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Where book covers and bodies come together

September 26, 2008 |  2:16 pm

Corpuslibris_0926

Corpus Libris is unusual for a bookstore blog: It's all about the pictures.

This summer, the staff at Skylight Books -- led by Emily Pullen, right -- noticed that a lot of book covers feature body parts. And if you hold the books just right, the books seem to grow right out of you, or replace parts of you. Some cover you up. Some provide a trompe-d'oeil x-ray vision, appearing to reveal barely-clad parts beneath the clothes. Skylight found a couple of scandalous covers that made good posing -- publisher Taschen is a particularly good resource.

I doubt Karen Heller would join in the fun. This spring, she decried the widespread use of women's disembodied limbs on book covers in the Philadephia Inquirer:

Women's literature has moved beyond the pale -- all matter of pinks from pale to insistent -- to dismemberment. These days, publishers are partial to flashing body parts, specifically women's body parts, often legs and exquisitely shod feet, on book jackets. ... Disjointed body parts are featured on books by bestselling authors Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner, as well as the paperback edition of "The View From Castle Rock" by Canadian short-story master Alice Munro. ... Publishers are also fond of blurry photos featuring the backs of women, often in fluttery summer dresses. No faces, please, we're women.

She finds these partial renderings insulting to female readers. But what she doesn't seem to take into account is that the designers are avoided putting a face on the fictional protagonists for a reason -- so that the reader can imagine herself (or himself) there. Isn't that one of the pleasures of reading?

When I was little, I was given a many-times-handed-down set of Nancy Drew books with blue-gray burlap covers decorated only by a silhouette of the girl-sleuth with her magnifying glass. I loved the books, and subsequently received others, bought new at Woolworth's. The new books had garish yellow covers, usually with Nancy fully illustrated with lipstick and styled hair -- and she looked nothing like me. I resented the new, updated for the 1970s Nancy. I liked her better when I could imagine myself in her old-fashioned stack-heeled shoes.

These Corpus Libris photographs are a literalized extension of what it is to read. In the photos, people have made themselved part of the books, but also show how books can become a piece of who we are.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo credit: Corpus Libris

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