How often do you look in the mirror and think: my long blond hair flows over my shoulders, a little straggly at the ends but nothing a good brushing won't sort out. My eyes are wide and bright and eager, the colour of the sea on a summer's day. My skin is porcelain, beautifully clear on account of the full skin regime my mother insisted on since I was fifteen; my neck is long and elegant... etc etc
My guess is that it's not often - if ever. So why do authors invent such peculiar ways to describe their characters?
As a writer, I rarely describe what my character looks like unless it is vital to the plot. It doesn't seem relevant to me, because as a reader it jars. I've been reading Light on Snow by Anita Shreve, which has inspired these thoughts. On the whole the book was enjoyable and seemed only to have the degree of description needed to convey the plot... until she had her twelve year old narrator look at herself in a mirror in a police station staff room and describe what she saw, in much the same awkward way I did at the start of this post. It was unnecessary to the plot at that point and totally jarred with the rest of the scene, which was quite tense and serious.
I much prefer to visualise for myself what the characters look like; I think that the character of the person is more important. If, for example, my character was very vain, yes I would definitely have her look in every single mirror and describe what she saw. If a character was obsessed by another, I was probably use that as the need to describe every tiny insignificant detail because that's what the obsessed person would be seeing.
Perhaps I should try it though: I could have people checking out their features in their turned off mobile phone, the concave of a desert spoon, the highly polished surface of a High Def flat screen TV.... oh, the possibilities :-)
Until my next rant, enjoy the snow!!