The Durham Rescue Mission, a gigantic thrift store that still can't hold all its stock, has a free pile of books. Getting tossed into the free pile seems to be luck of the draw, as there is no consistency in condition or quality. One of the books I recently rescued from the pile up was this one:
She met him on the plane. A most unsuitable man, she thought. Certainly not someone a sensible American professor on her way to do some serious research in London should consider becoming involved with. Yet there was something about Chuck Mumpson that Vinnie Miner found oddly irresistible...
Handsome, married yet separated, Fred Turner is another American in London doing research. But his days gathering facts in the British Museum pale besides his nights in the arms of the lovely television actress Lady Rosemary Radley...
Two Americans abroad. Two foreign affairs of the most unlikely sort. Two lives opening to passions and choices only dreamed of - embarking on journeys that would change them both forever.
This book was not marketed to me. I once stopped into a used bookstore that was nestled unobtrusively into a strip mall. I was hoping that I had found a hidden gem, but the place was wall to wall romance novels. My general feeling about these books is that they are sort of all alike. I was amazed that there were so many different books, since the genre as a whole seemed so formulaic. The lady running the store tried very hard to help me by pointing me to the Mystery Romance, the Historical Romance, the Western Romance, and I don't remember what else. I spent about five minutes with a very narrow shelf labelled "Classics" before thanking her and scooting out the door. I didn't see it, and if I had I would not have noticed it, but it's entirely possible that Foreign Affairs was somewhere in that little shop, maybe in the Overseas Romance section.
But I did see it in the free pile of the Durham Resuce Mission, and because it was in a pile and not on a shelf, I happened to see that magical little gold seal on the front: "Winner of the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for fiction." And my brain could not compute what that seal was doing on what looked like a completely standard romance novel. Of course, the answer is that it is a romance novel, in that it is about relationships. It also, according to the Pulitzer committee (and Cosmo's book reviewer), is a dang good book.
I looked up the book on Amazon to see what kind of cover it had now. It looks like the kind of book I would have pulled off a shelf. The marketing of this edition is no less of a formula than it was for the other. It's just that the formula adds up to a different kind of reader. Me, for instance.
I suppose you could say that the lesson for me here was that I should not judge books by their covers. The text inside either edition of Foreign Affairs is the same, and it is what won the Pulitzer. Just because an author uses romance as her form doesn't mean that she can't write a heck of a book.
But the cover of a book has less to do with the quality of the contents than who the publishers are trying to sell the book to. It seems that I should judge books by their covers, because someone out there has got me pegged. They know what kinds of books I like, and they know what to do to make me buy them.