Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Wednesday, September 14, 2016: Penguin Classics' 70th anniversary


Penguin Classics' 70th Anniverary

Editors' Note

Books & Authors

Penguin Classics Celebrates 70th Anniversary

Congratulations to Penguin Classics, which is celebrating its 70th birthday by honoring Penguin Books founder Allen Lane's legacy of "a passion and commitment to paperback publishing for the general public," as publisher Elda Rotor puts it.

Publisher Elda Rotor
(photo: Kirby Calvario)

At Penguin Classics, that passion and commitment has long focused on publishing the best classic works of literature, history and other genres from a range of cultures, countries and languages in the most authoritative, high-quality editions. In the recent past, Penguin Classics has expanded on that proud legacy, increasing its lists of translated titles; expanding into new categories and subjects; adding classic works from around the world; and improving book covers, design and print quality.

Penguin Classics' forthcoming season illustrates that commitment, with series and titles that highlight what it does best--an appropriate way to celebrate the 70th anniversary. This list, Rotor says, is "a great combination of new translations; strong titles from the backlist that deserve more attention; new contributors of forewords or introductions; and the art department matching the perfect illustrator for a book's cover."

The titles and series include Classic Penguin: Cover to Cover, which features key books published by Penguin Classics in the past few years, with a focus on covers and author commentary; the launch of the sci-fi Galaxy line; Penguin Orange, a new series of a dozen American masterpieces with playful covers inspired by early Penguin design; striking new covers for the Pelican Shakespeare series; and several new deluxe editions of classic titles, particularly The Lord of the Flies by William Golding and The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. (Read more about all of these below.)

Penguin Classics has much to celebrate. It has fans across the globe, many of whom were first introduced to Penguin Classics in school. "We've heard stories from people around the world that their first experience reading English-language books is reading Penguin Classics," Rotor says. The school and academic market are not surprisingly important to Penguin Classics: the imprint "never takes for granted" its connection to "education, aspiration and inspiration," Rotor says. "We have to stay mindful of and pay attention to our core readers." (See below for more about how Penguin Classics titles help students' discussion of such titles as The Lord of the Flies.)

Creative director Paul Buckley

At the same time, to maintain a bond with readers that lasts a lifetime, Penguin Classics aims constantly to offer new and different titles, add value to its editions and distinguish its titles with cutting-edge--and sometimes fun--design and illustrations. "Aside from new introductions or new translations, a lot of where we stand out and achieve some distinction is clearly from our covers," says creative director Paul Buckley. And with many classics, "We all have an idea of what the book is about. So the covers don't have to be literal." This gives the company a lot of leeway in cover design, allowing it, for example, to use very futuristic illustrations on the Pelican Shakespeare titles (see below). "Part of the joy of this kind of work is coming up a new way to illustrate a book that's been overworked," Buckley adds. "We're always trying to do something that gives readers a reason to buy our edition. We want to give value and the best volume we can so that you want to buy."

For her part, Rotor notes that new looks and designs are a key part of Penguin Classics' evolution. "There are such fantastic contributors on the art side," she says. "They're always nicely surprising us."


Penguin Books: The Penguin Book of the Undead edited by Bruce Scott

Classic Penguin: Cover to Cover

"They say you can't judge a book by its cover. But when the book is a classic, you don't have to--that book has already been judged many times over whilst sporting wildly different covers," writes Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveler's Wife) in her foreword to Classic Penguin: Cover to Cover, a graphic retrospective of covers spanning the last several years of Paul Buckley's two-decade tenure as creative director of Penguin Classics.

"To me the beauty of packaging the Classics is often what others see as the curse--these books, these covers have each been done over a million times, and that is exactly what frees us up to go a bit out of left field with this very well-known material," says Buckley in his introduction to Classic Penguin. This out-of-left-field approach results in Penguin Classics covers that are visually stunning, thought provoking and always original. From the alphabetized eroticism of Kama Sutra to the be-monocled cosmic horrors of The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, Penguin Classics delivers something new when packaging something old.

But Cover to Cover is more than a stimulating catalogue of cover art. Each entry includes insights from Buckley and the illustrators themselves, a look into the creative process behind so many memorable designs. "We're trying to give it more content than a typical art and design book," Buckley says. "We're looking at publishing from inside the house and reading about what authors think about their covers." One of these insider perspectives is from James Franco, the actor and author, who also created the cover for a new translation of Hermann Hesse's Demian.

This potent mix of process and product gives this retrospective a promising future. Buckley says he "wanted it to be much more than an anniversary item. We want it to have shelf life past that, to be inclusive, for the NPR crowd, for people who read the New York Times Book Review." Cover to Cover certainly covers that.


Penguin Christmas Classics Boxed Set

The Penguin Orange Collection

In the early days of Penguin Books--founded in 1935--a 21-year-old employee named Edward Young created the first iteration of its iconic logo based on drawings he had made at the London Zoo. Young also used his amateur art talents on Penguin's first paperbacks, the distinctive orange-white-orange style used for works by Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway and Agatha Christie, among others. The Penguin Orange Collection celebrates this design legacy with new covers for 12 American classics:

  • Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
  • East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  • One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
  • The Broom of the System (30th Anniversary Edition) by David Foster Wallace
  • The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft
  • The Crucible by Arthur Miller
  • The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
  • The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen
  • Twelve Years a Slave by Soloman Northup
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
  • White Noise by Don DeLillo

These covers by Eric Nyquist combine his psychedelia line art style with symbols from each book, like sprawling tentacles for Call of Cthulhu and a dripping mop for One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest.

There's also playfulness in these covers. "It was fun to deconstruct the penguin," said Paul Buckley. "On each cover, the penguin is always in peril. We have the penguin in a boiling cauldron on one cover and a rattlesnake around him on another." The Penguin Orange Collection goes on sale October 18.


Penguin Galaxy

The Penguin Galaxy Series is a stellar collection of six science fiction and fantasy masterworks with new covers by artist Alex Trochut and a series introduction by Neil Gaiman. These novels are cornerstones of 20th-century sci-fi/fantasy, and are not just great genre works, but enduring pieces of literature, worthy of the Penguin Classics imprint. They are:

  • Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
  • Dune by Frank Herbert
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson
  • The Once and Future King by T.H. White

"Galaxy is super exciting because we're very keen on bringing into Penguin Classics communities that are already incredibly devoted and clearly know what their classics are," says publisher Elda Rotor. "All the books are individual gift hardcovers, but we're also doing a Lucite box set that looks like it could levitate!"

"[The Penguin Galaxy covers] almost lack a time and place," Paul Buckley comments. "For example, the Dune cover almost looks art deco, but also looks totally futuristic, almost hieroglyphic yet still readable, quirky and interesting. Quite different from a standard sci-fi book with a sci-fi illustration on it." Penguin Galaxy launches October 25, with the Lucite box set landing November 15.


Pelican Shakespeare Series

The Pelican Shakespeare Series has been bringing the Bard to students and theater lovers for decades, both in individual tomes and as a massive Complete Collection. Penguin Classics recently began reissuing Shakespeare plays with new, wildly distinctive covers by artist Manuja Waldia.

"We were wondering how to make the series different," Paul Buckley says. "Manuja has many styles, some quite painterly, with a vector, linear and digital side. Everyone does Shakespeare in the painterly style. We wanted to do them like sci-fi, a vector approach--simplify everything into basic shapes, a linear, digital mode of working, unabashedly computer driven. For William Shakespeare it seems so wrong, but it's absolutely so right."

"The cover style is almost a cross between ancient hieroglyphics and digital icons," adds Elda Rotor. "Students are reacting well and teachers love it because it's the first way for students to interpret what they'll be reading. Take, for example, the maze in the beard of King Lear and what that means about mental health and madness."

The scope of these Pelican re-issues is, as Brutus says of slain Caesar, ambitious. Waldia has been commissioned for all 49 new Pelican covers, several of which are already available, with the rest coming out over the next few years.


The Haunting of Hill House and The Lord of the Flies

December 14 marks Shirley Jackson's 100th birthday. Penguin Classics celebrates that centennial with a new edition of The Haunting of Hill House, Jackson's 1959 novel, widely regarded as one of the 20th-century's finest ghost stories. This Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition features a new foreword by Laura Miller and a creepy new graphite cover by Aron Wiesenfeld.

The new edition is well-timed. In addition to the Jackson centennial, Jackson will be getting much attention this fall because of an upcoming biography from Liveright, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin, and a graphic novel from FSG, Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery": The Authorized Graphic Adaptation by her grandson Miles Hyman. Penguin Classics also released a Deluxe Edition of We Have Always Lived in the Castle in 2006. This new version of The Haunting of Hill House comes out September 27.

William Golding's Lord of the Flies comes to Penguin Classics for the first time this November 15 as a Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition. Artist Adams Carvalho brings the book's savagery to life with an appropriately brutal new cover. This release includes an introduction by Stephen King and a foreword by Lois Lowry.


Penguin Books: Classic Penguin Cover to Cover edited by Paul Buckley

Penguin Galaxy Series

Penguin Classics Orange Collection

Penguin: The Pelican Shakespeare

Penguin Books: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

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