Saturday, August 7, 2010

Dude, Where's My Forehead?

A while ago, I started a book list over at Goodreads titled "Dude, Where's My Forehead?". I seeded the list with scads of books I've noticed where the cover figure is sans anything above his/her nose (and it's usually her). Since then, the list has exploded with people making their own additions of forehead-less books.

Not surprisingly, most of them are romance, chick-lit, or paranormal urban fantasy, that new subgenre of fantasy that has taken on a life of its own recently. But not all. Oh, no. Classic titles have taken the meme and run with it.

Exhibits A, B, and C:

I don't doubt that these are very striking covers. There is something very alluring about them, and a hint of mystery. Just what does the rest of the face look like? Are the eyes looking at you? Closed?

The eyes are one of the most expressive parts of a person's body. They can convey sadness, happiness, amusement, anger, lust, hate, annoyance, loneliness, and boredom. There are some who say the eyes are the window's to a person's soul. So why are the eyes not shown on these book covers? It could be laziness. Really expressive eyes are difficult to capture in a painting or even a photograph. But eyes, when done well, are extremely haunting. A few years ago, I felt like getting some culture and decided to go visit the National Gallery of Art for a day. There was one painting by Renoir, Madame Henriot, which stopped me dead in my tracks, and I found myself circling through the rooms just to go visit it again. There were other Renoir paintings with amazing eyes, but none that struck me like Madame Henriot's. If Renoir had been less skilled with painting her expressive eyes, the painting would probably not have moved me. It is otherwise a pretty ordinary portrait done in neutral tones. The only dark spots are her hair and eyes.

Eyes are also integral to a person's identity. They are the organs with which we view the world. By hiding the eyes, the cover artist could be playing into subconscious wish-fulfillment. You too could be the heroine: slayer of demons, lover of pirates, and star of your own story.

Or, another theory. Without the eyes, the focus moves to the lips, which are an inherently sensual part of the body. We use our lips to kiss, smile, murmur, caress. Lips are beautiful and we are drawn to them. The focus on the lips could be a subtle hint to the sexiness within a book. When you stare at another's lips, you imply you wish to kiss him or her. So looking at the lips on a cover, you subliminally want the book; need the book; want to take it home and spend long hours with it.

Of course, this all boils down to marketing. And the truth is, covers sell books. No matter how many times we hear, "Don't judge a book by its cover," we still do. We all have a little magpie in our hearts, and it is human nature to be drawn to things that we find visually appealing. And those forehead-less covers do look pretty cool.

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