Covers and Cover-ups

August 8, 2015
Posted by Jay Livingston

The title of Martin Haskell Smith’s new book pretty much tells you what it’s going to be about: Naked at Lunch: A Reluctant Nudist’s Adventures in the Clothing-Optional World. The blurb on the author’s website adds:

Naked at Lunch is equal parts cultural history and gonzo participatory journalism. Coated in multiple layers of high SPF sunblock, Haskell Smith dives into the nudist world today. He publicly disrobes for the first time in Palm Springs, observes the culture of family nudism in a clothing-free Spanish town, and travels to the largest nudist resort in the world, a hedonist’s paradise in the south of France. He reports on San Francisco’s controversial ban on public nudity, participates in a week of naked hiking in the Austrian Alps, and caps off his adventures with a week on the Big Nude Boat, a Caribbean cruise full of nudists.

Note that the author is “Haskell Smith,” not “Smith” as he would be in the US (for example, see this LA Times story).  In American sociological writing, C. Wright Mills is “Mills.” In the UK, he’s “Wright Mills.”

But there’s another interesting cultural difference – the book jacket.

(Click on the image for a larger view.)

The US edition lets us peer through the letters to see the author – yes, that’s really Smith, or Haskell Smith (his head is in the “A”) – sitting on a beach chair, perhaps poolside on that Caribbean cruise, wearing only his glasses, his laptop atop his lap covering what Brits might call his willie, which in any case would be covered by the white space between the “L” and “U.” 

The UK and Australia editions are even more circumspect.

Michael Bywater in The Literary Review  compares the UK and US covers.

So that's the naked author, with his whacker and his Mac, and this is his book about nudists and what they’re like and what the hell they think they’re doing. So, not unreasonably, the book is categorised as social science. In the USA.

But not here. Here in Britain, there’s no nude author. The cover is whimsical, cartoony: there are little pink blobby people, sunbeds, a swimming pool and a very tanned woman with a poodle and a tent. And here in Britain, the category is travel writing.

And what of Australia? No hint of nudity. Without the title, the cover would be completely misleading. Perhaps the Aussie graphics designers thought that since the title conveyed so much information, they were free to go for an adolescent, Freudian joke.

(Other SocioBlog posts on covers and culture are here and here, and for the messages that covers convey, go here for a post on a child guessing the content of literary classics just from their covers.)

No comments: