A series of fun photographs I took with dolls posed behind the partial figure on my book cover got me thinking about faces on book covers, and what we imagine when we read.
What do you see when you read?
Think of your favorite character: What, exactly, do you envision? Can you conjure an actual face? A body?
Peter Mendelsund writes in What We See When We Read:
Even if an author excels at physical description, we are left with shambling concoctions of stray body parts and random detail (authors can’t tell us everything). We fill in gaps. We shade them in. We gloss over them. We elide. Anna: her hair, her weight—these are only facets, and do not make up a true image of a person. They make up a body type, a hair color … What does Anna (Karenina) look like? We don’t know—our mental sketches of characters are worse than police composites.
Yet, I would argue we do imagine something more concrete than that, even if the writer doesn’t offer full descriptions. Who hasn’t seen a movie based on a favorite book, only to be disappointed with the physical appearance of the actors who played the main characters?
For me, one of the more shocking casting decisions was Paul Bettany as Steven Maturin in Master and Commander: Far Side of the World, a film based on Patrick O’Brian’s seafaring series. The ship’s surgeon, Maturin, is of Hiberno-Spanish heritage, and described as short, slight, and dark-haired with “curious” pale blue eyes and pale skin. He is habitually untidy or even disreputable in appearance; he spends as little as possible on clothes. Here’s Bettany: handsome, blonde and 6’3″!
Anyway, Bettany did a fine job capturing the spirit of Maturin, but he was far from the homely little man I’d pictured.
Faces and figures on book covers
I enjoy creating my own mental image of characters when I read. For that reason, I’m not crazy about book covers that feature faces. Or brawny men and voluptuous women, either. I’d rather conjure the characters myself. How about you?
Elmore Leonard felt it was best to allow the reader to create their own images than for the writer to feed them extensive character descriptions. I bet he wouldn’t like books that have faces on the covers, either.
For my book, my publisher and I chose a picture that deliberately didn’t show a face.
Here’s the photos I took of dolls posing with In the Context of Love. These images were previously posted on Instagram.
Linda K. Sienkiewicz is the author of In the Context of Love, about one women’s need to tell her story without shame. Adult contemporary fiction
2016 Sarton Women’s Fiction Finalist
2016 Eric Hoffer Book Award Finalist
2016 Readers Favorite Book Finalist
2016 USA Book News “Best Book” Finalist
Angelica Schirrick had always suspected there was something deeply disturbing about her family, but the truth was more than she bargained for.
“With tenderness, but without blinking, Linda K. Sienkiewicz turns her eye on the predator-prey savannah of the young and still somehow hopeful.” ~ Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of the #1 NY Times Bestseller, Deep End of the Ocean