Three years ago someone gave me a box of postcards. Each card features a different Penguin book cover but I’ve never taken all of the cards out of the box at the same time. Every morning I cut them like a deck of playing cards and the winning card sits at the top of the deck for the rest of the day.
Some of the cover designs are little masterpieces; triumphs of the illustrator’s or graphic designer’s art. But most of them are based simply on three bold, horizontal stripes; predominantly orange and white. The collection doesn’t limit itself to fiction so there are also green, blue and pink stripes; crime, biography and travel books. And there are other birds: Pelicans, Puffins, and King Penguins.
This site isn’t about the design of Penguin book covers. If you want a detailed history of the little dancing penguin logo, or the way the covers have evolved over the years, Phil Baines’s excellent book, Penguin by Design, says it all.
Looking at the cards that found their way to the top of the box led me to think that whoever selected these 100 books was interested in more than just the design of the covers. I think there’s something for every reader in this box; classic and not-so-classic novels, philosophy, anthologies of poetry, plays, social commentaries and self-help books. There’s even a practical guide to raising poultry.
I began to think of my box of postcards as The Perfect Library. There’s something interesting about every book it contains; sometimes it’s the cover but – more often – it’s the subject, or the author, or the year it was published.
I’m going to try to say something interesting about each postcard in less then 500 words but my posts are not book reviews. I think I’ve read about a fifth of the titles at some point in my life, and I’ve managed to track down just three in their original Postcards from Penguin editions. Those three soft, brown-edged paperbacks have pride of place on my shelves.
The Perfect Library is located – in my mind, of course – in the sitting room of a small hotel in the Welsh mountains. Or maybe its one of those civilized Youth Hostels where they have a well stocked bar. I’ve been walking in the hills with friends. It’s been a glorious day but now it’s raining. Midnight has passed and everyone else has gone to bed. I’m still too exhilarated by the walk and the conversation to be sleepy. The Perfect Library is beside the fire, nestling on rickety wooden shelves behind an old stuffed armchair; a little dusty and – like me – slightly foxed.
There’s enough light to read, a glass of wine left in the bottle and a few more logs for the fire. I pick a title at random, and settle down to read…