Wednesday, 25 September 2013

George Orwell's 'Review of Penguin Books'
& a Penguin giveaway (updated)

In my capacity as reader I applaud the Penguin Books; in my capacity as writer I pronounce them anathema. (George Orwell, 'Review of Penguin Books', 1936). 
George Orwell's Review of Penguin Books
Perhaps this will be of interest to no one other than me, but as I couldn't find George Orwell's 1936 essay 'Review of Penguin Books' anywhere online, I have uploaded it here (noting that Orwell's works are in the public domain in Australia, but this may not be true elsewhere).

There are many things of interest in the essay, among them that he gives credit for the books to John Lane and The Bodley Head, with Allen Lane not mentioned at all. Orwell provides brief, almost single sentence reviews of the various titles which comprise what he refers to as the third series of the Penguin Library, but which I would call Penguins numbered 21 to 30. 

He also expresses some criticism of the the philosophy underpinning Penguin Books, particularly the idea of selling each book for a sixpence, a criticism based on the assumption that the book-buying public was of fixed size, and that the overall demand for books was therefore limited and in a sense largely inelastic with respect to price. This gives some indication of the novelty of Allen Lane's idea: he gambled that the availability of inexpensively priced books with some literary merit might promote reading to new audiences by competing with alternative forms of entertainment, thereby recruiting new buyers. And time proved him to be right. 

A Penguin giveaway
Tomorrow will mark three years since the first post on A Penguin a Week, and a quick count suggests that The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists was the 200th review of a vintage Penguin title, which puts me slightly ahead of my one-per-week schedule. I thought that I might mark this anniversary/milestone by giving away a few Penguins, and in a sense begin to pay forward the generosity shown to me by readers of this blog.

One of the delightful but completely unforeseen consequences of A Penguin a Week has been that parcels of old Penguins turn up at the end of my driveway from time to time, and few things make my day more than the sight of an unopened parcel bearing books. I have several people to thank for sending me Penguins and Pelicans to add to the collection, some of whom I know well and many others that I have never met. Just lately these include Jonathan Light, Alex Twells, Patrick O'Sullivan, Christopher Jones, Mark Pinkerton, Terry Baker, Rebecca O'Leary, Patricia Collins, Pam Parks and Adam Gee.

Penguin buying has become something of a habit and I find it almost impossible to walk past a well-priced vintage Penguin for sale irrespective of how many copies I already own. Some of the titles I own multiple copies of are well worth reading but not necessarily easy to track down, and so I have collected together five of these old Penguins to give away.

I thought I would send them away in two sets:

The Clochemerle set consisting of:
Penguin no. 797: Clochemerle
Penguin no. 1275: Clochemerle-Babylon (cover by Enzo Appicella);

and the Ariel set consisting of:
Penguin no. 1: Ariel
Penguin no. 1210: The Bad Seed
Penguin no. 2267: An Error of Judgement (cover by Terence Greer).

Perhaps I should emphasise that these are old secondhand books (age range: 48 to 77 years), and they necessarily show markers of their age; two are first editions, the others are later issues, and The Bad Seed has a cover beginning to come away from its spine. I hope they are headed to people whose principal interest will be in reading them, and I am happy to send them anywhere in the world to which Australia Post can arrange delivery.

If you would like either set, please let me know which set in the comments below, or by sending me an email using the link on my blogger profile, or on Facebook here or here, or via a twitter message to @apenguinaweek. If more than one person expresses an interest in either set, I will select the recipients via random draws next Wednesday afternoon, Perth time (2/10/2013).

Finally, I would like to thank everyone who visits the blog and keeps me inspired to keep posting reviews.

Update (2/10/2013)
Thank you to everyone who expressed an interest in the books. I conducted a draw this afternoon, and the recipients are:
Ariel set: Jeremy
Clochemerle set: Shvetal Vyas


  1. Hi Karyn, Congratulations on re-inventing Old Penguins and review #200. The review a week idea was not only a great idea but to achieve such a milestone is fabulous! Your collection has inspired me to continue the collection I started 30 years ago. I need a database those, never sure whether I'm re-purchasing what I have already! Best wishes Mark

  2. 200 reviews! Well done!

    I'll put my hat in the ring for the Ariel set - I'm sure you'll have to do a draw!

  3. Hi.
    I love reading your blog and discovering new books, and some old friends that I never knew were Penguins. Please consider me for either of the draws. I will be inspired by you and review the books on my blog. Thanks :)

  4. Hi Karyn,

    I'd be interested to read the Orwell comments, but Blogger tells me my account doesn't have access to view the page -- is that just me?

    Best, F

    1. Thanks for letting me know, Flavia. I have edited the link and hopefully it is working now.

    2. Yes, it's fine now. Thanks very much for making that available; I'd come across a couple of the sentences quoted in various places, but much better to read the whole thing.

  5. Hiya Karyn,
    Congratulations on this milestone!
    Could you please enter me into both draws?

    Here's to many more years of collecting,

  6. Happy blogiversary - perhaps Orwell's comment could have recycled for the business plan of Amazon/cheap ebooks?! I shall enjoy reading his thoughts...

  7. You just know your are going to have to do a draw, right? Please put my name in the hat for the Ariel set. I found your blog about 6 months ago and just love picking up vintage penguins; I'm into Puffins too up the 70s!

  8. That's an impressive milestone, and thanks for the link to Orwell - I hate his novels, but really enjoy his essays. As far as I'm aware his work is not supposed to be available on free download sites here in the UK (something to do with copyright I believe) However,we can access much of it at the Project Gutenberg Australia site, but it can only be read online, not downloaded on to E-readers or computers. I thought it was odd that the an organisation could provide Orwell's work in one country, but not in another.

  9. You have a great blog. I will visit it often

  10. Thank you so much for the books. This is the first time I've won anything and am super excited :)



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