DIY aesthetics


“According to consumer research conducted on what factors matter to people when they decide whether or not to pick up a book in a bookshop, the cover design comes out as most important. So this might be the stupidest thing we’ve ever done.

“…The covers are art-quality paper, and from internal Penguin efforts we know that they hold ink, paint, pencil and glue…. Each one comes shrink-wrapped so the paper doesn’t get dirty, and I hope people might give them as gifts.”

Helen Conford, Senior Commissioning Editor at The Penguin Press.

The latest ploy by Penguin to shift that tricky back catalogue of classics that everyone has heard of but few people read, resorts to what might be called audience interactivity, in other words print a book with a blank cover and the suggestion that the reader draw their own. They’re calling the scheme “My Penguin” which is unfortunate, this has the same treat-me-like-a-child quality as Microsoft’s dreadful “My Computer” and “My Documents”. The new line will be unveiled next week with the following titles: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Emma by Jane Austen, Magic Tales by the Brothers Grimm, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde and The Waves by Virginia Woolf.

This is a rather more interesting idea than Headline’s repackaging of Jane Austen as Georgian chick-lit earlier this year, a move guaranteed to disappoint anyone expecting Helen Fielding in period costume. Penguin is asking readers to send in their designs which they’ll then feature in an online gallery. In a way this goes against the traditional function of the paperback which serves as a cheap(ish), easily portable object that’s often treated with considerable disrespect while being used. Anyone who spends a couple of hours crafting their own cover design will quickly find they have a bespoke art object in their home that they want to preserve, not bend out of shape during the morning commute then discard when finished. It’ll be interesting seeing how this project develops. Will many of these unique designs turn up later on the Oxfam shelves along with all the other secondhand volumes, or will people want to keep them? Will we start seeing dedicated collectors of these titles and their artworks? (Some will no doubt be worth a great deal of money in the future if the cover is drawn by a famous owner.) And some are easier to illustrate than others; everyone knows the story of Dorian Gray but what would be suitable for Marcus Aurelius, for instance?

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The book covers archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Picture of Dorian Gray – I

5 thoughts on “DIY aesthetics”

  1. I remember when I was reading Marcus Aurelius I kept thinking what about a rock group named Marcus and the Meditations.


    Probably the silliest cover I ever saw was Homer’s Odyssey using an image from the Coen Bros. Oh Brother Where Art Thou? with something like the book that inaspired the movie.

  2. Hmm, that’s a thought, worst cover… Worst one that comes to mind for me is a very poorly-produced US paperback of The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson. Not only did the printing omit all the supplementary material at the beginning of the book, like the poem and introduction, but in the place of Hodgson’s sinister Irish house the cover showed a typical American barn in a field of corn. The Barn on the Borderland doesn’t have quite the same ring, does it?

  3. I forgot even sillier was a Polish translation of Dorian Gray and the cover showed someone with one of those long paint rollers putting up a huger poster of a giant lizard or chameleon. I sent you the link ages ago but can’t remember what it was now.

  4. yup, that’s the one. I forgot the painter had wings on his back too. Never judge a book by it’s cover (unless it’s a comic book)


    I wonder if whoever did the cover image even bothered to read the book he was providing the cover for.

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