About the book cover

Recently, I received an incredible comment from “Hillary” who read WHEN I WAS THE GREATEST, enjoyed it, but felt that the book cover was a bit dissonant in relationship to the actual story. She states:

“So I’m wondering, as the author, what are your thoughts about the book’s cover? To me it seemed incongruous with the story. Striking in its imagery of the hard, cold gun encased in the beautiful and colorful, soft knitting. And probably attention-getting on a shelf full of books screaming “buy me” and perhaps marketed to a certain segment of the reading population. But I didn’t think the gun was central to your story, and in that way I thought it was misleading in its representation of the characters, and Ali, and the tale you so lovingly told.”

First let me say, thank you for your comment and for even asking about why we chose what we chose for the cover. I really appreciate you reading the book and engaging in some critique of some of the choices made.

To answer your question, the book cover is a bit incongruous. You’re right. And that’s what my editor and I both wanted. I can’t stand book covers that tell the whole story. I prefer symbolism, some distance from the plot, some inference. It’s sort of like the old Velvet Underground album cover with the banana. The banana has nothing to do with the album. It’s just a dope piece of art by Andy Warhol. Now, I’m not going that abstract here. What we were trying to communicate in an eye-catching way, is the relationship between hard and soft, between aggressive and compassionate, between violence and peace. That’s a motif throughout the story, that Ali battles with, his father battles with, Noodles, Malloy who lost his legs, the neighborhood in general. So the handgun, a symbol we naturally equate to violence, has been knitted over, which is something we naturally equate to tranquility. Not to mention the knitting is a direct reference to Needles, of course, and the gun, more of a reference to John and his struggles and what his son thinks…(I don’t want to spoil the book for those haven’t checked it out yet!)

And lastly, Hillary, you’re right. It is a “Buy Me” cover. But more than that, it’s the kind of cover that (hopefully) will spark questions like these. When a young person sits on the train and reads it, another teenager might ask, “what is that?” and to me, that alone is HUGE. Why not be provocative if it promotes reading?

I hope this answers your question, or at least gives you some of the thought process behind the gun. It wasn’t just an arbitrary image, or even just a hook. It’s just symbolic, which is my preferred style.

Thank you so much, Hillary, for commenting and engaging. Seriously. It means the world to me that you’ve read the book, thought about it, and realized that the cover didn’t work for you. I’m all about discourse, disagreement, analysis, and all that, so please know that in the future, if there’s something else of mine you read in the future or another one of my covers you see that you don’t think works, air it out. Let me know. And I mean that! 🙂

J

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