They say you can’t judge a book by its cover.
I’m not sure I entirely agree with that. I mean, it’s pretty solid overall. But like any idea that’s been distilled down to an easily digestible essence, there are going to be exceptions to the rule.
Like The Mirror of Her Dreams.
When I was a teenager, I joined the Science Fiction Book Club, a mail-order book store. It functioned in the same way as the Random House mail-order cassette/CD club that’s become a punchline in the age of online streaming: joining got you five books for $1 so long as you committed to buying a specified number of books for the regular price within a year.
I joined the club because they had David Eddings’ The Belgariad in hardcover. It was my favourite book series at the time – introduced to me, as so many cool things were, by my Big Brother – and I wanted copies of my own. But I didn’t want them in softcover, because I was pretty much always reading them, and I figured hardcover copies would be sturdier and less likely to fall apart.
The SFBC, which, while writing this I was astonished to learn has avoided Random House’s fate and still exists, had The Belgariad in hardcover, along with a bunch of my other favourite sci-fi and fantasy books at the time, so I joined and started to build my library.
Enter Stephen R. Donaldson’s The Mirror of Her Dreams.
If there was ever a book I judged by its cover, it’s this one. It was one of the featured titles in my monthly book club mailer, and I fell so in love with the cover image, I ordered it. It wasn’t until it landed in my mailbox that I realized it was written by Stephen R. Donaldson, an author whose work I’d never much enjoyed. Big Brother had some of his books – I’d even given him The One Tree for Christmas one year – but much as I’d tried, I’d never been able to get more than a few chapters into any of the Thomas Covenant books.
But The Mirror of Her Dreams cover was so pretty! It had to be good, right?
I tried. I really, really tried. I think I slogged through about half of it before I gave up and tucked it away on my bookshelf. And that, I thought, was that.
Then a couple of years later, I found out that the book was actually the first in a series of two, when my monthly mailer from the SFBC arrived and A Man Rides Through was a featured title.
I ordered it.
That may seem a little strange, but when I was teenager, I was a bit obsessive about completing sets. To me, it was worth the money to buy a book I’d never read in order to have the whole series.
I must have been on the verge of outgrowing that habit, though, as when I opened the box containing A Man Rides Through, I remember thinking it was quite silly to buy a book planning to never read it. So I grabbed The Mirror of Her Dreams off the shelf and gave it another try.
And I loved it!
I burned through both books in, oh, no more than a week, I’d guess. I’ve read them enough times since that, while they’re not such a hot mess as my copies of The Belgariad, the pages are well worn and the spines make an alarming cracking noise when they’re opened.
A quote from A Man Rides Through even made it into my book.
It’s never wise to take low ground and let enemies throw rocks at your head.
Perhaps a bit military for day-to-day use, but the bluntness makes me snort, and the basic concept is a solid piece of advice. The truth is, though, that although I enjoy revisiting the series from time-to-time, I got way more from the experience of reading them, than from the books themselves.
Turns out that sometimes you’re right to judge a book by its cover.
And sometimes it takes an extra bit of effort to realize it.
To see previous posts in my Quotes series, click here.