May 14 2011: Unidentified Girl Reading (Lafayette Studios, c.1920 – 1940)

What is it with writers and their fascination with images of people reading? Perhaps it’s the tantalising lack of certainty about the reading material, or the response of the reader to it. For an activity that is engaged, absorbing, consuming and infinitely variable, it nevertheless gives away few outward signs of its effect.

On top of which, when it comes to the real world, trying to decode the minute giveaways in readers’ hands, faces and postures is likely to have us suspected of stalking, voyeurism or worse. Perhaps that’s why those of us who make books are so obsessed with still images of readers, and in this one there are no clues at all as to what this unidentified girl is absorbed in: science textbook? romantic novel? political tract? canonical masterpiece or blatant potboiler?

There’s no way of knowing. It could even be nothing more a prop which she isn’t even reading, just looking at, for only as long as it takes for the photo to expose. Would we be half as intrigued if we knew for sure?

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