The New York Times treats us to a discussion of the cover designs (if we can bypass the paywall) for Bonnie Garmus’s Lessons in Chemistry.

Much is made of the unexpectedness of the US jacket. Apparently the pink makes us expect a romance novel, which this is not. It’s the story of Elizabeth Zott, a (fictitious) 1950’s cooking show host who “educates her viewers in chemistry, self-worth and agency”. Barnes & Noble have made it their book of the year — Mr Daunt opines “The book has dominated the cover”. For myself, I don’t find the American cover that ditzy; in fact I rather like it. But maybe its pinkness does tend to make me assume it’s a book directed at a female audience — which for all I know it actually is. (The same could of course be said of the UK jacket with its red-dress photo.) The author is quoted “But as I’m fond of saying, the book isn’t anti-men, it’s anti-sexism”. Ms Garmus “has received ‘hate mail’ from a few indignant readers who expected something different.” She is quoted as saying “They were like, ‘Your’e the worst romance novelist ever!'”

Ms Garmus, though I think she is talking here about plot and character rather than cover design, sagely concludes “I think you have to listen to your publisher . . . they have a lot of experience”. She does report that the paperback will however have a different cover design. Well even if we concede that the pink jacket may be a little off target, it’s many streets ahead of its British competitor — paradoxically the publisher, Doubleday, is the same on both sides of the Atlantic, so we are getting here a pure take on US/UK taste differences. Around the world however, opinion seems to have lined up with Great Britain rather than the United States. Only Portugal and to some extent Italy have gone along with the US approach.

Editions in Portuguese, French, Polish and Korean have gone with the British approach. Not sure why we have two Portuguese versions, with different titles too. Maybe one’s Brazilian and the other European. It’s remarkable how that little box containing “In” in a form meant to look like a chemical element label, has been preserved in these UK adaptations. Characteristically the French have realized that the title which is adequate for the rest of the world is just too silly for them. This is in harmony with their tag line telling us that our ability to change everything begins ere and now!

We round out this showcase with one more UK-based version, this one from Iceland, and three “let’s do something completely different” versions. This I can sympathize with: I think that woman in the red dress lugging the TV around is a rather disturbing image. Do you remember what a television set weighed back in the fifties and sixties? Of the three fresh approaches I think the Dutch one, which is presumably playing up the “chemie” bit, is just too dull which might also be said of the German lady aggressively confronting us on the street. The Estonian version ends up being weird enough to be rather arresting and effective though.