Cover Issues – Penguin English Library

Another new monthly feature!

Book design is one of these things I’m weirdly passionate about. I’m not an artist, I’m not a designer, I have no natural talent for either, but I am a very shallow creature, easily swayed by a good cover and put off by a bad one. It’s so bad that if I see a book I already own has been reissued with a better cover I get twitchy fingers.

So, partly inspired by this wonderful blog, partly because I think my own blog needs a bit more substance than just reviews, but mostly due to my own desire to show off pretty pretty books and bitch about ugly ones, I decided to start up a monthly cover spotlight. Once a month I’ll be featuring a cover – or cover-line – that I either love, hate, or am conflicted about.

First up: Covers I love – the recently reissued Penguin English Library line

Gorgeous, aren’t they? The design’s reminiscent of the Penguin Clothbound Classics designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith, that came out a few years ago – but at a standard paperback price they are much more affordable. And, actually, I would say, much prettier; the slight gloss of a paperback sharpens and crispens the design, while the textile of the clothbound classics rather dulls it. Instead of being a novelty ‘gift’ item with a ‘gift’ price tag and harking back to ye olde days of bookbinding,  these are beautiful, stylishly simple, modern, designer books that everybody can afford to enjoy. I’ll admit I like some a lot more than others;  it’s not a design style that fits every book and I don’t always think the picture chosen quite reflects the content of the text (ie. the Dracula cover) but the continuity over all the books in the series – with the repeated patterns and those contrasting bands down the side – more than makes up for that. In a way it’s more the set rather than any individual book I’m in love with here.

Now, most of these books don’t really need reissuing. Despite the remit of the line being ‘great books writen in the English language’, which should  allow for a lot of lesser known and more modern books to make it into this set, it so far seems to be sticking with the standard classics – of which Penguin already has several sets of designs. It would be nice, once the line’s established, if it branched out from classics and went for some more unusual suspects but, for the moment I’m just going to be happy that I they’re a lot prettier than the standard Penguin Classics and a lot cheaper than the variety of ‘fancy’ Penguin Classics. Good thing I don’t already own all of these books though, or I’d be getting pissed off right now.

But the thing that really makes me love these, even more than the front covers,  is the spines. My god, the spines. Clearly all from the same set but not the boring plain black/white/red you get on the standard Penguin Classics, Oxford World’s Classics, and Vintage Classics – these spines are thematically matched but also fun and pretty in their own right. They look especially great all lined up together – but also beautiful on their own and still stand out in a normal person’s bookshelf, that’s usually full of lots of different spines. I’m a big fan.

Such a big fan that, even though I only went into the bookshop to grab the next Jeeves and Wooster, I ended up burning a hole in my pocket by getting a couple of these as well. It’s ok though! I intended to read them at some point anyway.

For anyone in the UK who likes these they’re currently ‘Buy One, Get One 1/2 Price’ in Waterstones.

To mark the launch of this line Penguin also commissioned director Woof Wan-Bau to make this wonderful little animation:

Love!

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