Penguin Books is celebrating its 75th anniversary online, in the real world, through books, in person, with new books and series. Perhaps the most immediately recognizable way is on the road.
Michael Pollan, Sue Monk Kidd, Jan Karon and other Penguin Books authors have drawn crowds to anniversary events at bookstores across the country this summer. But they aren't acting on their own. The bestselling scribes are sharing the spotlight with a show-stopper: a bright orange Mini Cooper adorned with the publisher's iconic logo.
"One hasn't lived until they are driving down I-110 with [associate publisher] Stephen Morrison in the Penguin-mobile," said Laura Dave, author of The Divorce Party, who caught a ride to an event at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena, Calif. "The best was that we were in terrible traffic, and people in the cars around us all looked miserable. Then they would turn and see the orange Mini Cooper and smile."
Penguin employees are taking turns behind the wheel and so far have logged more than 12,500 miles. "I'm impressed with how much of the country we've covered in such a short time, and we're not done yet," said marketing director John Fagan. He has ventured to Charleston, S.C., Lexington, Ky., and Charlottesville, Va., and on August 2 he'll join Geraldine Brooks at Bunch of Grapes Bookstore on Martha's Vineyard.
Morrison, Fagan and other staffers like editor Alexis Washam and sales rep Brian A. Wilson are blogging about their experiences at PenguinBooks75.com, the company's website devoted to all things diamond anniversary. The Follow the Car blog is part travelogue, with tips on roller coasters and barbecue joints; part chronicle of the car's adventures, a flat tire among them; and part recap of the bookstore festivities.
The stories are similar from store to store: Passersby outside the Penguin Bookshop in Sewickley, Pa., stopped for photo-ops with the car. "It created excitement in the village and was a fun experience for people," said general manager Maryanne Eichorn. In honor of the car, at the store's Penguin Books anniversary soirée, mini bottles of Coca-Cola, mini quiches, mini hotdogs and other bite-size food and drink were served.
When the Mini arrived at Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville, Ill., the bookstore toasted the 75th anniversary with Little Penguin chardonnay and awarded a prize to the attendee who brought in the oldest Penguin book, which was a 1982 edition of James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The winner received a brand-new Penguin title of her choice and left with The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee. One book submitted for the contest was a competitor's version of Joyce's Dubliners with a 1992 note urging a student to buy the Penguin edition: "Get Penguin--good for footnotes."
Upcoming events are taking place at the Nantucket Atheneum, co-hosted by Mitchell's Book Corner, with Nathaniel Philbrick on August 5, in Nantucket, Mass., and at BookHampton in East Hampton, N.Y., with Melissa Bank on August 7. Another opportunity for sighting the Penguin-mobile: at the Antique and Classic Car Show in Stowe, Vt., August 14 and 15.
Some have been curious about the car's
fate after its anniversary duty is done (it will be auctioned off with
proceeds going to the New York Public Library) and the signatures
scrawled on the vehicle (the handiwork of Penguin Books authors). "A
highlight was getting to sign the car alongside so many literary
luminaries," said Kim Edwards, author of The Memory Keeper's Daughter,
who headlined the Lexington event at Joseph-Beth Booksellers. "I'm
there in silver ink on the black dashboard, just behind the steering
wheel, opposite Garrison Keillor."
Viewers of the Bravo TV reality show Work of Art: The Next Great Artist recently
saw 12 contestants each create a book cover for a different Penguin
Classics title, a task that had been suggested to the network by the
publisher. The winner of that competition was John Parot for his cover
for H.G. Wells's The Time Machine. That book is now on sale, and Parot, a
Los Angeles resident, was a guest at a Penguin Books anniversary event
at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena, Calif., last month. (Parot may have had an advantage over the other possible next great
artists: his father is a librarian.) Nearly 100 people attended the
event, which featured an appearance by the Penguin-mobile Mini Cooper
(see above); a reading by Laura Dave, author of The Divorce Party and London Is the Best City in America; and Penguin Books' Howard Wall spoke about the
history of the company.
in conjunction with the 75th anniversary is Penguin Books' support of the Nature Conservancy and its Plant a Billion Trees
campaign, an initiative to revitalize Brazil's Atlantic Forest. The
publisher has been an ardent supporter of the campaign since it launched
in 2006, and the campaign is being featured at anniversary events and
on promotional materials and giveaways--including a bookmark embedded
with wildflower seeds that can be planted after serving its literary
purpose. The Nature Conservancy is alerting its members about the
anniversary gatherings via Twitter (@nature_org).
Penguin and the
Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Ore., are celebrating their
respective 75th anniversaries by holding a joint two-day celebration at
the Festival's Tudor Guild Gift Shop on Festival grounds. The event will
be held on Friday, August 6 (5-8 p.m.), which coincides with the Friday
Night Art Walk, and on Saturday, August 7 (10 a.m.-8 p.m.). Penguin
Shakespeare-related books will be given prime display space throughout
the gift shop. Likewise, the latest edition of Penguin Books' What the
World Is Reading sampler (and all 10 books excerpted in the sampler)
will be available.
In addition, all Bard lovers attending the
Festival those days will be treated to cake and wine, posters, balloons,
tattoos, postcards and magnets, and Penguin 75th anniversary versions
of the classic Penguin Classics tote bags will be given with purchases.
Penguin Gear will also be for sale--T-shirts, caps, mugs,
iPod covers, book lights and a baby's onesie that says "future reader"
under the logo. Last but not least, a person in Penguin costume will be
strutting the company's stuff.
Allen Lane would be proud.