Monday, 18 June 2012

Penguin Shopping

Last week in the Lake District, one of the things we did - alongside tea-drinking, sight-seeing, and remote-and-sinister-mountain-pass visiting - was Penguin-buying. One of the things I love about the old, numbered Penguins is their eclecticism. I was looking at the full list of titles that were published back in the Thirties and Forties, up to the Fifties and Sixties - and what struck was that you'd get Camus and Nabokov published alongside Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh; or H.E Bates alongside Paul Gallico and Mary Webb and D H Lawrence; H G Wells and P. G Wodehouse. Books of crossword puzzles next to travel guides. I love that because that's how I like to read, too. It struck me that things these days seem rather stratified and organised and specialised, compared with the old heterogenous jumble of the Penguins.

It also made me think - that if there were three thousand or so numbered Penguins published over thirty years between 1935 and 65 - that's about two a week. A good reader could have kept up with that pace. Imagine that thirty years of reading! What an education that would have been. A lovely zigzagging line through the years. I wonder if anyone read them all..?

There was only one place on the web that I could find a list of those first 3 thousand Penguins, and that was a nice blog called 'A Penguin a Week', which is here -

I wonder if there's a similar list of Puffins available anywhere?

Anyhow, in the bookshops and junkshops and charity shops of Keswick, Ambleside and wherever else we went last week, it was the Penguins I was rescuing and taking back to the car.

Here's a pic of me at Holker Hall. Which has amazing gardens. It's a house that looks just like the Book Tower (or so it did last Wednesday); has dark, Victorian, E Nesbit gardens, an ominous stone sundial set in a sunny meadow; a statue of Neptune at the top of cascading fountains and a giant, ancient lime tree. Plus, a labyrinth of standing stones. Being there was just like being in several kids' adventure serials all at once.


  1. Hooray for Mary Rodgers amongst the Puffins! Faber always strikes me as having a similar eclecticism – I’m sure TS Eliot is advertised on the back of a Lucy Boston, which feels highly appropriate. And Faber didn’t even have the colour coding of Penguin (to my knowledge) so everything was one big party bag of reading pleasure with them.

    I did look for a similar list for the Puffins a while back and couldn’t find one – but there must be catalogues out there, surely...

  2. I came across this Puffin list today:

  3. Karyn - that's brilliant! Thank you so much!