Saturday, June 8, 2013

Can you judge a book by its cover?

A couple posts down from here I said I was going to be scientifically (ever so vaguely) testing some old adages and proverbs and such, particularly ones with a library connection. I took so long to say what just took a sentence to recap that I had to wait to start the first one. Well, the waiting is over. Today we are testing "You can't judge a book by its cover."

First we have to have a few ground rules, not, actually, so much because we have to have ground rules, but mostly because I'm just crazy about ground rules. Did I say we have to have them? I was kidding. But we are having them.  Also, they're kind of scientific.

Ground rules.

1. We take the saying mostly at its word, so, when it says "book" we're just dealing with books here and not the wider wisdom we may take it to suggest. "Cover" is the outside, front, back, and spine. The "can't judge" part we must become reasonably looser with. Anyone can judge anything! It's humanity's favorite pastime! Of course you can judge a book by its cover. You can also judge it by the day of the week! So we understand it to mean you can't judge well, or accurately, or fairly, and it is this proposition we will attempt to test.

2. I will take for our test subject the next book, entirely randomly, that comes down the automatic check in machine belts that meets the following criteria:  I must be able to check it out (it can't be on hold for someone). It must be basically unfamiliar to me, something I'm fairly certain I have never opened before or read in some other form. It must be a book (no DVDs or CDs). No picking or choosing. Whatever comes, comes.

3. Without opening the book I will make as many reductionist, summary judgements of the book as I can. When that is done I will open the book and read as much as I can stand. Then, with knowledge of the insides of the book I will see how I did judging from the cover. Of course, this takes as an assumption that you can judge a book by its contents. I guess we'll reluctantly have to go ahead with that assumption.

We begin:

A novel I was unfamiliar with came but was on hold for someone. Catch 22 and, I think it was a George Orwell book, came next. I read those, or at least part of the Orwell. Then, our ground rule acceptable guinea pig arrived, only, it's not a guinea pig, it's Leo, the Snow Leopard

The book:

Leo the Snow Leopard the True story of an Amazing Rescue Told by Juliana Hatkoff, Isabella Hatkoff, and Craig Hatkoff. Textwise it also says on the cover "From the #1 New York Times Bestselling Authors of Owen and Mzee" The back cover text where I was hoping for a lot of clues is a bit disappointing. It consists of three collections of websites; Turtle Pond Collection Websites, Wildlife Conservation Websites, Scholastic Websites. The book is mainly a dark green with a bit of yellow and light blue. It's a picture book size, slightly off square towards the horizontal. The cover is dominated by the title and a picture of a snow leopard cub looking earnestly at us (and cutely!). He's lying down in some untended sort of wild grassy environment. The picture is more about a nice shot of Leo than being a great, eye-catching picture. There is also a picture on the back cover of a man with a greying mustache/light goatee holding a little snow leopard cub. The day is overcast. Plains of some sort are behind the man and snow leopard, and then a wall of Mountains.

Okay, now I'll try, but suddenly I'm very nervous about getting it all wrong! I like to be right!

Ahem.

1. This is the story of Leo, a snow leopard.
2. It will be told in a fairly modest amount of text, with big pictures featured heavily.
3. It wont be amazing, but it will be a little sad, and cute too.
4. Leo's parents (or Mom really) will have been killed by poachers, most likely, or a more natural tragedy (although, sadly,  people killing stuff is about as natural as it gets!).
5. Committed to wildlife and nature conservation people will be heroes along with, subtly, some kind of wildlife organizations, but the focus will be kept as much as possible to Leo's personal experience.
6. Leo will be plucky and intrepid.
7. Leo will find his way to people in an unusual way.
8. Things will be touch and go but Leo will come through.
9. There will be lots of ways you can learn more about snow leopards, animals, and Leo.
10. The pictures will be efficient in a documentary style, but nothing special beyond that.
11. Leo will come to a happy end for himself, though it will be touched with the difficulty of a world not so congenial to snow leopards out there. But there is hope.
12. I am thinking it wont be really so happy an ending since Leo will end up in a zoo or something. But there is a small chance we get an ending where Leo gets to go back to the wild, which would be happier. So give me more points for the Zoo ending, if it happens.

Okay, that's enough. Now I have to read the book! I was pretty happy when it turned out my random selection was a book that would take about five minutes to read. After I read the book I will say how I did on each of my 12 points listed above.

Here we go.

1. This is the story of Leo, a snow leopard.
       Yes, basically.
2. It will be told in a fairly modest amount of text, with big pictures featured heavily. 
       Yes, though it was all a bit more talky than I expected. I was picturing four or five lines of text per 2-page spread. This is more a continuous text with a couple paragraphs per 2-page spread. Pictures thing is totally right on.
3. It wont be amazing, but it will be a little sad, and cute too.
      Yes, definitely not amazing, cute and sad was a stretch, but it was certainly meant to be.
4. Leo's parents (or Mom really) will have been killed by poachers, most likely, or a more natural tragedy (although, sadly,  people killing stuff is about as natural as it gets!). 
      Yes, Leo was an orphan! No poachers mentioned. The cause of death of Leo's mom was completely unknown.
5. Committed to wildlife and nature conservation people will be heroes along with, subtly, some kind of wildlife organizations, but the focus will be kept as much as possible to Leo's personal experience.
      Yes, except, if anything, I undershot this and the authors didn't mind veering away from Leo's personal experience and getting really into the conservation people and there is nothing subtle about their slavish worship of wildlife conservation organizations.
6. Leo will be plucky and intrepid.
      Yes, Leo does everything right and comes through each situation well.
7. Leo will find his way to people in an unusual way.
      Yes, Leo is found, young and helpless, all alone by a goat herder who takes him home to his family.
8. Things will be touch and go but Leo will come through.
       Yes, Leo gets ill and dehydrated and wildlife rescue people come in and solve all his problems.
9. There will be lots of ways you can learn more about snow leopards, animals, and Leo.
       Not really. I mean, there's extra information in tighter text at the end of the book, but that's part of the book and it doesn't really offer resources other than the back cover web sites.
10. The pictures will be efficient in a documentary style, but nothing special beyond that.
       Yes, very much so.
11. Leo will come to a happy end for himself, though it will be touched with the difficulty of a world not so congenial to snow leopards out there. But there is hope.
       Yep, he ends up at the Bronx Zoo, where supposedly he will have snow leopard babies that will help the endangered snow leopards everywhere. Though how fathering more imprisoned snow leopards helps them is beyond me.
12. I am thinking it wont be really so happy an ending since Leo will end up in a zoo or something. But there is a small chance we get an ending where Leo gets to go back to the wild, which would be happier. So give me more points for the Zoo ending, if it happens.
       Bingo, yes, zoo ending, though the authors seemed to think it was pretty darned happy.

How did I do?

For all my accuracy I did fall a little short on just how crappy I think this book is. I thought the hard realities of real conservation would have featured at least a bit, and I thought it would hew a bit closer to Leo. Still, in the end, I have to say that my judgement based on the cover was very fair and accurate, and I'm going to have to decide that "You can't judge a book by its cover" is wrong. You can, with pretty good accuracy sometimes.

So, our quasi scientific result:

You can indeed judge a book by its cover!

1 comment:

  1. I like this one. Very entertaining.

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