or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Reference Question of the Week – 1/10/10

   January 16th, 2010

Skeletons at the Feast book coverA patron walked up to the desk one morning and said:

My book group met last night to talk about Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian. A question came up that we couldn't agree on, so I hope you can answer it for us. On the cover of the book there is a woman in an orange dress - who is she?

The patron went off to look for her book group's new selection, and I started searching. I haven't read this book and didn't know what the cover looked like, but I was hoping she was asking which character the cover represented, and not who the actual model was.

After a searching for various combinations of the title, author, "cover," "woman," and "orange dress," I found something rather surprising on the She Reads and Reads blog:

Have you seen these women?

The first lot of similar covers I’m featuring this week are Lives of the Saints by Nino Ricci, Blaming by Elizabeth Taylor and Verbena by Nanci Kincaid:

Similar book covers

Working in a library, I've seen a lot of similar book covers, but I don't think I've ever seen the exact same stock photo reused before. This makes me sad, because it reinforces that it's probably the publisher making decisions like this, rather than the author.

With that in mind, I next looked for Chris Bohjalian's website to ask him who he felt the woman in the orange dress represented. Delightfully, he provided an answer a few days later.

I let the patron know the next time I saw her, and she was very happy - thrilled, actually, to have an answer right from the author. So yay for Web 2.0 and direct dialog.

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8 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 1/10/10”

  1. Andromeda Says:

    Certainly my in-laws (who write nonfiction, popular science books) do not have input into their cover art, and it drives them nuts. They have been increasingly unhappy with the selections over their last few books.

  2. Andromeda Says:

    Also they have a lot of problems tracking down rights for the images in their books, so I get why publishers would find it easier to reuse images whose rights have already been established, for all that it makes the covers less meaningful.

  3. Jessica Says:

    Authors published by major publishers generally have no (or very little) say in the cover art. I have two books on the YA shelves right now with the same cover art…. For an interesting cover art article:

  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    Thanks for the information guys. The more I looked into this, the more examples of and articles on this sort of thing I found. Interesting.

  5. Lichen Says:

    Chris Bohjalian is awesomely accessible. He regularly sits in on book discussions via phone at our library. It’s very fun to feel like an author is a real person with whome you can actually have a conversation.

    Confession: I may have a tiny crush on him too.

  6. avisannschild Says:

    The worst part is that, as I mention in my post, there are at least four other books that use the exact same image on their covers!

    Thanks for linking to my blog!

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