They say to not judge a book by it’s cover, but author Elizabeth LaBan, whose new novel, The Restaurant Critic’s Wife, published today, has found that, sometimes, when you like the cover, you’ll love the book. As we bring the Julieverse Reads series into 2016, Elizabeth shares three books she bought based on their covers and ended up loving. (As with all Julieverse Reads series posts, Click the book title affiliate link to learn more about the book and purchase on Amazon.)
We all know what they say about a book’s cover, but I have to disagree. Sure, there are many times I don’t love a cover, but I end up really liking and connecting with that book. Just the other day my good friend handed me a book she just read and thoroughly enjoyed and said, “The cover has nothing to do with it.” It was a strange cover, and I can see why she warned me of that right away. Without her input I might never have chosen that book. But the total opposite has happened to me often, too. Covers are important. I love book covers. And I know from first-hand experience that the author generally has very little to do with their creation. Considering that, it is especially interesting how essential a good cover can be to selling a book. There have been a few times in my life when I have plucked a book off the shelf knowing nothing about it, simply because the cover grabbed me, and some of those very books have become my favorites of all time. Here is a list of three books I knew nothing about when I was drawn in by their covers, and all are now among my top twelve favorite novels. I’ll list them in the order I read them, most recently first.
I just finished this one and I miss it more than I’ve missed a book in a long time. I grabbed it off the shelf because the cover is so great – an outside scene, probably a backyard, with a table and five chairs, one chair pushed over and on its back on the ground. Then I read the first page and I was hooked. It is the story of the Hawthorne family, two parents and three daughters, and what happens to them the year their oldest daughter Angela is a senior in high school with eyes only for Harvard. It is the story of what can go wrong no matter how hard you try to do the right thing, and what can be saved. We are told the story through many different eyes – Nora, the mom, Gabe, the dad, the daughters, and other important (and sometimes not-so-important) characters throughout the book. This totally worked for me. It let us into everyone’s head which made the story flow and answered all my questions. It is Nora’s voice, though, that will ring in my head for a long time. I do often believe that when you read a book makes a difference in how you connect with it, and that is certainly the case for me with this book. I have a sixteen-year-old daughter who is a junior in high school, so we are not far from the Hawthorne’s fateful year. I hope I learned a little something from what they went through.
I read this book this summer, and I have been thinking about it ever since. In some ways the cover is reminiscent of the cover of THE ADMISSIONS – outside, lots of green. This cover shows the sliver of a blue pool with a diving board, the pool deck and behind it a lone lawn chair with a small table. How do you not pick that up? It is the story of a hot, twisted summer in a small Midwestern college town and some of the people who live there. We meet a struggling married couple, in addition to a young woman and an older woman, and a former professor at the local college who is intimately connected to some of these people – sometimes in surprising ways. Again, I think when you read a book has a lot to do with how it strikes you, and I was fascinated by parents Claire and Don who are trying to figure out if marriage and family life is what they thought it would be. I also loved Ruth, the older woman moving toward the end of her life, having recently witnessed my mother’s final months and days.
I devoured The Great Gatsby references, and became mildly obsessed that I missed some (I think I eventually discovered them all). And I found it completely satisfying how different threads came together toward the end. Such a great book – thank goodness for that great cover or I might have missed it!
I read this when it first came out in 2009. I can still remember the moment in our local Barnes & Noble when I picked it up off the table and turned it over in my hand, having no idea yet what treasure I was holding. Truth be told, my daughter’s name is Alice, so that is obviously what drew me to it in the first place, then the red cover with tiny peeks at a house, a ring and kids. It is the story of a woman named Alice who hits her head at the gym during a workout and loses the last 10 years of her memory. She thinks she is newly married, totally in love with her husband, and just pregnant with their first child. In reality, though, it has been a complicated decade and she and her husband now have three kids, though she doesn’t remember them at all. It raised so many interesting ideas about how our relationships change and how we change, not always for the better. I think I have recommended this book more than any other book, and one friend said it made her worry she was too grumpy toward her family now. She is very happy with them, don’t get me wrong, but it made her (and me) realize how easy it is to take things for granted, to let life get in the way of what is important. I read this book during a family vacation to Maine and it made its way into many of the photos since I carried it with me every place we went. When I catch a glimpse of it in a picture it feels like seeing an old friend. That seems fitting, since it was that bright red cover, and the wonderful name Alice, which led me to it in the first place.
The Restaurant Critic’s Wife by Elizabeth LaBan
Lila Soto has a master’s degree that’s gathering dust, a work-obsessed husband, two kids, and lots of questions about how exactly she ended up here.
In their new city of Philadelphia, Lila’s husband, Sam, takes his job as a restaurant critic a little too seriously. To protect his professional credibility, he’s determined to remain anonymous. Soon his preoccupation with anonymity takes over their lives as he tries to limit the family’s contact with anyone who might have ties to the foodie world. Meanwhile, Lila craves adult conversation and some relief from the constraints of her homemaker role. With her patience wearing thin, she begins to question everything: her decision to get pregnant again, her break from her career, her marriage—even if leaving her ex-boyfriend was the right thing to do. As Sam becomes more and more fixated on keeping his identity secret, Lila begins to wonder if her own identity has completely disappeared—and what it will take to get it back. (Publisher’s description.)
Elizabeth LaBan lives in Philadelphia with her restaurant critic husband and two children. She is also the author of the young adult novel The Tragedy Paper, published by Knopf, which has been translated into eleven foreign languages, and The Grandparents Handbook, published by Quirk Books, which has been translated into seven foreign languages.
She teaches fiction writing at The University of Pennsylvania. In addition, she is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, New York Newsday and The Times-Picayune, among other publications. She also ghost writes a weekly column, and has ghost written two books.
She has a master’s in journalism from Columbia University, and a bachelor’s in English from Trinity College in Hartford. Elizabeth was an NBC Page, worked at NBC News in New York, taught journalism at a community college in New Orleans, and was a reporter at a number of small to mid-sized newspapers including The Riverdale Press before she began writing books.
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