Let’s Get Lit-erary: UK vs. U.S. book cover showdown  


Gaining traction on Booktube is no easy task; the community is largely dominated by founding members who started their channels in the 2010s. But recently, Jack Edwards and Steph Bohrer have found great success with their bookish content.  

Edwards, a recent Durham graduate with a degree in literature, is known for rating celebrities’ taste in books. Bohrer offers a fresh perspective with her passion for new adult literature. Last month, the two collaborated to compare book covers in the United Kingdom and United States.  

Not everyone may know that book covers are different in the UK, as they are specifically designed to appeal to a distinct market. But book covers are not the only things altered when books are adapted — grammar, spelling, titles, locations and even endings can vary.  

One of the most commonly cited changes is the switch from “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” to “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” — done to better convey the presence of magic to an American audience. 

Sometimes the changes made don’t make as much sense; one change baffling readers is the case of Emily Henry’s “People We Meet on Vacation.” The U.K. edition is called “You and Me on Vacation,” and while the title is more straightforward, “You and Me on Holiday” would have been more appropriate for the market.  

No matter how much we want to deny it, most of us still judge books by their covers; they usually function well as indicators of a book’s vibe, genre or plot. The following covers do just that, but in very different ways:  

*Note: U.S. covers are on the left, UK covers on the right 

“Hamnet” by Maggie O’Farrell 

Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell. Photo courtesy of: The Infinite Library

Though the U.K. cover tells us virtually nothing about O’Farrell’s novel, the gilded letter H is much more attractive than the illustration and bannered text on the U.S. version. When thinking about which you’d rather be caught reading, the U.K. edition wins hands down. It appears to be a rich and sophisticated read, on par with the reputation of Shakespeare — fitting for the contents of the work.  

“Normal People” by Sally Rooney

The U.K. cover is unlike anything I’ve seen, nestling the protagonists of “Normal People” in a sardine tin. The image is so evocative, sending me down a spiral of symbolism. In contrast, the U.S. cover suggests absolutely nothing about these people or their relationship. While it’s nothing to be ashamed of carrying, it simply does not match the depth offered by the U.K. version.  

“A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara 

A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara

The U.S. cover for “A Little Life” is far more compelling than the U.K. one. While I’m normally opposed to featuring real people on book covers, this black and white still shot carries so much meaning. It suggests that the plot of “A Little Life” will wreck you, almost functioning as a trigger warning for its heavy contents. The U.K. edition gives readers some idea of the novel’s setting, but that’s about it. However, the designs of the two covers align with what one would expect from a nonfiction book, so that’s a markdown for both.  

“Writers and Lovers” by Lily King

Both these covers truly shine, yet they offer vastly different expectations. The illustration style of the U.K. cover suggests that the novel will read as a romance, but the novel is a more somber tale, primarily dealing with grief and class differences. The color scheme of the U.S. edition does a stronger job conveying that, while also referencing the protagonist’s waitressing job.  

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