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The Penguin imprint was started by Allen Lane in 1935 in order to get books in people's hands for as cheaply as possible. Lane had the same dream that people who publish fiction always have: he wanted the world flooded with stories -- stories everywhere -- little paper doors to take you out of reality anywhere you looked, books available for pence, for pickles, for a song.
The story goes that Allen Lane went to go visit his pal Agatha Christie, and on the way back he found himself standing at the train station without a book to read. You could buy cigarettes, but not books. You could buy modern gin or modern underwear, but not modern fiction. You could buy white pudding in a paper cup, but you couldn't buy a paperback. In fact, paperbacks didn't even exist. So he invented them. He stole the idea from the Germans -- alright, fine. But he made it work.
Allen Lane was also was the first British publisher to handle "Ulysses," and he had to get in a street fight with the Queen and her nobles to do it.
It was scandalous! It was Irish! It was filth!
Penguin was prosecuted by the crown; Penguin was triumphant.
Lane and his Penguin imprint were fighters for books and literature -- the kind you don't see anymore. He put books in vending machines (something called the "Penguincubator"),
he put books in the hands of dangerous radicals, he published people whose names couldn't be easily pronounced and people who were on the wrong side of politics and the law. The Beatles would never have stopped holding hands and got fucking sexual if it weren't for Penguin's cheap paperback editions.
He published to educate; to socialize; to edify; to entertain. The man loved books, and his imprint let poor people smoke up literature as if they were burning down the forest.
Print runs of 20,000? And sell that shit like bubble gum!
Now his company (he is very dead) -- a company which once distributed books from a single press out of a London crypt -- now his company has partnered with Match.com to help you find a person to curl up with...and do crossword puzzles...
All these publishing companies think tepid social networking is going to make literature important again. It won't. They are just going to make books another box to check right under your height, weight, and mood. If they aren't careful, they are going to make books just another way to sort people instead of a way to wake them up or medicate their souls.
"I really hope any romances are happy ones, but hopefully our readers are fully aware of what can go wrong as that's the kind of thing our Penguin Classics are full of."
Yes, they are:
While I certainly think using books as a gateway to sex is a good idea, I wish Penguin was still out there fighting for us instead of trying to be cute. I wish someone was still out there fighting for us.
"Publishing companies don't need to get into dating to stay in business," says Bill Chapters. "They need to get into CRIME."
Posted by miracle on Wed, 27 Aug 2008 05:46:32 -0400 -- permanent link