Am I Alone in Hating Author Photos in the Back of the Book?

Seriously people, seriously. Or more like seriously, Jennifer Weiner, who just posted a blog entry complaining that she couldn’t see an author’s picture on her new Kindle. (Side note: my MOM has a Kindle 2, and she freaking LOVES it! This my Mom here, who calls me to ask me for instructions on how to check her voicemail and thinks that it’s perfectly normal for web pages on her old desktop to take >four minutes to load.) Anyway, Jen’s thesis is that she might have enjoyed the book less had she known the author was attractive. Particularly offensive excerpt:

“In a weird way, the omission [of the photograph] made the book a lot more suspenseful than it would have been if I’d had Ms. Gillies’ visage staring me in the face every time I glanced at the back flap. A happy ending would have been a foregone conclusion. Of course she was going to meet “the love of (her) life,” as she wrote on the very last page. Probably on the way back from the post office where she mailed in her manuscript! And she probably got proposed to twice on the way there!”

(I will note that not everything in the blog offends me so, and indeed some may even be worth reading: here)

In all my life, I have never wanted to know what an author looked like, especially not a modern one, before/during/after having read a book. (Exception: I did look up Vanessa Bell’s Bloomsbury portrait of her sister, Virginia Woolf. I hardly think this counts.) Sometimes, usually after I have finished reading, I am interested to know a bit of biography, where they grew up, what their issues were, etc. — desires I can almost always happily satiate with Wikipedia (interpret as you will). But why bother with what the author looks like?! If I wanted to express myself in society with my face, not my words, I would have been an actress, or a politician, or a news anchor. Why does the fact that a female author is attractive make the story of her broken marriage any less dismal, as experienced by best-selling author Jennifer Weiner? (Though, interesting reversal: would women resonate with the novel ‘Good In Bed’ — about learning to love yourself as a “larger woman” — feel betrayed if they knew the author were a size four, rather than fourteen?)

This has been on my mind and bothering me for a while, but the events of yesterday proved to me that I am not crazy (at least, not crazy to find this whole fascination with author photos somewhat appalling… hehehe). Having finished Dracula and thirsty for my next adventure (pun intended, ew), I wandered into Harvard Bookstore and picked up a copy of “Special Topics in Calamity Physics.” Now I have to confess that the one personal detail that does interest me about an author is their age–that’s my competitive nature coming through. I like to know what people my age can do.

In the ‘Used Section’ as I continued to browse, my eyes fall on that debut novel of Jennifer Weiner’s “Good in Bed.” I frown as I pick it up. I only read the first chapter–but I’m not frowning because I hated it. In fact, I kind of liked it, and think I would enjoy the book. But it was $7, whereas Calamity Physics was $5.99, infinitely more highbrow, longer and more appealing; plus, buying both would have meant skipping lunch. But I digress. I’m frowning at the picture on the back as I remember her infuriating blog post. These things are so airbrushed anyway, I mean seriously what’s the point? Stephenie Meyer looks about 50 pounds lighter in her Twilight photo than she does in real life (not that I was looking… uhhhh…. BUSTED!). Anyway, I flip open the back of “Calamity Physics” and lo and behold: gorgeous photo of a girl who can’t be more than two years older than me! She’s been airbrushed into oblivion, it’s obvious, but still I can feel my pure objectiveness beginning to melt, tainted by the image.

I get home, read the first chapter, and look up the author, Marisha Pessl, on Wikipedia. I’m reading with interest until something terrible catches my eye: a link to the following New York Times article:

“With Marisha Pessl you Can’t Judge a Book by the Photo on the Cover”

Here’s a young girl who’s just written what most consider to be a brilliant, serious debut novel (non of this Chick-Lit-y nonsense) and this is the headline she gets??? You can’t judge her book as non-brilliant based on the attractive photo, because the normal impulse is that attractive people can’t produce brilliance? Right.

Anyway, don’t let this post fool you into thinking I’m a misanthropic old feminist… I am not old, I am not a misanthrope, and I am not a feminist (not according to my little brother’s definition, which is “someone who doesn’t shave her arms and legs”).

Buy our book because we’re blonde!!! Yaaaaay!!!


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