Friday, 9 October 2009

The News from Central Europe

As promised, some more upcoming covers lifted from the 2010 Penguin Classics line-up. These are the 10 Central European Classics due in May. I'm guessing that they're by David Pearson, as they remind me of his Simenon covers, but in fact I have no idea. Robert Schumann tells me that they're the work of Jon Gray, better known in the designing world as gray318.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

I'm very excited by this lot, as what I've read of these authors has been excellent. Gyula Krúdy of Hungary is one of the greats--his The Adventures of Sindbad and Sunflower are wonderful. Gregor von Rezzori, from what is now the Ukraine, wrote the amazing Memoirs of an Anti-Semite (this and Sunflower are both available in beautiful editions from NYRB). If you can handle 200- or 300-page paragraphs, Thomas Bernhard is your man. Karel Čapek is one of my favourite writers, and War with the Newts is probably his best book--an absurdist science-fiction masterpiece in which genetically engineered humanoid newts go from being humanity's slaves to cheerfully and politely lowering all of the continents into the oceans in order to make the world better for themselves.

As for E. M. Cioran, here's a bit of his cheerful philosophy, from 'The Trouble with Being Born': "Better to be an animal than a man, an insect than an animal, a plant than an insect, and so on. Salvation? Whatever diminishes the kingdom of consciousness and compromises its supremacy."

Here are those two NYRBs I mentioned...



Design by Katy Homans, using Witkacy's 'Jadwiga Janczewska' (a photo of Witkacy's fiancee, who would go on to commit suicide)



Design by Katy Homans, using Oskar Kokoschka's 'Murderer, Hope of Women II'

16 comments:

Derek said...

Those Penguins have a whole bunch of interesting stuff going on ... the "new plain" look coupled with decorative patterns coupled with photo collage and retro typefaces.

Christy Pinheiro, EA ABA said...

The Sunflower cover gave me a chill. You can feel her.

Will said...

Oh boy, I have to imagine Bernhard and Cioran groaning at those covers, and yet I'm very pleased they are getting the Penguin stamp of approval (two of my favorites, and not exactly without their controversy).

But the series is really exciting, I agree. And maybe someday, somewhere, someone will bring out the goddamn Cioran notebooks (R. Howard's proposed translation for Arcade never materialized, and now Arcade is gone).

I always forget we read the same stuff. You should check out László Krasznahorkai's Melancholy of Resistance. He better get a Nobel prize some day.

Robert Schumann said...

This wonderful series is designed by Jon Gray.

Laura@popdesign said...

another interesting cover series from Penguin... love the retro-modern-avant-garde mix of influences. I also agree, likely most of the authors would not have appreciated as much....

JRSM said...

Thanks for the comments all, and especially Robert for identifying the designer--I've updated the post to reflect it. Christy, I agree about that Sunflower cover--beautiful and sad, even without knowing the story behind it. And Will, László Krasznahorkai is now on the list!

Will said...

I meant to say that I love the series look! While I joked that the authors would groan, now that I think about, though Bernhard and Cioran can be bleak and relentless, they're also extremely funny, something which never gets played up. (I like reading Cioran aphorisms in the voice of Comic Book Guy.) So the more lighthearted series look could help change the image of these writers as colossal mopes.

I had never noticed that it was Witkacy's photo on the Sunflower cover. I feel like an idiot for selling off this book of Witkacy's photos a few years ago -- now it's impossible to find. There's a great book of his painting that can still be found for cheap (I think only in Polish). I'll be featuring it soon.

Max Cairnduff said...

Now that's an exciting lineup. Oddly enough I've been trying to work out where to start with Gyula Krúdy of Hungary and Gregor von Rezzori, Penguin Classics editions will be a must buy.

I love the covers too, that wonderful retro look - much better than the NYRB ones. I'm not a huge fan of NYRB's covers.

War with the Newts is marvellous, very funny in places too, it's a shame I read it first as I think you're right - it is his best.

JRSM said...

I did the same thing with Capek: I've thoroughly enjoyed all his stuff, but I read 'Newts' first, and it was a hard act to follow.

Tulkinghorn said...

Are these UK or US or something else?

Nothing on Amazon yet.....

JRSM said...

Sorry, I meant to say--they're Penguin UK, due in May 2010.

Steve said...

I absolutely hate these neo-dilettantish, so-called "bold" covers. They give a totally false impression of the works concerned, making them look like a series of throwaway funny books.

John Self said...

I got a set of these last week, and have read the Bernhard (a pleasure from start to finish, quite contrary to my expectations - and, as Will says, very funny) and am now enjoying Slawomir Mrozek's The Elephant, a series of 40 very short (~4 pages each) stories satirising propaganda and totalitarianism in Poland. A real delight. On your recommendation, James, I have the Capek and Grudy also earmarked for early attention. The other six will have to wait...

My gripe about these new editions relates not to the covers (which I like), but the fact that none of them has an introduction or any critical apparatus (except one translator's note), some haven't been reset, and some don't even state when the translation was first published. Also, the Capek has for some reason only the second contents page. I was told by someone at Penguin that the reason for no intros was that the books could and should stand on their own, which is barmy, as that means every Modern Classic with an intro is over-egging the pudding. Compare with the new Penguin Decades series, where every title has a new introduction, and all have been reset with consistent type and paper, and this set starts to look a little cheap.

JRSM said...

The non-resetting and lack of intros/notes is an odd idea: people can always choose to ignore that stuff if they want, but the inconsistent approach to other classics is weird. It still seems strange that Penguin don't reset all of their books (and, instead, try to set their new introductions in an approximation of the typeface used in the main book). I know it is more expensive, but presumably they need the text on file anyway for the inevitable ebooks of the future.

John Self said...

A good point re ebooks. It strikes me that it's possible that Penguin want these books to look like popular fiction, light and frothy, and that introductions might harm that. But then they tried that with the hardback of Fallada's Alone in Berlin, and ended up having to put the afterword and additional material in the paperback anyway.

JRSM said...

Which is, of course, aggravating for those of us who bought the Penguin rather than the Melville House hardback. Argh!