September 21, 2011

Reading with Happy Feet

Penguin Books, to the best of my knowledge and memory, has never given me so much as a free #2 pencil.  (They sent me a couple of free catalogs once, when I requested them, but they do that for everybody.)  The following gush is completely unsolicited; I just love Penguin, and always have.

Can anyone explain to my satisfaction why I, like generations of Britain's bibliophiles and casual readers, should be so utterly captivated by one of the world's simplest book cover designs ever?  I mean, I can take a guess why Penguin's multiple but dead-similar lines of covers were popular for decades.  The clean lines, the clear, crisp text, the bright colors that allowed the shopper to distinguish at a glance between genres, all combine to create an aesthetically superb effect.  I understand that.  Now that we've all finished being amateur marketing experts for a moment, let me just say that those perfectly reasonable-sounding arguments still don't answer my question.  You see, they don't satisfy me; they are NOT "to my satisfaction," as I requested, whereas the plain-jane Penguin cover, monochromatic and seemingly unassuming, is deeply satisfying to the souls of both my inner art critic and my inner bibliomaniac.

Photo courtesy of
the penguin blog
I must admit, I had never seen such a Penguin cover in my life until about two months ago; until then, I had only ever encountered the more contemporary yellow-jacket version typical of university bookstores, or the latest, sleekest, predominantly jet-black model which was rolled out by Penguin at about the same time that I started graduate school.  My ignorance of Penguin's iconic image of a by-gone era stems largely from one simple fact; I always bought and read Penguin USA versions.  More and more, however, I have insisted on having copies of books from their country of origin whenever possible since I began collecting the British originals of Harry Potter, and when I stumbled across Penguin's postcard collection on Amazon, I was hooked.  It was a side of Penguin I'd never seen before.  The British side.  The aspect of a famous publisher from a time when even its paperbacks were wrought with a level of care and skill rarely met with today in any format from any publishing house.

I miss you, Dad.
Of course, the blogosphere has been abuzz with the gorgeous new Penguin hardback classics (one of which, Cranford, I reviewed in an earlier post), and though these beauties bear no resemblance to the 20th-century Penguin triband at all, I love them, as well, and am slowly collecting them.  (It's going to be REALLY slow collecting, though, since I'm not supposed to be buying any more books in the immediate future.  I know; good luck with that.)  AND NOW, I learned from a fellow blogger today that Puffin, Penguin's children's division, is publishing ITS classics in adorable, newly-designed hardcovers, as well.  Christmas presents, anyone?  I cannot allow there to be a nice edition of Anne of Green Gables somewhere out there in the world of which I don't own a copy!  Seriously--I have no idea how many copies of that book I actually own.  It's getting ridiculous.  I can't even tell myself that I'm buying and saving them for Brigid, because she doesn't need five copies of the same book any more than I do.

Anyway, this meandering panegyric to Penguin of a post is all in aid of saying only this--I can't wait until Thursday (payday), when I can order my used copy of The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes--one of the missing volumes that I mentioned in my last library project post--in all its green-banded, Penguin-ish, 1959 glory!  Hey, at least it only takes a small, used paperback novel to make me happy, and I'm certainly not the only one.  There's even a Penguin Collectors Society!  Who knew?!


  1. As much as I love how the old UK Penguins look, it wasn't the covers or iconic design that first attracted me to these old Penguins; it was the books themselves.

    When I was younger there was no one around to help guide my reading choices, and I somehow worked out that an orange spine on a secondhand book was an indicator of quality. It took me many years of buying every orange-spined book I found before I realised that they came in other colours, that they had numbers on the spines, and that they were something you could set out to collect. I was fortunate that I started collecting them before they became collectible. Perhaps I have half of them so far; I think that the remainder are going to be much more expensive to buy.

    I started the blog for many reasons (perhaps mostly so I could keep a track of what I had read), but an important reason was to promote the idea that these books are worth collecting for the forgotten novels and stories you can discover, as well as for how appealing they look. I don't know what makes a book fall out of favour and cease to be read. But as Penguin only published books of quality, uninteresting books have been filtered out. Reading from this collection means constant discovery.

    Thanks for visiting my blog, and good luck with your Penguin collecting. And by the way, I own a few vintage US Penguins, and while they don't have typographic covers, they are still interesting and well designed, and I'm sure collectible too.

    Best wishes,

  2. Karyn, yes, Penguin definitely means "quality content," and especially when I need to choose a trustworthy translation of a classic, I always try to find the Penguin edition first, before I consider any other options. Thank you so much for visiting, and for your kind words.


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