The National Book Awards were given out last night to some of our country's finest writers. Louise Erdrich won the fiction category for her novel "The Round House" and Katherine Boo won in non-fiction for her book "Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity.” Also a winner? The incredibly popular, though not perhaps critically revered because critics are elitist and uptight, noir writer Elmore Leonard, who won the award for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, a sort of lifetime achievement award that the New York Times points out "was only the second time that the award, which has been presented since 1988, went to a writer who was a popular favorite as opposed to a critically acclaimed legend. The first time was when the master of horror, Stephen King, won in 2003."
Which got me thinking about a conversation that I'd had with L Magazine Managing Editor Henry Stewart, who asked me whether or not I had ever seen the author photo of Stephen King on the first edition of "Carrie." I had seen this work of art and then countered with another amazing author photo and then realized that I shouldn't just waste all these great photos on a random Skype conversation with Henry! I should make a whole post out of them! So that everyone could enjoy. Enjoy!
Not all of the photos in this list are the official photos from the book jacket. But this one is. This one was OFFICIAL. This picture which graced the book jacket of "The Marriage Plot" was an instant classic. Forgoing the typical author's photo black turtleneck, Eugenides sports a black vest that is just oh-so-casually blowing in the balmy, Princeton breeze. Amazing.
Much like the National Book Award committee and just about everyone else who has read his work, I love Elmore Leonard. His dialogue is amazing, his plots are dark and twisting, and I learned who George Hamilton was from Leonard's novel "Split Images" and, consequently, understood America in the early 80s in a really profound way.
This is the actual author photo from Stephen King's "Carrie." Henry seemed to remember King as being captured reclining on a couch, but that is one of those manufactured memories that Henry is going to need to sort out on his own. What is notable about this photo is, well, everything. But especially the pocket square, the eyebrows, the lack of glasses, and the fact that, decades later, Jeffrey Eugenides would borrow this shirt for the photo for his book, "The Marriage Plot."
David Foster Wallace
It never fails to make me uncomfortable to see an author posed holding their own book. It seemed to make Wallace a little bit uncomfortable too. Fact: most writers are not naturals in front of the camera because they frequently have an assortment of personality disorders and are therefore incredibly awkward when they feel like they might be seen.
I appreciate a center part on a man with earlobe-length hair as much as the next person, but what REALLY makes this shot great is Franzen's steady gaze. He definitely seems to possess the stillness that bird-watching would seem to require.
Bret Easton Ellis
I'm just not so sure that this pose is the best idea when the skin tone on Ellis's arms is so markedly different than that of his face. Because, as it is, it looks like some random, extremely hairy arms are gently cupping Ellis's face. Which is interesting and strangely compelling, sure, but distracting, because there's NO WAY that Patrick Bateman would have approved of so much superfluous body hair.
This is Brooklyn's own (by way of England) Martin Amis. Yes, this picture is several decades old, but no, that does not mean that I don't find him impossibly dreamy and am going to immediately go home and re-read "Money," which, if you haven't read it yet, PLEASE DO.
Looking at this picture means you never need to read a word of Hemingway because you already understand him and his work completely. Well, actually, I love "The Sun Always Rises" because I like my heroines strong and my heroes impotent. But that's just me.
This is the polar opposite of the Hemingway boxing photo. But, even so, you can also tell just about everything you need to know about Nabokov from this portrait. You still ought to read Nabokov though. And you can tell so much about people by which Nabokov novel is their favorite. People who are really into "Ada" tend to be incredibly troubled and have possibly incestuous tendencies. My favorite is "Pnin." Take from that whatever you want.
I mean, this is clearly the archetype of all author photos. Joyce is wearing an eye patch. And a vest.* This is the author photo that Jeffrey Eugenides focused on, thinking to himself, I can do it. I can totally pull of a vest. But Eugenides was wrong. Only Joyce could pull this off. Well played, James Joyce, well played.
* Joyce is not, in fact, wearing a vest. It's a jacket. For some reason, in the original small file photo that I was looking at, I thought it was a vest. So this ruins everything, but convinces me that I should maybe invest in glasses. Or an eye patch. Or a vest. Or a jacket. I don't know.
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