Covering Up with Annabel Astor

One of the stranger bits of news this week revealed that not only does SamCam do a mean potato salad, but her mum has a fetish for covering her books in cream and pink paper.

In an article in the FT this Saturday, Lady “Call me Annabel” Astor admits that the practice drives her husband mad. I can imagine; it would drive me potty. Surely the pleasure of buying and collecting books is to have them there, looking at you, tempting you with their ridiculous, florid, beautiful designs.

Covering books puts one in mind of school days, when everything was coated in layers of brown paper. In my last year of primary school we got a laminator. If you’ve never played with a laminator don’t, it instantly becomes an addiction. Pretty soon we were bringing all our books from home in to be covered in sticky, rubbish, bubble filled plastic.

Covering a book in paper and giving it to a child is more or less an open invitation to practice your hand styles, or at least it was when I was at school. Many is a time I practised my signature, plus of course the usual “JMH hearts **/**/**/**”. Looking back I really hope IDST didn’t work, as there are a few things I would love to get out of…

But why would an adult women cover her books? I can sort of understand covering them in plastic to protect them like we do at work, but I’m guessing that, being rich, quite a few will be first editions, and even the addition of magic tape ruins the value of these.

Book covers have in recent years become a bigger reason to buy the book than the story itself. Given the opportunity I will spend hours wandering in a bliss filled state round Waterstones touching and looking at the covers. I recently purchased “We, The Drowned” by Carsten Jensen purely because the cover was so beautiful, an almost willow-pattern ship on a swirl of intricate waves, with blue tinted pages. Instantly in love. David Mitchell’s books are brilliant, but whoever designs his covers should get a Gold Star for marketing value. Our book club became hooked on Karen Maitland, not because we all loved her books that much, in fact we all hated the ending of “Company of Liars”, but the covers were so pretty…

Book covers also instantly puts whatever you’re reading into genre. My chick-lit pastel pink early naughties phase may be over, but the drawings of shoes and handbags and bottle of wine very much aren’t. There is a whole lot of money to be made out of women who like books with swirly fonts and shots of vintage-style gardens on the front, as publishing houses are finding out. The re-release of Wuthering Heights in a ‘Twilight’ style format may have caused hilarity amongst the more discerning book snob, but it got a whole load of teenagers reading the classic and, much as I hate that book, that’s no bad thing.

No, I think Lady Astor is hiding something here. I remember an analysis of some politician, possibly Cameron’s, bookcase Many Moons ago in the Guardian, it was all Tomes, biographies and doorstopper crime novels. Uncover that cream paper and what would we find? Is Annabel, like me, a secret Emma Blair addict? Does she have the complete Danielle Steele wrapped in pale pink? Or is she *gasp* a James Patterson fan?

If she does have a collection of trash then she should own that. Maybe if more ‘successful’ people in the public eye came out and said, you know what, I love my battered falling apart copies of ‘The Man Who Made Husband’s Jealous’, we’d have a nation that talks about reading, and is proud of their books, and doesn’t feel the need hide them away in cream paper, sneaking them out of their bags on the tube because they’re on Richard and Judy’s Reading List and they’re ashamed of liking something that isn’t Madame Bovary, or some ridiculous Art House writer you can’t read without wanting to put your head in a vice and squeeze it all out afterwards.

This is a dangerous precedent to what could be a worrying trend. I have visions of day-before-Christmas style wrappings of books after this up and down BigSocBritain, in a misguided effort to Keep Up With The Astors. Please. Don’t. Read your books and be proud of them. One of the best things about going round people’s houses is exploring their books cases, what does it say about you if your too fussed about your colour scheme to be able to find out what you want to read next?


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