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Ripping off the covers with Harlequin in Vegas

November 30, 2009 |  1:54 pm

There's something happening in Vegas right now that we can talk about -- the art exhibit of Harlequin Romance covers on exhibit at Paris Las Vegas. The Times wrote about  'The Heart of a Woman: Harlequin Cover Art 1949-2009" this weekend:

Visitors walk through a doorway next to one of Paris' signature advertising photos: a couple lustily embracing on an elevator, the man reaching for the "stop" button. It could be mistaken for a Harlequin cover.

Inside a small room is a chronology of representations of desire.

The earliest covers draw from film noir and are rife with -- in hindsight -- unintentional comedy.

"Virgin With Butterflies" (1949) shows a brunet in thigh-high stockings encircled by five male heads sprouting butterfly wings. "Men Cast a Net for Her," the cover promises....

There is a kind of goodness -- if sometimes awful goodness -- in Harlequin covers like those in the exhibit.

But romance readers know that other covers are just plain awful. Take these worst-of examples from the Cover Cafe's annual contest. "This cover is enough to make me nostalgic for the bodice-ripping clinches of old," wrote a judge of "Take Two," the second-place 2006 winner. "At least they didn't look quite so weird and porn-y.”

The Cover Cafe, which is devoted to romance novels, also awards a series of best-ofs every year. Maybe some of those -- with titles like "The Boundless Deep," "Abandon" and "The Russian Concubine" -- will make it into a retro-book-cover exhibit of the future.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Paris Las Vegas