dune movie was…more of cult classic than commercially successful movie, but I still liked the imagery and the distinctive feel of it.  I thought the introduction of “weirding modules” gave the movie interesting imagery because now the name of Muad’dib literally became the killing word and the Fremens looked more like religious fanatics.

This was the time when I started to suspect that Dune was nothing like I expected.  The only similarities between games and movie were 1. They were both set in Arrakis, 2. There are sandworms and Fremens.

It was only in this October that I started to read the book that started it all.  Reading Dune felt strange, because while I was familiar with some of the key concepts such as Spice, Sandworms, and the desert planet, the book threw unfamiliar concepts at me for the most part.  I knew the basic plots from the movie, but the movie missed out on many details, such as Paul’s internal struggle between his identity as Duke and his larger-than-life role as Muad’dib.  I have watched movie only once, and that was more than 6 years ago.  So the overall story of Dune was more of mirage than actual memory.  But this had unexpected benefit to my reading.  I realized that Princess Irulan’s historical account foreshadowed each chapter, so reading this book with the knowledge of its plot did not ruin it as much as I feared.  In fact, it felt like I was living through the events after seeing the uncertain future.  I knew what was going to happen, but how was the event going to unfold?  What were the characters thinking at the time?  I was fascinated with the characters’ psychology throughout the book and enjoyed complex plots involving political schemes.  What I loved the most was constant appearance vs truth; Yueh’s deception was the beginning, then Paul’s rise to becoming Muad’dib involved Paul and Jessica’s manipulation of the legend sown by Bene Gesserits to make the Fremens accept them as the saviours, and Fayd-Rautha’s plan to win people’s admiration by intentionally fighting the Atreides Gladiator are all fine examples of how appearance of the event can be deceiving.  The last duel between Paul and Fayd-Rautha was no longer simple good vs evil by the time I read it on the page.  Paul felt defeated because no matter what he does, he would not be able to stop jihad; if he dies, the Fremens will believe he sacrificed himself for them and start fighting, but if he wins the Fremens will believe Paul is invincible and start waging war anyway.  The Duke cannot stop the Prophet no matter what.  I will have to read the book again to be sure, but I had an impression that this duel was Paul’s struggle to remain as Atreides, and human opposed to Muad’dib who is the symbol of the Fremen jihad.  That’s why he had to fight Fayd-Rautha despite objections from his friends.  At least that was the impression I got.  This may change when I read this part, or whole book again.

After finishing reading Dune, I felt strange emotion.  I have finally read through the book that I was seeking without conscious effort.  Initially the name Dune attracted me for its influence on historically significant game, then I unwittingly drew closer to the point of origin.  It was little different from simply reading the book that inspired your favourite movie/game etc, because Dune and its offsprings surprised me whenever I was exposed to them.  Walking on the road to Dune was full of surprise and wonders.  I am not sure where I should go from here, whether to finish the rest of Dune series, or to read non-Dune books by Frank Herbert, but I am certain of one thing.

It will be full of pleasant surprises.


Father Brown

Father Brown is a peculiar figure.  He is a Roman Catholic priest who looks rather foolish and sometimes seems to have little understanding of the situation.  But in the end, it turns out that he is the only one who sees through everything.  The truth in his stories are simple (Chesterton believed that “the truth” in detective fictions should be simple), though shrouded by confusing or seemingly absurd situations.  The true meat of Father Brown stories is when the truth is revealed, the readers see the situation differently.

Spoiler ahead, but it is required to make my point.

In Father Brown’s first story, The Blue Cross, Father Brown walks with the thief Flambeau disguised as a priest.  Two priests are supposed to carry very valuable crucifix to another church, and Flambeau plans to steal the crucifix from Father Brown.

But on their way, Father Brown does series of extraordinary things, such as throwing soup on the wall or switching the position of salt and sugar – all of these are noticed by the police detective Valentin.  In the end, Father Brown is left alone with Flambeau in the middle of isolated place and Father Brown reveals that he saw through Flambeau’s disguise and the crucifix is in safe place.  All his weird actions – throwing soup bowls or breaking windows to compensate for over payment – were his test to examine Flambeau and through theological conversation Father Brown realized that Flambeau was not a clergyman.  In addition to this, Father Brown knew that the police were on their tail, and deliberately created scenes to lure police.  So in the end, the dumb looking priest was smarter than both the star detective and the master thief.

When Flambeau asks Father Brown how he could have known about criminals, Father Brown explains that since he listens to confessions of criminals he knows about their methods well.  Such reversion of stereotype occurs constantly in Father Brown stories and it provides intellectual stimulus to the readers.  Father Brown’s stories are filled with psychological examination of extraordinary criminals and the readers have to examine the characters more to figure out the criminals.

The tricks used in the stories exploit people’s stereotypes and assumptions, but the truth is simple if one can see through them.  For example, Arrow can be used to stab people, but the characters in the story are obsessed with the idea that arrow must be shot from the distance that they are unable to figure out the simple solution.  But the solutions of Father Brown stories are satisfying because it enlightens the readers rather than ridicule them.  It was G.K Chesterton’s belief that detective fictions should enlighten rather than confuse; therefore he made sure the crimes in the stories are simple yet shrouded with supernatural or impossible cover.  Similar theme was used in Chesterton’s other wonderful work The Club of Queer Trade, which is about the people with extraordinary occupations.  These stories start out with surreal air, then give reasonable explanations about the situation.  The character in The Club of Queer Trade emphasizes the usage of “common sense” (which is not common at all if you read the stories) to see through the confusing situations and find the truth.

I love Chesterton’s paradoxical view, because such perspective encourages the reader’s creativity in analysis of the details in the story.  His perspective adds philosophical depth to the stories as well since his stories question how people’s minds are shrouded with all the social and cultural assumption, and explain how they can be harmful to seeing the truth.  Reading Chesterton’s detective stories are more than just reading crime mysteries, because the author is asking you theological and philosophical questions as well.

Although Father Brown stories did not attain the same classic status as Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie’s stories (Father Brown rarely explains how he arrives his solution.  He simply explains that he thinks like criminals, but you can see how such methods can be hard to be studied, unlike Holmes’ deduction, or “abduction” depending on how you define his method), they stand out as the mystery genre’s fine attempt to offer more than an intellectual entertainment.  Mystery genres have asked many social questions in the past, but I believe the genre can be used to examine different sectors of human lives.  Father Brown stories showed me that such attempt is possible.


The Defenders by Philip K Dick – short thought about the writer’s “pattern”

When you read one author’s works for a long time, you begin to see certain patterns.  For example, Lovecraft will spend pages over pages about the indescribable and unspeakable horror from something out of space or this world.  Sherlock Holmes stories contain many daily chit-chats between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson where Holmes explains his methods and Watson is awed like always.  I’m not saying these are bad; Lovecraft needs to describe those unspeakable horrors to emphasize the hopelessness of the situation, and Holmes and Watson’s conversations lead to the same conclusion(Watson admiring Holmes for whatever he does) so that Holmes’ lecture on deduction can be taken with admiration.

Philip K Dick has such pattern too, but one of his signature traits is rather interesting.  The one of such characteristics of his writings is twist.  None of PKD’s stories are straight-forward; when you think the situation will go in certain way, PKDk always twist the situation in opposite direction.

The Defenders is the good example of Philip K Dick’s “clichés”.  In the future where America and Soviets continues fighting the war after the nuclear blasted the whole surface, the Americans start to suspect something is not right.  For the last eight years, the humans have been using the robots called “leady” to fight the war on the surface but recent examination of one leady did not exhibit evidence of radiation.  Intrigued by this anomaly, the few American officers travel to the surface to investigate only to find that what they have believed was a lie.

This work is full of PKD’s signature characteristics, and you may feel dejavu if you have read his other works; the basic premise is similar to Penultimate Truth, and the concept of robots fighting humanity’s war can be seen in Second Variety as well.  Yet the same plot did not make it less amazing.  PKD’s concepts are quite fascinating that I did not mind reading variance of the same theme; for example, the humanity created killer robots to fight their war, how will the robots react?  Second Variety told one version of this scenario, and The Defenders showed completely different outcome despite being rooted from the same concept.  Every time you read the recurring theme in PKD’s work, you can be assured that it will not be the mere repetition.  There will be a twist when you think the story is going one way, and that twist keeps the story fresh.

I recommend reading both The Defenders and Second Variety and make comparisons.  If the writer finds him/herself writing about recurring theme, he/she should give variety into the subject in order to prevent redundancy and to experiment on the subject.   Examining how PKD handles the repeated topics may give you a hint with how you should handle observed redundancy.

Also, they are both good stories in my opinion.  So just read them both.

Kodoku no Gurume (Gourmet)


Here’s rather peculiar manga. It’s about a single man eating in different restaurants. There is practically no conflict. The only problem posed in each episode is “what should he eat?”  He eats by himself, and he just…eats and leaves. That’s how every episode is wrapped up.  This is the whole premise of manga series Kodoku no Gurume (roughly translated as “Solitary Gourmet” or “Lonely Gourmet”)

Sounds boring?  Yet this manga was turned into TV show, which began the season 3 this year. It was supposed to end with season 1 but it was too popular to stop there. How can a show devoted to seeing the same guy eating be this successful?

Although Kodoku no Gurume is in fiction format, it is more like reality show; the restaurants featured in the show are real locations with the actual food they serve.  So you can say that this series is a food based reality show without trying to look “realistic”.  This format enables the artist to convey his idea without forcing dramatic. The theme of this series is stated in the beginning of the tv show; to the busy individuals of this era, eating what he/she wants is the greatest reward one can give to oneself. For this theme, the protagonist, the lonely gourmet, eats alone without being hampered by promises or manners, whenever and wherever he wants. This comic is all about the ultimate pleasure you can get in the modern life, which is to feed yourself as you like. The manga and tv show attempt to deliver this sense of small yet great satisfaction which ordinary person can attain. Compare the pleasure of food to other pleasures such as relationship or social recognition; pleasure of food is instinctive and simple joy that does not accompany heartbreak, anxiety, or competition. The joy of food can be felt by anyone, so seeing a person enjoying his meal is easily the most sympathizing pleasure.  When you watch romantic movies, you may not be able to emulate the pleasure from the film, but the good food can be found as soon as you leave the theatre.

This series is unusual even in Japanese manga standard because it deviates from many “food manga” genre.  The majority of such food mangas focus on the cooks.  The cooks either compete against each other or they simply create drama with their food.  But in Kodoku no Gurume, the focus is solely on the customer who eats the food.  There is no dramatic tension leading to revelation or competition… it’s just one tired and hungry guy eating whatever hell he likes.  When he eats, he makes it clear that the food he eats is not always the masterpiece; he will make a comment about some aspects of food he does not like or something he does not understand.  One thing to notice here is that all these comments are his internal dialogue.  He does not make exaggerated exclamation about the beauty of food, he simply appreciates the food as he eats.

This series is about appreciation, not judgement.

I think this praise for the simple yet abundant pleasure is the reason behind the series’ popularity. This is one show you can watch without feeling tense or wincing at unpleasant or or description.  In a way it is a bit like pornography; it shows the act of pleasure and you are only getting the illusion of it. But Kodoku no Gurume series portrays the joy of food with sincerity and respect, without shock value or controversy. It is about appreciating the little joys in your life. Instead of finding happiness in far away land or outlandish romance, the series exhibits the small pleasures in daily life.

This is the show which can make you feel hungry after a dinner. So read at your own risk.

My favorite villain: Kira Yoshikage

Kira from "Deadman's Question"

Kira from “Deadman’s Question”

When my friend asked me about my favourite villain, my initial answer was Dio Brando, but later I was thinking about the question a bit more and decided Yoshikage Kira from JoJo part4 was more of my favourite

So the profile. Kira is basically a serial killer living in your neighbourhood; he works in a sales job, quiet, and gentle man. But he has an abnormal sexual desire towards woman’s hand so he occasionally murders women and keep their hands for awhile(it is indicated that Kira kills men as well). He covers up his track with his Stand, Killer Queen, which has a power to explode objects or people into pieces. He continued this life until he runs into Josuke Higashikata’s friend. Kira managed to kill Josuke’s friend but the friend sent the crucial evidence to Josuke before he died. After that, Josuke & co. starts chasing Kira to stop his killing spree.

Kira was an unusual villain in JoJo series. First of all, he had rather humble ambition – to live a peaceful life like a plant. In the comics, it is indicated that Kira intentionally became an underachiever to avoid attention and he does not socialize much. He has little interest towards other people, except when he has an urge to kill. Basically, his unusual libido is the only thing that keeps him away from the peaceful life he desires. If he did not kill, he would not have attracted Josuke’s attention and could have lived peaceful life.

Another unusual aspect of Kira is that he is “weak”. Kira, unlike many villains from the series, is merely a salesman, and he is overwhelmed by Josuke and his friends; Kira is overpowered by wounded Jotaro, and he could not fight Josuke face-to-face because Josuke’s Stand simply overpowered him. So Kira has to work hard and get stronger to defeat the good guys and he almost succeeds.

Irony of Kira is that his own mania denies the peaceful life he wants, and he has to work hard to achieve quiet, plant-like life.

At a glance, Kira does not look like a super villain compared to the other villains in the series. Dio and Kars wanted to rule the world, Diavolo was the kingpin of the mafia, Pucci was a nutshell priest who wanted to create heaven on earth, and Funny Valentine was a right wing politician who wanted to make USA strong. Compared to them, Kira’s desire looks…unepic. But Kira is still horrible individual regardless; he sacrifices innocent individuals for his own satisfaction and is willing to disturb the peace in the community for his own peace. Kira is a selfish man who disregards other people’s sentiment. He is a sort of evil we can find in our own lives when you think about it. There is always a man or woman who willingly sacrifices other people for his or her solace. They may not murder like Kira, but they make people’s life hell for their own pleasures.

But Kira is not just that. According to Araki’s note, Kira developed twisted desire due to the parental abuse. When Kira was disguised as another man to avoid Josuke’s friends, he seemingly developed caring feeling towards his victim-to-be. He was worried about her safety while he was fighting… a car in plant’s body(it’s kinda complex). Kira disregarded it, thinking he doesn’t want his victim killed before he kills her, but I think it shows that Kira could be capable of positive emotions but his mania prevents him from achieving what he really wants.

After Kira’s death, his spirit was cursed to walk in earth forever(Deadman’s Q). He remembers nothing except his name and the fact that he is forever denied from heaven. But here we see something interesting. As a ghost, Kira works as a ghost hitman but he does not show any lust towards women. In this short story, you don’t realize it is Kira because not only his looks were changed, but his personality seemed to change as well. No longer Kira lusts over women’s hands, he does not show contempt towards others for approaching him(it is obvious since he is a ghost). In a way, he is living a life of his dream – tranquil and quiet life like a plant, and he no longer has his old obsessions. His only discomfort is that he does not have a house of his own and he cannot possess a thing. So he is excited when he finds a ghost house full of books and objects he can carry around(but it doesn’t end well for him though he survives).  We become more sympathetic to this villain when he gets what he wants. We see he could have been an alright individual if it wasn’t for his flaw. That’s what makes Kira interesting villain.

Hirohiko Araki revealed that Kira was his second favourite character in JoJo series next to Josuke. Kira was used as an example of “praise for humanity” theme of the series; a man striving to do what he thinks to be important, regardless of good and evil. He may not be the most complex character, but the obvious contradiction in his character makes him one of the most interesting.

Beauty of book covers – using The Colour of Magic as example

Don’t judge the book by its cover. That’s what many people say, but can you judge the cover itself? To me, the cover is inseparable part of the book. The cover is where you get the first impression of the book, and it is art by itself.

The cover was very important for me because I often read classics. You see different copies of the same novel , and the only thing different between them is the cover(or introductory essays. I used to read them for fun). In such cases, I usually pick up the one with more aesthetic cover. If I’m going to buy a book, I want the good looking one. But what is the good book cover anyway?

My personal criteria is that the book cover should reflect the content of the book, without spoiling everything. One Korean translation of “Tragedy of Y” by Ellery Queen had a cover that obviously told everyone who the killer was. In such cases, it is a horrible book cover no matter how beautiful the cover is.

(image retrieved from   )

Or book cover should reflect the themes or certain impression the author conveys in his or her writing. Look at the cover for Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney – the cover simply shows the chain mailed figure in black background but 1. It catches your eyes, 2. It tells you that this book is about medieval subject, so I consider it to be an effective book cover since it is both aesthetic and relevant. It also gives you strange feeling too; the chain mail left in the dark gives me sense of relic abandoned in the shadow of time, and this somehow amplifies my emotion. So the good book cover can enhance your enjoyment.

Sometimes I look at the book covers and imagine about the books’ contents. Often the cover only depicts a scene from the story(common in many sf and fantasy books) or extremely distilled image of the book. I can use different versions of Discworld covers to provide the examples.




(image retrieved from Discworld Wikia  )

The old Discworld covers drawn by Josh Kirby depict the scenes from the novel. For example, the cover of “The Colour of Magic” shows the scene in the bar, which is an episode from the early part of the book. You can see the Luggage intruding and surprising the characters in the bar. Kirby’s art style captures the vitality and absurdity of Discworld so well that book cover becomes the part of experience. Kirby’s covers include so many details, and finding out about details becomes an additional fun.

Colour of magic black


(image retrieved from Discworld Emporium   )

Some other book covers have more abstract aesthetic to them. Once again, I bring Discworld as an example- there are covers that feature important objects in story in dark background, and it gives different beauty to the book. Unlike Kirby’s unrestrained vitality, these “dark covers” are like shadows the story leaves after it is over. Take a look at the cover for the Colour of Magic. It shows you the pile of gold coins on a luggage. Without knowledge about the story, it may not make much sense. But after you read the whole story, you can look at the cover and know that those gold coins began the misadventures of Rincewind and Two Flower, then the covers become like a snapshot of your reading.  Since this is Discworld, you can say that you are remembering the future reading to come when you read into this cover.  This is complete opposite effect from Kirby’s art, yet both versions capture the essence of the story.  The difference is that Kirby’s art captures the moment/action of the story while the black cover exhibits the shadow of the story.

The book cover presents first impression to the readers.  But they can be more than just a cover; it can be a capture of significant moment in the book, or the shade of the reading to come.  Either way, beautiful book covers sure do make reading more interesting.