In 2012 Penguin Books started a series of books for sale in the USA and Canada and it made use of their extensive back catalogue along with some newer modern classics in a handsome new style hardback binding. The tagline of the set is
It all begins with a letter
and the concept was to produce 26 titles where each letter of the alphabet was represented by the surname of the author. An interesting idea especially over the choice of names for some of the more difficult letters. What made the set a cohesive whole was the decision to have all the letters on the covers designed by one person, Jessica Hische, and for her to create an evocative set of designs. Adding the input of Penguin Art Director Paul Buckley we ended up with a rainbow of classic books which call to you from the shelves and look totally different to anything else I have. Good design has been the hallmark of Penguin Books from their beginning in 1935 and it’s good to see that tradition being respected in a modern set.
Of course a set like this appeals to the collector part of me, especially when they are not officially available in the UK as I like a challenge, but it also harks back to the very first Penguin Books I initially accumulated, then decided to collect, which was the early (first 125) Penguin Classics. Buying a set of books forces you to purchase authors you may not have been intending to buy or even to have heard of and once the book is on the shelf it would be remiss not to at least give the book a go. The first title is a case in point; Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is not a title that has ever appealed but I have to say that much to my surprise I’m really enjoying it. I have also read Madame Bovary, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Five Children and It, and Cannery Row so far and I’m looking forward to tackling authors I don’t know at all such as Willa Cather and Sigrid Undset.
The full list is as follows:
- Austen, Jane – Pride and Prejudice
- Bronte, Charlotte – Jane Eyre
- Cather, Willa – My Antonia
- Dickens, Charles – Great Expectations
- Eliot, George – Middlemarch
- Flaubert, Gustave – Madame Bovary
- Golding, William – Lord of the Flies
- Hesse, Hermann – Siddhartha
- Ishiguro, Kazou – An Artist of the Floating World
- Joyce, James – A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
- Kidd, Sue Monk – The Secret life of Bees
- Lee, Chang-rae – Native Speaker
- Melville, Herman – Moby-Dick
- Nesbit, E – Five Children and It
- O’Hara, John – Butterfield 8
- Proust, Marcel – Swann’s Way
- Queen, Ellery – The Greek Coffin Mystery
- Rushdie, Salman – Haroun and the Sea of Stories
- Steinbeck, John – Cannery Row
- Tan, Amy – The Joy Luck Club
- Undset, Sigrid – Kristin Lavransdatter 1: The Wreath
- Voltaire – Candide
- Whitman, Walt – Leaves of Grass and Selected Poems and Prose
- Xinran – Sky Burial
- Yeats, William Butler – When You are Old
- Zafon, Carlos Ruiz – Shadow of the Wind
A to F came out in 2012, G to P in 2013 and Q to Z in 2014 although I only started to collect these books towards the end of last year (2017) so the last 5 have only recently arrived and I didn’t buy them in alphabetical order but rather which 4 or 5 a month I could find at a sensible price. Their official retail price varies on the copies I have between US $23 and $30 although the Canadian prices fluctuate much more widely between $24 and $40. The cheapest I found one in the UK was around £10 and had to spend up to £17 to get the last few I was missing.
The spines are also attractive and make a bold statement on the shelf next to me as I write this, as can be seen in the picture above the page edges are also coloured to complement the cover and the rear cover has a short quote from the book that Penguin have turned into a parlour game
Mine is from Great Expectations:
Suffering has been stronger than all the other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be.
and then A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race
Not the cheeriest of quotes but I’m not going to let them put me off reading all these as they are lovely books with a clear font (Archer) as you would hope from a series that takes lettering seriously and a pleasure to pull off the shelf and sit down with.