Ben Marcus

Ben Marcus

What book covers have caught your eye recently? When the same book is published in the U.S. and U.K., the covers can be completely different. Yesterday I came across a Literary Hub post comparing the covers in 2018, and it’s fascinating to see (the U.S. covers are on the left)….

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner. (U.S. cover, left, by Peter Mendelsund, photograph by Nan Goldin.)

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson. (U.S. cover, left, by Debbie Glasserman, U.K. cover by Suzanne Dean.)


Crudo by Olivia Laing. (U.K. cover, right, by Justine Anweiler, photograph by Wolfgang Tillmans.)

Ordinary People by Diana Evans. (U.S. cover design, left, by Na Kim, art by Salmon Kushroo, U.K. cover design by Suzanne Dean.)

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. (U.S. cover, left, by Gretchen Mergenthaler, U.K. cover by Luke Bird.)

Why aren’t the covers the same? “Sometimes our cover gets picked up by the publisher in the U.K., but in my experience, that that’s the exception, not the rule,” my friend Andy Ward, Vice President and Editor in Chief of Random House, told me this morning. “Often it’s not just different, it’s very different. I usually chalk it up to an editor with her own vision for the book and good sense of her market, going with a cover that best serves those readers.”

So, if you had to choose, which are better? New York-based book designer Megan Wilson says it depends on the cover. “When I go back to the U.K., I think they’re often more sophisticated and take more risks. I wonder if it’s because the market is so much smaller, versus our trying to reach such a broad audience.”

Inspired, I looked at a few others over the past few years…


Educated by Tara Westover. (U.S. book design, left, by Rachel Ake, illustration by Patrik Svensson.)

Eleanor Oliphant

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.

Modern Lovers by Emma Straub. (U.S. illustration, left, by Leah Reena Goren.)

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. (U.S. cover, left, by Steve Godwin.)

When Breath Becomes Air

(U.S. cover, left, by Rachel Ake.)

And the two covers of my brother-in-law Paul’s memoir looked really different: literary and iconic for the U.S., and cinematic and personal in the U.K. “Apparently they had neck auditions,” my sister Lucy told me on the phone this morning. “Guys came in, the designers cleaned up their necks, and they picked the finalist. They did a very good job. That’s exactly what his scrub cap looked like.” Which cover is her favorite? “I’ll always love the American one. It’s beautiful.”

Update: A reader named Sarah sent a photo of the front and back of the UK version, and the back shows a man in a patient’s gown. So heartbreaking, beautiful and true.

What book covers have you enjoyed recently?

P.S. Three great books, and what’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever read?

(Top image of Notes from the Fog by Ben Marcus. U.S. cover, left, by Peter Mendelsund, U.K. cover by Jamie Keenan.)