Inside the Insta-Cover Games – The New York Times


Mindless and irresistible as chain letters or online surveys, most internet challenges are like Michael Corleone’s mob in “The Godfather: Part III.” You imagine you’ve given them the slip and they suck you back in. As a rule, I avoid these seductive time traps. Yet there I was recently, scrolling through Instagram for the 10th time that day, when I stumbled on the Seven Day Book Cover Challenge and was instantly hooked.

Actually, that’s a misstatement. This innocuous game, which asks users to post a photo of a book cover on a social media platform every day for a week, requires an invitation; it is a challenge, after all. Since no one had actually tagged me, I figured I’d ask.

The person I approached was the fashion illustrator and stylist Bill Mullen, whose droll feed — equal parts memoir, style commentary and grim account of a renovation from hell conducted by an upstairs neighbor he refers to as Minnie Castavet — has become digital catnip for those of us hooked on a growing trend for using Instagram to write long.

Mullen himself had been challenged by @thebookmarc, the bookselling branch of the designer Marc Jacobs’s empire, and his daily book posts skewed irresistibly toward oddball obscurities.

Day 1 found him posting a crumbling, yellowed paperback copy of “The Velvet Underground,” a 1963 investigation into “aberrant behavior” among consenting adults, an image he accessorized with an assortment of sex toys that looked like they would hurt. Day 2 featured an unknown (to me) fan-bio-cum-takedown of Blondie by the great and lamented rock critic Lester Bangs, with a cover featuring a youthful Debbie Harry.

There followed on Day 3 a vintage Charles Addams book of cartoons and, next, a copy of the 1965 “Hollywood Babylon,” Kenneth Anger’s lascivious (and factually dubious) account of the inhabitants of Tinseltown and their sordid antics.

This, too, had its appeal. Once, in a long ago interview, the filmmaker Joel Schumacher remarked that — while he would not want them all simultaneously to walk into one room — he did not regret anyone he’s ever slept with. This, essentially, is how I feel about my books. Each, in its own way, made sense at the time. Most are still around, though I don’t think about them all that much.

The titles I chose were not so much intended to frame my intellectual landscape as to provide a frisson or engender a laugh. I posted what I liked and what came readily to hand. With each volume laid out on a rug in my apartment I did my best with an iPhone to prevent my shadow from falling across, say, a rare copy of “My Face for the World to See,” the autobiography of the Warhol superstar Candy Darling and a book whose cover — the pink vinyl of a schoolgirl’s diary, replete with gilded lock — obviates any need to bother with the text.

Next I posted “Ceylon,” a 1950 book of gauzy homoerotic black-and-white photographs by Lionel Wendt, a pianist and polymath Pablo Neruda deemed the pivotal figure in the evolution of national identity in postcolonial Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. I was delighted to discover that book, having forgotten I owned it, and bemused afterward to learn that it now sells online for $1,800. After that came Dennis Cooper’s too little appreciated 1984 novella “Safe,” a book whose black-and-white cover photograph of an orgasmic man seemed prophetic in its resemblance to that on Hanya Yanagihara’s 2015 best-selling novel, “A Little Life.”



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