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.