There's nothing I look more forward to when visiting England than going book shopping. Unlike Jessa, I prefer UK covers to US covers, or did, for the most part, until very recently. It's even funny to me that she uses David Mitchell as an example: I didn't like the US cover to Cloud Atlas - too many sharp edges in the design, a scattered theme of varying texts. Perhaps this reflects the format of the book better than the UK cover, but I wasn't feeling it. It could be the giddy fan in me that has become attached to the swirling psychedelics of the UK cover, which prompted Mr. Mitchell, on receiving it to sign, to say: "Well, you're a long way from home." Which prompted me, in turn, to melt in my little white tights. (More on my Mitchell crush in coming entries, surely, when the man returns to the States and I embarrass myself once again by shouting silly things in his presence, such as "sex, please!")
On my last trip to the UK, however, I changed my mind while on Oxford Street when I picked a Joan Didion book off the shelf, a book that assembled Slouching Towards Bethlehem, The White Album, and After Henry into one collection. To my bewilderment, the UK publishers had turned my steadfast Joan Didion into some fluffy, flower-arranging lady writer. They called the collection Live and Learn, for Pete's sake. The cover, awash with pastels, shows Didion, apparently alone on a deck overlooking the ocean, cigarette in one hand, lo-ball glass nearby. It portrays her as a single woman, or at least solitary, carefree and whispy. As if she were on a Shirley Valentine-esque holiday. Little might the reader know that this is a cropped version of this picture. The recipient of her wistful, carefree gaze is her family. Her knowing smile is triggered not by the memory of last night's tumble in the cabin of a boat with a Greek fisherman, or how she might spend her day shopping for exotic woven handbags and charming souvenirs for the mantle, but by the contentedness, the completeness that her husband and daughter bring to her life. It was used appropriately and with complete success on the back of the jacket for The Year of Magical Thinking. In this case, the UK cover got it completely wrong. Didion is not pastels: she is bold, strong; she is red, she is blue.
A few days later on Bold Street in Liverpool, the great book designers of the United Kingdom redeemed themselves in my eyes with the cover of Ali Smith's The Reader. The woodblock-and-text cover is simple and attractive. Not only is the cover gorgeous, but the concept of The Reader - in which Ali Smith chooses a selection of her favorite pieces of literature for the reader to enjoy - has inspired me, and I've begun to compile a "reader" of my own, at right. As far as I'm able, I'll create links to texts that are available online; otherwise I'll link to places you can get the books for yourselves. Enjoy, reader.