Behind the words

I have just begun reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Unaccustomed Earth”. The back cover caught my eye. It is not that I haven’t seen her picture before, and was caught unaware by the fact that she is good looking (quite photogenic too). But the way photograph has been rendered, she could pass for a model, or a film star. While only a fool would buy a book based on an author’s looks, there is no denying the fact it has become increasingly common to flaunt it if you’ve got it, and perhaps even if you haven’t. So what if JL was a buck toothed hag with a De Niro mole on her nose and about as photogenic as a crow? I am sure that the photograph would be either missing or much subdued. What I am not so sure of is whether this is a phenomenon chiefly pertaining to women writers. Perhaps.

Nonetheless, one must learn not to take blurbs on book jackets seriously. The photograph merely makes up for the missing ones, and enhances the rest. One shouldn’t unduly bother with correlations between their fulsome promise and the quality of the actual writing, which, in this case, is surprisingly high.

 

jhumpalahiri

 

A writer of the caliber of JL needs such accoutrements only for those who have not experienced her earlier works, most notably “Interpreter of Maladies” – a gem of a collection. I admire her unornamented style, very much contrary to the glitzy marketing snapshot, but equally, if not more, arresting. She’s a shining example of what talent and a good writing school degree can do to someone with luck. The luck factor is of course required for winning fame and recognition, awards. And her good looks are only a part of her good fortunes.

5 thoughts on “Behind the words

  1. Pundit

    If you are not offended, I’d like to leave a comment:

    Are you perchance trying to justify the fact that YOU may have liked the book’s cover a trifle more than the written matter within the covers?

    There is just a shade of “methinks thow protests too much” in your account. Which is not like most of your other posts….

    We await an actual critical appraisal of the book once you’ve torn your eyes off the beauty on the back cover!
    😉

    Reply
  2. mystic wanderer Post author

    Oh, I just started the book. I am not justifying anything. Her picture on the back cover is attractive, and it led to my muse. So far I have just read the first story, and it was, in short – “brilliant”.

    Reply
  3. yves

    Hi,
    I believe the practice of book publishers to include any selling elements on the cover of books these days is more their responsibility than that of the writer, who of course might well be flattered to see him/herself on the cover, but who certainly does not always desire it.
    After all, most writers of literature (it’s different for other writers, of course…) want to get the recognition they need from the appreciation of their creative powers, which depend on them, whereas their looks precisely do not.
    But this is true for nearly all the arts today. There is so much competition, and potential money to make because of the widening global markets, that the pressure to use any lever that will help the spread of an author or one of his/her books, is almost inescapable.
    If you are interested, here is what I wrote concerning somebody who’s had to deal with a parallel type of dilemma, Aishwarya Rai: http://www.letstalkaboutbollywood.com/article-6680171.html
    CU

    Reply
  4. mystic wanderer Post author

    Quite right. It’s ironical that an abstract art like writing should have to rely so much on the physicality of the writer, simply for the sake of marketing. But there’s also the tendency to hero worship, making things needlessly larger than life, that has escalated with the competition and money at stake.

    Reply

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