Salon recommends

The sweet, savage art of romance-novel covers, new fiction picks and more.

Published January 28, 2002 10:57PM (EST)

What we're reading, what we're liking

The Look of Love: The Art of the Romance Novel by Jennifer McKnight-Trontz
Although there have been a few tributes to the cover art of old paperback pulp novels intended for men, this is the first I've seen dedicated to romance novels. After McKnight-Trontz's brief introduction to the genre, it's on to the covers, which range from Gerald Gregg's ravishingly stylized and surrealistic airbrush art of the 1940s to the almost remedial design employed by Harlequin in the 1970s. These images are intense distillations of female longing whether the heroines look implausibly innocent or delightfully wanton, and there's usually a square-jawed fellow looming stalwartly in the background somewhere. With sections devoted to historical romance, career girls, exotic settings and the romance's peculiar fascination with the medical profession (my favorite: "Hootenanny Nurse"), "The Look of Love" also has a precious assortment of cover art from the long lost genre of drugstore gothic. There used to be dozens of these books in every cheap rack, each cover featuring a maiden in a nightgown or some other filmy garment fleeing the environs of a vast and gloomy house. They've vanished entirely, and seeing their covers here is like stumbling on a favorite old eight-track tape.

-- Laura Miller

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