Friday, July 30, 2010

Happy birthday, bird

Today is the official seventy-fifth anniversary of Penguin, which is hard to believe because it's hard to imagine a time when Penguin wasn't around.

Here's a Web site with all sorts of Penguin-related stuff, including old photos and galleries of covers. Seventy-five years — May all publishers last at least this long.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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15 Comments:

Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I know I have a Penguin of 'Odd Man Out', which might be older but otherwise my oldest is an orange cover of 'The Ox-Bow Incident', published in 1950.
I also have a number of 1960s green-covers of classic crime novels of such as 'The Thin Man', but I think my favourite covers are those of various Simenon novels published during the 1960s, particuarly the 1962 Penguin of his 'Inquest on Bouvet', which was originally published in 1958.

Just a pity they didn't use better quality paper, though

July 30, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The bulk of my Penguins are Penguin Classics from the '80s, with the black spines, full-color covers and color trim on the tops of the spine. I've bought a bunch of older ones secondhand over the years, from the era when paperbacks were solemn and, some say, stuffy.

Hmm, am I imagining things, or does the paper in old Penguins have a tendency to get brittle?

July 30, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Perhaps the old-time publishers attitude was "its whats between the covers that matters".
(as opposed to the collabarative 80's attitude, - similar to vinyl LP cover art)

Most of my favourite paperback covers, of relatively recent vintage, are of Chester Himes books, two from the 70's, from Penguin 'Crime' subdivision, a couple more from 'Panther Crime', and then a wonderful graphic cover for Allison & Busby edition of 'The Crazy Kill'.
Just looking at it now, I wonder was the artist might have been employed on the Forrest Whitaker Himes film of the 90's.

The two Penguin Himes have wonderful full-face colour photos,on black background, - and black back-cover, - and his name looks as if it was a handrwitten scrawl.

Those De Luca covers are great artworks.

I think the old paper is yer classic 'pulp': a long way removed from the superior quality paper of the 'Library of America' hardbacks.

btw, Kindle or paperback/hardback?

July 30, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

btw, Kindle or paperback/hardback?

Surely you jest.

I've wondered occastionally when in the history of the mass-produced book covers became a deorative element, an inducement, and a part of the packaging.

I like the U.S. covers for the trade paperbacks of Andrea Camilleri's Montalbano novels -- and I like the UK covers even better.

You mentioned the De Luca covers. Europa Editions' covers do what covers ought to, it seems. They project a common identity (A Europe Editions book is instantly identifiable as such), and they look good. Hard Case Crime does something similar, as does Soho Crime, at least in its trade paperback editions. You know those books when you see them.

The Library of America paper is a source of wonder to me. How they get the pages so thin (more than a thousand pages per volume) and keep them so durable and well-bound ought to get any reader interested in chemistry and physics.

July 30, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I've got a complete, 3 volume hardback Proust, published by Chatto & Windus, which I bought in 1981, which looks almost as good as new; its not quite as thin or as light as the LofA pages and they don't say anything about the paper quality, but it looks like it will last for a few generations, at least.

LofA flap notes state that they are printed on lightweight, acid-free paper, and that sewn bindings allow the books to open easily and lie flat.

I have a complete hardback Poe of my late fathers but because of the poor and brittle condition of the paper I replaced it with a complete LofA set.
It should endure as long as his reputation.
Am I to take it that you'll never succumb to the Kindle?

I remember in the 70's and 80's when LP releases were delayed because they wanted to get the cover art right; I wonder were any books delayed for similar reasons.

Certain sci-fi paperbacks had wonderful cover art.
Of course, one's own imagination often imagined better

July 30, 2010  
Anonymous Adrian said...

I love these books for one simple reason: in Australia a standard paperback costs 20 dollars. A trade pbk costs between 20-30 dollars. A hardback 30 - 50 dollars. All the penguin classics however cost 9 dollars.

Yes you cant read the books in the bath because they fall apart when wet but aside from this they are great. Great list, great covers, great size.

July 30, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCK: I can't say I'll never succumb to a Kindle, but right now I see no reason to so do. I don't like reading on a screen, I'm leery of helping put bookstores out of business and of investing in technology that is proprietary and immature, of spending hundreds of dollars for something whose obsolescence is already on the drawing board, whose very existence facilitates a massive transfer of power into the hands of a single corporation with everything evil that implies (We've already seen in the MacMillan pricing dispute how Amazon reacts to companies whose tactics it disagrees with) , and that is deprendent on a battery. And that does not exhaust my list of anti-Kindle-specific and anti-e-reader in general complaints.

People like to babble about how one can carry hundreds of books on it. I like to reply, "Why would you need to carry hundreds of books?" Scholars might like to stow their secondary sources on an e-reader -- in the unlikely event that such sources are available in whatever format the customer has paid for.

July 30, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I didn't realize Penguins were so much cheaper than other books in Australia. The gap is not so large here.

I don't want to exaggerate the shoddiness of their construction. A Penguin's pages may crack after ten years; a Bantam paperback is likely to shower the floor with pages the second time you open it. Or at least used to be so likely. I stopped buying them because they were so sloppily put togther.

But then, Library of America volumes are too nice to read in the bath.

And this relates to my previous comment. A giant toe-controlled e-reader might be a desirable bathtub accessory, but short of that, use Kindles for kindling, as far as I'm concerned.

July 30, 2010  
Anonymous Adrian said...

Peter
I was watching mythbusters earlier today and they proved beyond a reasonable doubt that a phone book can stop a slug from a .9mm, a .357magnum and a .45. I imagine that a long novel could also do the job. The Brothers Karamazov certainly. Could a Kindle? No way a .22 is ploughing through that cheap bit of glass and plastic.

Can a kindle help you out in an emergency toilet situation? Can a kindle be annotated and underlined? Can a kindle be left on a plane when you are fed up with it (as I did with Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and was aghast when the airline sent it to me by UPS) Can a kindle assist you when some kindly elf provides you with a little bit of low grade skunk but no cigarette paper?

July 31, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know if a Kindle™ can annotate, highlight and underline, but one of the other brands of e-reader can -- in yellow, of course, which means that the Kindle™ will probably soon offer a model that will let
...
You -- the reader! -- highlight in a wide range of Day-Glo™ designer colors! Tired of yellow? Try Shocking Pink! Or maybe you're feeling a little green (Don't we all have days like that?) So get new custon highlighting on Kindle™ Version 4

-- Because only Kindle offers "Colors You Feel".
© Peter Rozovsky 2010

July 31, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Can you sell your Kindle™ downloads for a quarter at a yard sale when you're done with them?

July 31, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, if a book is any good it's not because of the smell of its pages, or its binding or the glue that holds it together. It's because of its content. And content comes down to just one thing: words. Words are the only glue that hold any book together. And if the words are no good, the book is no good. And words are not dependent on the book form.

The physical object known as the book is dead. It's just awaiting a proper burial. No great harm.

I'm looking forward to a good e-reader coming on the market.

Think of the shelf space that you'll save. Think of books never going out of print. Think of books being searchable and never getting pissed off because a book that ought to have an index doesn't have one. And when your eyes start to fail you, you won't have to drag out a magnifying glass just to be able to read it. You can just increase the font size. Sure, you'll lose some things you like, but you'll get used to that. When was the last time you played an old '78, for example?

Of course, we're not there yet. Too many half-baked devices, too many corporations trying to achieve monopolies.

That situation a few months ago where Amazon sold copies of Orwell's 1984 and realized they didn't have any right to and decided the way to solve that problem was to simply take the 'books' back without yes, aye or nay to those who had bought them would have had me reaching for my semi-automatic if I'd been one of their customers.

But good old-fashioned competition should should solve those problems, eventually.

Of course, one can feel sorry for booksellers, but then people once used to feel sorry for candlemakers or chandlers as I believe they used to call them.

That's progress, Peter. Me, I rather like it.

July 31, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The key word is "eventually." When e-reader technology is non-prorietary and when the stock of books available is at least as large as that in the Library of Congress, then I'll be more ready to accept the benefits of the technology along with the drawnbacks. But we're not there yet.

July 31, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

I don't actually feel sorry for booksellers, though I am one, but I do feel like the jump from text to digital is happening pretty fast and that some of the downside is not being considered adequately in the gee whiz! feel of the moment.

I am not against ebooks, and even think they're a great addition. But if they kill print, as at the moment they seem more or less bound to, some safeguards to free expression go down the tubes. I also worry that apart from corporate censorship, which has happened a few times already, and quite easily the experience I've had of having my computer get a virus and losing a lot of material will happen on a larger level.

And yes, you can say that printed books are subject to destruction as well, but they generally disappear one book at a time. Unfortunately, I can't get out of my mind a comment Margaret Atwood made in a recent interview about the electromagnetic pulse from the sun suddenly destroying all this digital stuff we've got going.

On topic? I love Penguin's list, but for years I've found them to be overpriced in their back list. Maybe it's just the exchange rate, but it is irritating. Half this stuff is in the public domain by now.

July 31, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, corporate censorship has come up in a number of discussions here. I've quoted Hard Case Crime's Charles Ardai's remark that a big retailer -- I'm pretty sure it was WalMart -- forced some some airbruishing of the cover of Little Girl Lost because "they didn't like dirty feet and butt cheeks."

I can only see corporate censhorship getting worse as more power gets concentrated in fewer hands, and corporations have to appeal to larger and larger publics.

August 01, 2010  

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