Judging a Book by Its Cover: 70 Years of Penguin Classics

October 1, 2016 – Penguin Classics turns 70 this year, and to celebrate, members of JASNA-NY were invited to attend a special talk at The General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of The City of New York on September 27. Paul Buckley, Penguin Classics Executive Creative Director, and Elda Rotor, Vice President and Publisher of Penguin Classics, shared an insider’s view on what it means to make a Penguin Classic.

Rotor’s passion for books was evident as she described how she hopes each generation of readers finds something new when they encounter a Penguin Classic. “These are the books that make you feel like you’re less alone, the books you read as a student and want to return to, the books you haven’t read yet,” she said, adding, “We’ll be there when you’re ready.”

Buckley spoke about the process of designing new covers for classic novels: finding new artists who can bring a unique view to the work, choosing a particular font that tells a story on its own. Showing off the cover art for two new editions of Lord of the Flies and hearing the appreciation from the audience, Rotor commented, “It’s book porn.”

Jane Austen’s work was also on display; a recent edition of Emma with a cover created entirely from embroidery is part of the Penguin Threads collection and inspired by the handmade works of art seen on Etsy. Artist Jillian Tamaki spent two months creating the embroidery for the first three covers in the series.

The evening concluded with Rotor reminding the audience why covers matter. “They spark a reader’s imagination and make you curious,” she said. “It’s the first interaction you have, and years later it will be that Proustian madeleine of the way you used to be and the way you used to read.”

– Marybeth Ihle

Photo courtesy of Marybeth Ihle