I am lying low at the moment. I am under a blanket. I feel distinctly blanket-ish.
I am doing a lot of reading. I have recently been reading William Morris’s very strange utopian novel News from Nowhere and H.G. Wells’ possibly even stranger Tono-Bungay. I am currently reading The Suburban Swindle a new book of short stories by an emerging US writer, Jackie Corley, which I am reviewing for Bookmunch. Next I will be reading The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist by Robert Tressell.
What I am not doing much of is writing. My blog has had a lot of extra traffic since being shortlisted for the Manchester Blog Awards, and whilst it’s great to have so many people stopping in for a visit it’s also strangely unnerving. It makes it harder to write things. I think I may be suffering from a case of “blogger’s remorse”. After all, it’s one thing to write a blog when you know that not many people (and certainly not many people you know in real life) are going to be reading it, but it’s quite another when lots of people (many of whom you know) are reading it, and having opinions about it, and you will also have to go out in public and acknowledge it as your own. My superego is going slightly crazy about all this (and ever since watching Slavoj Zizek’s “The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema” recently, I can’t help envisioning my superego as looking like Groucho Marx, which makes it extra weird). It is barking a lot of words at me in a very loud voice. Some of the words are things like “ridiculous” and “stupid” and “inane” and “twee” and “annoying”. It’s basically telling me that everyone is going to point and laugh at me, and then I’ll do something hugely embarrassing, and probably that all my clothes will also somehow fall off as well, in a general nightmare-type way.
However, I am not going to be defeated by my superego, even if it does closely resemble Groucho Marx. In fact I am going to dare its disapproval, so just watch this space…
Autumn is really here now. I can smell it in the air. I like autumn. I like crispy early mornings, wearing boots and woolly tights, brisk walks, falling leaves, cosy jumpers and eating sustaining things like stew. I especially like that ‘back to school’ feeling of really getting down to business, a certain sense of purpose that comes along with the new stationery – fresh notebooks and really sharp pencils. It’s a good time of year.
I have to admit though that I’m not such a fan of the torrential rain we’ve been having of late. Or of the particularly unpleasant cold which has struck me down this week – I’m writing this from my sick bed. Still there’s worse things than lying around all day feeling slightly sorry for myself, eating soup, re-reading Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (the perfect book for chilly autumn afternoons), and looking forward to an evening of watching entertaining TV like ‘Dog Borstal’ in my pyjamas.
In other news I’ve got a review of Taking Pictures by Anne Enright up on the lovely Transmission blog at the moment where there are also lots of other good things. Check it out here.
I found this fragment of a page in the lane behind my house. Something about it compelled me to pick it up. I’m not sure what book it comes from but it’s very mysterious and intriguing. Finding it instantly conjured up memories of childhood adventures – I felt as if I had stumbled upon a clue, and was about to embark on a part-Famous Five, part-Nancy Drew, part-Treasure Island type quest involving lost treasure maps and strange sounds by night, enigmatic strangers and mysterious happenings. Sadly there have been no further mysterious happenings as yet. However, I’ll keep you posted…
A fortnightly reading group dedicated to reading Karl Marx’s Capital Vol. 1: A Critique of Political Economy will begin on 6 October 2008 at The Salford Restoration Office. Individuals are invited to join the group to read Marx’s Capital Vol. 1 in conjunction with David Harvey’s online lectures. Harvey, a respected academic and writer, has been teaching open classes on the book for 40 years, and the current set of lectures given at the City University of New York have been filmed and made available on-line. The lectures are accessible to all at anytime but the fortnightly sessions at The Salford Restoration Office will create a structured environment in which to read and discuss this pivotal text.
Reading Capital is open to all who wish to attend and participate. Sessions are free of charge, but space is limited so please contact (click here for email address) if you would like to participate.
Participants are asked to provide their own copy of Capital Vol. 1. The Penguin Classics edition and the Vintage Books edition (ISBN 0140445684 and 039472657x) tally with references. Participants are asked to read the chapters covered in each session in advance. Meeting every other Monday from 6 October between 6.30pm and 8.30pm, the sessions will run until 1 December 2008, and begin again on 19 January until summer 2009. Reading Capital is organised by Duncan Hay and The Salford Restoration Office (James Hutchinson and Lesley Young). For more information, go here.
‘Good design costs no more than bad design’ – Penguin founder Sir Allen Lane
Most people know the now-legendary story of how Penguin Books founder, the publisher Allen Lane, on returning to London from a weekend at the Devon home of Agatha Christie in 1934, having tried unsuccessfully to find something to read at Exeter station, suddenly realised there was a significant gap in the market for good quality but affordable paperback books. It was in fact Lane’s secretary who initially suggested Penguin as a “dignified but flippant” name for the new publishing company: Lane himself, who emphasised the critical importance of cover design from the start, devised an early version of the famous three-panel cover, and the office junior was sent to sketch the penguins at London Zoo for a logotype. Over the years, Penguin’s design was developed and refined under the direction of the German typographer Jan Tschichold during the 1940s and the Italian art director Germano Facetti in the 1960s.
Of course, today, we recognise Penguin as being synonymous with iconic design: Penguin mugs and tote bags can be purchased from the Tate Gallery; a Penguin exhibition was shown at the Design Museum in 2006; and in 2007 the company launched the inaugural Penguin Design Awards dedicated to supporting the very best in emerging book design talent. And personally I’m coveting these two beautiful new books all about the very best of Penguin book design:
Penguin by Design: A Cover Story (Allan Lane, 2005) is a comprehensive design history of seventy years of Penguin paperbacks. Author Phil Baines charts the development of Penguin’s distinctive design through an investigation of individual titles, artists and designers as well as typography (got to love that Gill Sans), and the famous Penguin logo itself. Lavishly illustrated, the book reveals not only how Penguin has established its identity through its cover design, but also how it has become a constantly-evolving part of the history of British visual culture, influencing the wider development of graphic design, typography, typesetting and illustration. Filled with intriguing snippets of information (apparently back in the day a Penguin paperback would set you back a mere sixpence – that’s 2.5p – which was then the price of a packet of 10 cigarettes) the book is also strangely evocative: perhaps because of the special place Penguin books (not to mention childhood Puffins) occupy in most of our hearts, flipping through these beautifully designed pages is a uniquely nostalgic and moving experience. Find out more here.
Seven Hundred Penguins (Penguin, 2007) makes an intriguing companion volume: a fascinating selection of seven hundred of Penguin’s most important and influential covers, ranging from the publisher’s earliest days to the end of the twentieth century. Selected by Penguin’s staff, the collection brings together everything from well-known design classics to unexpected and quirky treats – perfect coffee-table fodder. Find out more here.
Perhaps inspired in part by the popularity of these two titles, Penguin have recently published Penguin Celebrations, a selection of 36 of “the best books of their kind to be published in recent years” issued in covers inspired by the original, now iconic three-panel design. As with Penguin books of old, the series takes in fiction (orange), science (blue), mystery & crime (green), travel (pink), biography (blue) and essays (purple) – they are pretty hard to resist, even though they aren’t quite as nice as the originals.
And as if this wasn’t enough, other recent Penguin projects have included My Penguin, a series of classic Penguin titles ranging from Alice in Wonderland through to Crime and Punishment with blank, “design it yourself” covers. Six bands(Razorlight, Goldspot, Dragonette, Johnny Flynn and Mr Hudson & The Library, in case you’re wondering) got the ball rolling by designing their own unique covers, which you can view on the My Penguin website. There is also a gallery of reader’s own cover designs (sadly, submissions are now closed) which you can browse here.
And you’ve got to love the recently-issued series of classic adventures with Boy’s Own-inspired covers designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith, like the cover for John Buchan’s Greenmantle above. You can check the full set out here on the excellent Première de couverture blog – a must-read for anyone with an interest in book design.
Given all this it’s perhaps unsurprising that Penguin books have become a key source of inspiration for artist Harland Miller. His recent monograph International Lonely Guy (Rizzoli, 2007) brings together a series of works inspired by literature, and by Penguin cover designs in particular, together with a series of essays and interviews with the artist by both fans and critics including Jarvis Cocker, Sophie Fiennes, Gordon Burn and Ed Ruscha. Nostalgic, bitter and witty by turns, Miller’s book is a million miles away from the Penguin mugs in the Tate Gallery bookshop, but what remains evident throughout is the artist’s intense interest in language and literature: paintings are rife with play-on-words, puns and textual experimentations combined with reappropriations of cover and author images (Ernest Hemingway, featuring in a painting entitled I’m So Fucking Hard is perhaps especially memorable) in a contemporary riff on Pop art.
The Penguin: as they say, there really is “no other book like it”!