During the past year, I'd convinced myself that American book covers were finally on the upswing. There have definitely been some new releases whose covers I loved so much I was influenced to either buy a copy or accept a book for review. A few I love:
Why do covers grab us? In the case of those above, they may all be eye-catching but I think it's the fact that they inform the reader of the contents in some way that makes a cover outstanding. The Martian
, for example, is simple, bold and eye-catching but it also tells us that it's about an astronaut who is alone in a dangerous place. All the Birds Singing
combines the idyllic beauty of farmland and sheep with a frightening wolf image, which lets you know that the setting may be beautiful but there's something sinister happening. Delicious!
combines foodie appeal (a gorgeous shop window) with either a touch of history or some sort of local interest (the bicycle) -- in fact, it turned out to be both. World of Trouble
clearly shows a dying world about to be annihilated by something from space, yet the hero is strolling foreword, fearlessly facing his end. Lock In
highlights the fact that a percentage of humanity is set apart from the rest. Goodnight June
clearly references the children's book Goodnight Moon.
So, when I say I think American covers pale in comparison to their British counterparts, I am not saying they're all bad. I do think there has been some improvement. But, this past week I was in London and there it was, again, that reminder that sometimes the cover doesn't reflect the contents. Oliver Harris's Deep Shelter
is a perfect example. Look at the difference!
The American cover of Deep Shelter
, at left, has the typical bold look of a thriller. But, what's happening? Are those steps at the top? A lonely man walking through a corridor? They both fit and yet . . . they really don't say anything at all. The British cover at right, though, shows that the book takes place in London with the building known as "the Gherkin" at its center. And, it tells you that something is happening below ground as you're looking up from stairs in an old metal structure to the surface. It's not perfect; the British cover isn't entirely reflective of the contents as there's no wide gap showing the London skyline in the shelters involved, from what I gathered. And, yet, the point is that the cover on the right is not only eye-catching and intriguing; it tells a story before you've even opened the first page.
The same is true of Harris's first book, The Hollow Man
At left, the generic American thriller cover; at right, the British cover. The British cover again reflects its London setting. We see a man with a gun, running down an alley. He's alone. What's going on? The fact that the British cover says, "A twisting spiral of lies and corruption and a beguiling bastard of a hero," adds to the storytelling of the cover on the right. You have an idea what you're looking at when you see the British cover and read the blurb. The American cover says nothing at all.
The Oliver Harris books jumped out at me because I was in search of The Hollow Man
, last week. As on every other occasion when I've visited London, I found that it's a lot more difficult to control my impulse to buy books in London than it is back home. The fact that there are so many wonderful little bookshops in London probably doesn't help matters. This, for example, is the charming little store where I bought The Hollow Man:
West End Lane Books in Hampstead:
Just after we walked out of the store, my husband (who doesn't read much because of his dyslexia and tends to find bookstores annoying because we own so many books) said, "Why don't we have wonderful little stores like this?"
Fortunately, those small independent bookstores do seem to be making a comeback in the U.S.
What on earth is an artist's rendering of a nose supposed to mean? I have no idea. The cover of Matt Haig's The Humans
at left is the American version. It's an interesting image but it tells me nothing, whereas the British cover actually says, "It's hardest to belong when you're closest to home." Clearly, it's about being
a human. But, it also has that outer-space element, the shooting star (indicative of an alien arriving on earth), the dog -- a universal symbol of friendship and acceptance. And, there is a dog in the book, so bonus points for that. The colors are also fabulous. I would walk right past the American version but the British version is one I'd frame and hang on my wall.
What do you think about book covers? Does it matter to you whether or not they give you a decent hint what's inside? Do you prefer bright color to simple, graphic design?
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