Judging a Book By Its Cover – Nothing to Wear and Nowhere to Hide by Fay Weldon

Written by Gillian Ramos
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You know how some frogs and snakes and insects can tell the world how poisonous they are with brightly colored skin? Books by women – and ostensibly for women – work basically the same way. If it has a hot pink cover, you can be sure that it is a Lady Book, and that you should Proceed With Caution.

Let me paint a little picture for you – your intrepid blogger is at Ye Olde Big Boxe Booke Storre, faced with said hot pink book. The author’s name sounds vaguely familiar and there’s a namedrop of well-respected but only vaguely familiar author in one of the cover blurbs. Said book also costs $2. For less than the price of a bad cup of coffee, the hot pink book is given a new home amid an embarrassing number of other yet-to-be-read books.

Fay Weldon’s Nothing to Wear and Nowhere to Hide is the cringe-inducing book in question. Hot pink cover? Check. Whimsical handwriting-style cover font? Check. Lady-friendly imagery? Check – this time it’s clothing. There’s a lot to dislike about this cover, but one of the cover blurbs mentions Angela Carter, so maybe it’s not all bad. After all, authors don’t always get a lot of say in how their books are designed and branded and if you’re going to be compared to another writer, you could to worse than Angela Carter.

Enter Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-thon, a Saturday in late October dedicated to finding a cozy place to sit and read. I chose 10 books for my read-a-thon list, most of them being books I had been itching to read for months. I chose Nothing to Wear and Nowhere to Hide as my first book of the day largely because it is short, and I thought a story collection would be a good way to ease back into reading fiction after slogging through a non-fiction book that – and I’m being generous here – was a disappointment.

Weldon’s stories are typically described as feisty and unapologetic, and for some of the stories in this collection, these seem like sugar-coated ways of saying her characters are bitches. Some stories – especially “Smoking Chimneys,” “The Trophy Wife,” and “Cold, Wet Nose” – try to excuse if not outright celebrate nastiness and pettiness under the guise of being a funny, assertive portrayal of modern women. After a couple hundred pages, I got the impression that Weldon likes to play our feminine foibles for laughs, as long as she gets to be the one laughing at the rest of us.

As I flipped through the book to double-check the titles of the stories I hated the most, it came to my attention that I didn’t actually read the whole book. This fact does not bother me. There are only so many mean-spirited stories a person can read in an afternoon. The book lived down to all of my fears and expectations about women writing about women – that the only way to be accepted is to take cheap shots at one another and rely heavily on negative portrayals of women as gold-diggers or frigid bitches or hapless morons.

No thanks.