On the Art of Judging a Book by Its Cover

alex01thumbI’m going to channel Will Ferrell in Zoolander for a moment: “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!” Why? Because I woke up yesterday, turned the TV on, and happened to catch Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) on tour promoting his new book, Saving Freedom: We Can Stop America’s Slide into Socialism. One of these things is not normal, and it’s me waking up in time to catch the end of Morning Joe and staring balefully over my bagel with the distant hope of going back to bed and waking up when the world is a little less idiotic all around. Since I don’t have a cryogenic sleep chamber yet, that idea was neatly shelved in favor of boggling at the TV tube instead. Particularly one image on it.

You see, I’m a firm believer that the maxim “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, when taken in relation to real books, is complete tosh at least 85% of the time. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve picked up a book in the store based on the cover/title alone. Granted, it’s a marketing thing – a shiny, interesting, punchy cover will sell more books, even if they have bizarre and boring-sounding titles (and suck). In the modern world of publishing, it’s a race to grab a potential reader’s attention. And boy, is the cover of Saving Freedom attention-grabbing. I saw the cover larger than life on my TV screen and the first thing I thought of was the “Freedom Isn’t Free” song from Team America: World Police.

If our national bird had been a wild turkey like Ben Franklin wanted, this would look very silly.

If our national bird had been a wild turkey like Ben Franklin wanted, this would look very silly.

But before I present the mind-blowing exercise in marketing genius that is the cover (I am not being facetious, it is genius), read the blurb from Amazon.com so you know exactly how hard to prepare yourself to have your mind blown.

The United States—the world’s great bastion of freedom—is sliding toward socialism. Recent high-profile bailouts show the walls between government and the private sector are getting thinner each day. Federal control now extends in various ways to education, healthcare, financial markets, real estate, businesses, and religion. And as out-of-control government spending and debt increase accordingly, America is drained of the economic and political strength its people fought and worked so hard to achieve. But it isn’t too late to save the land of the free.

Saving Freedom is Senator Jim DeMint’s firsthand account of the unsettling socialist shift—behind-the-scenes actions in Congress that are changing the character of our nation. He illuminates key principles of freedom and how they are being compromised by big government. More important, DeMint lays out a complete action plan to reclaim America’s freedom based on legislation that would reduce debt, fix Social Security, and provide a tax credit for every family to buy health insurance. The plan also emphasizes reversing America’s cultural decline by restoring a strong spirit of God and country. 

Crying eagle above = totally appropriate, n’est-ce pas? I can almost hear an all-brass middle-school marching band rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” – and really, just before the Fourth of July, do you want anything else in a book?

Okay, so we know what we’re in for, a scathing attack on the Socialist Menace and big government and how it will make us all into gulag slaves under Maobama. Because somehow a social safety net is incompatible with freedom. (No, bad Alex! No commentary!) But you know what? I’ll bite. I think once I read Ann Coulter’s Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right, I realized that I don’t have to be afraid of conservative nonfiction. I’ll open my mind to this. I’ll see what Senator DeMint thinks is wrong. Hell, I might even agree with parts of it. But the cover – ah, the cover! – is made of glory and truth and justice and Captain America’s tears. (And I mean Steve Rogers Captain America, not Bucky.) Are you ready to be visited by the bright and shining light of democracy and truth that will hit you like a DeMint Julep?

The first thing I noticed about the cover, besides the big honking American flag (which I will get to), is the background. Red. Scary, grungy red. It even looks like a cloud filter. Of course, we all know that red is the color of socialism and communism and Soviet Russia and all those other scary things. (And one of the colors on the American flag. But on the American flag, it stands for the blood of angry men or something.)

Next, the grime. Dear lord, the grime. Meant to evoke images of labor camps, combined with the lovely and subtle barbed wire. Observe: In a rare case of integrating the typographic elements with the cover art, even the font is grimed up and barbed-wired. I have to say, that is pretty cool. (Although Sen. DeMint’s name has the barbed wire going behind it. Curious inconsistency there, but perhaps it is just for ease of reading.)

Third: Old Glory. Grungy, en-wired, and in an ominous dark shadow at the top. It’s a dirty prisoner of socialism, which means that the American people are, or will be, dirty prisoners of socialism as well. Neat trick.

Overall impression: Be afraid of the socialist movement, because they will take away your freedom and put you in a work camp. If you read this book, this will not happen and you and your family will be safe. And the title is a gem, reinforcing this: Saving Freedom: (Freedom is threatened?! Lawks a mercy! What can I do, Senator DeMint?) We Can Stop America’s Slide into Socialism (Socialism is the antithesis of freedom! Yes! It makes perfect sense! And we can stop America from sliding into it! Yes We Can! [Wait just a hot minute…]).

It’s a pretty creatively-designed cover when the connotations of each symbol are applied and taken as a whole, even though it looks cliched from a distance. When you think about it, this book is shaping up to be Exactly What It Says On The Tin…only you’re not supposed to analyze the symbolism that’s been drilled into your head. Barbed wire, bad. American flag, good. American flag behind barbed wire? Bad. Fighting socialism? Good.

Is it that simplistic on the inside? Is it really Exactly What It Says On The Tin, or are we going to be spared the Sledgehammer of Symbolism I’ve been whacked with so many times in English Lit?

I’ll let you know when I read it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to the library to see if they have this in yet. You thought I was going to bash a book without reading it? What do you take me for, an amateur? Please – I went through this with substandard fantasy books that were being hailed as the second coming of Tolkien himself (due to rampant perceived plagiarism) and an ooey-gooey Vampires Are So Hawt inexplicable phenomenon among female readers ages twelve and up. In my discerning opinion, they both suck, and my instincts usually do not steer me wrong. But I am approaching DeMint’s book with an open mind. Who knows? I could like it.



  1. Aw crap Alex. I blew, what ….2 or 3 minutes reading this because I thought you had read the book! Naughty, naughty.
    good post anyway.
    Do let me know when you’re done reading what’s-his-name (R-asshat).

  2. Message from De Mint fan club: “Thank you for reading our hero’s book. I enjoyed your article about him.” I intercepted the message.

  3. What IS it with Republicans and their predisposition to putting cloying nationalist/”patriotic” themes on their book covers!?

    On another note, Alex, you will always and forever have my admiration for putting in links to TV Tropes pages. ^_^

  4. Now just why oh why does the US even want to stop the slide? I mean, two hour lunches, yearly sabbaticals, socialized medicine–if it is so bad, why are the French living longer than Americans? Yes, boys and girls, this is a test–and I do know the answers, CUBE!

    Alex: kiddo, I love your writing. Hope your trip was a memorable one.

  5. The eagle is a scavenger, a thief, and a coward: a symbol of over ten centuries of European mischief! The turkey is a truly noble bird. Native American, a source of sustenance to our original settlers, and an incredibly brave fellow who wouldn’t flinch from attacking a whole regiment of Englishmen single-handedly!

  6. And the turkey is tasty, as well–I’m not so sure on the eagle.

  7. […] Americans buy books, not this ’sharing’ nonsense!). I’ll read the book and recap, just like I promised. Now, time to get some water in my The West Wing travel mug like a good little liberal, and some […]

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