I haven’t been a big fan of Penguin classics, mainly because the books, unlike their contents, deteriorate so quickly. They are books to be read once and then left to yellow and dissolve on the shelf. But Penguin is making up for it with their new beautifully designed clothbound classics.
The covers are the work of Penguin’s senior cover designer, Coralie Bickford-Smith. In this interview at Design*Sponge, she talks about her influences, including the Arts and Crafts movement, and how she tailored each design to the book and to the equipment and materials used to produce them. I haven’t seen one myself but I would hope they paid equal attention to the quality of the interiors. Using Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature I see that they are printed on Forest Stewardship Council-approved paper, which is a good sign, but doesn’t go as far as the Modern Library hardcovers, which are printed on recycled and acid-free paper. Interestingly, they also come with all the usual editorial extras of Penguin Classics, such as introduction, chronology, and notes. I think this is unusual in hardcover classics, except for one-off translations.
I don’t know if I will get any myself. I already have copies of my favourites and don’t really have room for much else, but I love the cover of their Odyssey so much I might just get that one. I already have two editions of it, but it’s good to have multiple translations of ancient classics. Alas, that particular volume doesn’t seem to be available yet, and I can’t find out which translation it is, though I would guess Fagles, which I don’t have. I’ll just have to wait.
If you’d like to ogle more of these books, see this Flickr photo gallery.
UPDATE: After reading some of the reader comments about these books here and here, I am now doubtful about the quality of these books. One reader says that the foil decoration comes off quite easily when the book is transported in a bag, and another reports that the paper is poor and the binding is glued rather than stitched. If that’s true then these books are not for me. I’d rather have a plain Modern Library hardcover that is beautifully printed on recycled, acid-free cream paper with a proper stitched binding. That is a book that will last, a book that is a pleasure to read, a book that is worthy of its contents.