Smeary Covers

Stephen King complained about the way Mischa Berlinski’s Fieldwork was marketed --

Fieldwork's cover is a green smear (probably jungle) and a gray smear (probably sky). It communicates nothing.”

“Why, why, why would a company publish a book this good and then practically demand that people not read it? Why should this book go to waste?”

Lori Ostlund’s The Bigness of the World also has a smeary cover, suggestive of some kind of landscape. There's nothing smeary about Berlinski’s or Ostlund’s writing – both authors portray the world precisely, even starkly... so what's the deal here? Is smeariness supposed to communicate literariness? When the writing doesn’t lack focus, why should the cover photo?

One theory -- maybe the effect supposed to be conveyed is that of a saccadic eye movement? Literary fiction is supposed to be more three-dimensional -- and have more going on -- so reading it requires constant refocusing: is this what the blur signifies?

Reading is impossible without saccadic eye movements, so I guess it would make a deranged kind of sense.

Here's a classic Jessa Crispin piece on how to judge a book by its cover, containing the following words to live by --

"Some images to avoid are laughing children (demented looking children are okay), birds, pictures of ranch land, and angels. You should be okay with most other animals (especially fish for some reason) except for horses." Why fish should be better than birds I can't say, yet I know what she means...

1 thought on “Smeary Covers”

  1. Maybe the intention is to convey that a given book is, in Lewis Hyde's sense, a "gift" rather than a "commodity."

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