One fun thing to do while traveling is shop foreign bookstores to see the radically different covers slapped on familiar titles. After having devoured Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire on my last flight to Dublin, I rushed to buy a hardback of The Omnivore’s Dilemma when it appeared in U.S. bookstores. (No, I haven’t started reading it, but Gary tells me it’s excellent, as I’d expected.) Imagine my surprise, then, to see a radically re-covered paperback Omnivore in a Galway bookshop. Whereas the cover of the U.S. edition features a somber, dark-hued still-life with the subtitle “A Natural History of Four Meals,” the European edition is eye-catchingly orange with the title lettered in Indian corn and a subtitle touting “The Search for a Perfect Meal in a Fast Food World.”

I’ve established an unofficial ritual of buying one European paperback on each trip overseas. In February, after having devoured the aforementioned Botany of Desire on the flight to Dublin, I purchased Bill Bryson’s Short History of Nearly Everything, which wasn’t yet out in paperback in the States, for the flight home. Whereas the US edition of Bryon’s Short History boasts this cover, the European edition looks like this and refers to “maths” rather than “math.” Although the Iowa-bred Bryson lived in the UK long enough to pick up a British accent, I’m guessing American editions of his Short History employ an American vernacular, giving that Dublin-purchased paperback a unique charm.

On this Irish trip, after almost finishing Rebecca Solnit’s Book of Migrations on the flight over, I bought a paperback copy of Michael Cunningham’s Specimen Days for the flight home, preferring the European cover to the American one. Although I haven’t yet started Cunningham’s fictional evocation of the spirit of Walt Whitman, having started an American-bought copy of Diane Ackerman’s Natural History of Love on the return flight instead, I’m loving the fact that I have a book with a horse on my nightstand rather than a book with a green-glowing, gone-to-seed dandelion. They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but you certainly can decide to buy (or not buy) one on that basis.

And while we’re talking about books and book covers, check out what I spotted on the “New and Noteworthy” shelf at the Toadstool Bookshop in Peterborough, NH: a hot-off-the-press copy of Going to Heaven: The Life and Election of Bishop Gene Robinson. (In case the name doesn’t ring a bell, Gene Robinson is the New Hampshire clergyman whose controversial election made him the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Church.) Although Going to Heaven is another book on my still-untouched to-read pile, I was happy to see the familiar cover of my good friend Beth Adams’ first book on a local shelf. (No, I didn’t re-arrange the shelf so Heaven is peeking out: someone else had done that for me.) If a good read offers a kind of companionship, the covers of books are like the faces of friends: a spot of familiarity that brings a spontaneous smile. I’m happy knowing that Beth’s book is lovingly stacked on my to-read pile with Pollan’s Omnivore and Cunningham’s Specimen: three books I look forward to reading with whatever cover they carry.