The New York Times Book Review for October 17, 2010 features Great House author Nicole Krauss on its cover. The book, her highly anticipated third novel and the follow-up to The History of Love, is reviewed by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein in an article entitled “Hearts Full of Sorrow,” teased on the front of the insert with one-and-a-half paragraphs, or 141 words. The rest of the cover is occupied by an image, approximately seven by nine inches, which is not uncommon for the Book Review. Except in place of the standard graphic — some caricature or drawing — there is a full-body photograph of Nicole Krauss.
The author is pictured wearing a blue blouse and jeans, her right arm resting on a chair piled with books. To her left is a plant and soft light pours in from the door or window out of the frame. Her right hand is resting on her left, prominently displaying a wedding ring. (Krauss married the novelist Jonathan Safran Foer in 2004.) She is smirking with a closed mouth and, arguably, glowing. The photograph was taken by Mark Mahaney for the New York Times.
Whereas Krauss’s looks are never discussed in the review, they dominate the cover. Going back through the available Book Review archives, it appears that while the Krauss photograph is certainly not a first, it is indeed rare. Though the section of back issues does not display covers in their entirety, it appears that out of 41 other covers so far in 2010, only six feature a photograph of an individual. Out of those six, three are vintage photographs. Of the remaining three, two are women — Elizabeth Gilbert and Louise Erdrich — and one is Phillip Roth.
Going back to when the covers are available in full, the records for the early part of 2002 show one photograph, a profile shot of the poet Marie Ponsot. The rest are drawn, including the Safran Foer cover for Everything Is Illuminated.
Only last month, the book section was accused of being a boys’ club. “In summation: NYT sexist, unfair, loves Gary Shteyngart, hates chick lit, ignores romance. And now, to go weep into my royalty statement,” tweeted best-selling author Jennifer Weiner.
Krauss, meanwhile, has no problem being taken seriously for her literary fiction. The accompanying review is passionate and positive. But by changing their cover formula to picture Krauss so prominently, the Book Review is contributing to the unfortunate tradition of sexualizing female writers or at least obscuring their work with image. And if quality of ideas are not foremost in the New York Times Book Review, where are we supposed to look?