Penguin Books's 80th Anniversary
With the support of the publisher, Shelf Awareness celebrates the 80th anniversary of Penguin Books.
With the support of the publisher, Shelf Awareness celebrates the 80th anniversary of Penguin Books.
|Sir Allen Lane|
In 1935, Allen Lane had the revolutionary idea of offering affordable, quality paperback books through outlets such as railway stations and newsagents as well as bookshops. On July 30, 1935, he launched Penguin Books by publishing 10 inexpensive paperbacks. Within a year, the innovative publishing model was a success: his new company, Penguin, had sold more than three million books.
Now celebrating its 80th anniversary, Penguin Books continues to publish the types of books that have made it famous and an instantly recognized brand, but it's also expanded to include hardcovers and e-books with titles that range from paperback editions of blockbuster bestsellers to striking paperback originals, from the esteemed Penguin Classics to gift books as well as mysteries--all with the aim of "bringing intelligent, accessible books to readers who know that what you read matters."
Penguin now has a list of some 4,000 titles, which include many titles that Penguin has long been known for, particularly its Classics. Kathryn Court, president and publisher of Penguin Books, noted that many readers first get to know Penguin when they read Penguin Classics during college years. "That's when they begin to feel that when they want the best edition of Great Expectations or anything by Jane Austen that Penguin is the publisher to turn to," Court said. Those Classics editions are updated regularly with modern scholarship and continue to expand their reach into different eras and cultures. (See story below.)
(photo: Lynn Rogan)
At the same time, the company has expanded in a variety of ways. One highly visible iteration: in the last half dozen years, the company has published some books that are "more visual, less obviously Penguin," as Court put it. The key example is Lost Ocean by Johanna Basford, the adult coloring book that appears October 27 (see below). Other more visual titles have included The Sartorialist by Scott Schuman, which was illustrated and in full color and did very well, and Paris vs. New York by Vahram Muratyan. Upcoming visual titles include The Wander Society by Keri Smith and The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith (see below).
The Penguin Originals program started with Waiting for the Barbarians by South African author J.M. Coetzee, a 1980 title that exemplified the idea of publishing originals that "can reach more people more quickly," Court said. Penguin Originals include both literary and commercial titles. One of them, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker, was a lead title and bestseller last year. This year's Originals include 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad (see below).
Penguin is also interested in titles that are "a little odd or eccentric or different," Court said. One of those, published on May 5, is Playing to the Gallery: Helping Contemporary Art in Its Struggle to Be Understood, "an irreverent book about modern art" by Grayson Perry, "a very out-there British artist and cross-dresser," Court said.
Penguin also works closely with sister imprints Viking and Penguin Press, publishing paperback editions of their titles and coordinating pub dates to give authors greater visibility. For example, recently Viking published Music for Wartime, a new story collection by Rebecca Makkai. A few weeks earlier Penguin Books published the paperback edition of Makkai's The Hundred-Year House, which Viking had published in hardcover a year ago.
The only genre that Penguin publishes in is mystery, and most of these are translations. A recent example is the Inspector Montalbano series by Andrea Camilleri, who is turning 90 on September 6. A Beam of Light, the 19th book in the series, is being published here on September 1.
Penguin's extensive backlist allows it to tie in with current events, other media and anniversaries. "It means that lots of things come back," as Court said. One example Court has been delighted by: Hamilton, a play based on Ron Chernow's 2004 biography of Alexander Hamilton, which began preview performances on Broadway on July 13, with its official opening night scheduled for August 8. Already the show's given "a whole new life to the book."
In all cases, the key for Penguin Books is the quality of the writing. Court commented: "If the writing's good enough, we can do many different things and we can reach all sorts of age groups." What better way to honor Allen Lane's tradition of publishing for the widest possible audience?
Early next year, Penguin Classics will publish a Korean classic entitled The Story of Hong Gildong. Written in the late 18th or early 19th century, the story is about a boy who leaves home and becomes the leader of a legendary group of outlaws. Often compared with the English folk tale Robin Hood, The Story of Hong Gildong has been adapted countless times into television shows, animated films, video games and even a theme park. This new edition, translated by Minsoo Kang, is the first Korean classic to be published in the Penguin Classics series and is part of an effort by Penguin Classics to expand its list across cultures and genres.
(photo: Kirby Calvario)
"It's an example not of us discovering a classic, but of us being mindful that there are classics around the world that are big, important works," said Elda Rotor, associate publisher and editorial director of Penguin Classics. "We want to be the publisher that provides the best translations of these works."
Another example of how Penguin Classics is broadening its list is also appearing early next year: it's a new, revised, black spine edition of Abolqasem Ferdowsi's Shahnameh, or "The Persian Book of Kings." Composed in the 10th century, it's the world's longest epic poem and tells of ancient Persia's mythic past as well as the Arab-Islamic invasion in the seventh century. This new edition, translated by Dick Davis, adds more than 70 pages of newly translated material and includes a foreword by Iranian-born Azar Nafisi, professor of English literature and author of Reading Lolita in Tehran and The Republic of Imagination, among other works.
Penguin Classics is also expanding its list in African literature and Buddhist texts. Next summer, Penguin Classics will publish an English translation of Devil on the Cross by Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong'o, written in secret on prison-issue toilet paper while the author was held in a maximum security prison. In February, Penguin Classics published Tenzin Chogyel's The Life of the Buddha, translated and with an introduction by Kurtis R. Schaeffer. On July 21, Penguin Classics published The All-Pervading Melodious Drumbeat: The Life of Ra Lotsawa by Ra Yeshe Senge, translated and introduced by Bryan J. Cuevas. This marks the first time that the Tibetan classic, about the life of an enshrined Buddha and sorcerer, has been translated into English.
"And on the other side of it, we're also reaching out more toward science fiction, fantasy and horror," said Rotor. To that end, Penguin Classics is publishing a "trifecta" of speculative fiction authors this fall.
Coming first on October 6 are two short story collections by horror writer Thomas Ligotti: Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe, together in one volume. Ligotti's work--supernatural horror in the tradition of H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe--was a major influence on Nic Pizzolatto, author and the creator of the television show True Detective. This volume includes a foreword Jeff VanderMeer, the author of the Southern Reach trilogy.
On October 13 comes a collection of short stories from science fiction writer Charles Beaumont called Perchance to Dream. Beaumont was a prolific writer for The Twilight Zone; many of his short stories later became classic episodes. This edition contains an introductory essay by sci-fi legend and Beaumont contemporary Ray Bradbury; an essay by actor William Shatner serves as an afterword.
Also due out on October 13 is The Case Against Satan by Ray Russell. First published in 1962, this classic horror novel tells the story of a possessed high school girl and the two priests who try to save her. This new edition includes a foreword by horror writer Laird Barron. --Alex Mutter
"Every season provides wonderful opportunities to reach new readers and to come back to why Penguin Classics are not only timeless, but also timely," said Elda Rotor, associate publisher and editorial director of Penguin Classics. With Penguin Classics turning 70 next summer, the imprint plans a year-long celebration that will coincide with several other anniversaries and centennials.
Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is turning 150 years old, and on July 7 Penguin Classics published a new 150th anniversary edition, with an introduction and supplemental material by author and Carroll scholar Charlie Lovett. August, meanwhile, marks the centennial of the first publication of Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken," and on August 18 Penguin Classics will publish The Road Not Taken and Other Poems, a new collection of Frost's early work, edited and with an introduction by David Orr. Perhaps the two biggest centennials, though, are those of the births of Saul Bellow and Arthur Miller.
"It's not just an opportunity for people to really learn about their more popular titles, but a chance to reflect on both of their incredible creative lives," explained Rotor.
On May 12, Penguin Classics published new editions of two of Bellow's best works: a deluxe paperback edition of his National Book Award-winning novel Herzog, with an introduction by author Philip Roth, and a black spine edition of his last novel, Ravelstein, featuring an introduction by Gary Shteyngart. And on June 10, Bellow's 100th birthday, Penguin Books co-hosted a Saul Bellow "Centennial Slam" at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in New York City. Speakers at the event included New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman, author Colum McCann and Bellow's long-time editor at Viking Books, Beena Kamlani.
Penguin Books plans to make this fall the "season of Arthur Miller," and in September, Penguin Classics will publish The Penguin Arthur Miller, a collection of 18 of Miller's plays spanning his entire career. The omnibus collection will come in two versions: a deluxe paperback edition and a lavish, bespoke limited edition hardcover. In addition to The Penguin Arthur Miller, new centennial editions of his plays The Price and Incident at Vichy, among other plays, are also being released.
Rotor emphasized the importance of introducing new readers, especially young people, to both Bellow and Miller. "We should return to these individuals," said Rotor. "Classics survive only by their readers." --Alex Mutter
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (May 5)
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd--whose Secret Life of Bees has sold more than six million copies and was adapted into a movie starring Dakota Fanning and Queen Latifah--was recently released in paperback and is continuing to show strong sales.
The book was inspired by Sarah Moore Grimké (1792-1873), daughter of a wealthy South Carolina plantation owner who became an abolitionist and advocate for women's rights. In the novel, Sarah Grimké is given Hetty "Handful" Grimké, a 10-year-old slave, as a gift for her 11th birthday. Sarah illegally teaches Hetty how to read, and both women struggle against the boundaries imposed on them by society.
The novel follows Sarah, Hetty and Sarah's sister Angelina over tumultuous decades, the include the exiling of the Grimké sisters from Charleston because of their radicalism. The Invention of Wings has given new life to historical figures who had previously been all but forgotten.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (May)
Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You has "really taken off in paperback," said Kathryn Court. "It's a very moving, beautifully written book about an Asian American family, about what went on in that family that led to a young girl's death. It's a book everyone enjoyed because it talks about how families struggle with things in their lives and what the results are, especially for children."
That struggle for the Chinese-American Lee family begins with the death of their daughter Lydia, found drowned in a lake near their small 1970's Ohio town. The Lee family's unraveling leads to an exploration of race, gender, achievement and alienation as Lydia's parents and siblings search for answers to Lydia's mysterious death.
The All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness (May)
Deborah Harkness's All Souls Trilogy began in 2011 with A Discovery of Witches, a supernatural blend of witchcraft, alchemy, demons and vampires. The series continued in 2012 with Shadow of Night and concluded with 2014's The Book of Life. A paperback boxed set was released in May.
"It's very well written and fantasy, an area that's not something that Penguin has done a lot of," said Kathryn Court. "[It's] something we want to do more of, but finding a writer like Deborah is key."
Deborah Harkness is a history professor at the University of Southern California and the recipient of Fulbright, Guggenheim and National Humanities Center fellowships. She also writes a wine blog, Good Wine Under $20.
Miss Emily by Nuala O'Connor (July 14)
Irish author Nuala O'Connor, who also writes as Nuala Ní Chonchúir, made her American debut with Miss Emily on July 14. She has already published four short story collections and two novels in Ireland. Her second novel, The Closest of Savage Mementos, was shortlisted for the Kerry Irish Novel of the Year Award this year.
O'Connor's third novel, Miss Emily, imagines the private life of Emily Dickinson through a friendship with her Irish maid. Eighteen-year-old Ada Concannon is hired by the Dickinson family of Amherst, Mass. Despite her lower social status, Ada befriends the family's reclusive elder daughter, Miss Emily.
Emily spends her days inside the Dickinson estate. Her gift with words is as profound as her eccentricity: she lives like a spinster and wears only white. Emily's stubborn reclusiveness is put to the test when her new friend Ada's safety and reputation are imperiled.
After You by Jojo Moyes (September 29)
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes has been a runaway bestseller since its 2012 publication, selling more than five million copies and spawning an upcoming major motion picture starring Emilia Clark of Game of Thrones fame. "It's been a very big success and about to become a movie for summer next year," said Kathryn Court. "Moyes is like Sue Monk Kidd--she represents the sort of fiction we publish that can go wide and find lots of readers."
Me Before You tells the story of Louisa Clark, an average girl with an average life who takes a job with Will Traynor, a former business and extreme sports hotshot now wheelchair-bound by an accident. Will is a temperamental boss, but Lou becomes determined to raise his spirits and they grow increasingly attached. When she learns Will plans to commit suicide in six months, Lou must try to give her boss a reason to live.
A sequel, After You, will be published in hardcover by Pamela Dorman Books/Viking on September 29. The film version of Me Before You comes out June 3, 2016, starring Emilia Clarke as Louisa and Sam Claflin as Will. Jojo Moyes's other novels include One Plus One and The Last Letter from Your Lover.
Lost Ocean by Johanna Basford (October 27)
Scottish illustrator Johanna Basford became an international sensation with Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book, published in 2013, which led the pack in a rapidly expanding new genre: coloring books for adults. Readers shared their completed colorings of Basford's intricate designs over social media, and continued spreading the craze through word of mouth and bookstore coloring parties (usually accompanied by cocktails). A flood of other adult coloring titles have been released since Secret Garden's surprising success, including Enchanted Forest, Basford's second book.
This spring, Penguin Books acquired Basford's next two titles, the first of which is Lost Ocean: An Inky Adventure and Coloring Book, to be released October 27. Lost Ocean will showcase Basford's eye for whimsical complexity in an undersea world of ocean life, shipwrecks, seashells, pirate treasure and more. Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest have been difficult to keep in stock, so expect big demand for Lost Ocean.
The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith (November 10)
Coralie Bickford-Smith is the award-winning illustrator behind the covers of Penguin's Classics Hardcovers series. Her striking blend of understatement, bold color and symmetry have created beautiful companions to works like The Prince and Robinson Crusoe. Many of her designs evoke the style of Victorian book binding, and have been featured in publications like the New York Times, Vogue and the Guardian.
Bickford-Smith brings her artistic prowess to her authorial debut, The Fox and the Star, coming November 10. This illustrated tale follows the lonely Fox and his friend Star, who lights Fox's way as he searches for food and runs with rabbits in the dark forest. When Star's light suddenly disappears, Fox must journey through frightening darkness to an unfamiliar world, and perhaps a new star-filled sky.
The Fox and the Star uses art inspired by William Blake and the Arts and Crafts movement to encourage readers to "look up beyond your ears." It is another part of Penguin's relatively recent push into highly visual works.
13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad (February 23)
13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl is the debut novel of Mona Awad, an MFA graduate from Brown University whose work has appeared in McSweeney's, the Walrus, Joyland, Post Road and the St. Petersburg Review; she is currently earning a PhD in English literature and creative writing from the University of Denver.
13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl follows Lizzie, a young woman with self-image issues from Mississauga, Ontario, which she calls "Misery Saga." Despite reassurances from her friends and family, Lizzie feels deeply uncomfortable about her appearance. She decides to change it through exercise and dieting, eventually becoming the slim woman she had always hoped to be. But validation from her peers and spouse prove little comfort when Lizzie looks in a mirror--she still sees herself as a fat girl.
Awad satirizes a culture obsessed with body image and the value of women as measured by their physical appearance. "It's very honest and very raw and rather unsettling," Kathryn Court said. "This young woman has a real voice." Coming February 23, 2016, 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl promises to be a tender and caustically humorous debut.
The Wander Society by Keri Smith (March 29)
Author, illustrator, blogger and guerrilla artist Keri Smith creates books about unleashing creativity. Her bestseller Wreck This Journal encourages readers to poke holes through pages, color outside the lines and partake in other stimulating acts of creative destruction. This Is Not a Book prompts readers to use the book in very unbookish ways, like tearing out pages to write secret notes or slamming the cover to make music. The Imaginary World of... (Perigee) creates entire fictitious worlds guided by reader's imaginations.
Smith's latest book, coming from Penguin Books March 29, 2016, is The Wander Society, which Kathryn Court called "something new" for Penguin Books.
The Wander Society cryptically promises that its purchasers will have joined a "secret underground movement," whose membership duties are creatively disrupting everyday life and experiencing unplanned time. Whatever activities the book includes, they are sure to inspire out-of-the-box thinking. --Tobias Mutter
The Danish Girl (October 27)
The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff, first published in 2001, was inspired by the true story of Einar and Gerda Wegener, Danish artists in the early 20th century. When Gerda Wegener's female portrait model cancels, she asks her husband Einar to pose in women's clothes. Einar is transformed by the experience, and with his wife's encouragement begins cross-dressing. Einar undergoes the first recorded sex change operation in 1931, emerging as a woman named Lili Elbe. Though Gerda encouraged Einar's decision, her husband's transition may jeopardize their marriage.
A film adaptation of The Danish Girl, directed by Tom Hooper (director of Les Misérables and The King's Speech) opens November 10. Eddie Redmayne plays Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe. He won the Best Actor Academy Award in 2015 for his portrayal of a young Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Penguin's movie tie-in edition (9780143108399) comes out October 27.
Noting that transgender themes are "in the air," Kathryn Court said Eddie Redmayne's casting in the role is "extraordinary. We've been waiting forever [for the film]."
In the Heart of the Sea (December 11)
In 1820, the Nantucket whaling ship Essex sank in the South Pacific after being rammed by a sperm whale. The 20-man crew drifted in three tiny boats for 90 days, beset by hunger, thirst, disease and weather. Some 2,000 miles away, near Chile, two survivors were found in a boat full of chewed human bones. In the end, only eight of the 20 crewmen were rescued.
This true story of madness and cannibalism wrought by an angry whale inspired Herman Melville's Moby Dick and, in 2000, Nathaniel Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, winner of the National Book Award for Nonfiction. Philbrick uses modern and archival sources, including a journal by the Essex's cabin boy discovered only in 1960, to explore a tale that was to the 19th-century as the sinking of the Titanic was to the 20th.
The story of the Essex also captured the imagination of director Ron Howard, whose film adaptation of In the Heart of the Sea opens December 11. The all-star cast includes Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Michelle Fairley and Brendan Gleeson. Penguin's movie tie-in edition (9780143126812) comes out November 10.