Judging Books by Their Covers 2015: US Vs. Netherlands

February 6, 2015 | 6 books mentioned 12 2 min read

We recently posted a new edition of Judging Books by Their Covers 2015: U.S. Vs. U.K. These comparisons are fascinating — what does a “little billboard” on a book say about our respective cultures?

I was recently looking at the covers of Dutch-language books and found many titles that I recognized. Despite our different cultures, we share many overlaps in our literary taste. I hoped that I could draw some conclusions about those tastes by comparing U.S. and Dutch-language book covers. After spending way too much time on the task, I conclude that I can’t. The comparisons, however, are equally fascinating.

With my tongue in one cheek, I’ve provided a few thoughts below. You are encouraged to take equally wild stabs in the comments. If anyone has more cultural insight, please do weigh in.

The American covers are on the left, and the covers from the Dutch originals or translations are on the right.

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The Dinner is a good place to start as it was first published in Dutch in 2009. I understand the scorched place setting of the U.S. cover. Looking at the lobster on the Dutch cover…I’m thinking of a seaside restaurant in Maine. Maybe it’s evoking the feelings that lobsters have when they go into a pot? That’s how the tension of the novel feels, like being boiled alive?

stoner-USstoner-dutch

A Millions favorite, Stoner. I read the New York Review Books Classics version and it blew me away, so it is difficult for me to say anything that might sound disloyal. However, if I could draw a picture of my face after I read the novel, I would have looked exactly like the man in the Dutch cover on the right.

goon-squad-dutchBezoek-van-de-knokploeg

I had to run this Dutch title through Google Translate to make triple sure that I had the cover of A Visit from the Goon Squad. It becomes “Visit the Thugs” in Dutch, which has a nice ring to it. I’m less clear about what purples evoke to the Dutch that turquoise on the U.S. hardback cover does not? Why one less fret on the neck of the guitar? Google Translate was no help in answering these questions.

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Some of the imagery for Freedom is similar, but the covers have very different feels. To me, the lake country in the U.S. cover evokes the gentrified world view of Patty and Walter Berglund. I’m interested in the choice of a flat field — is it trying to say something similar to a Dutch speaker? If there is an Ornithologist out there, please let me know if the bird on the right speaks Dutch or English.

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Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell: wow.

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Anthony Doerr’s Dutch translation is interesting as the publisher went with the U.K. cover (we declared it “pretty dull.”) Maybe the Dutch designer agreed because there are some differences. Most striking are the changes of tint. The girls dress, for example, is much more vibrant on this cover than on the U.K. version on the right. In general, the U.S. cover takes the broader view of the book I read. I wonder if a reader in Amsterdam or London would disagree?

is a staff writer for The Millions. Her novel The Last Neanderthal is published by Little, Brown and Co., was recently featured in The New York Times, and is a national bestseller in Canada. Her writing has appeared in the Lenny Letter, The New York Times, Salon, and The Globe and Mail. Follow her @clairecameron or read more at www.claire-cameron.com.

12 comments:

  1. “Bezoek van de knokploeg” means “Visit from the thugs” not “Visit the thugs”. Never seen a blue bird like that in my life, definitely not Dutch unless it’s in a zoo.

  2. As a passionate German reader, it would be interesting to see a comparison between covers of popular titles in the US and Germany!

  3. Not having read any of these, I can’t say how well the covers evoke the contents, but as to Freedom, the American cover looks like a cheap, fill-the-template design. Yuck.

    Visit from the Goon Squad: Well, the Dutch words are longer, so the title can’t fit off to the side as it did in English. So the guitar head has to get smaller to make room. As to the color, maybe there were already a few books on the shelves in turquoise, or the printer didn’t like mixing the color, or their screen was off when they got digital images and they though that was the color.

  4. Freedom’s putrid U.S. cover design pretty much matches the book’s sophomoric and pretentious contents. The Dutch cover art is a much more compelling work of art, which makes it mismatched given the horrible prose that awaits inside.

  5. Did they get Elvis Costello in Holland? Egan’s title is a song reference, rendering it untranslatable idiomatically and, apparently, culturally

  6. I love the Dutch FREEDOM cover. A double-edged barb and beautiful composition. I’d want to pick up that book (which is my criteria for a successful cover).

    The American FREEDOM looks like Bird meets Text. Although now I’m wondering if it might be an “American” spoof on the Russian Constructivist knigi poster, with that bird calling out, “Freedom A Novel Jon..etc.”

    I still like the Dutch one better.

    The US Stoner cover… is that a painting? a well-known painting? I think it is quite beautiful. The Dutch one looks like an album cover from the 70s.

    What I want to know is, What the heck is Cloud Atlas about????

  7. The Dutch version of Freedom looks nicer, but they got the species wrong — that’s definitely not a cerulean warbler on the cover, looks more like a mountain bluebird. At least the U.S. version got the correct species.

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