119: Judging Books by Their Covers — Some Surprising Spiritual Responses

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    I know! I know!

    The last thing a book reviewer should do is: judge a book by its cover.
    BUT, let’s be honest! The truth is that this is pretty much how most people purchase books, especially spiritual books — unless we’re talking about blockbusters like Deepak Chopra or “The Lord of the Rings.”
    In fact, a longtime religious publisher has told me more than once: “You know what the data show? Out of the Top 10 reasons that people choose to buy spiritual books — 9 of the top 10 amount to: ‘I saw it on the shelf.’ All the other reasons are 10 or below. Browsing through book covers is that important!”
    I agree. All my life, I’ve been drawn to libraries and bookstores — and most of my own best “finds” were based on covers that caught my eye.
    Taking the challenge of that kind of marketing seriously, I packed up a huge box of 30 recent books that were sent to me because they have spiritual themes. I carried them to Ann Arbor, where I work with a group of high school students who produce documentary films under the title: “Divine Light Media.” I asked these young filmmakers to spend a little while browsing through these 30 books — and selecting the ones they would be most likely to read.

    The truth is that I was not surprised by the first book grabbed off the table by a young woman. It’s a children’s book, “Big Yellow Sunflower.” You can click on the cover or the title to read my review of the book — but the point here is to see this young woman’s enthusiastic and spontaneous response to the book.
    She loved it!
    And she loved it as an immediate response to the look and the unusual shape of the cover. She soon was hooked, once she began to open up the book’s unusually designed pages.

    To watch a young woman demonstrate why she loves the creative idea behind this “flowering” book — CLICK on the video screen that appears
(If you don’t see a
screen, go directly to YouTube to view this video on spiritual reading.)


      A clever cover-design strategy to catch the eye and engage the mind works well — even for heavy-duty spiritual subjects!
    One teen-ager snapped up a bright-red hardback book with the word “POWER” leaping off the cover in bold white type. What was surprising to me was that the young man was not choosing this book because of its famous author: Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese-Buddhist scholar who has lived for many years in France and has built a loyal following all around the world.
    In the video below, you’ll see that the young reader doesn’t even know the author’s name. But the cover design is attractive and the title is clever! And, while exploring the book a little more, the young reader does spot a familiar name on the back cover endorsing the book.
    Thich Nhat Hanh has become popular because his voice, in his various books, is so down to earth in the way it describes his life and his approach to spiritual questions. On one level, he’s a high-brow writer for people already dabbling in diverse religious movements. But, on another level, he’s got strong cross-over appeal in the way he can talk to virtually anyone through his writings.
    I would guess that, if this young man continued reading this book — and wound up discovering that the author really wants us to redefine our whole approach to power — then, this young reader might get hooked on these compassionate teachings by this Buddhist master.
    All in all, this book is a great opportunity for cross-over readership on spiritual themes — no matter what your age might be!
    To see this young reader’s reactions — CLICK on the video screen that appears below. (If you don’t see a screen, go directly to YouTube to view this video on spiritual reading.)

    “Manga can consume your life,” a teen-age girl told me as she flipped through the pages of “Hell Girl, No. 1,” the first volume in a new English edition of a Japanese comic series. “For a while, I was spending all the money I got on different series I was following — but, then, I didn’t have money for anything else. So, I stopped buying so many each month.
    “Some series are really good. Some aren’t so good,” she said. “But it is pretty addictive.”
    I can confirm that as a life-long fan of comics and graphic novels myself. Plus, I’ve recently made a point of visiting comic shops — and the new manga aisles in Borders stores as spiritual themes have begun to crop up more regularly in these genres.
    Here’s a striking fact: In other sections of a big bookstore, you might find customers holding one or two books they’re planning to purchase. In the manga aisle, it’s nothing to see a reader struggling to grip six or seven of these thick, paperback titles!
    Having read “Hell Girl, No. 1,” myself — I wouldn’t recommend it either as terrific comic artistry or as having a promising spiritual theme. But — if you’re new to the growing world of manga — this is a solid example of typical manga. It’s basically a mishmash of pot-boiler themes, Gothic chills and both religious and mythic imagery that puts the super-powered punch in the plot-line.
    CLICK on any of the book covers or titles today to jump to my own fuller reviews of these books — and you can buy copies via Amazon, if you wish. If you click on the “Hell Girl” cover, for example, you’ll find yourself in the Comics section of our ReadTheSpirit bookstore — and you can browse through a couple of pages of recommended titles in this genre.
    To hear more from the young woman who picked up “Hell Girl,” based on the boook’s cover — CLICK on the video screen that appears below. (If you don’t see a
screen, go directly to YouTube to view this video on spiritual reading.)


    Finally, we wound up wet!
    Who says we don’t work hard to bring you great spiritual stories, hmmm?

    Or, to be entirely accurate, several of us wound up splashing in water up to our wrists with a new style of Bible published on supposedly waterproof paper — designed for hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts.
    Personally, I like the idea so that I can feel confident leaving a devotional Bible on the deck behind our house, where I enjoy reading — despite the occasional threat of rain.
    As I turned loose the young filmmakers to select their favorites from among the 30 titles spread out on a long table — a young woman grabbed “The Outdoor Bible” within the first few moments. She said she chose it because of the packaging that shoppers will see before they actually reach the olive-green cover of the book. The photo of the book at left (which you can click on to jump to my review) doesn’t show the outer packaging. But you can see this cleverly designed outer box in the video below.
    It’s a white box with a gorgeous scene of a waterfall — and a die-cut silhouette of a frog crouching in the middle of the woodland scene. It’s the claim on the back cover of this box that this is “The World’s First Amphibious Bible” that caught young people’s imaginations.
    And — with that kind of claim — it led us into the water ourselves. So, please, take a look!
    To see our road test of the “Outdoor Bible,” CLICK on the video screen that appears
(If you don’t see a
screen, go directly to YouTube to view this video on spiritual reading.)


    That’s it for this edition of “Judging Books by Their Covers” — but come back next week for a fascinating look at the world of Orthodox Christianity, where hundreds of millions of men, women and children will be joining the Lenten season on Monday!

    And, PLEASE, Tell Us What You Think!
    Share your thoughts on any of these titles we’ve described today — or about anything else that has caught your eye recently with a spiritual theme. Our readers love to hear from other readers — and that’s you, of course.
    Click on the “Comment” link at the end of the online versions of our stories — or Email ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm.

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