Of Art, Diversity, And Dogs

There’s a book that has sat on my shelf for months. Not lined up neatly with the rest, spine facing out, but on the lip of the shelf so that its cover will tempt me with promises of an orgasmic read.

The book? The Gaslight Dogs by Karin Lowachee.

I haven’t read anything by Lowachee before, and neither have I read a single review of this book, which released in 2010, but the day it came into work was the day it left with me. Why? Because we really do judge books by their covers, and this cover is just awesome. (For reference: my day job is at a giant store that is half antiques and half used books…over 150,000 used books.)

Choosing a book starts when I read the spine and am intrigued by the title or know and love the author, and/or I see cover art that makes me fall in love. Then I read the back, and even the greatest title and cover art won’t sway my decision if the blurb doesn’t spark for me. Too many books, not enough time.

I freely admit to sexist reading preferences. A book written by a woman, especially featuring a female main character, is much more likely to induce that spark and grab my interest. For many years, these were unconscious preferences; I didn’t realize until sometime during college that I’d lined my bookshelves with female authors writing strong female characters.

Just to clarify, I don’t object to reading books by or about men. They’re just less likely to hold my interest. And the ones that do often join my list of all-time favorites. Like Neil Gaiman.

We like to think that cover art has improved over the last few decades. No longer do we see women dressed in little more than transparent scarves draped in utter submission to impossibly muscled warrior-men and expect the book to be anything other than a bodice-ripping romance. It’s no longer quite genre-standard for scifi and fantasy. Quite. I won’t argue that the quality of the art — or, at least, its diversity of styles — has improved. Depictions of female characters tend to be less (overtly) subservient, but there is still a disturbing tendency to sexualize them, whether in their impossible contortions or costumes that make me wonder at the realistic applications of double-sided tape.

Speaking of diversity…the controversy over the whitewashing of Justine Larbeleister’s Liar a few years ago? That particular cover art may have been fixed, but it’s still happening. The paucity of non-caucasion main characters is depressing enough; we don’t need to deny those few coveted cover space, too.

In case you didn’t click on the link to The Gaslight Dogs above, let me tell you all this cover has going for it: a fascinating title — you know it at least involves steam-level tech — a female author, and a blurb that sparks; art including a giant wolf/dog and a woman of an Inuit people bearing a spear and facial tattoos, wrapped in thick furs against the cold. A strong, non-causcasion woman, in no way sexualized or objectified.

Why can’t we have more covers like this? It leaves so much more to be intrigued and curious about.

Another thing the cover has: an Orbit logo. I first picked up a book published by Orbit a few years ago and fell in love with it. As I have fallen in love with every book I’ve read of theirs since. And I can’t think of a single cover that didn’t intrigue me or wasn’t a wonderfully accurate representation of the story within. So far, Orbit, you’re doing it right. THANK YOU.

I’ve delayed reading The Gaslight Dogs for the same reason I put off anything I expect to be amazing: to savor the anticipation, and to appreciate it all the more when I finally give in. Honestly, I have no idea if it will live up to my hopes, but I believe it will. I just read the first chapter and it left me breathless. This post is like the last gasp of air before a deep dive. I’ll resurface in a day or two.

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