The Cover Plot


I hope you all spend the weekend reading or outdoors, because I’m spending it working. So, I’d like to live vicariously through you. Maybe that’s why I’m also posting this photo of mine.

Speaking of books, have you seen the new awful cover for the anniversary edition of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar? Yes, I know everyone is talking about it, and yes, I read all those tweets saying to get over it and stop talking about it. No thanks, I’d like to talk about it. If only for the fact that it pisses me off and I’d like to procrastinate some more before I return to work.

I lent my boyfriend a copy of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot recently, and when he gave it back he made a rather telling assessment: “If this was written by a woman, it would be classified as chick-lit”. True. It’s a love story (among other things), it has sex, it has some rather flowery talk about romance and desire. Those qualities in books by women get derided and defined as ‘romance’ and ‘chick-lit’, rather than simply approached as aspects of a character’s development. I read a lot of books classified as both genres, and just like in every other genre (including ‘literature’), there are varying degrees of good writing and good stories. You will find some gems in books called ‘chick-lit’ and ‘romance’, just like you will find them in books called ‘literature’. You will also find some duds. This is normal. What isn’t normal is classifying all these types of books according to gender.

Here’s the deal, if we keep using the model that what men write is general literature or fiction, speaking for all humanity, while what women write only interests and applies to women alone (and is ‘fluffy’ and inconsequential), then we are essentially saying that women’s humanity isn’t equal to that of men’s. It’s called sexism.

To me, the whole debate about book covers is a symptom and metaphor of all this. Why do books by women need images of idealised women? Or heels, or stereotyping pink colours? Does everything we do have to be reduced to our gender? Why do men often get the privilege of book covers that classify them as simply human? Does even the product of our minds, our writing, need to be constantly reduced to objectifying our bodies and stereotyping our gender?

I understand people will have different degrees of interpretation of the new cover of Plath’s Bell Jar. I view it as a defining of her work based on her gender alone. By the way, this is my favourite cover of her work.