At the library I once watched a mother beat her kid for getting all excited and pulling out too many books at once. I’d rather Tom like books than reverence or fear them, even if it means he trashes a few. I looked up and saw the backs of a bunch of James Patterson novels that had been set up on display facing the opposite side—James Patterson whose bib reads like a daytime TV series. So I handed one to Tom, reasoning to myself that he could do his worst and it would be like spoiling a $2 roll of paper towels. No problem.
But all the different author pics on the backs of those James Patterson novels was a little more unsettling. Patterson the dopey-eyed novelist. The wristwatch model. The waterside character with a mouth like a rabbit’s bum, as it were, and some sort of flattened baseball cap draped over his skull. Since then I’ve paid more attention to the photos writers and publishers choose to put on their dust jackets, who they’re trying to be there, what certain props and other accessories are supposed to mean, and why author photos at all.
Let's start with a couple of V.S. Naipaul, OK?
At left, the working writer. The earnest, enigmatic creator and custodian of a heaping tome of a (probably type-written) manuscript. Heavy glasses.
On the right, the elderly, joshing libertine, playfully thrusting a cat your way.
Phillip K. Dick clutches one.
Mark Twain, in his white suit here, with a kitten and cigar. Like a nice cat, smoking, actually, is tremendously helpful for simultaneously offsetting and emphasizing the "thoughtful guy" ethos of a good author portrait.
Steinbeck holding his smoke like a riddle beside his face; I've always liked this one.
Bukowski, whose portrait would be incomplete (maybe indistinguishable) without a faceful.
And David Sedaris, of course.
As fine as smoke is, see how striking the turbulent clouds in this one of Borges for comparison.
And must a portrait be a human face? Why?
These last two of Borges are by Susana Mulé. With cane. Between two Asian men. (Also, another cat.)
Finally, maybe another genre itself: critics, theorists, and other such types.
Derrida, as always, looking like a rock star.
Slajov Žižek, who acts like a rock star. (Real awkward family photo material here.)
Walter Mignolo, quite appropriately placed in the foreground of what looks like a labrynth garden, sneaky guys milling around in the background.
And Christopher Lloyd?