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The Classic Revamp

Earlier in April this year, Penguin announced its inauguration of the Penguin English Library, as well as the revamp of the top 100 books in its Penguin Classics collection. 20 titles were released upon launch and subsequently, 10 new titles were slated to come out every month. To date, Penguin has reissued 50 classics. Books written by the Brontë sisters and Jane Austen are among the Penguin Classics collection.

Even if you’re not a big fan of reading, the Penguin Classics is certainly not a name unheard of. The distinctive, orange paperback spine, coupled with a cute penguin on the front cover, has always been the hallmark of a Penguin Classic.

Individually crafted by designer Coralie Bick-ford, each book now looks stylish and modern. But fret not; the famous orange spines still remain.

Before the 1930’s, books only belonged to the field of the rich and the elite. Cheap paperbacks were available then, however the quality left much to be desired.

Allen Lane, the then director of The Bodley Head, an English publishing house, was at a railway station looking for a choice book to read while on his journey back to London, back when he discovered only popular magazines and reprints of Victorian novels.

Appalled at the lack of variety, he decided that quality contemporary fiction should be made available not just in traditional bookstores, but also in railway stations, tobacconists and chain stores.

In the summer of 1935, the first Penguin Classic paperbacks made their way to the front of many bookstands. True to his own words, Allen Lane kept them as affordable as possible ­– just six pence a book – the same cost for a pack of cigarettes.

The paperback revolution had begun.

Now, the Penguin Classics are shadows of their former selves, but in a good way.

Simon Winder, publishing director of Penguin, said in an interview with e-zine, The Irish World, “For many the series was a magic door, the start of a lifetime’s engagement with the most vivid writing imaginable. Now the spirit of the Penguin English Library has inspired a fresh, contemporary series.”

Even with the revamped covers, Penguin’s motto of affordable reading still stands.

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