A while ago, I was writing about the Amanda Lindhout/Sara Corbett book A House in the Sky and saying how much I liked the cover on my particular edition. The artwork is by Jennifer Heuer and, as I commented at the time, is very Escher-like. For me, it captured the very essence of how Amanda had to create a safe place in her mind to escape to during her incredible ordeal over what had to be a very long 15 months — the ordered circles and stars at the bottom, the facts and ideas, that tentatively take form and burst into a flight of freedom. To me, it’s a stunning metaphor for the story and only enhances the attraction of the book.
One thing that bothered me about this book, however, was that there was no photos within the book. It seemed to me that part of the intensity of the story of Amanda’s nightmare would have been offset a bit for the reader if a set of photos had been included of both the setting of her kidnapping and her emergence from it balanced against the cultural curiosities (spectacular scenery, market places, temples) that had been part of what drew her to explore various parts of the world in the first place. There is certainly a wealth of pictures available on the Internet about her ordeal and the surrounding country and I found an online video of her co-victim, Nigel, who takes speaking engagements about their adventures and trials, that shows him giving a slideshow of amazing photos of Mogadishu, showing the surrounding beauty alongside the devastation of war. Amanda herself took photos on her travels as she says in the book. It would have made powerful images, not detracting from the wonderful images provided by the writing of the text but enhancing them. I can’t help but wonder how the decision was made to have no photos in the book.
I find this when I’m reading ebooks as well. In every ebook I have read there has been cover artwork at the beginning and then nothing more to relieve the eyestrain of the printed page. I think especially of teen read books that could include a small sketch at the beginning or end of a chapter or even just a variation in the print such as larger font on the first letter or word of a chapter to provide a bit of variety, something to catch the eye. Even some kind of art embellishment at the beginning of a new chapter. There is an abundance of royalty free clipart even that could add a bit of flair to a story.
And it isn’t just the ebooks. The printed works are even including less and less by way of illustrations. I recently bought a hard cover book of The Original Illustrated Sherlock Holmes (shown here) stories as they originally appeared in the Strand Magazine. I love it. The sketches are delightful and even though they are just black and white, they add so much to the text. Perhaps it is a hallmark of the current ease of self-publishing and that individuals are producing books that are just that, the effort of one individual rather than a combined effort of all the resources provided by a traditional publishing firm. The relative inexpense of today’s published works may make it impractical to share scant proceeds with a graphic artist or photographer. And how many writers are also talented in the area of graphic design or art?