Confessions of a Former Cover Boy
By Sergio Romano

Confessions of a Former Cover Boy
When I was a kid, I used to think the old saying "never judge a book by its cover" was a bunch of bullshit( I would have said "crap", but a) Mr. Railton used this other word on the first day of class, so I figured I could use it in my first essay, b) this is probably the one time in my life I will be able to use it in a written assignment, and c) I figure using it in the first sentence will prevent me from being guilty of writing any B.S. for the remainder of the essay); I almost always chose what books to read by the appearance of their covers. In elementary school, my teachers would hand out catalogs from reading clubs like Troll or Scholastic, complete with color pictures of captivating book covers. Perhaps my over-exposure to TV attracted me to the bright graphics, along with the paintings and cartoon-like drawings of trouble-making kids and troubled parents, crime fighters and solvers, scary monsters and evil aliens, big red dogs and curious monkeys. I would circle all the selections that caught my eye, hoping my mom would let me order all eight or nine of them, since reading was more productive than playing with Ninja Turtle toys (but looking back at those cheap, plastic action figures, it probably took more imagination to play with them). Then there were the school-wide book fairs, with tables upon tables of books (I was "gifted and talented," so I could read Reading Level 6 books in the fourth grade---wow). I would think that book titles, or perhaps the brief blurbs on the back cover, played a big role in my selection process too. But, this could not have been the case, since I remember once accidentally buying a Baby-Sitter's Club book, probably for nothing more than the "gnarly" checkered design around the border. Because of this superficial criteria, I ended up reading everything from Encyclopedia Brown books to those by Beverly Cleary. The genres covered action/ adventure (of which I often "chose my own"), detective, sports, history and historical fiction, and comedy, but what almost all of the books had in common was the use of children as the narrators and characters. My favorite books were probably the pre-teen adolescent dramas of S. E. Hinton and the outlandish comedies and adventures by Roald Dahl, Judy Blume, and Robert Kimmel Smith. I was a book worm and the hungry fishes at HarperCollins and Penguin Putnam would have eaten me alive had it not been for my trusty library card. In third grade, my teacher Mrs. Finley held a reading auction, in which she gave us fake money for every book we read and wrote a summary about, all of which could be used to buy toys, games, and gadgets, at an auction at the end of the quarter. The more we read, the more we could buy. Since Santa never brought me what I wanted anyway, I decided to read a different book every day for four months, and earn $750 worth of Monopoly money (I swear I had friends, though). Sometimes, teachers, librarians, and FRIENDS would recommend a book, or if I liked a certain book, I would read other works by that author. But, when it came down to it, I was a cover whore. Then came high school.
At this stage of my life, two major phenomena needed to be factored in: that thing they call "homework" and those things that keep you from getting to it until 9:00 at night called "extra-curricular activities." This is when the time I had to read "for pleasure" became almost non-existent. I was reading endless pages of science, history, and math textbooks every day, on top of bulky literary classics for my English classes, and this was after a seven-hour school day and three-hour lacrosse practice. At the same time, though, I actually liked most of the novels I had to read for class. The authors we read could get away with a lot more now that I was a "mature" young adult.. By sophomore year, my English teacher could get away with calling Coleridge's "Kubla Khan" "orgasmic." By junior year, I was being introduced to the great American works like The Sun Also Rises, The Great Gatsby, and Catcher in the Rye. I can tell you one thing: James and his friends in the Giant Peach were never getting drunk off of absinthe or calling up prostitutes. This is the point where I began to realize that there were too many classic masterpieces out there to be reading contemporary works in my free time. These periods of leisure were soon limited to breaks and trips, at which point I would read other works by writers like Hemingway and Faulkner, on the beach or during long car rides and airplane flights. I liked to read "important" works, books that were revolutionary in their style or subject matter. With novels like A Farewell to Arms and Catcher in the Rye, as well as a personal love of traveling and experiencing, I began to take a liking for works about lost souls, drifters who feel out of place in their own surroundings, so they take off to distant lands to find themselves. I'm no "melancholy man," and I'm not really a pessimist, but I am incredibly cynical and sarcastic. The narrators I preferred were not necessarily depressed, either, although they were disillusioned with much about their contemporary governments and societies; moreover, they often had a seeming lust for life. I like a novel that can take an everyday conversation or situation and make it humorous or revealing simply in recalling it sarcastically or pointing things out that most people would not notice. With this outlook, I purchased and read Kerouac's On the Road the summer after graduation, and it quickly became my favorite book, as it embodied many of my idealistic and cynical adolescent views. It also turned me on to the other writers of the Beat Generation. Then I got to college.
My trend at "the University," in terms of what I read has generally remained the same, except that there is even more reading, especially as an English major. In fact, there are some classes that even require the reading of 1000-plus-paged works like Gone With the Wind (imagine that!…just kidding). My time constraints have not gotten any better, either, as I have taken on various extra-curricular activities and a job. My reading preferences become more important in picking what classes to take, more than anything. Consequently, the extent of my reading for pleasure during the semester often consists of The Cavalier Daily, the Declaration, and (dare I say it) Maxim (remember, I promised no B.S. in line 4) since I already get my fiction fix in my English classes. It is usually only during winter and summer breaks that I pick up a book on my own, reading on trips, outside on my back porch, or in bed before sleeping. I still rarely read any contemporary works or bestsellers, and someone shoot me the day I read a Harry Potter book. The current books I do read are generally political in nature, such as the essays of Arundhati Roy, or the collected news articles of Hunter S. Thompson, again going with my skeptical nature. Even here, though, I was introduced to Roy from reading The God of Small Things, her "groundbreaking novel," for three different classes. So, other than the occasional review from a friend, I usually read a book based on an author's other works, most of which I learn about from classes I have taken. The books I read are almost always from the twentieth century, as I feel I can relate more closely to them, with the '20s existentialists and the Beat writers of the '50s and '60s being my favorites. They are usually works of realism and modernism, and never works of fantasy. This brings me to my next and last point and, what I get out of what I read.
For me, part of the pleasure in reading lies in the interiority of a book, being able to get into a character's head. Accordingly, as with movies, I prefer works that are not overly concerned with plot, and instead, concerned with character development, to the point that I feel like I know the people described by the end. In being able to relate to a set of characters, I can trust them, then put myself in their shoes and go on journeys of adventure or revelation with them, and do things I long to do, but am not able to, such as party at a speak-easy or hitchhike to San Francisco. I could never be as reckless and daring as Dean Moriarty in On the Road, but, especially since he's based on a real person (Neal Cassady, a friend of the author), he inspires me to want to take risks and (cough---cliché!) follow my heart, regardless of what others say. I likewise enjoy reading about or in the voice of society's deviants, interesting people who think outside the mainstream. Just as important, though, is style and diction, which is where a work can most obviously stand out as a work of art. I love a book that can describe something as mundane as a paper clip, and bring a whole new world of meaning to it, a book in which you can feel every word just by its use of rich vocabulary. Similarly, I love a book in which I can just underline quotes and bits of "life-sayings" or philosophies that can describe a sentiment I have felt, or am feeling at the time; there is a quote about expatriates in The Sun Also Rises, which seemed to sum up my attitude throughout my entire trip to Paris and Spain last summer. A good novel can be a Chicken Soup for the Soul without trying to be. I find fulfillment in reading about something that I can relate to, and then being able to see it in a whole new light, or just articulate something in the words I could never find. In the end, it probably all comes back to feeling. If a book truly moves me, it is more powerful than its own words can describe. Sometimes it is just satisfying to know someone else has felt the way I do, even if they were misunderstood their whole lives. My own deviant side can then come out. Just like my overdone English major side has come out over the last (sorry!) 1,748 words.


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