CategoryKitamura Katie

Comparing Book Covers: UK vs US

I’m always fascinated by the differences in book covers between countries. The Millions runs an annual feature comparing US and UK cover art, and a similar post appeared on Flavorwire a few days ago. I’ve decided to do a cover post of my own, with some of the books I’ve featured on this blog.

(UK covers are on the left, US covers on the right; title links go to my reviews of the books, for context.)

Diving Belles – Lucy Wood

 dbuk  dbus

The UK cover indicates folklore and the sea; it’s nice enough, but feels perhaps a little too obvious. The US cover, I think, captures the deeper heart of the book – that mixture of domesticity and sinister magic; I especially love the way that the stairs shade into abstract geometry. Winner: US

The Buddha in the Attic – Julie Otsuka

 bauk  baus

Two broadly similar treatments here, with the red parasol as focus. I think the closed parasol in the case evokes the novel’s themes better. Winner: UK

Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry – B.S. Johnson

 cmuk  cmus

The covers of the most recent editions. There’s a simple elegance to both, but for me the disintegrating ledger is a little too literal, especially compared with the boldness of the UK cover. Winner: UK

The Longshot – Katie Kitamura

 lsuk  lsus

I like the composition of both these covers, but the image of the fighter and his trainer walking away makes it look as though their job is done. The clenched fists of the US cover evoke the tension and violence which are at the novel’s core. Winner: US

The Still Point – Amy Sackville

 spuk  spus

Oh, there’s no contest here: the paper cut-out look of the UK cover is gorgeous; the US cover doesn’t come close for me. Winner: UK

Redemption in Indigo – Karen Lord

 riuk  rius

The composition of the US cover is elegant, but I think the UK cover better evokes the tone of the book (tricksy-but-serious) . Winner: UK

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe – Charles Yu

 hluk  hlus

Hmm. Yu’s novel plays with the conventions of both sf and mainstream ‘literary fiction’, which is captured nicely by the UK cover, with its ordered arrangement of laser guns. But it’s also a playful novel, and that spirit is evoked by the US cover, made to look like an old manual, complete with ‘creased’ cover obscuring the publicity quotes. I can’t choose one over the other. Winner: it’s a draw.

Communion Town – Sam Thompson

 ctuk  ctus

I’m not sure either of these covers really captures the essence of Thompson’s book, but the UK one wins out for me as being more intriguing and distinctive., turning a map into abstract art. (Incidentally, this is the cover of the UK hardback; the paperback cover, like the US one, goes down the less-interesting ‘murky skyscraper’ route.) Winner: UK

If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This – Robin Black

 iluk  ilus

Well, I don’t think the UK cover is very interesting at all. The US cover is not great, but the paint effect is a nice touch, and the title is used well within the composition. Winner: US

The Sisters Brothers – Patrick deWitt

 sbuk  sbus

Wow. What a difference in treatment. I love nigh on everything about the UK cover (it looks even better on the physical object). The US cover is too specific to suit the novel’s air of ambiguity, and just isn’t as well conceived as the more stylised version. Winner: UK

My favourite reads of 2012

It’s that time of year again, for looking back over what I’ve read and picking out the highlights. In previous years, I’ve limited my list to books published in the year in question, or split it equally between old and new titles. For 2012, I’m just doing a straightforward list of my favourite twelve reads of the year, regardless of when they were first published.

So, in alphabetical order of author surname, here they are:

Adrian Barnes, Nod

Telling of a battle of words and perceptions in contemporary Vancouver, this is a dystopian novel with the nervous energy of a new world still being negotiated, and a keen sense of its own precariousness. It never feels as though it’s about to settle.

M. John Harrison, Viriconium

Possibly the ultimate anti-escapist fantasy (and almost certainly the only major work of fantastic literature to be set partly in my home town of Huddersfield). In this collection of novels and stories, it’s fantasy that does the escaping, leaving readers and characters alike scrabbling at mirrors.

Katie Kitamura, The Longshot

The tale of a mixed martial artist heading for one last shot at glory. This short novel is as taut and focused as a winning fighter; it’s a brilliant unity of form and subject.

Jonathan Lee, Joy

A fine character study of a successful young lawyer who attempts to take her own life in front of her work colleagues, and of other key figures in her life. Lee has superb control of voice and tone, and the whole novel is a great pleasure to read.

Simon Lelic, The Child Who

Here, by coincidence, is another incisive  character study focusing on a lawyer – this time the solicitor defending a twelve-year-old accused of murder  whom he (and everyone else) knows is guilty. This unusual angle enables Lelic to give certain key scenes an unexpected texture, and to give a complex picture of the issues he raises.

Karen Lord, Redemption in Indigo

A Senegalese folktale spliced with quantum physics. A morality tale whose only moral is that the reader should decide on one for herself. An examination of choice wrapped up in a glorious piece of storytelling that knows just when to turn on itself.

Julie Otsuka, The Buddha in the Attic

A chorus of narrators tells the story (and stories) of a group of Japanese ‘picture brides’ who go to the US at the start of the last century, and their descendants. Otsuka’s short novel is a beautiful composition whose focus shifts elegantly back and forth between a wider and more individual view.

Keith Ridgway, Hawthorn & Child

An anti-detective novel in which any semblance of narrative or coherence dissipates as soon as you look. Its pieces are brought together into a whole by superb writing and Ridgway’s distinctive aesthetic.

Adam Roberts, Jack Glass

Read during my ongoing semi-hiatus, this novel brings together Golden Age detective fiction and science fiction, and interrogates them. It is very much alive to the limitations and shortcomings of those types of fiction, but still plays fair with the reader. (See Jonathan McCalmont’s masterful review for more on the book.)

Zadie Smith, NW

A collage of a novel that examines the connections between several characters’ lives in north-west London. Smith goes through several different styles and approaches in NW, but all combine successfully in this insightful read.

Muriel Spark, The Driver’s Seat

A deeply unsettling piece of work that turns the concept of the murder mystery on its head and – perhaps even more effectively – puts a dark twist on the notion of a character study. This is the sort of novel that makes me want to explore the rest of its author’s œuvre.

Lucy Wood, Diving Belles

My favourite debut of the year, this collection brings Cornish folklore into the present day. These stories are  by turns amusing, mysterious and evocative; I can’t wait to see what Wood writes next.

***

This will be my last blog post of 2012. Wherever you are, I’d like to thank you for reading and wish you well for the coming year. See you again in 2013.

Katie Kitamura, The Longshot (2009)

Katie Kitamura’s debut is one of those novels whose form neatly mirrors its subject. The Longshot is about mixed martial arts (MMA), and it’s as sharp and focused as a fighter on top form. Our protagonists are Riley, an MMA trainer; and Cal, his protégé of ten years. We join them as they arrive in Tijuana, where Cal is due for a rematch against the legendary Rivera, who beat him four years previously. Both Cal and Riley appreciate how significant this fight is going to be.

The Longshot is a short book, and its prose terse to match – but that doesn’t mean it’s undescriptive. Kitamura captures superbly the physicality of the fighting about which she writes, its combination of violence and extreme control. However, what stands out even more for me – and there’s a nice  tension between this and the novel’s brevity – is the emphasis on observation. Riley and Cal pore obsessively over videos of Rivera’s old bouts, in search of the key that will enable Cal to gain the upper hand: a little weakness or habit or pattern that could be exploited in Cal’s game plan. That relentless need to notice spills over into other areas of life, as when the two men can’t help observing how each other eats breakfast. But it’s presented most vividly when Cal is finally in the ring against Rivera:

His head was light. His body was light. It was the detail that was doing it. Everywhere there was detail. He placed his hands on the ropes. The grain of the rope, each individual piece of ribbing – just the touch was enough to burn him. His toe brushed against the canvas, and he felt the give of the floor against the tug of the nail (pp. 171-2).

So, Kitamura presents MMA as an all-consuming sport, one that demands the full focus of its practitioners’ bodies and minds. That’s something else brought home by The Longshot’s tight focus; we learn hardly anything about Cal’s and Riley’s backgrounds (save that Cal was a kid going nowhere in life when Riley spotted his talent). If these men have lives and relationships outside of MMA, we don’t see them – and the sport is so important to them that it hardly makes any difference.

There’s a clear sense that Cal and Riley depend on each other, and wouldn’t really know how to function if anything undermine their relationship. That’s why they’re ambivalent about the impending fight with Rivera; it could destroy Cal’s career as easily as revitalise it. Both protagonists have their moments of doubt: Riley visits Rivera’s training gym in San Diego; seeing the talented new kids there makes him feel hopelessly behind the curve. For Cal, a similar moment comes when he sees posters for the match in the streets of Tijuana; his instinct is just to run, to escape. He’s had to become so self-absorbed for his training that being reminded of the reality of the fight in the outside world is almost too much to bear. But both Riley and Cal must go on, because of all there is to gain – and, perhaps, because they’re simply unable to do otherwise.

The Longshot is a portrait of two men pushed to extremes, whether extremes of physical exertion, concentration, or desperation. It’s very well achieved indeed, and puts Katie Kitamura’s imminent second novel, Gone to the Forest, straight on my to-read list.

Elsewhere
Katie Kitamura’s website
Some other reviews of The Longshot: Dovegreyreader Scribbles; Books, Time, and Silence; Methvenite; Pursewarden.

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