Judging 2012 Book Covers: US vs. UK


While paging through the Guardian‘s gallery of the 2013 Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist earlier this week, we were struck by how different many of the nominees’ covers are from the American ones we know and (sometimes) love. Of course we knew this already, but we were newly inspired to take a look at some of 2012’s best books, and judge them by their covers, both at home and abroad. A disclaimer: your literary editor has little in the way of formal design education, but is instead approaching these as a voracious reader and picker-upper of pretty things in bookstores.

We don’t mind the UK cover, but it does frankly scream, “American!” — plus, we’ve seen this interpretation of the West before. We much prefer the open skies of the actually American version, and the cover treatment (which doesn’t come across as well in digital form) that makes the text shine in the light and almost disappear if looked at askance. Winner: US

We like the boxy text of the US cover, but here we much prefer the UK version. That slurred face behind the disjointed, multi-font title is not only more interesting to our eye, but also inhabits the project of the novel a bit better. Winner: UK

We’re slightly torn on this one, because the longer we look at the UK cover, the more we like it. But for sheer jump-off-the-shelf-ability, we have to go with the black marker and scary dog face. Winner: US

These two covers couldn’t be more different, which makes this a rather tough choice. We love the bubbles, but think we’d be more likely to pick up the painted version — especially with the knowledge that those charming little dots are actually red blood cells. Winner: US

Oh, boy. The UK cover by a mile and a half. We understand the concept of the peek-a-boo blackness in the US, but it just can’t hold a candle to the gorgeously weird UK version. Winner: UK

These are variations on a theme, but compared to other books on the shelf, the US cover is much more distinctive. Winner: US

Again, this one is no contest. The UK cover evokes the mood of Rash’s novel much more eloquently, and dare we say, treats the book more seriously than the US version, whose Appalachian Ophelia stand-in lends it a slight YA vibe. Winner: UK

The US cover knows what it’s doing here — evoking the overlapping hum of conflicting noise and narrative. The UK cover kind of looks like a werewolf novel. Winner: US

To our eyes, the UK cover looks like a poster for a bad ’80s film. We’re not wild about the text treatment of the US version, but we do love the Man Ray-esque bubbles. Winner: US

Oof. We love both of these, the whimsical and the obtuse. However, we find ourselves suffering from mustache fatigue. Winner: UK

Neither of these jump off the shelves for us, but the single empty chair is a bit more unusual and evocative than the stripes and shadow figures. Winner: US

We love the US cover of this book. True, we can’t stop staring at the UK cover, but then, someone’s staring back — when we think about it more objectively, it looks a bit like an excellent poster for the film version of the book. Winner: US

In real life, the US cover is perforated, which is a nice touch, but we still prefer the ominously warm glow of the UK cover here — the US version has always looked like YA to us. Winner: UK

We were actually not as fond of the US cover as some people were this year, but we still prefer it to the slightly more muddled and conventional UK version. Winner: US

We like the UK version well enough, but that meta-book, complete with mirror, is just the perfect outfit for the text. Winner: US

We quite like the UK version of this book cover, though we have to admit that we’d be more likely to pick up the US version in a store. Perhaps the publishers are on to something. Winner: US

When in doubt, we always go with the less obvious interpretation. Winner: US

There’s something quite elegant about the US version, but the UK’s take on it is just loads more interesting. Winner: UK

Here’s another UK cover that looks like a film poster! No way could the tired chicken crossing the road compete with the ominousness of that fawn underneath the crossed out title. Winner: US

These are both beautiful, and despite their wholly different concepts, sort of tonally the same. If we must choose, we suppose that, lured in as we are by that silky, red smoke, we like the meta-reality of the crumpled note a bit better. Winner: US [Editor’s Amendment: after receiving copies of the British versions of two of the books in this series and examining them in real life, we have to admit, they’re pretty glorious. Consider it a tie.]

Neither of these is great — the US cover is sort of incomprehensible to us (is that Tetris heart?), but the UK cover seems somehow to give the book less than its due. Sigh. Winner: UK

We’re not particularly fond of either of these, but the US version looks a little more serious than its UK counterpart. Plus, sepia. Winner: US

The US version of Groff’s novel evokes the iconography of the hippie movement in an instant, but we’re more captivated by the UK version, which retains the text treatment and adds the edge of a wayward child. Winner: UK

These are (obviously) two takes on the same theme. We think the US version is a little cleaner and weirder, if a bit harder to read. Winner: US

These have pretty similar effects on us, so it’s hard to say which we prefer. But the US version evokes the football field, which (at least in retrospect) makes us smile, so that’s as good a reason as any to choose it. Winner: US

We appreciate the boldness of the US version (is this Smith’s White Album?), which almost pointedly shakes off the conventions of book covers for novels by women. But the UK cover does the same thing, and is rather more interesting. Winner: UK

Both of these covers are nice, and both obviously refer to the setting, but the US version also nods to the hacker plot, in a very elegant way. Winner: US

We recognize the brilliance of the tabloid-esque US treatment, but we’d just rather pick up a book with that weird little gremlin man on it. Call us crazy. Winner: UK

We love the depth of the UK cover as opposed to the US version, but that saccharine tagline kills it. Winner: US

No contest — the UK version is nice, but the big text treatment of the US cover, overlaid with those fingerprints, is delicate and alarming. Winner: US

Oof. Both are uncommonly gorgeous. The UK version, however, makes us want to follow it down the wooded path. Winner: UK

We’re not huge fans of either of these, but to the extent that those flowers look like they might have been an exploding bird, we prefer them. Winner: UK

The UK cover is nice, but it’s not all that special to our eyes. We’re fans of the large block font of the US version, which gives a giant like Munro her due. Winner: US

We’re huge fans of Europa editions in general, but this time the UK cover has them beat — though both put animals where they shouldn’t be, the descending birds on that fancy frock and gaudy typeface are so alarming that we want to take the book home with us immediately. Winner: UK

We’re not enormous fans of the US cover, but it seems to capture the spirit of the book rather better than its UK counterpart. Winner: US

The UK cover is much too complacent — it reeks of “slap anything on here and it’ll sell, so who cares?” The US cover isn’t brilliant, but it sure is better. Winner: US