15 December 2013

A question about book design

Posted by John Clegg

Looking through our Biography section on a whim, I noticed something odd about cover photos. It’s fairly common for the subject of the biography to be facing straight forward; equally, there’s plenty of photos where the face is forward but the eyes are gazing rightwards. And there are a good number of biographies whose cover photos are in profile and staring leftwards.

But I can only find two books where the subject is facing forward with their eyes to the left: Tove Jansson’s brilliant memoir A Sculptor’s Daughter, and Jeff Guinn’s biography of Charles Manson, recently reviewed in the LRB. (I’m prepared to put down the rhyme to coincidence, though I’ll be very suspicious if Scarlett Johansson’s biography continues the pattern.)

And though I’ve spent a good six minutes combing the shelves, I can’t find a single biography where the cover photo is in profile and facing right.

What could account for this? Is there some shadow bible of book cover design which we haven’t heard about? Answers on a postcard to 14 Bury Place, WC1A 2JL.

Some sample biographies:

Eyes left: Tove Jansson, Charles Manson

Eyes right: Christopher Marlowe, Lucian Freud, Empress Dowager Cixi, Wellington, Bismarck, Salman Rushdie, Keats, Mark Twain, the Marquess of Queensberry

Eyes front: Coco Chanel, Penelope Fitzgerald, Tony Benn, Oppenheimer, George Herbert, Mao, Beckett, Thatcher, Norman Mailer

Full profile (left): Darwin, Patrick Leigh Fermour, Basil Bunting, Wallis Simpson, Graham Greene, Thomas Cochrane, Margaret Fuller, Hans Christian Andersen, Kingsley Amis, King Edward VIII

Eyes closed: Morrissey

UPDATE: Charlie points out that the Queen is always facing left on stamps, though I'm not sure what that has to do with anything.