The Reading Room

In Praise of Vintage Penguin

Penguin Books ‘Vintage’ collection….

I feel compelled to write a few lines in praise of Penguin Paperbacks ‘Vintage’ series, a collection of epic vintage literature bound in some of the most appealing cover artwork one could wish to see on their bookshelf.

For far too long, publishers lost their way with marketing new and reprint editions. One only has to look at the fabulous Collins Crime Club editions from the 1930s to see how book covers can look if the will is there. In the 1960s Penguin Paperbacks had the good sense to employ artists such as Paul Hogarth to illustrate their reprints of Graham Greene to show the crucial link between text and image. And it is a crucial link. The reader wants to be drawn in by a cover, the cover needs to relate to the book and Hogarth was the master at illustrating the essence of the novel. For once, Greene’s novels had covers to match his writing, those first editions of Greene’s reek of mediocrity and an automatic assumption by the publisher that the book would sell regardless. In pure business terms there can be little argument, like Agatha Christie, the books were a guaranteed success, so why spend money on an artist? But for me, the bigger the success of the author the shorter changed the reader as a result and Vintage Paperbacks are righting that wrong.

Above and opposite are eight titles from my own collection; John Cheever, Richard Yates, RK Narayan and one of my all time favourites, The Malayan Trilogy by Anthony Burgess. I am particularly drawn to the artwork for novels set in the mid half of the twentieth century, they seem particularly evocative, especially of America and none more so than of Stoner by John Williams, one of the finest novels ever written. Nevile Shute is well featured, On the Beach is obviously included.

There are so many fabulous titles in the range which offer a new and appealing cover. Publishers should take note of a very welcome return to book cover art.

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