Thursday, March 13, 2008

Off with Their Heads! A Cover Art Mystery Stalks the Book World by Nara Schoenberg, Chicago Tribune

I was always told not to cut off feet when taking photos. It is a rule that probably goes back to nineteenth century studio portraits of ladies and gentlemen, politicians, generals, and outlaws. I was told that it was alarming or at least awkward to view people whose legs ended somewhere just above their ankles. According to this thinking, a photo without a head would be shocking. Well, look at the book covers of many recent novels for a shock.

According to Nara Schoenberg of the Chicago Tribune in her article "Off with Their Heads! A Cover Art Mystery Stalks the Book World" in the Wednesday, March 12, 2008 issue of the newspaper, the headless woman is a fad in cover art for fiction. Her article includes ten examples for readers to see. The cover of Fourth Comings by Megan McCafferty shows a young woman in high boots slouching on a couch. The paperback of The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro has a headless woman on a towel on a beach. Prama by Jamie Ponti shows three headless teens in prom dresses. Even the historical novel Jane Boleyn by Julia Fox shows a woman in Tudor dress only up to the neck.

"Why?" Schoenberg asks. Of course, being a journalist she asks people in the book marketing industry, and many reasons are offered. One of the most interesting explanations is that without the face, readers (mostly women) can more easily imagine themselves as the heroine.

Where are the headless men? Schoenberg says that a few they can be found on some of steamy romance paperbacks.

Now I have something else to do at PLA in late March. Instead of asking vendors about database features and the best button makers, I'll be looking for headless book cover art.

1 comment:

Laura said...

There's a feminist argument that cutting various body parts off women--as is frequently done in advertising--is a way of objectifying them and robbing them of full personhood. I suppose you could argue that a woman on a book without a head is restored to personhood when the reader imagines herself as the head.

O the tangled webs of academe!