Alone among the depicted authors, John Steinbeck shows something approaching a healthy complexion. He also smiles knowingly and raises an eyebrow at William Faulkner, who gazes out over the spectators' heads, as remote as Jesus in Piero della Francesca's Resurrection.
At the next table, I.B. Singer smiles and Pablo Neruda rubs his chin (his own, not Singer's) and daydreams with a vague, insinuating grin. And that's it for anything like gaiety or amusement. The rest of the gang is pasty-faced, green and sullen. That may be fine for Henry James, but James Joyce? Dorothy Parker? Oscar Wilde, for the love of God?
Why is this? Great writers create worlds, and since when does the world not include laughter, fun, and skin that looks as if blood has recently circulated beneath it? Why did Barnes & Noble choose to depict the authors as such a solemn, worried lot, like Thomas Hart Benton (top) or George Tooker (left)?
In post-literate America, writing, at least of the Serious Literary variety, apparently retains a vestigial aura of solemnity and awe even as the folks in the real café below the mural read the New Yorker, Symptoms and Remedies and Obsessive Compulsive Order for Dummies, not a novel in sight.
© Peter Rozovsky 2010