Monday, January 3, 2011

So Many Faces

I was going to create my 2010 film wrap-up, but, because my mind is a vast wasteland where information enters and quickly disappears, I don't remember what movies I've seen in 2010. For this I depend on my husband, who charts most incidents of life. Unfortunately, he is busily working and slow to send me the data. So, rather than wait for him, I'm going to write about something else.


Much has been said on the subject. Much will be said on the subject. But, here's the thoughts I've been tossing around lately.

I received the following book as a late Christmas present:

It's a fairly simple premise - collect a bunch of the striking portraits National Geographic is known for and put them all together in one book. You can't tell from the cover, but this is an extensive collection of people. 504 pages of faces, all nationalities, ages, and genders.

I've been keeping it next to my computer desk, the same place I keep all my reference books.


I think in some of the writing aimed at girls there is a tendency toward homogeneous description, especially for the main characters. Sure, hair cut and color might change, eyes can be blue, green, brown, or whatever and there is usually one distinguishing characteristic to let the reader know that this character is special/different. Maybe a mole, unusual height, gap in the teeth, fluctuation in weight, etc. Kind of like this: Makeover game. As if people are just a mishmash of various characteristics.

Now, I would never try and claim that this is true for all young adult lit. No way. That would be unfair and asking for trouble.

But, I know you've probably come across it. She's pretty, but not too pretty. As if pretty, a word that can be applied to 50% (?) of the population, tells us anything. I assume the character is thin, pretty and passable unless otherwise told. Faced with the challenge of describing the girl on the cover above, would any of those words really apply?

Speaking as someone who is always experimenting with her appearance, it doesn't really matter. The things you can easily change aren't worth a damn. The things that can be easily described aren't the ones that matter. There is something else in each of our faces. The intangible something that tells you who this person is. You can see it in a photograph, if the photograph is any good. We're so much more diverse, interesting and strange than we give ourselves credit for. Normal isn't normal at all.

How do we tell that story? Well, if the writer is good, the portrait unfolds without the reader even realizing it. The rhythm when they talk, the way they think about themselves, the way they react to danger, how easily they smile, whether they'd rather run or walk, if they like making trouble, the things they find funny, whether they feel loved, how quick they are to reach for another's hand, how easily insulted, if they sway when they listen to music, are quick to pay attention, or always drifting into daydreams. Before long, you can see the character's face looking back at you.

It's something I'm struggling with as I revise. I think I might be starting to get it.

For the new year I'm going to try and keep track of the books I've finished. Here goes:

Reader log:
1. Wither - Lauren DeStefano

Currently listening:
You Never Called Me Tonight - Beth Rowley


  1. I'm not going to pretend that I'm saying anything in this post that hasn't been said before. Maybe just a helpful reminder?

  2. I love the way you worded. so much so I'm stealing a paragraph and using it as my facebook status (don't worry I'll give you credit!)

  3. This is brilliant. And I needed the reminder. My favorite character (appearance-wise) in literature, is Mr. Rochester. His face is constantly evolving in my mind throughout the book.

  4. Thanks guys!

    I find it interesting that, even though he has been played by so many different actors, Mr. Rochester is still thoroughly himself. It helps that C Bronte was so excellent with description.

    She was probably partially responsible for creating the 'tormented bad boy' stereotype that so many girls now salivate over.

  5. P.S. can I borrow that book? I promise to give it back.....