I prefer American book art and here’s why…

I prefer American book art and here’s why…

The list of sites on my bookmark is precisely four strokes of my fingertip long. One touch takes the page halfway. The second goes further. By the fourth I’m at the bottom of the list. My bookmarked sites are literally all about books. Most of them American literary pages that I read every day, keeping up to date with the latest news, interviews, and forthcoming publications. Lit Hub and The Millions are some of my most visited and valuable. They’re invaluable. Likewise, there’s also Catapult, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Electric Literature, The Nervous Breakdown, The Rumpus, The Bookwitch, and Aquarium Drunkard. A star that sticks a site to my list ensures I’ll see it at least once a day. There’s a lot to see. In an industry obsessed with debut novelists and crime fiction, there’s a lot of new content being published, whole articles and essays dedicated to the minutiae of reading and writing. Even if one of my favourite book sites isn’t updated, at least four others will have something new to read.

One of my favourite things to see is a shiny new book cover. God, I love great cover art. I was a weirdo kid with book posters on my bedroom wall, a nerdy wallpaper that came from my local library whenever they got funding to redecorate. Alongside pictures of Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, and Kurt Cobain, I had Roald Dahl and Theresa Breslin book covers. Honestly, authors need to stop putting up with crap cover art. There should be a special clause in a contract dealing with book artwork; if the author is unhappy, they can veto. Shelves all over the world would be vastly improved, in my opinion.

I’ve always known that book covers in America are very different to the covers we have here in the UK. They’re better, use less negative space, and take chances with graphics and text. Maybe that’s just my taste level, but I’ve started to order books from America just because I enjoy their artwork. The iconography of reading is important to me. It isn’t just the story. The touch, feel, look, and style of a book has to work otherwise there’s a sense that somewhere along the line, someone has been let down – and I don’t just mean the reader.

I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness by Claire Vaye Watkins, for example. Isn’t the American artwork so much better? I’ll let you guess which is which.

Good artwork really adds to the experience of reading. Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder was reviewed very favourably, and I immediately pre-ordered it. But the version I stuck in my basket wasn’t the UK edition, it was the original American printing.

There are many more examples. I don’t understand why I’m so drawn to the American aesthetic (a misnomer, because most of the covers aren’t similar in theme or tone), but they just seem brighter and brasher in comparison to the British attempts at literary elegance. They lack the effectiveness of US editions. Sometimes, they lack colour too. I like colour on a book cover. One colour alongside a monochromatic shot can be massively effective, which is what I went for with Happiness Is Wasted On Me. A similar technique is used for Highway Blue, which was one of my favourite novels of last year.

The most boring book covers belong to Mieko Kawakami, who also happens to be one of the best writers in the world. The US edition is oblique and colourful, well-presented. The UK edition is…a photograph and some text on a block. Book covers should shout at readers from shelves, not whisper.

This is all very much subjective and I’ve chosen my favourite covers, while ignoring some British books with covers I love, but overall I much prefer book covers with certain elements – most of which appear on American editions.


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