Books as Objects

Judging Books by Their Covers 2015: US Vs. UK

By posted at 12:00 pm on January 12, 2015 15

As we’ve done for several years now, we thought it might be fun to compare the U.S. and U.K. book cover designs of this year’s Morning News Tournament of Books contenders. Book cover art is an interesting element of the literary world — sometimes fixated upon, sometimes ignored — but, as readers, we are undoubtedly swayed by the little billboard that is the cover of every book we read. And, while some of us no longer do all of our reading on physical books with physical covers, those same cover images now beckon us from their grids in the various online bookstores. From my days as a bookseller, when import titles would sometimes find their way into our store, I’ve always found it especially interesting that the U.K. and U.S. covers often differ from one another. This would seem to suggest that certain layouts and imagery will better appeal to readers on one side of the Atlantic rather than the other. These differences are especially striking when we look at the covers side by side.

The American covers are on the left, and the UK are on the right. Your equally inexpert analysis is encouraged in the comments.

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Neither of these is especially appealing to my eye. The U.S. version uses a travel poster-type image, but at least the bold font and title placement are intriguing. The U.K. goes for realism and the result is pretty dull.
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Another pair that I don’t love, though the U.S. version has an appealing painterly quality to it. The U.K. version feels a bit slapped together.
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I like both of these a lot. The U.S version is bold and somehow feels both vintage and very current. The LP label motif in the U.K. version is clever, yet subtle enough to avoid being gimmicky.
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The U.S. version does a great job of setting a mood, but my nod goes to the U.K. version. The black dog is eerie and sculptural and the receding landscape is haunting.
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These covers are very different and I have loved them both since I first saw them. The tents on the U.S. cover are both magical and, in the context of the subject matter, unnerving. But I love the bold, poster-art aesthetic of the U.K. cover too.
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Sometimes simpler is better. I like the mesmerizing quality of the U.S. cover, with the tantalizing golden apple peeking from its center. The U.K. version is clearly trying to capture the mad tumult of the book’s plot but it is somehow too literal.
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The U.S. cover is clever and intriguing, with those circular windows on repeated words, but I love the U.K. cover and the subtle suggestion of madness in its Jenga/Tetris puzzle. Update: I had initially posted the paperback U.S. cover, but looking now at the hardcover design, I agree with our commenter Bernie below that it is very striking.
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The cropping of the sculpture gives the U.S. cover a compelling look. I like the U.K. cover but it doesn’t feel quite fully realized.
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15 Responses to “Judging Books by Their Covers 2015: US Vs. UK”

  1. Andrew
    at 12:08 pm on January 12, 2015

    Love this feature so much. Wish it came around more often!

  2. Janet Potter
    at 1:25 pm on January 12, 2015

    I really don’t like the UK cover of Marlon James’ book. It’s cute enough, but why would you make a book about poverty and murder look like a Nick Hornby novel?

  3. Bernie
    at 3:28 pm on January 12, 2015

    I work in a library and I have never seen that US cover of “Department of Speculation”. I think the cover I’ve seen is better than either of those :

  4. C. Max Magee
    at 3:45 pm on January 12, 2015

    Bernie: You are right! It looks like I inadvertently pulled the paperback cover. I will swap in the hardback.

  5. Dawn.
    at 7:42 pm on January 12, 2015

    Always enjoy this feature. I agree with Andrew–it’d be great if you did this twice a year. I prefer all of the US covers except for Redeployment and A Brief History of Seven Killings.

  6. Edward Jay Rehm
    at 1:24 pm on January 13, 2015

    With the possible exception of Virago’s continuing mid-century-esque CinemaScopy aesthetic for Water’s (UK) hardcover releases, these all strike me as duds. The Doerr, Clay and Gay covers are particularly cliched and uninspired. I’m tempted to brown-wrapper those of them that I own!

  7. EMoon
    at 2:42 pm on January 13, 2015

    1. “All the Light We Cannot See.” Much prefer the UK cover; I find it intriguing and the US cover ho-hum.

    2. “An Untamed State”.” Don’t like either; would have to know the writer already to pick it up for a closer look.

    3.”A Brief History of Seven Killings.” Neither. They’re trying to grab me, but it’s like someone in a crowd pawing at me. Ick.

    4. “Redeployment” Much prefer US cover here, possibly because I”m a veteran. Captures mood well. Mysterious black dog on UK does nothing for me. Also, the award marker much more visible on US cover.

    5. “Station Eleven.” Reasons to like both; might be more likely to pick up UK version because of framing of animals and vines, but strongly dislike pink title, esp. on book by woman. Pink is a turn-off.

    6. “The Bone Clocks” US cover for the win. Simple, strong graphic design, intriguing pop of warm color against cool in the middle. UK cover is fussy.

    7. “Dept of Speculation” Love the title. Both covers good (though I’m put off by “A Novel” on the front of the US cover) but the UK cover’s use of wood grain and geometry is the winner.

    8.’The Paying Guests”. Ho-hum either one. Different, but not drawing me in.

  8. priskill
    at 7:27 pm on January 13, 2015

    Wondering if the dog on the UK “Redeployment” cover is a nod to Klay’s moving story about the dog? I kind of liked this cover for that reason . . .

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    at 10:23 am on January 14, 2015

    […] Read the whole article, here. […]

  10. Bert
    at 10:46 pm on January 14, 2015

    I love most of the UK versions, save All The Light We Cannot See, The Bone Clocks, and The Paying Guests. I like the US versions of those ones.

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  13. Mary Kay
    at 9:14 pm on February 4, 2015

    It’s fascinating to see the different versions. Do you know–are most books pubbed with differing covers because pubs think the readers in different countries have differing senses of intrigue or interest? For some I just don’t see why they do 2 … or 10 different covers.

  14. by the lighthouse
    at 10:35 pm on February 13, 2015

    I think every country changes book covers simply to put their own stamp on it. And keep graphic designers in business. : )

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