Thursday, January 03, 2008

Paperback Revolution

While the year began on a very shameful note here in Mumbai, there in Kochi, Pune, Patna and other unreported places, I began it by reading a little story on the history of ‘Penguin Books’ and ‘paperbacks’. It’s charming, concerns books and deserves to be narrated here.

Penguin Books has this series called Pocket Penguins, 70 and on a recent visit to Landmark, the gigantic bookstore in a mega-gigantic mall, I picked up some good ones from the series. Scott Fitzgerald, Nabokov, Woolf, Steinbeck and Hunter Thompson. Wanting to read, the beautiful story called ‘The Breakfast’ by Steinbeck, I opened up the book to find this story on the first page.

In 1935 if you wanted to read a good book, you needed either a lot of money or a library card. Cheap paperbacks were available, but their poor production generally mirrored the quality between the covers. One weekend that year, Allen Lane, Managing Director of The Bodley Head, having spent the weekend visiting Agatha Christie, found himself on a platform at Exeter station trying to find something to read for his journey back to London. He was appalled by the quality of the material he had to choose from. Everything that Allen Lane achieved from that day until his death in 1970 was based on a passionate belief in the existence of ‘a vast reading public for intelligent books at a low price’.

The result of his momentous vision was the birth not only of Penguin, but of the ‘paperback revolution’. Quality writing became available for the price of a packet of cigarettes, literature became a mass medium for the first time, a nation of book borrowers became a nation of book-buyers – and the very concept of book publishing was changed forever. Those founding principles – of quality and value, with an overarching belief in the fundamental importance of reading – have guided everything the company has done since 1935. Sir Allen Lane’s pioneering spirit is still very much alive at Penguin in 2005. Here’s to the next 70 years!

As is evident from this tale, the great publishing house came out with this series to commemorate 70 years of publication, in 2005. The first 20 books published by Penguin included titles like ‘A Farewell to Arms’ by Hemingway and ‘The Informer’ by Liam O’Flaherty.

Thank you Mr. Lane!


mr bojangles said...

and thank you too, for educating us!

(and that pic was tooo much onleee)

ilegirl said...

Fabulous story about Mr. Lane! He did a great service for those of us who love to read but lack the funds to acquire a leather-bound library of classic literature, and kudos to his business sense as well.

What Nabokov did you select? I have been itching to revisit 'Laughter in the Dark'.

Bapi said...

Thank you Mr. Lane in helping us commoners stay literate. Thank you again for the paperback Penguin Books. Finally thank you Meraj in letting us commoners get an opportunity to thank a reformer like Mr. Lane

meraj said...

i picked up Cloud, Castle, Lake by Nabokov.

havent read 'Laughter in the Dark', which is a precursor to the famous Lolita.

Bojangles and Bapi,
you people are most welcome!

Smiling Dolphin said...

Sounds like a Walmart. Till google came along and said "why just cheap when you can make it free?"

CresceNet said...

Gostei muito desse post e seu blog é muito interessante, vou passar por aqui sempre =) Depois dá uma passada lá no meu site, que é sobre o CresceNet, espero que goste. O endereço dele é . Um abraço.

Atanu Dey said...

I see your penguin and I raise you Linux.

meraj said...

cheers, Atanu!