Popular Penguins

I’m a huge fan of Popular Penguins.

They’re wonderful, robust, no-nonsense little paperbacks; I like the 50s orange covers, the neat typeface (take a bow, Eric Gill), and the lack of frills and trimmings.  And at ten clams a pop, they’re a bargain.  It’s a rare visit to a bookshop that sees me resisting the urge to invest in one.

It being Penguin’s seventy-fifth anniversary this year, they’ve released a list of seventy-five new titles to join the existing one hundred and nine.  It would have been a nice round one hundred and ten, but some duffer included Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival in the first fifty without realising that Penguin didn’t own the rights to it.

Like the three previous lists of titles (two batches of more-or-less fifty released in 2008 and 2009, with a further ten titles by New Zealand authors released this month), the seventy-five newbies include some stunners (think Hamlet, Gulliver’s Travels and Hard Times) and a couple of stinkers (Leunig’s Poems and Tim bloody Winton’s In the Winter Dark).

Still.  Mustn’t grumble.

But I must provide a piece of important consumer advice.

You see, The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay is on the new list.

Now, in Popular Penguins at ten smackers, The Power of One represents rather better value than the twenty-five you’ll be stung if you buy the standard Penguin edition.  But don’t be fooled.

There’s a better way.

Even people who like Bryce Courtenay don’t generally like him enough to keep the books.  Like Virginia Andrews, Tom Clancy and Dan Brown, Courtney is rather over-represented in op-shops.

Even an op-shop on the make won’t charge you more than three dollars for Bryce Courtenay.  And the best part is that Courtenay, the monumental hack, won’t make a cent out of the deal.  It is every serious reader’s responsibility to deny Courtenay royalties.

I once met someone who said that The Power of One was his favourite book.  For a period of time I’d see him quite regularly – I was drawn to him: fascinated.  Also he kept turning up at my local.  For the purposes of this post, let us call him Cecil.  He looked a bit like a Cecil.

It would be the understatement of the young century to say that Cecil was not a great reader.  But in his defence, let me categorically state that he was a devotee of video games, Guns N’ Roses and the crack-pipe.

I like to think of Cecil as the archetypal Courtney reader: dumber than a bag of hammers, intensely nationalistic and approximately as deep and uncontaminated as a toddler’s pool.  Many were the conversations I had with Cecil – and my awe at his stupidity was slow to recede.  Recede it did, however, and thankfully he seems to have moved out of my suburb.

How did we get onto that?

Oh – Popular Penguins.  Right.  They’re out in July, and I’m looking forward to them.

But do op-shop for your Courtenay, won’t you?


One response to “Popular Penguins

  1. That’s a bit hard of the Ceecils of the world, don’t you think? Cecil Woodham-Smith springs to mind – she of The Reason Why and the massively detailed Florence Nightingale: and of course a female. Which probably doesn’t help the real Cecils much, upon reflection!

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