Sunday, 14 September 2014

Nineties Penguins and other book covers

I saw that there was a talk today at the Victoria and Albert Museum for the London Design Festival. It was by David Pearson (who's designed some fantastic covers for new editions of Orwell books) and Jim Stoddart (an art director at Penguin), who were both discussing book covers.

It got me thinking about the books that have leapt off the shelf to me because their covers were so enticing. I have three bookcases full of books, thanks to varied interests (flowers, gardening, films, art, counselling), book splurges in bookshops, and charity book sales at my old publisher (a sister company of Penguin).

Collecting books in the nineties, when I was studying English at college and then university, was a happy time. I remember two of my friends buying Beloved by Toni Morrison because they liked the cover of the book that was sitting on my desk. I'd bought it because it was an option on our reading list and...I liked the cover! None of us enjoyed the book, but oh well - it made us read a book we might never have read otherwise. I also bought several books because they were recommended by the Manic Street Preachers - as their biographer Simon Price said, the Manics probably did more for teenage literacy than the GCSE English Literature syllabus. I bought my own copies of books that I'd taken out of the library dozens of times in my teenage years (Animal Farm, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Tess of the D'Urbervilles). Penguin brought out new covers for their modern classics in the nineties, and I thought they looked beautiful (as well as containing fantastic reads).

When I started working in publishing, I would spend hours in Hatchards or (the old) Foyles or the huge Waterstones at Piccadilly after work. I would add book after book to the pile in my hands, resting them on a shelf while I looked at a new possibility. I often wanted to buy yet another copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland or Madame Bovary because I'd seen a new, beautiful cover, but I couldn't really justify spending another £5 to £10 on the same book, I did buy second copies of books just for their covers at the charity book sales, but the books were sold for 50p so it didn't seem so indulgent.

I did spend a lot on a third edition of Nineteen Eighty-Four, because of corny reasons (it was in a bookshop in Blackheath - which is where Orwell and his first wife, Eileen, went horse-riding when they were courting) and because I don't suppose I could justify buying a very expensive first edition, even if I found one. A third edition, published by Secker and Warburg, still feels pretty special to me.

I really like my two copies of Cold Comfort Farm, especially the more comic-style one, which suits the tone of the novel. It was a 50p purchase from work - the joys of working for a publisher!

I do like old book covers. Penguin's orange covers are well-known and well-loved - I've even seen intricate nail art inspired by the designs. Here are three of my orange Penguins - two new copies (The Girl from the Fiction Department and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) and one old (Lucky Jim, with cover art by Quentin Blake).

I even developed an author crush based on an author's book covers. I saw a bright pink Faber and Faber book called Kitchen by a woman called Banana, and thought I must try this! Banana Yoshimoto has such a lovely writing style, I went back and bought three more of her books: Asleep, N.P. and Lizard. It's slightly jarring that the last two books are taller and wider, but no matter - the covers are still stunning.

There are plenty more wonderful book covers I could share - graphic novels such as Maus, The Killing Joke, and Tamara Drewe are stunning, and flower books are beautiful - I've shared a couple here before. I'll save the rest for another post!

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