happy to judge a book by its cover

Because I have been reading so much recently, I have, as invariably happens when you are over-saturated by one medium, become a bit of a book snob. I wouldn’t be so egotistical to suggest that this applies in terms of the quality of the writing (although of course it does – but I’m no great literary master and I need to at least attempt to crawl back out of my own arse). No, it’s more about the design, layout, and yes, the cover, which I do shamelessly judge the book by. I think any author who lets a publishing house slap on an ugly or inappropriate cover on their book is perhaps not worth reading in the first place, as how far will this bad judgement go? Surely it will make itself heard in the ugly or inappropriate style of the prose as well?

A few of the covers in the Great Ideas Series

Luckily, if you are an aspiring or established author this aesthetic problem can be overcome by getting yourself published by one specific, distinguished publishing house: none other than the Penguin Paperback. They transcend my snobbery, always having good, appropriate covers, for both classics like Jane Austen, contemporary titles or reworkings of classics, with a very good cover designer on board. Their text is laid out well on the page; not too much margin, not too little; nothing over complicated like the title AND the author AND the chapter AND the page number crowding the headers, just in case you had forgotten what you were reading – like when rappers worry that you haven’t heard their name enough times to make it memorable, so interject it sporadically throughout their song, just so you remember (Yes, I’m thinking of you WALE, and yes, we have already forgotten you, despite the early Gaga collaboration, so nah nah nah nah you’re name sucks ass no matter how many times you say it. Boo yah.). Penguin also do a range or recycled paper paperbacks, such as one copy I have of Gulliver’s Travels (not the Jack Black version, you philistines!), with the plain coloured cover and simple font that has become synonymous with the brand: Orange for fiction, blue for biography, green for crime.

Um, shouldn't this be orange??
Mixed signals, Penguin, mixed signals

It is fair enough to say that Penguin revolutionised the face of literature. Founded in 1935 by Allen Lane – incidentally, a friend of Agatha Christie – the first Penguin Paperbacks cost the same price as a packet of cigarettes, and, also like cigarettes, were sold everywhere, from corner shops to train stations, as was the original intent. Before that books were expensive, the only affordable ones being fairly trashy, while Homer’s Odyssey and the Communist Manifesto lurked only – and slightly ironically in the case of Marx – in the libraries of the rich, in hardcover. Penguin democratised reading, publishing many books that had previously been banned, bringing them to anyone who wanted them, such as Lady Chatterly’s Lover, which, when published in 1960 caused the company to be charged under the Obscene Publications Act. However, Penguin were acquitted and in six weeks two million copies were sold. Come on freedom of speech!

Basically, Penguin books are my favourite books, so if you’re reading this Penguin, well done, thumbs up on facebook, I LIKE you. Fairly recently they have brought out five series’ of short literary works, from Nietzsche to Orwell to Freud to Chuang Tzu, under the title of Great Ideas. They all have individually designed covers, all of which are enough to make me want to purchase an entire small library on existentialism just to look at. They are all around a fiver and, if nothing more, are great things aesthetically (Christmas presents, anyone??). Proof indeed that with a good publisher and a good author, you can judge a book very accurately by its very well designed cover. Becoming a Penguin Modern Classic has become my new goal in life – providing the design is right, of course.

Covers from the Great Loves Series

A lot of this info I got over at the Penguin website, HERE. Info on the Great Ideas Series HERE.


Vinay said...

I assume you know, but the green cover for the Swift is cause it's part of the cheapo range. Everything in that is the plain, green colour!

HENRY FRY said...

You would think that given my apparent interest, I would. But no - thanks for clearing that up Vin!