I love books about books. A number of years back I bought a book (Penguin By Design: A Cover Story 1935-2005) about the history of British (and American) publisher Penguin Books, told through its covers. A hallmark of the publisher from the very beginning has been design, and a new book, Penguin 75, celebrates that in a brilliant way: It unites designers, art directors, illustrators, editors, and authors with commentary on the covers of the books they all collaborated on. It's a fascinating--and sometimes bitchy (boy, that Garrison Keillor is a cranky old fart)--look at the process of designing a cover. Along the way, you'll see a number of famous comics artists embraced by Penguin. There's a whole section devoted to their "Graphic Classics" series, which utilized the likes of Chris Ware, Art Spiegelman, Frank Miller, Michael Cho, Seth, Tony Millionaire, and a slew of other alternative artists, with (almost) free reign to interpret classics such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Frankenstein, White Noise, Huckleberry Finn, and many others, in beautiful wraparound covers.
The book itself is edited by Paul Buckley, the creative director for Penguin, who oversees the design department. It's wonderfully designed by Christopher Brand. The book is written in an engaging conversational tone that makes it fun to read, and the examples--which include preliminary and actual designs--are incredible. They also included my favorite series of books from the last 10 years: Rosanne Serra and Richie Fahey's James Bond 007 re-issues, which saw the entire run of Ian Fleming's books re-envisioned as new trade paperbacks, with Fahey's great retro photo-art style. I love these books and how they look, and I even labored through them all, re-reading Fleming's original Bond tales (I say labored because when Fleming is good, he's great, and when he's bad, man...does he suck). The book also includes their recent series of books designed by tattoo artists (Penguin Ink), and let me tell you...I ALMOST bought that Bridget Jones's Diary edition just for that Tara McPherson cover. As the book industry continues to involve and deals with dying stores and the rise of electronic books, I think there will always be room for a publisher like Penguin, which so obviously puts a great deal of thought--and love--into creating books that you not only want to read, but that you also want to look at, and most importantly, OWN.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: I TOTALLY judge a book by its cover. I'm glad to see I'm not alone. Penguin 75 celebrates that quirk along with me.