Who hasn’t got at least ONE dog-eared, plain covered Penguin in a corner of their bookshelves?
I found mine on the topmost shelf, reserved for old paperbacks like Portnoy’s Complaint and Zorba the Greek. A 1960 reprint of Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, it’s got a Penguin Books Australia imprint and still bears its original 4/6d pricetag.
The story of how my pocket-sized paperback came to be is at the heart of Stuart Kells’ fascinating new book Penguin and The Lane Brothers.
Stuart is the antiquarian book expert who was such a hit at last year’s WillyLitFest. He’s also a fine story teller and writer and will speak about his award-winning biography at this year’s WillyLitFest.
Much more than a well-honed tale of how three English brothers Allen, Richard and John revolutionised book publishing, Penguin is a rollicking journey through the boys’ upbringing in rural England, wartime naval battles and a little known scheme where British boys were brought out to help struggling farmers and orchardists. Most of all, it’s a racy tale of a family business with all its attendant rivalries, lucky breaks and heart-breaks. There’s even a link to Lady Chatterley!
I loved Kells’ vivid accounts of the brothers’ early years setting up Penguin, and how success and influence changed Allen into a ruthless tycoon. Richard emerges as the real genius behind the Penguin model: mass publishing of quality books at cheap prices.
Kells’ meticulously researched book is aptly sub-titled ‘The Untold Story of a Publishing Revolution’. Based on intimate diaries and letters, it sheds new light on this remarkable book-house and reasons behind the empire’s eventual carve up.