Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Does the photo of an author influence how you experience their story?

Gustav, a regular visitor and contributor to this blog, posed an interesting question to me this week: do you prefer to see a picture of the author inside the cover of a book that you’ve just read and that you really loved?

Having given this some thought, I think I’d say my preference is not to see an image of the author, mainly because – consciously or not – it will influence how I experience and judge the story (either before, during or after I read it).

By seeing an image of a writer, there’s a chance I’ll form/change my opinion of their work, having been influenced by their age, gender or ethnicity; I may judge the quality of their story against who I think they are, particularly if any of those physical traits seem contradictory to the story I’ve just read.

As humans, we tend to create stories for other people based on how we perceive them – which of course will always say more about us than it does about them. Josh Weinstein captured this concept brilliantly in his short doco Cross Examination (which I blogged on earlier this year in April).

This certainly doesn’t mean I’m not interested in an author’s background, personality, motivation etc. In fact, often when I read a book I love, the first thing I do is search online to find interviews with them. But at least using that method, I fill out my ideas about the writer based on their words, not what they look like (although, granted, that will still play a part if I see them on television or at writers' festivals).

So Gustav, I agree that seeing a photo of an author can be distracting.


Of course, none of these things should matter. A good story is a good story, regardless of who the writer is and what their life experience is. Which is an excellent lead in to my next blog, when I want to talk about The Hand That Signed The Paper and its infamous author Helen Demidenko/Darville.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts on the topic: do you care whether or not you see a photo of an author you enjoy?

10 comments:

Jennifer said...

I'm always curious to see what an author looks like. Even though I don't consciously think much about the writer when I'm reading, I must build up some kind of impression about him/her because I'm usually surprised when I do see a photo! Seeing that a favourite author is just a regular-looking person is disillusioning, though I'm not sure why...

Charley said...

I like seeing a picture of the author, because I like putting a face to what I'm reading. An attractive author never hurts, but I wouldn't pass negative judgment on a book because I didn't find the author appealing (I enjoyed Middlemarch, though I don't find George Eliot attractive). I also think that an author's pic can - but does not always - make me feel a certain way... for example, Cory Doctorow's pic in Little Brother makes me feel a little hipper, edgier, and techno-geekier for having read his book.

Gustav said...

Thank you Paula for posing my question to your readers.

I share your sentiments in not (at least initially) wanting to see a picture of the author.

Most authors have their picture at the end of the book which seems more appropriate than a full page photo on the first page like Ms Rowling did in a Harry Potter book that I am reading.

I prefer the "blank white page" in relation to what the author looks like as I read through a great novel. It makes it more intriguing, more intimate in some way and allows my mind's imagination to play with who this amazing person could be to have written such a beautiful work.

Even the photo on your post piques my curiousity since I cannot see the face. I wonder, is this Paula? her friend? or someone she does not know? I also look at the young hands which are the graceful extremities of someone that appears intelligent, trims their nails, and handles a book masterfully as they read.....

Paula Weston said...

Yes, I thought the image was particularly appropriate. Alas, those graceful hands are not mine...

I did use the back of my head once in a post though - as close as I've come to revealing myself!

Thanks Jennifer and Charley for your thoughts. It's always fascinating to hear other people's take on these things.

Jennifer said...

You're welcome - it's an interesting question!

Gustav said...

Dear Paula

I may have located the post with the picture of you. I left a message for you.

Like my fellow readers of your blog, I am impressed with the quality of your posts and look forward to many more.

Paula Weston said...

Thanks Gustav - I left a reply for you there too!

Bec said...

Oooh, I like this one! Matt and I have just been debating the merits of the author photo. Matt doesn't like to see one. At all. Ever! Ruins it all for him apparently. I however like to see a photo at the end. In fact, I have been known to search for one. I like to see if the idea I have built in my head is anything like reality. And I'm quite happy to be wrong. I find it interesting, and I like how my experience of future stories by the author is different once I know what they look like. But it doesn't ruin anything for me - just makes the experience 'different'. So there ya go. Horses for courses I guess. Another great blog post - thanks Paula!

Linda Jacobs said...

I don't mind a small picture on the inside back cover but I hate seeing a full-size one on the back. That space is for words!

Gustav said...

Dear Paula

I left one more small note for you by your inspiring foot.

Have a good day.