July 2005

Melissa Fischer

features

Judging a Book by Its Cover: Susie Bright Co-Stars

July’s Judging explodes like a ripe and juicy mango, thanks to some tender lovin’ from America’s favorite X-rated intellectual, Ms. Susie Bright. A self-proclaimed bookslut of epic proportions, Susie buys them “for the flimsiest of reasons. I like the cover, I like the author photo, I like the first page, I like the blurb, I read a review that morning, the title made me laugh, etc. I could spend all day picking books.” Enough said; she’s one of us.

Susie’s new book, Three Kinds of Asking for It, is due out this month, so I wanted to know what she thought of the cover. (Not only that, but it’s high June and hot as hell, so I figured it was about time to look at covers with naked/naughty stuff going on.) As far as Susie's part in the cover design process, she does get to put her two cents in; however, the other 98 are entirely the publisher's:

“My tricky part is that my books sell about equally between men and women, so you can’t have anything too girly or too macho. Interestingly, women are much more tolerant about buying something that looks a little masculine/edgy, but men are allergic to anything fey. It’s rather depressing that we find ourselves debating gender stereotypes and desires constantly.”

(Susie, don’t even get me started.)

“As for the Three Kinds of Asking for It cover, it was a mixed bag for me. I love the red, the composition, the audacious pose. But the model’s body wasn’t seductive to me. I like more of a sexpot, not a rail thin model. I want her thigh to MOVE me, if you know what I mean. And one of her shoes doesn’t quite fit. I am obsessed with that silly detail. The title looks right and there’s good attention to the authors’ names.”

Three Kinds of Asking for It edited by Susie Bright
Touchstone Books
ISBN: 0743245504

I do dig this cover -- mostly. I say mostly because on the one hand, it functions well and has a great composition working for it. We can easily identify that Susie has edited a book featuring three novellas from Jill Soloway, Greta Christina, and Eric Albert. On the other hand, it doesn’t impart any sense of the subversive quality I associate with Susie, much less the humorous edge I impart to Jill Soloway. And then there is the issue with the ill-fitting shoe, which causes me to question the veracity of the entire, pre-conjugal, red-feathered ensemble. But I doubt that any normal person is going to take this cover to such heights of neurosis- most likely, they’ll be happy to perform the simple equation of Susie Bright + semi-nude woman=book I need to buy.

“I’ll tell you my most recent cover that I loved, which was Best American Erotica 2005. I love it because it’s one of those still photos that portrays a little story. You see a partial shot of a woman’s hands taking her panties off around her ankles -- or maybe she’s just putting them back on. You feel like you have interrupted sex; it’s quite suspenseful. The lighting and the angle enhance this ‘what next?’ quality. And that model’s legs were drop dead gorgeous.”

The Best American Erotica 2005 edited by Susie Bright
Cover design by Jason Heuer
Touchstone Books
ISBN: 0743258509

For some reason, when I saw this cover, I immediately thought about my own collection of under- and footwear, and how in my life, this scenario would yield an entirely different snapshot altogether. Take this, for example: my mother, who lives in Germany, sent me, her thirty year-old daughter, a set of Snoopy underwear. The following explanation was attached: “These are magic underwear. You put them on and they make you feel better.” So, you see, on the one day that I would be privy to slow hand, I would be wearing these big, white, cotton, boyshort panties with cartoon dogs. When I tried to finesse them over my heels, considering my tendency toward clumsiness, penchant for flat footwear and permanently damaged equilibrium, I would topple over like a felled oak... “Timber!” I’m not quite sure what type of book the resulting image would befit, but it’s a good image nonetheless.

Returning to reality, this cover is -- overall -- quite well done. It’s mysterious and inviting, and provides a visually cake-like representation for the book’s creamy inner filling. My only reservation here is that I am fixated on the model’s toenails. Other people’s toes profoundly disturb me. Clinically, you might diagnose me as having severe and chronic toebia. But anyhow, any normal, psychologically uncompromised person should be pleased as pie with this cover. Hey, speaking of pie:

“My daughter is conventionally beautiful, and I’ve seen a different experience through her eyes. She is so young, that when I see the reactions she engenders, it breaks my heart. She looks like what I always wanted to look like as a kid, but now I see for myself that it can be incredibly isolating. She has an awful time finding female friends her own age. Her peers treat her like competition that must be avoided at all cost, or vilified. I never was viewed as a threat by other girls; it’s a whole new experience for me to see that. And of course, her peers and other adults often make the first impression that she must be dumb as a post since she's so pretty.”

Mommy’s Little Girl: On Sex, Motherhood, Porn & Cherry Pie by Susie Bright
Cover design by Lorie Pagnozzi
Thunder’s Mouth Press
ISBN: 156025551X

Susie includes a recipe for a reputedly magical cherry pie that will have permanent effects on your beloved. I’ve gotta come clean about any scenario in which I might be involved with pie and tell you in advance: I’m not thinking about my beloved. I’m thinking about my belly.

At any rate, this cover is excellent, and not for the usual reasons. I say it’s excellent because I can’t stop looking at it, trying to put my finger on the little somethin’-somethin’ that makes it tick. It’s just so simple, basically text on a patterned background. Bright, yellow, billboard style text. And I think that’s part of what makes this cover successful -- the text sends the subliminal message that there is vital information for the proper finessing of life within this book.

“One day, a few years after I had the baby, I got called down to LA for a new cover photo shoot, this time by professionals in the advertising biz. I wanted to pose burning a flag, naked, looking like an Amazon on the warpath. I’m tall, with broad shoulders, so I could have pulled it off.

"The photo studio was concerned that would look too butch, or reminiscent of Howard Stern. They wanted more of a sexy all-American girl who had a hint of the demure. It was an awful tussle; I felt so out of my element. The entire staff kept going on about how hard it was to believe my breasts were real, and it wasn’t like a compliment, it was more like a threat. I couldn’t get out of LA fast enough.

"When I saw the final pick, I was embarrassed by the girly nature of the pose; it wasn’t confrontational at all. It was your standard ‘let’s entertain the male gaze’ cliché. But it wasn’t just my feminist sensibilities that were offended. I was also horrified to realize that I had bags under my eyes, something I’d never noticed before. What I thought of as my ‘statuesque figure’ really just looked plump. What a horrid revelation.”

Susie Bright’s Sexual State of the Union by Susie Bright
Cover design by Timothy Hsu
Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 0684800233

Okay Susie, let’s talk. There is nothing plump or baggy about this photo. If you were a book, I’d say your cover is perfect, but it’s your pages that really matter. And your pages are downright crafty.

I totally agree about the pose in this photo, because it doesn’t speak to me about the Susie I’ve come to know at all. It’s not radical, or outrageous, or thought provoking. I’m wondering if this is why the paperback has a totally different cover:

The Sexual State of the Union by Susie Bright
Cover design by Janet Perr
Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 0684838508

Now that’s more like it. No flag to give a distance between viewer and physicality, this is a confrontational photo, this says SUSIE to me. I love this cover -- an element of humor is introduced by the nipple-censoring text, “national” and “bestseller.” This is a great cover, timeless, devoid of cheesecakery, and very inviting to the booksluttish; this is the copy I plan on adding to my permanent collection.

“...Thanks to my days at On Our Backs, and my introduction to the costumes of sex work, I realized that anyone can be transformed into anything with a little war paint and the right lighting. I have now had tons of photos taken of me in which I would never be recognized for my on-the-street appearance.”

Full Exposure: Opening Up to Sexual Creativity and Erotic Expression by Susie Bright
Cover design by Laura Beers
HarperCollins
ISBN: 0062515918

I’d have to say that costumes and paint definitely fit into the sexual creativity and/or erotic expression category, and so the segue into Full Exposure. Please appreciate: this cover has a nipple on it. It’s a Judging first for sure.

But that’s not what makes it a great cover. It’s simple, puts a playful spin on the flower metaphor, and it would appear that I’m not the only one who took notice of this cover’s effectiveness:

She Comes First: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasuring a Woman by Ian Kerner
Cover design by Stephanie Goralnick
HarperCollins
ISBN: 0060538260

Could that really be coincidental? I don’t think so. Oh, well. Imitation, flattery, blasé blah.

“What had happened to my huge head of hair, my perfect skin? I hadn’t realized that I had all these ‘beauty’ attributes until they were compromised.

"Thank god I’m a writer, and these things aren’t what makes or breaks my reputation. But I realize now it was part of the appeal when I was first picked to be the next Bad Girl Celebrity. I’m really lucky that I could actually write, and had something to say, or I would have been on the remainder stacks faster than you can say 'sexism casualty.'"

Susie Bright, sexism casualty? No way! Casually sexy? Now that’s another story altogether.

So there you have it: July’s hot, sunny, sweaty issue of Judging. I’d light up a cigarette had I not smoked what had better be my last on Tuesday night. Check us out next month for a look at the covers of whatever books happen to tickle my fancy between hither and thither. Since my fancy is not prone to superficial tickling, I can practically guarantee that anyone who gets their kicks reading this column in the first place is sure to be amused.