A couple of weeks ago I was browsing in the delightful bookshop in Alfriston, East Sussex, (Much Ado Books) and succumbed and bought a hardback book, The Shepherd’s Life: A Tale of the Lake District by James Rebanks.  For me to succumb was a rare occurrence because, as soon as I cross the threshold of a bookshop, I’m overwhelmed by choice overload; I love books and want to buy ALL of them!  This, of course, is out of the question so I have the problem of choosing which book(s) to buy from hundreds – perhaps thousands – of competing possibilities.

Apart from side stepping this problem by never again entering a bookshop, I have found that the easiest way to achieve consonance and escape the turmoil of dissonance, is to walk out of bookshops empty-handed (apologies to all those struggling independent bookshops that I have forsaken).  There are other things I could do such as closing my eyes and plucking a book from the shelves at random, or asking an innocent bystander or the bookshop staff to choose a book for me, but these options are bonkers.  Much easier just to walk away.

So, why was I uncharacteristically decisive when buying a copy of The Shepherd’s Life?   It was the photograph on the dustjacket.  I simply loved the picture of Lake District fells.  Nothing to do with book reviews or best seller lists; the cover did it.

Whilst paying for the book, and feeling chuffed with my uncharacteristic decisiveness, I asked the woman on the desk why she thought I had chosen it.  She said, ‘Because you like sheep?’.  I admitted that it was because I had fallen for the picture on the dustjacket.  She then told me that from time to time customers remove and steal dustjackets!

I replied, ‘Well, I have to confess that, many years ago, I was a dustjacket thief’.  I then told her the story.

When my first book was published (in 1976, see what I mean by ‘many years ago’?) the publishers agreed to consult me over the design for the cover.  They promised to send me three different mock-ups and let me choose the one I preferred.  Unfortunately this was a word of mouth promise and the person who made it left the publishing company while the book was being prepared for publication.

The next thing I knew was when six author’s copies arrived in the post with the ugliest, gloomiest, most unattractive cover I have ever seen on any book before or since.  The thrill of my very first published book nosedived into disappointment.

The first edition of the book was a hardback (it subsequently appeared as a paperback with a much better cover) with a removable dustjacket.  So, I used to roam bookshops searching for my book and, whenever I found it, I’d confiscate the dustjacket (fortunately this was in the days before CCTV).   It looked so much better without the depressing cover.

By the way, The Shepherd’s Life is a good read, with or without its dustjacket.

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