Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Trailer Park Tuesday: Classic Penguin: Cover to Cover, edited by Paul Buckley

Welcome to Trailer Park Tuesday, a showcase of new book trailers and, in a few cases, previews of book-related movies.

One part of my Penguin colony
I am obsessed with penguins. Or, to be more precise, I am obsessed with Penguins. For the past seven years, I have actively curated a collection of the so-called “Black Spine” Penguin Classics. It started as a shelf but now threatens to overtake two large bookcases in my upstairs office. Each morning, before I sit down to work on what I can only dream of someday being a Penguin Classic novel, I gaze fondly at my brigade of tuxedo’ed soldiers all standing in formation and I am filled with joy, contentment, and a little anxiety because I want to READ THEM ALL RIGHT NOW. Lately, I have have turned my infatuationous eyes on Penguin Classics Deluxe Editionsthose beauties with the French flaps, deckle edges and supermodel-gorgeous cover designs. Suffice to say, I live, breathe, and eat Penguins. (Please don’t take that last part out of context.) That’s why when I heard the publishers were trotting out a large trade paperback called Classic Penguin: Cover to Cover, it was like the announcement of a newfound Gospel. Good news, indeed. If I’m honest, cover design is at the heart of my Penguin compulsion. As Audrey Niffenegger notes in her Foreword:
They say you can’t judge a book by its cover. But when the book is a classic, you don’t have tothat book has already been judged many times over whilst sporting wildly different covers. A classic book has survived and endured great and egregious designs; it carries its world in its title and the name of its author. It is more than the sum of its covers. This leaves the designer and artist free to play.
The ratio of egregious to great leans heavily in favor of the latter on my shelves. I’m hardly done collecting my Penguins (and, to the groans of my wallet, I’m sure this new book will only serve to add more volumes to my shelves), but what I do have proves, as Niffenegger writes, they are “intellectually sexy, these flowers of culture.” The Penguin gift-wrapping around these volumes can be exotic or literal, playful or toe-the-line, but it is rarely (if ever) ugly. That’s why I curate and continue to grow my collection. I try to keep my bookshelves a no-ugly zone. One thing I most like about Penguin cover designs is their eagerness to push the boundaries of our expectations. When it came to Middlemarch, for instance, Elda Rotor (vice president and publisher of Penguin Classics) said they had an in-house rule: “No bonnets!” Instead, the Deluxe Classics Edition sports a white leather glove inscribed with a map of the village. Paul Buckley, creative director and editor of Classic Penguin: Cover to Cover, puts it like this:
When Jimi Hendrix played “The Star Spangled Banner,” it was those two things coming together that made the world stand up and go, “YES.” When you find a mashup that should be so wrong but it just comes out so right, that is what art can do with material you thought you knew.

In a Reddit Q&A with Buckley on the day of Cover to Cover’s launch, Buckley wrote:
Classics have been packaged so many times, over so many years, and often this is what freaks designers out“oh my god, it’s been done 100 different ways already, how am I going to come up with anything new?” Instead of walking through the front door, come in from the back door, come down the chimney, climb through a window, and turn off that goddamn waltz. Bring new music, open the windows and let some fresh air in, mix up some cocktails and have fun with it. Make it a costume party and give the protagonist a new set of fun clothes to party in.
I like the way he thinks.

But the video, the short trailer for Classic Penguin: Cover to Cover, what of that? That is, after all, what we’re here to talk about today. Truthfully, I might have expected something a little better to promote such a gorgeous book. At the very least, I would have thought there’d be music or some sort of sound effects (the clicks and honks of real-life penguins, perhaps), but instead the trailer is as silent as Marcel Marceau. The concept itself is adequate, but not flashy: merely a roving pan around the cover as the design elements lock into place. Don’t get me wrong, I do like the design of Cover to Cover, which incorporates snips from the Penguin art found on The Master and Margarita, Jason and the Argonauts, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Perchance to Dream, Lord of the Flies, Crime and Punishment, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, The Tempest, The Greek Myths, and others. I just wish the book trailer pulled the viewer deeper into this book than it does. As Buckley writes in his Introduction: “With great literature comes great responsibility.” The extraordinary Classic Penguin: Cover to Cover deserves more than an ordinary trailer.

NOTE: Shortly after I published this, Mr. Buckley commented about it on Facebook, saying that this short video was never meant to be a true book trailer, serving only as an enticement. Short videos like this are created by Elizabeth Yaffe at Penguin, and she should receive credit for the work you see above. I doubt this video is something she just tosses off in her spare time at the office and that there is a lot of hard work which goes into making it. So, I don’t want to take anything away from Elizabeth’s work here. And I know publishers’ budgets don’t always allow for a longer, richer trailer full of razzle-dazzle. So for now, let’s just remain content that there is something out there to snag readers’ eyeballs with at least a tiny hook, pulling them to Cover to Cover, which is itself bursting with razzle and dazzle.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, does this strike a chord. I first started "collecting" black Penguins before I knew it. My favorite history teacher at the University of Montana always had us read original texts, always in Penguins. So my first black Penguins were Montaigne, Vasari, Cellini and Castiglione. Then I started reading Greek and Roman history and really began to amass black Penguins, almost every one of which I found used. I enjoyed the quest and loved the prices. When my daughters were very young I'd put all my Penguins on the living room floor—a huge rectangle of beautiful covers, and we'd go through them one by one, the girls pronouncing each author's exotic name: Thucydides, Rabelais, Montesquieu, Polybius, Xenophon, Boccaccio, Dostoyevsky, etc. We never got tired of it. They loved the display of those gorgeous covers as much as I did. My collecting started so long ago that most of my Penguins have the sold black spines, with no color bars or anything else but white type. And in addition to their beauty, they always have brilliant introductions, maps, family trees, bibliographies, notes, timelines, etc. You can't find a better edition of most classics. Sorry to go on, but I'm sure you know how I feel. I've been meaning for years to write a full-fledged essay about Penguins. I'd better get cracking.