Saturday, 25 December 2010

Essential Penguin Essentials

Back in the late 1990s, Penguin UK released a number of their (then) Twentieth-Century Classics as small A-format paperback 'Penguin Essentials', with very lovely covers by a range of different designers. There ended up being around 80 books in that series. In early 2011 they're doing it again with the cunningly renamed 'Essential Penguins', of which there will be a first round of 20. I've got 18 of the covers (with Lady Chatterley's Lover and Brideshead Revisited still unaccounted for) here:

UPDATE: See here for the other two, and for all designer details, see here.

For comparison, here are those same books in their 1990s PE versions (save Lolita, which wasn't included in that set). I have to admit, I mostly prefer these to the newer versions.

Here are the two books yet to get covers in their 1990s versions:

And, finally, here are a few other 'Penguin Essentials' I especially loved the designs for (several of these books, like the Greenes, have since gone to other publishers, hence their absence this time around).

This being Rita Mae Brown's Rubyfruit Jungle

Crappy scan, but it's Nin's Delta of Venus


Ákos Polgárdi said...

If nothing else, it was worth for finally having a decent cover for Lolita. Both recent photographic versions (the one published in the Modern Classics series and the standalone volume) were pretty dull. (I liked the cover for the annotated edition though).
Actually I don't think there was an overall decrease in quality with the new versions, although some titles would have been better off remaining unchanged (A Clockwork Orange, Hell's Angels, The Great Gatsby). Finally, I really hate that Lucky Jim cover.

Óscar Palmer said...

I really dig the A Clockwork Orange one by, I'm guessing, Kristian Hammerstad. It's a nice and funny reworking of all the essentials without rippping off the iconic original cover. And I love Parra's colors and hand lettering for The Cat's Cradle (although I'm not very keen on his composition). Anyway, thanks for another great comparative post and happy holidays, man. All best.

Brian Busby said...

A bit of a mixed bag, I think, but then there are 18 covers. Breakfast at Tiffany's irritates a bit... after all, Tiffany's is not a dress shop. The only cover that truly offends is The Great Gatsby. The character descriptions confine, making the Great American Novel seem like a work of melodrama populated by types.

Ending on a positive note, the 'nineties On the Road, which I'd never seen before, is wonderful. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

JRSM said...

Ákos: it is a nice Lolita cover. I just hope that it's glitch-free. The previous Penguin Classics edition omitted the introduction that's part of the story, while their edition before that misspelled Nabokov on the spine. And if you hate the 'Lucky Jim' cover, you'll probably hate this Amado cover, too:

Óscar: The new Clockwork Orange cover is definitely my favourite. Thanks, and you too.

Brian: I think the Gatsby cover is going for the sort of vibe that some of the Graphic Classics do--lots of pictures and info from the book--but on too small and cramped a space. That 'On the Road' cover is a beauty, you're right.

Ákos Polgárdi said...

Actually I don't have a problem with the cover itself, I simply can't make any stylistic connection between it and the content of the book. Unfortunately I haven't read Amado's book so I can't tell whether I would have the same difficulty in that case.
Also, I would say that the new cover for Bonjour Tristesse is a huge improvement.

Matthew Adams said...

A Confederacy of Dunces is one of my favorite books, but both of the covers shown here don't really work. The orange penguin classic cover of the copy i own is better then either, which is a bit sad.

Tulkinghorn said...

Strangely insecure.

I'm glad that Time Magazine likes The Great Gatsby and all, and that Martin Amis has a good word to say about Lolita, but I'm a bit baffled that Penguin thinks that potential buyers need those little nudges.

How about this: Image, title, author, logo?

Ian Koviak said...

Some stellar covers here. I like the comparison's too. Thanks for that. Really not one bad cover here. They all have something unique to dwell upon.

Martin Isaac said...

Definitely a mixed bag - liking the Parra cover for The Cat's Cradle, will need to keep an eye open for it.

charles said...

The Gatsby cover is surely an extreme example of a book that's been issued with many previous covers and the designer (or art director) is now at pains to come up with a new angle. The other apposite thing is what's happened to 'The'. Many, many book titles have the definite or indefinite article, an adjective, a noun; and I bet most designers, typographers too, simply hate that The or A. Hiding it away is rarely the right solution.

DM said...

Some of these are really great. I think I prefer the 90's versions as well. Both covers for 'Eva Luna' are SO much better than the one I had when reading it. I honestly had to hide the cover behind something in public. Someone recently gave me the 90's Penguin 'Tender is the Night' which is one of the best covers I've ever seen.