Tuesday News: Book covers, science of the female orgasm, and Chevalier d’Eon
The Fascinating, Complicated Art of Designing a Book Cover – An interview with Penguin Classics’ Creative Director Paul Buckley, in which he discusses different aspects of the cover design process. I’ve always loved the Penguin Classic covers, and Buckley notes that the challenge with those books is to refigure a book that has already been in print many times. With “new” books, it’s different:
New books, this piece of writing, everything is riding on that new cover. Is the mood right? Does the imagery hint at what is going on in the text? Did you tell too much? Did you tell too little? Yes, it takes place in the winter, but we want it as a summer read, so try to avoid seasons; she would never dress like that, or maybe she would, but it makes an off-putting cover; I know everyone in the book dies – but that image is so depressing no one will buy it; is the author’s name prominent enough? The type has to be much, much larger. We understand the word has sixteen letters, make it larger. No, it can’t go sideways, people can’t read sideways. I know spines read sideways, that’s not the same. No, no it’s not, and no, this word cannot be broken. We realize the title is part of the problem, we know it’s confusing, we can’t change it. Ok, the type is too condensed; it’s ok if it goes smaller if we can get a nicer font. Have you tried it sideways? The author hates it sideways and is suggesting you try championing condensed 87, do you have that font? I don’t know who designed this, I think it was one of his students, he asked that we show it to “the art dept;” I know, I know, now I can at least say I did. It’s approved! Sales didn’t like the cover, we have to change it. Was it just one person? Bob, how many in sales disliked the cover? Oh, it was just Jim, he’s always out in left field, never mind, glad I asked. Or, yes it was just Sally, BUT she looooves this book. I know you did too, we all do, we still need a new cover by next Tuesday’s deadline. Huge chain “X” wont commit to this book with this cover, I know we all loved it maybe you can save it for something else, here are some suggestions from the buyer, at least they are trying to be helpful. – Observer
Where Does the Female Orgasm Come from? Scientists Think They Know – A Yale evolutionary biologist and a University of Cincinnati pediatric researcher published a study in the Journal of Experimental Zoology basically arguing that the female orgasm is distantly related to ovulation and the release of prolactin:
But women also experience a surge of prolactin when they orgasm, even if they don’t ovulate at that time. The new study shows that female orgasm, and the concomitant hormone release, is likely an ancestral holdover of its reproductive function, because humans and other placental mammals, like primates, ovulate spontaneously. As induced ovulation evolved into spontaneous ovulation, the female orgasm was freed up for another purpose, albeit one without a clear role in human reproduction. Wagner and Pavliev also found that as ovulation stopped depending on orgasm, the clitoris stopped being located inside the vaginal canal.
“Female orgasm is an evolutionary vestige like the appendix,” said Wagner. “It can be used for something, but it is not clear if it has a function beyond psychological bonding between partners,” he said. Wagner compares the female orgasm to the human ability to appreciate music and other, finer aspects of life. “The value of something the human body is capable of does not have to be functional,” he said. – Scientific American
The Incredible Chevalier d’Eon, Who Left France as a Male Spy and Returned as a Christian Woman – A really interesting piece on Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d’Éon de Beaumont, aka the Chevalier d’Eon, who, at 28, was appointed secretary to the French ambassador to Russia, a role that allowed d’Eon to serve as a spy for Louis XV. A spendthrift who avoided arrest by publishing a book of secret diplomatic correspondence, d’Eon ended up exiled in England. Until, that is, a negotiated return to France – as a publicly recognized woman (there were already rumors that d’Eon was “secretly a woman”). The biological markers some might use to define d’Eon’s gender are much less interesting than the complex circumstances of the gender shift and the likely reasons she chose to identify as female upon returning to France. Pomona College historian Gary Kates has extensively studied d’Eon’s letters, manuscripts, and other papers and is one of the leading scholars on d’Eon:
“I see d’Eon’s gender transformation as a mid-life crisis which has very much to do with a reaction to the hyper-masculinity of diplomacy and politics of the Old Regime,” explained Kates, who said that d’Eon had come to see political life itself, backbiting and detestable, as the cause of her misfortunes. During the period after she was disowned by the French Foreign Ministry, d’Eon began collecting books on famous, virtuous women throughout history and early feminist thought, eventually amassing one of the largest collections of feminist writing in Europe; women, d’Eon came to believe, were more decent than men. “I think it’s at that point in his life that living as a woman comes to him as a way to transform himself morally and away to escape this hyper-masculine box he found himself in,” says Kates.
Kates also sees d’Eon’s transition as a moral choice propelled by her re-found, fervent Christian faith; D’Eon himself referred to his transition as a “conversion from bad boy to good girl”. “[D’Eon] believes in two things: One is that whether we live as a man or a woman is a choice that all of us have and that women in the 18th century are living lives that are morally superior to men, and therefore we should choose, we men should choose to live as women,” explains Kates. In the context of her faith, said Kates, “It is the Christianity that empowers him to cross the gender barrier.”
That d’Eon had a choice at all Kates sees as emblematic of the progression of “bourgeois individualism”, as people with the means were increasingly able to decide against set roles and modes of behavior to do what fulfilled them. “This is obvious in the sense of occupations… Our occupations just followed us and we didn’t have any choice, but somewhere in the early modern world, we realized that we ought to have choice,” said Kates. “In that way, we’re just extending this to gender.” – Atlas Obscura