Sunday, April 16, 2006

Human perversity

drove me to the bookstore this afternoon (it is ridiculous, my apartment is full of books in a most problematic way, I think what I have to do is read at least one every day and then it will not be so galling when I have to return the others to the library unread), first to Porter Square Books which was closed for Easter (since when was Easter the kind of holiday that made bookstores close?!?) and then to the Harvard Bookstore where I bought six things, at least four of which I intend to consume immediately. Like tonight. Book emergency! (Actually the real book emergency is not having a good one; I am not sure why I am having this strong psychological need to read a lot of books of a soothing kind, I had vaguely meant to spend the evening rereading Godwin's Political Justice for the chapter I'm writing, but it dawned on me earlier that this was just not going to happen....)

I just finished book #1 from this particular haul (also this reminds you why these good independent bookstores are so necessary, somehow I never even heard about this), the beauty of its cover attracted me like a magnet from across the store: I picked it up & sort of slavered over it with my jaw hanging down, put it back on the shelf because $25.00 seemed an extravagance, but ten minutes later found myself drifting back over and tucking a copy under my arm. It is a peculiarly lovely but also fascinating book called Penguin by Design: A Cover Story 1935-2005, designer Phil Baines's history of Penguin's book design. Remarkably attractive illustrations, intelligent text and commentary, and the whole thing of course adds up to a bizarrely wide-ranging cultural history of middle-class England in the twentieth century.

I was reminded so strongly of my grandparents and the books I would read when we visited every two years (the English ones in Highgate, the Scottish ones in a little seaside town called North Berwick just outside of Edinburgh). Both households had lots of Penguins but especially my Scottish grandfather was an insatiable book-collector, you would open a cupboard and suddenly there would be, like, ten shelves just bursting with green Penguin crime fiction or How-to-Speak-[fill in the blank: Italian, Gaelic, Arabic, etc. etc. etc.] language-learning books. And particular books I associate incredibly strongly with the Penguin edition: in Highgate, the amusing but perplexing 1066 and All That and the altogether perplexing Gamesmanship ones by Stephen Potter; in North Berwick, the novels of Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham.

In any case, this book is well worth getting, it has my highest recommendation if you are interested in this sort of thing at all. It made me yearn to write all sorts of books, novels of course but also more Pelican-type serious ones. The Puffins aren't really treated here, which is sad (I think my most-favorite Puffin book--my grandfather was always sending things like this for Christmas--was Eric Linklater's The Wind on the Moon).

1 comment:

  1. Several homes ago, our not-so-big living room was lined on two sides with bookshelves, and on a third side was the couch (and the fourth was the front door and a chair), and I used to sit on the couch and look at the shelves and think about arranging my books by color, which thought was, of course, generated by the Penguins with their orange and then black spines (and, of course, the Viragos with their green spines).