Winter 2007

Nostalgia to tingle the spine

Seven Hundred Penguins

Penguin, £20

Seven Hundred Penguins (Penguin, £20) is exactly what it says it is: 700 utterly random, delightful and just occasionally weird covers. It’s like browsing in some past bookshop of your dreams.

Penguin has a long tradition of patting itself on the back with rather lovely little oddities, and while this is hardly little, it is both quirky and delightfully self-congratulatory. At a conservative guess, taking in reprints and foreign variations, Penguin has probably produced more than 100,000 different cover designs; Seven Hundred Penguins represents a painstaking search through endless archives, yet another labour of love for designer David Pearson.

You cannot help both love and hate this book. It is immensely frustrating to find a wonderful gem, lose the place and spend an hour looking for it because the index is merely in page order, and gives the bare minimum information. But what an hour you spend, and what further gems you find on the way!

‘Seven Hundred Penguins,’ its art director, Jim Stoddart, told me, ‘is intended simply to be a browser, a trove of inspiration. It’s a convivial book that prioritises loved covers as opposed to technically well designed covers [which was the approach of Penguin By Design] and what the book achieves is to get some of the lesser-known beautiful, amusing, spine-tingling [and] neglected covers back out there.’ Which it does admirably. And milks, a little, the nostalgic delight rather than the academic interest that Phil Baines’s earlier book engendered. Steve Hare

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