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Thoughts while Having Sex or, Why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover

The other day, browsing in the library, I spotted a book called Thoughts While Having Sex, by Stephanie Lehmann, and immediately picked it up – as you would. Great title. The cover is however, I think you’ll agree, cheesy in the extreme.

The font is OK, but the melange of pink and redhead, plus red boa and sparkles, is just too much (to add to the random factor, I don’t think any of the characters have red hair). However, I flipped inside, immediately liked the writing, and took it out. And I’m very glad, because I now have a new favourite author. Stephanie Lehmann has a real dry wit that reminds me a bit of Nora Ephron and Woody Allen, though her characters have far more depth than Allen’s. Jennifer is a shy, angsty young playwright, who’s having her first play produced in a tiny, ‘stinky’ theatre Off Off Broadway.

Jennifer’s play is about two sisters and is obviously completely autobiographical (at least, it’s obvious to everyone except its author). She has a crush on the director, Peter, but she’s also extremely repressed (the ‘thoughts’ of the title are not good ones). The play is about the older sister’s suicide – which is what happened in real life. That makes the book sound highly depressing, and it is very sad in places, but it’s also very funny and very true to life – and gripping, as writing the play makes Jennifer relive, and then confront what happened. It’s a great story and maybe one that writers will particularly identify with. I especially enjoyed Jennifer’s reaction to being told to rewrite something:

‘And rewriting was usually something I enjoyed. First drafts were hard because they involved exposure, spontaneity and a plunge into the unknown. Rewrites only involved going back over ground that’s already been explored. No problem.’

There’s lots of great dialogue (you can tell the author’s a playwright herself) and not much description, which is absolutely fine with me. So all in all, this is not-too-uncommon case of a great book that’s been given a terrible cover. Note: I would not comment on the cheesiness of this cover if the author hadn’t already done so in an interview on http://www.chicklitbooks.com. To be fair, this edition came out in 2003 – design has moved on a bit (hopefully). However, there are still a lot of cheesy covers out there. It makes me extra grateful for the cover for my book, which is lovely (I think so anyway).

What do you think? Do chick lit books like this need better covers, or am I over-reacting because of a few sparkles?

The good news is that Stephanie Lehmann has written several other books, with nicer covers, which I’m now going to devour – plus the intriguingly titled guide Your Novel Sucks … Now What? And she has a new books, Astor Place Vintage, out next year. Visit her extremely non-cheesy website here.

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