Cover star

Browsing through a bookshop in Brussels recently, I noticed a display publicising the latest novel by Amélie Nothomb. Nothing surprising there: she’s a popular, acclaimed and very prolific writer, and I’ve really enjoyed the three of her novels I’ve read so far.

No, what struck me about the books was that a photo of her is almost always on the cover. Look, here are three of her books that I own:

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How many fiction writers are regularly featured on the covers of their books? You can get alternative covers, of course, but chances are that in any given bookshop you’ll see her face quite a lot. Now some of these books are to a greater or lesser degree autobiographical, so that makes some sense, as she’s the subject matter as well as the author. But even when that’s not the case, there she is, looking mysterious, or glamourous, or smirking at you, or all three.

Why doesn’t this happen more often? Should the writer disappear completely behind the mask of their work? I guess many writers are shy or solitary types who dread having their photograph taken, but surely that doesnt apply to all of them, and why shouldn’t those more confident about publicity and marketing be allowed to present themselves and their work in a more visible way? It’s seen as perfectly normal for musicians to feature on the packaging for their albums, after all. Now, you might say that singers tend to be easier on the eye than writers, but that’s not always the case. And even if it were, why should it be, and should it matter? It’s the content that interests me, not the attractiveness of the person who produced it.

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5 thoughts on “Cover star

  1. Erik R. September 17, 2012 / 4:32 pm

    No, but the attractiveness of the cover matters a great deal more than one might expect. It’s the cover that gets the book off the bookstore shelf and into your hand, especially for new authors or genres. I have a great deal more respect for book cover design since seeing this. Ever since, I enjoy contemplating them in bookstores.

    Imagine how short his career would’ve been if Stephen King had put his mug on book covers. Ha!

    Personally, if I were a writer, I would much rather just have the checks come in and not have people stopping me in the supermarket for an autograph, but I suppose others might not feel that way.

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  2. V-Grrrl @ Compost Studios September 17, 2012 / 5:04 pm

    Somewhere a long, long time ago, I read the quote, “Trust the art, not the artist.” I have never forgotten that. I like to think of art standing separate from the artist, whether they’re musicians, writers, or visual artists. I would not want to see authors on the covers. Like Erik, I have an appreciation for graphic arts and marketing. I like the cover art to suggest something about the book, not the author.

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    • simonlitton September 17, 2012 / 7:44 pm

      But is it so easy to separate artist and art? Some writers personalities or personae are very much part of their writing.

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  3. Anni September 17, 2012 / 11:01 pm

    I have read some of her books and I have to say the covers fit her (or at least the image I have of her) and her books. I’m not sure if it works for other writers though.^^

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  4. Alan Hope September 18, 2012 / 1:09 pm

    As I’m sure you know, Amélie is also rather a media star in Belgium and in France. She’s not a garret author; she doesn’t mind showing up for a TV show again and again. I’m sure that weighs heavily in teh publisher’s decison to stick her face on the cover. They know people will recognise her. It wouldn’t work for most writers, thank goodness: the majority are nowhere near as visually endurable as young Ms. Nothomb.

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