Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Diamonds for Penguins

This past Friday was the 75th anniversary of publisher Penguin Books. Happy anniversary guys and gals at Penguin! In celebration, Penguin Books has a Mini Cooper emblazoned with the distinctive Penguin Books logo driving around the country all summer, giving away copies of the most iconic Penguin books to libraries and lit groups. In September, they'll wind up the tour in Shakespeare & Co.'s home town with a big fundraiser for the New York Public Library.

What was the world like when Penguin started publishing? Answer: pretty crappy. In 1935 the world was suffering a pretty severe recession and in North America in particular the Dust Bowl had ruined the livelihoods of many across the continent. And in Europe, some dude named Hitler had just made an announcement that Germany was going to start re-arming itself. Penguin founder Sir Allen Lane had the brainwave to make great literature accessible to the average reader on the street by offering well-made but inexpensive editions through unusual outlets like train stations and magazine stands. He wanted to make books as easy to purchase as cigarettes (although these days a pack of cigarettes will probably run you more than many paperbacks). Traditional publishers at that point all thought he was a crazy person, but his almost immediate success proved them all wrong.

Also, 75th anniversary? What is that, Plutonium? Unobtainium? Turns out it's diamonds.

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