A happy belated birthday to Penguin Books:
July 30 marks the 79th anniversary of a mass-market paperback revolution. On this date in 1934, publisher Allen Lane was supposedly struck by a fantastic epiphany while suffering from boredom at a British train station.
Popular lore is that Lane, after visiting Agatha Christie, was waiting for a train home and looking to buy a novel. He found nothing likeable among the magazines and pulp fiction, but a business opportunity soon emerged from his disappointment. He saw the need for cheap books, small in size and lightweight. He knew that the soft-covered stories of the time — “dime novels,” “yellowbacks” and “penny dreadfuls” — were stigmatized as trashy, poorly written and sensationalized to appeal to young, working-class male readers.
By the end of his trip, Lane started to put into motion a plan that would eventually give birth to Penguin Books, distributor of quality paperback titles. In 1935, the first 10 Penguin books hit the market, including reprints of A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway and The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie.
Penguin books were perfect companions for harried readers, from travelers like Lane to soldiers hunkered in the trenches of World War II several years later. (The paperbacks were so small and light that soldiers could carry manuals and civilian-donated books in their uniforms.) Once Penguin launched their series for children, Puffin Picture Books, young readers could also easily move with their literature.
The industry term for paperbacks is “perfect bound” – a bit more poetry in that…I am such a boy…
It’s Friday…step lightly, pick one up, and read…