“Catastrophic Attraction Complex.”
I’m not sure where I first heard this phrase. I’ve done Google searches that only bring up the times I’ve used the phrase in my own blog posts and guest blogs, so I might even have made it up myself. Who knows. What I do know is: it’s the phrase I use to describe those attractions that are so intense, immediate and pervasive that common sense and logic fly out the window. We all have them, but they’re different for everyone. Usually when I refer to my Catastrophic Attraction Complex, I’m about to talk about my attraction to men (and occasionally, yes, women) with red hair, from the strawberriest of strawberry blonds to the most merlot of wine-dark gingers. In fact, a look back at a 2012 guest blog about My Literary Crushes on Roofbeam Reader’s site shows a preponderance of redheads. But that’s a whole different post from today’s topic, which is….
My Catastrophic Attraction Complex to Matching Book Cover Designs.
I’m sure at least some of my fellow bibliophiles will be able to empathize with me here.
Now, I’m not talking about books by the same author in the same series that have consistent cover design elements (like every volume of the Dresden Files having Harry, with hat and staff, in a dramatic pose above or below the book’s two-word title, or Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael books all having a nicely-painted medieval dead body in a box under the book’s title). It’s a given that readers of such series want all the titles in said series to match, and get very upset when, say, the publisher decides to start issuing the series in hardcover after years of issuing it only in paperback.
I’m also not talking about an author’s non-series books all being reissued with common cover design elements (as seems to happen every few years with the works of Stephen King). If I own most of the author’s non-series works in earlier editions, I’m usually not interested in buying newer editions just to get the covers to match. (Now, if I don’t already own most of those works, sure – a few years ago Lawrence Block brought some of his long-out-of-print crime fiction out as LB’s Crime Classics, with a very simple matching cover design, and I ate that up. Likewise if the re-issues have new material added, as when Titan Books re-issued a bunch of Philip Jose Farmer books with matching cover designs and new forewords and afterwords by Farmer scholars.)
What I’m talking about primarily is publishers bringing out themed sets of books by different authors all with the same front, spine, and back cover design. (I recently asked the hive-mind on Twitter if there’s an industry-specific term for this other than “trade dress,” and so far the response seems to be “no,” but I look forward to hearing if there is one.)
I fall, and fall hard, almost every time.
The most obvious examples in my personal library right now are the ever-enlarging collection of slipcased hardcovers from The Library of America, which I started purchasing intermittently several decades ago and which I may never successfully complete as a collection, and several bookshelves worth of the complete-to-date run of titles from Hard Case Crime with their matching spine logos and painted retro-crime-pulp covers (there is still hope, however dwindling, that I will someday read every HCC title; at least I’m keeping up with current releases).
My friend Dave (who enables and encourages my weird “must have them all” book-buying habits) can tell you all about my frantic NYC bookstore searches to find all the volumes in HiLo Books’ “Radium Age of Science Fiction” after discovering all but TWO of the series in a book store in Chelsea Market. Yes, reader, you know me well – I bought them all, then spent months tracking down the remaining two. (My obsession with buying books in actual book stores as opposed to ordering online is the topic of a whole different post.) Something similar happened upon discovery of Knopf Doubleday’s “Vintage Movie Classics” series, although I didn’t find the majority of those in one store to start with.
When I first started traveling the country for my full-time job twelve years ago, I also started haunting used-book stores. Mostly to fill in or rebuild paperback series I’d lost over the year (Perry Rhodan, Doc Savage, Tarzan, and the like). But then I started seeing these Wordsworth Editions anthologies of supernatural stories, all with sleek black/grey trade dress covers. Now I have a bookshelf of them, although I’m pretty sure I’ve a long way to go to have all of them.
About a year ago, I found Melville House’s reissue of George Eliot’s “The Lifted Veil” in a bookstore in Newark Airport, and found it was part of their “The Art of the Novella” line, all with matching cover designs. Yep, I’m a subscriber now.
I try to resist. I really do. I asked myself recently, “Do I really need to buy the complete Otto Penzler “American Mystery Classics” re-issue series when I have so many of the titles in dog-eared paperbacks I found in used-book stores over the years?” The answer seems to be “Yes,” because I have a bookshelf with the full run Penzler has issued to date. (And it looks like a third series will be issued in Fall, 2019!)
There are, I think, far worse Catastrophic Attraction Complexes to have. And of my two, it’s probably better that this is the one I act uncontrollably and impulsively on (I may be catastrophically attracted to redheads, but that usually manifests as an inability to complete simple sentences around them; no rash impulses getting out of hand there!). Of course, the friends who have helped me move house in the past few years may not agree with this assessment!