Irene Zutell is a New York transplant living, writing and raising two young daughters in Los Angeles. She is the author of two novels. She also wrote–along with her husband–a collection of funny labor and delivery room stories, I’ll Never Have Sex with You Again! Irene’s work has appeared in People, Us Weekly, The New York Times, the NY Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Glamour, Reuters and the Associated Press. She has been a featured panelist on The New Movie Show on Fox, a contributor to the Joan Hamburg Show on WOR Radio and a frequent commentator on the BBC, giving her humorous take on matters “across the pond”. She co-created and co-executive produced WICKEDLY PERFECT, the prime time CBS reality series that aired in 2005. Visit her website at www.irenezutell.com
I have certain rituals when I’m choosing the next book to read.
First, I have to like the cover enough to pick up the book. Once I’ve picked up the book, I have to like the blurb about it. Then I open the book and read the first paragraph. If my interest is piqued, I’ll check out the author photo.
I’ll study the portrait. Does the writer look like someone I can relate to? Does he have a nice smile? A sincere look in her eyes? Or at least a good haircut I might want to show to the salon on my next visit? After all, if the author looks like a potential friend, I’d probably be able to relate to his story. Right?
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. I’m aware it sounds a little shallow. Well, a lot shallow. I never said my book selection process was profound, but hey, it works. And what might be a turn off for me? Well, there are many reasons why I’ll reject a book based on the author’s photo:
1. If the writer looks younger than I. In recent years, I’ve had to relax a bit on this one because, well, it’s way too limiting. Still, if an author looks like he’s in his twenties, I’ll probably slam the book down. Why should he have it so easy? When I was in my twenties, I was plagued by self-doubt along with rejection! Why isn’t she? Plus, what could this youngster possibly write about? College pledge week? A first boyfriend? Being grounded?
2. If the author seems too serious and intimidating. You know those pictures–the unsmiling, backlit profile; face deep in concentration, eyes blazing at you. It’s a look that screams, I’m smarter than you and I’m going to allude to those Greek philosophers you only read in Cliff’s Note form. (Joan Didion is exempt from this–because, well, she’s JOAN DIDION).
3. If the photo is too studied. The ones where the author is posed, palm on cheek, head tilted playfully; or she’s learning against a tree, hands on hips, a half smirk. The look that says, I’m trying a little too hard to get you to like me. Or, I hired a professional photographer because my advance was much bigger than yours.
I’ll admit it–I’m a very judgmental person. But you are too. You know you look at that author picture too and decide whether or not you could be friends . And, if you can be friends with the writer, you might want to read what she has to say. Right?
It’s too much pressure. It’s paralyzing, to say the least. I want you to be my friend too. Because, well, I need about 100,000 friends like you so I don’t have to get a real job.
For my latest novel, Pieces of Happily Ever After, Larry (my husband and personal photographer) snapped several photos of me, but it wasn’t working. Every smile felt forced. Every solemn expression seemed pretentious. Every prop was contrived. Larry threw up his hands. “You’re too difficult,” he said. Then he dove into our photo archives. (An excellent photographer, Larry has thousands of photos stored on his computer). He perused photos for hours and came pretty close to giving up.
Then Larry perked up. “Wait a minute, here’s one that will work,” he said, studying it. “And don’t worry. I can photoshop the um…laugh lines.”
I looked at it and I couldn’t help but smile. I remember the day it was taken perfectly. We were visiting my family in Connecticut. My parents, sister and our families went to Essex, a town on the river, to ride the SS. Tourist Trap. My father loves two-plus hour cruises where the captain expounds on the history of every buoy along the shoreline. As the boat was pulling out, Larry and I jumped off. We ran away, giggling while Jeannine, my sister, screamed. “At least take your kids, too.” She tried to feign fury, but I could tell she was just jealous she hadn’t thought of it first.
So Larry and I laughed and waved as the boat groaned along the coast. Then we went to the Griswold Inn, a great, old tavern. We drank beers from frosty mugs, listened to a ragtime band and laughed some more.
As we headed to wait for my family to come off the boat, Larry snapped a photo. I felt happy and free and a little mischievous.
So there. Like me. I’m fun and zany. Be my friend. Buy my book: Pieces of Happily Ever After.
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