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.
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