I’m guilty of sometimes buying a book because I like the cover. I’m not proud of this at all, but there you have it. Who isn’t susceptible to some artistic influence from time to time? I also choose my edition on Goodreads based on the cover, even if I actually read a different one.
So we know we can’t judge books by their covers, and yet. Covers are often the first thing we see and they create striking first impressions (or, as we shall see, first revulsions).
So let’s put on our Judge Judy robes and a barrister’s wig (fairness to both countries) and decide between some US and UK covers from amongst the past year’s new nonfiction, shall we?
(US on the lefts, UKs on the rights.)
Walking: One Step at a Time, by Erling Kagge, translated from Norwegian by Becky L. Crook
According to my US edition, this is just a photo from Getty Images. It’s simple but striking, calming, and represents the book’s contents perfectly: the outdoors as a wide open space full of possibility and room for your thoughts and meditations. It’s got an Andrew Wyeth vibe and is even lovelier on the book itself.
The UK cover, on the other hand, looks like either a public health pamphlet or a book that wants to teach me a deep life lesson in the most boring way possible. Pass.
The Lost Pianos of Siberia, by Sophy Roberts
The US cover is gorgeous and evokes so much of what I felt this book was about — ghosts of the past, dots across the map of a vast and sometimes menacing landscape, an object that led you down one path but isn’t always the focus as the story grows much deeper and stranger. I gave myself chills just looking at that image!
I’m sorry, but did that UK cover help move a single copy? If you’re not a weird Siberia-obsessive like me who’s drawn like a magnet to anything with that word, would you look at this twice except to look away harder? Is there anything less appealing on this earth than a brown suit? Or a guy’s rump in one while he bends over a piano to– what, exactly? Inspect it? Look for something he dropped in it?
Throw that cover in the trash. This book deserves better!
Winner: US, but hardly a contest
Owls of the Eastern Ice, by Jonathan C. Slaght
The owl drawing strikes me as a bit goofy. And reminds me of the owl from The Secret of NIMH. Not that I dislike being reminded of that movie; the opposite, really. I like the foresty background photo more, and kind of wish the whole thing was just those birch trees in the snow.
The black and white of the UK cover creates a haunting, melancholy atmosphere. The eeriness and iciness of it all evokes what I love in reading about Siberia, and the obvious isolation in a harsh, unforgiving atmosphere. It looks like a place where dark and mysterious things happen and I want to be involved. But the type on the subhead — something about it looks a little DIY.
Winner: It’s a dilemma but I’m going to have to give this one to the UK.
Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Turned on the West, by Catherine Belton
The US cover looks Pink Panther-y with some too-obvious villains peeking through window blinds. But the UK one is too close! TOO CLOSE!!! That skin mask stretched over his gobliny face is truly terrifying. I prefer any cover that shows significantly less of his visage.
Winner: US for making your skin crawl less.
The Border: A Journey Around Russia, by Erika Fatland, translated from Norwegian by Kari Dickson
I love the foreground/background imagery of the US cover — an official-looking building fading into the distance, snowy statuary, and the vividness of an Eastern European train. It’s probably the train, which brings so many associations, but I feel excited just looking at that cover. I don’t like that so much of the too-long subtitle obscures the carriage though.
The cartoony style of the UK cover doesn’t do it for me. I appreciate some lighthouse imagery, and at least it makes use of white space to emphasize the content, but the map outline doesn’t even show all that clearly what country it is. And honestly, a lighthouse at a land’s edge like that is always going to make me think of Maine first.
Winner: US by a long shot.
But wait! We have a surprise third-party contender this time, with the original Norwegian edition:
Now we have a conundrum. This is gorgeous. (And I never realized how similar the Norwegian language is to German!) I love that particular shade of blue with red contrasts, plus imagery from so many of the locations Fatland visits. It also depicts something of the playfulness of her adventures alongside the dead-seriousness of these places (see: guns, guards).
I’m not fond of that weird design distortion so often used on Latin alphabet letters to show that the story is going to involve Cyrillic though.
This one’s a toss-up for me between US and Norwegian.
Which are your faves? Did we vote alike?