Judge a book by its cover
September 8, 2015 7:51 AM   Subscribe

You judge books by their covers. Then we judge you. Cool? Cool.

Dean Casalena and Nate Gagnon want you to judge books by their covers so they can play with the data. Check out the results of 300 books that Casalena pulled together.

Or, play the game and see if you, too are Pretty Damn Judgey.
posted by carrioncomfort (67 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
74% accuracy. I have no idea what this means.
posted by griphus at 7:54 AM on September 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


For non-native English speakers, they're using the word "judgey" to mean, "able to correctly recognize terrible book covers."
posted by straight at 8:00 AM on September 8, 2015 [11 favorites]


Hmm - I'm found I wasn't so much judging the book by its cover so much as the book by how I would imagine your typical Goodreads user would rate it.

Given a recent post on the Kindle Covers Disaster tumblr, I'm thinking that the book/cover connection has been repeatedly abused to the point where judging is completely futile.
posted by bibliowench at 8:01 AM on September 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


I got 74% as well. Coincidence??
posted by MtDewd at 8:02 AM on September 8, 2015


You like some things.
Others, not so much.
Well, that was useful. Thanks.

(86% accurate)
posted by jeather at 8:04 AM on September 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Apparently I'm far more judgy than the average Goodreads reviewer.
posted by hfnuala at 8:05 AM on September 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


I started judging by the titles and learned you can't leave the bar at zero.
posted by ethansr at 8:06 AM on September 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


I wanted this to be a totally different site, where you judged book covers and got an aggregate like Kittenwar (but for books), rather than a guess-the-Goodreads-rating game that it is.
posted by graymouser at 8:07 AM on September 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


Can you show me the spine instead? That's usually how I judge books. My success rate is pretty high.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:08 AM on September 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


Goodreads gives Wolf in White Van 3.8 stars? Well, that's just incorrect, is what that is.
posted by Etrigan at 8:09 AM on September 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


Goodreads generally likes books a lot more than I do, so when I started adjusting my ratings upwards by a star or two, I got a lot more matches.
posted by holborne at 8:10 AM on September 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


I got 90% after a couple rounds just by rating everything at 3.7.
posted by synthetik at 8:11 AM on September 8, 2015 [12 favorites]


I got 90% after a couple rounds just by rating everything at 3.7.

And now you know the secret to arts criticism: everything is mediocre.
posted by griphus at 8:12 AM on September 8, 2015 [24 favorites]


The other thing I'd like to know, though, is when "based off" (as opposed to "based on") became the generally used phrase, as it makes no fucking sense, but that's a separate issue, I guess.
posted by holborne at 8:12 AM on September 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


My harsh nastiness that led to being fairly successful at this wasn't so much me judging books as it was be judging people who leave star reviews on Goodreads for their predictability.

(note: I leave star reviews on Goodreads.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:12 AM on September 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Goodreads ratings have a big bias in that they're written by people who made the decision to read the book in the first place due to genre, recommendations, prior books by the same author etc. Those stars are a decent way to figure out how the book is regarded within its genre, or among a given author's works, or among a certain community of readers, but it's a terrible way to get a sense of whether or not you're going to, you know, like a book.

You're more likely to select a book you enjoy by its cover, which has a lot of cues about its target market and contents, than by the number of stars it has on goodreads.

caveat: I haven't used Goodreads in years, so if they've dramatically changed how rating works let me know so I can eat some crow
posted by phooky at 8:15 AM on September 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


does it ever end or does it just go on eternally

must i guess every book on goodreads
posted by poffin boffin at 8:19 AM on September 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


i am on 94% accuracy by the simple method of rating every single book 3.8, with a little more work i am sure we can find the optimal review number
posted by poffin boffin at 8:22 AM on September 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


I came here to say what you said, poffin_boffin. Goodreads apparently just thinks every book is pretty OK.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:28 AM on September 8, 2015


I probably would have gotten a slightly better result had I not given justin bieber's book zero stars. I'm sad that I couldn't give it negative stars.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:31 AM on September 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


And now you know the secret to arts criticism: everything is mediocre.

No, that's the secret of review aggregation. "Everything is mediocre" would make for really boring criticism.
posted by thetortoise at 8:32 AM on September 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Goodreads ratings have a big bias in that they're written by people who made the decision to read the book in the first place due to genre, recommendations, prior books by the same author etc. Those stars are a decent way to figure out how the book is regarded within its genre, or among a given author's works, or among a certain community of readers, but it's a terrible way to get a sense of whether or not you're going to, you know, like a book.

Isn't that true of every customer-driven rating system (Amazon, Netflix, etc.)? After all, you have to read (use, experience) the product before you can rate it. At least with something like Goodreads, I can get reviews of a book I'm otherwise inclined to read by other people who were equally inclined to read it. (That is, there's no point in me getting ratings of a fantasy novel by people who hate fantasy novels.) Generally, I've found that all of my favorite books get a lot of 5-star and 1-star reviews.

I used to read the NY Times Book Review for a wider perspective, but I've found that they have become so far removed from what I actually enjoy reading that it's basically useless to me.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 8:33 AM on September 8, 2015


"Everything is mediocre" would make for really boring criticism.

And a lousy sequel to the Lego Movie.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 8:34 AM on September 8, 2015 [10 favorites]


"Everything is mediocre" would make for really boring criticism.

Not if you actually had to justify giving the same 3.7 star rating to both Moby-Dick and The Da Vinci Code.
posted by graymouser at 8:34 AM on September 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


And now you know the secret to arts criticism: everything is mediocre.

Am I the only person waiting for the book review column penned by Immortan Joe?
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:35 AM on September 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


Are these all self-published books? I ask because almost all of the covers looked like someone's nephew created them in Publisher or Paint.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:43 AM on September 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


I also wonder who these people are that read Wolf In White Van and thought it was only sorta okay. Goodreads overrates everything but the one book that deserves it, apparently!
posted by naju at 8:51 AM on September 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wolf in White Van was written specifically for my own personal gratification so I can understand why some people wouldn't like it
posted by theodolite at 8:55 AM on September 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


I also wonder who these people are that read Wolf In White Van and thought it was only sorta okay.

For every three deserving 5-star reviews, there's someone who couldn't figure out what the fuck was going on in the first 10 pages and gave it a 1-star review.

Wolf in White Van was written specifically for my own personal gratification so I can understand why some people wouldn't like it

Are you me? No, you are not me. So you are wrong as to for whose personal gratification it was written.
posted by Etrigan at 8:56 AM on September 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


Goodreads overrates everything but the one book that deserves it, apparently!

I haven't read Wolf in White Van, but it seems like Goodreads users consistently underrate "difficult" books (and overrate garbage; which is why everything "is" mediocre).
posted by uncleozzy at 8:57 AM on September 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


I got nine absolutely dreadful covers and then Wolf in White Van.

Most covers are terrible, because most covers are designed to tell you exactly what market segment the book is "for" and so they are all the fucking same.
posted by selfnoise at 8:58 AM on September 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


I am Judgiest, meaning modern literary art direction and I are not on speaking terms. Hardly surprising.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:01 AM on September 8, 2015


Goodreads rates The Hunger Games and Ready Player One as superior to The Old Man and the Sea, yet somehow its my judgement that is questionable?

Goodreads is to help morons find other morons.
posted by biffa at 9:02 AM on September 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Before I figured out how this worked, they showed me Darwin on Trial. I gave it 1 star (1 for being perfect-bound and professionally designed). Sadly, this guess was inaccurate.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:02 AM on September 8, 2015


Goodreads rates The Hunger Games and Ready Player One as superior to The Old Man and the Sea, yet somehow its my judgement that is questionable?

Goodreads is to help morons find other morons.


They gave Justin Bieber 4½ stars, so
posted by Sys Rq at 9:04 AM on September 8, 2015


One of the books I got was Cleaving, the 'cheating is fun!' sequel by the Julie & Julia lady.

It wouldn't let me give negative stars, for which I am disappointed.
posted by leotrotsky at 9:05 AM on September 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I like my result "You may know what you like, but you sure as hell know what you don't like. Which is a lot, apparently." I gave several low scores at the beginning, which was not so smart because of the selection bias described above.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 9:07 AM on September 8, 2015


Goodreads rates The Hunger Games and Ready Player One as superior to The Old Man and the Sea, yet somehow its my judgement that is questionable?

I enjoyed both of those books more than The Old Man and the Sea, which I (and presumably many Americans) were forced to read in high school. So YMMV I guess?
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 9:07 AM on September 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


It told me I was super judgy which I took as a compliment. I have to buy a lot of books for my library and being able to judge a book by its cover is a huge skill to have. "I recognize this cover as speaking to a demographic that is not me but is still very popular in my library" is why we have a host of paperbacks with women sporting back tattoos, a feast of covers featuring pensive looking Amish women staring at a field, and an applause of hands - hands - holding things awkwardly before a faceless figure.

Of course, I was recently burned by a book I judged as AWESOME by its cover - I'm not sure how you screw up a book with a knight riding a dinosaur on it, but somehow The Dinosaur Lords did.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:18 AM on September 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


This was excellent at making its point!

(The point was that goodreads ratings are shit, right?)
posted by nzero at 9:19 AM on September 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


I judge websites by their inability to function. What was I supposed to see there?
posted by philip-random at 9:24 AM on September 8, 2015


I got 84% trying to predict what the user ratings would be, not what I would think, but I too erred on the side of rating things lower than I should have at first.

I should know better, though.

I recently started trying to track my movie watching on Letterboxd, and I noticed that I have a huge cluster at 3.5, too, which I thought was weird at first, but I figure that I weed out a lot of the lower scores through the selection process. I'm mostly watching things that are already well reviewed and/or that appeal to me for some other reason. Almost nobody is going to read and review some Scholastic book about Justin Bieber unless they're heavily inclined to really love a Scholastic book about Justin Bieber.

So I have very, very few ratings lower than three. And I want to save the 4 and above for stuff that is extraordinary. So 3.5 it usually is, for me and probably for a lot of other people too.

I did tweak it some based on how 'serious' the cover looked, assuming that would affect readers' perceptions, and on the Bieber equation, so I tried it again without the initial lower ratings and got 92%.

And I was thinking I'd try it again to see if I can get a better score next time, but then I remembered that this is not a skill I really need to acquire today.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:28 AM on September 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Of course, I was recently burned by a book I judged as AWESOME by its cover - I'm not sure how you screw up a book with a knight riding a dinosaur on it, but somehow The Dinosaur Lords did.

How about Napoleon riding t-rex? (it just went on the shelves this week at the library, so the jury is still out on local popularity)
posted by carrioncomfort at 9:39 AM on September 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Got 66%, was told I wasn't very good at this and that maybe I should stick to tv.

Well, fuck you and fuck Good Reads.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:05 AM on September 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


You being the test, not anyone here.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:07 AM on September 8, 2015


But can you better judge a book by it's moving cover?
posted by Emor at 10:08 AM on September 8, 2015


This is why I've come to appreciate Steam's constrained Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down approach for user reviews. Look, either you will like it or you won't. The actual degree of said liking is of almost zero consequence to anyone except you.
posted by Doleful Creature at 10:40 AM on September 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


It takes some care to extract useful information from the Amazon/GoodReads style 5-point review system. After researching and reading many books, here is the method I use before buying a book:

1. Proceed only if the book has an aggregate rating of 4.0 or higher.
2. Read the two most useful negative reviews, as rated by other users.
3. If the things mentioned in the negative reviews aren't any of my pet peeves, get the book.

Exception: Don't filter out books with poor ratings in step 1 if they have fewer than five reviews.
posted by Triplanetary at 10:55 AM on September 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've never found any correlation between how much I enjoy a book and its rating on aggregators. Same goes for films, games and TV, actually. The only two ways I've ever found reviews to be useful is either when they're long and carefully written critiques, or when I know the tastes of the reviewers well enough that I can broadly tell whether the work in question appeals to me.

FanFare, as a model, seems to work very well for me. Because I know the tastes of so many MeFites, I can generally figure out if something's worth checking out based on their likes and dislikes, and the back and forth discussion functions like a long, extended critique. I can't wait until they add books. <pointed look in the direction of cortex>
posted by Kattullus at 11:20 AM on September 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think part of the problem (to the extent there is one) is that Goodreads' rating system is a little out of sync with a lot of other star-rating systems -- most notably, Amazon's. I was a heavy user of Goodreads in its very early days (as in the first few months after the site was launched), when it was still a tiny site that basically only librarians and their friends knew about, so I was privy to a lot of the arguments about what the star system should represent, as were all the users then. There was a ton of back and forth about whether one star should mean "hated it" versus "didn't like it," and whether three stars should mean "it was just ok" versus "liked it."

TPTB at Goodreads eventually decided to scale the ratings higher because they wanted the site to be more positive than negative, or some such thing. (Same reason they don't keep track of "helpful" against "unhelpful" votes, btw.) So three stars is actually a quite favorable rating on Goodreads -- "I liked it" rather than "it was okay," which is what three stars corresponds to on Amazon.
posted by holborne at 11:25 AM on September 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


I enjoyed both of those books more than The Old Man and the Sea, which I (and presumably many Americans) were forced to read in high school.

Which is why I fully support forced readings of The Hunger Games and Ready Player One. It won't harm this generation and future generations may thank us.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:45 AM on September 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Absolutely nothing impresses you.
If Michelangelo himself painted these
covers you'd still say 'meh.'
Thumbs down.


Well maybe if there wasn't so much shitty design out there I'd wouldn't be such a hater.
posted by Windigo at 11:52 AM on September 8, 2015


I mean come on
posted by Windigo at 11:55 AM on September 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


How about Napoleon riding t-rex? (it just went on the shelves this week at the library, so the jury is still out on local popularity)

The YA Librarian is hording it on her desk. If Dinosaur Lords was better, those two books would have been the foundation of a "Put A Lizard On It!" book display.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 12:04 PM on September 8, 2015


The YA Librarian is hording it on her desk.

I see what you did there...
posted by Etrigan at 12:07 PM on September 8, 2015


I mean come on

Well aren't you a Judgey McJudgerson! Are you Queen Judge of Judge Mountain? <-- the quiz probably
posted by naju at 12:24 PM on September 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


It would be interesting to use a two axis rating system of Quality/Enjoyment. I think it would give people a better metric on what they would enjoy, and the quality of that enjoyment. For example a well researched, clearly written history of all the mildly depressed dentists in Calgary from 1957 to 1973 would garner 5 stars in quality, but at most 2 stars enjoyment.

Something of low quality but high enjoyment would be porn, because Q.E.D.

Once we get everybody used to this metric, we can begin to simplify it once again. One could point to the clusters of low quality/high enjoyment and high quality/low enjoyment and draw a line. This will birth a new and honest metric, the porn or history metric.

A chronicle of font development in the american west from the gold rush to the korean war: 0 stars

Kirk and Spock Trek: The shroud of Turin: 5 stars

The Collected Letters and Diary of Abraham Lincoln: 3 stars (sexy and historical)
posted by The Power Nap at 1:42 PM on September 8, 2015


I think I may have misunderstood the assignment. I was judging the covers. Like, "Wolf in White Van" is a terrible cover because I can barely even tell what the title of that book is from looking at the cover. And also, the first book, with the angel badly photoshopped onto the blurry flowered background is terrible because even I can photoshop better than that shit.

But I gather the task might have been to guess on a rating for the *book* based on the cover, rather than simply rating the cover.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:36 PM on September 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yes, I had the same problem. All of them looked like crap that I am not into designed by indifferent designers. Fat Vampire? No part of me believes that is a book worth reading when I have half of A la recherche du temps perdus left, not to mention all Oliver Sacks' books and the Elena Ferrante books.
posted by dame at 5:19 PM on September 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


half of A la recherche du temps perdus left

What sort of vampires is that one about?
posted by griphus at 5:37 PM on September 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


I hated Wolf in White Van but know most people loved it so guessed based on that. I don't like the Goodreads link, they seem to love everything on Goodreads.
posted by zutalors! at 5:51 PM on September 8, 2015


Like, "Wolf in White Van" is a terrible cover because I can barely even tell what the title of that book is from looking at the cover.

Yes but it very clearly says John Darnielle so that is pretty much all you need to know, right? (I may be biased, here).
posted by Pink Frost at 6:07 PM on September 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


What sort of vampires is that one about?

Have you met the Baron de Charlus?
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:09 PM on September 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Main Bitch Dreams, Side Bitch Status" rated surprisingly high. I don't see it in the graphic of the three hundred but it was the first cover I saw.
posted by bendy at 7:44 PM on September 8, 2015


Ben Trismegistus: "I enjoyed both of those books more than The Old Man and the Sea, which I (and presumably many Americans) were forced to read in high school. So YMMV I guess?"

Oh man, freaking Hemingway. The only virtue Old Man and the Sea has is that it is mercifully short. A hundred some pages of "Christ metaphor, CHRIST METAPHOR."
posted by Chrysostom at 9:09 PM on September 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


the useful thing about goodreads is that you can do comparison tests between your ratings and your friends' ratings, so then you can either yell at each other about why the other person is wrong about Harry Potter 5, or you can actually get recommendations from someone whose taste you mostly trust

(j/k it's always the former)
posted by kagredon at 9:56 PM on September 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


< Jaded... Nothing impressed me apparently.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:14 PM on September 8, 2015


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