Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Scientific swimsuit edition

When I wrote my first book and got somebody to agree to publish it, I thought I was in charge. I was so naive.

I wanted to call it Should Miss America Wear a Muumuu? and use a picture of a reporter's notebook and a ballpoint pen on a piece of Hawaiian cloth for the cover.

"We want to use a picture of you," the president of the company said.

"As I actually look?" I asked, horrified.

"Well, maybe slightly better than that, but we still want people to be able recognize you." She said they'd sell more books if somebody familiar was on the cover. I told her I thought we'd sell more books if Harry Potter was on the cover. Furthermore, she wasn't sure that everybody would understand the significance of a muumuu.

"Everybody I know will," I assured her.

Expanding audience

"But we are really hoping to sell the book to more than the four people who play cards with you," she said.

"You mean you want to call the book something else?"

She smiled. "Yes, but you can choose any photographer you want."

It was something.

And I took it.

I picked Corson Hirschfeld because I'd heard he could make me look thin. His best-known photo - around here at least - is the 1981 "rainbow legs" for the Cincinnati Ballet. Belatedly, I learned that he was probably more famous outside of Cincinnati for his photographs in National Geographic.

I began to be afraid that not only wouldn't I be wearing a muumuu, but maybe he'd give me some beads and take away my blouse. Because you know what a skin magazine that one is. It was the Victoria's Secret Catalog for my brother's generation.

And, as it turns out, for generations before that.

A "collector's edition" of "Swimsuits - 100 years of pictures" will be on newsstands until the end of April. The cover - in case you are looking for the signature yellow border surrounding a panda or a cormorant - features instead a young woman wearing three seashells.

Editor-in-chief Bill Allen told NPR's Michele Norris that he "would like to point out that it's a very National Geographic image when you have the background, which is rocks. That's geology."

The photo was shot in a tide pool on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. So, adds Allen, "you have oceans, which has always been something National Geographic has been interested in."

Of course.

Inside, there are pictures of Australian surfers, Ganges river bathers, pearl divers, Dorothy Lamour and a Russian polar club.

Sarah Finn of Joseph-Beth Booksellers says so far they've sold twice as many copies of the regular issue as the swimsuit edition. But the 120-page special, only available on newsstands, is also twice as expensive - $4.95 to $9.95.

Peter Miller, the issue's editor, explained. "It's not sent to members. We want to attract other eyes."

In that case - and this is just in the interest of scientific research and comparison - next time they might consider using a picture of Harry Potter in a Speedo.

E-mail lpulfer@enquirer.com or phone 768-8393.

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