Sunday, July 30, 2006

July 30: Paperback Day

Today is the anniversary of the publication of the first modern paperback books. On July 30, 1935, Penguin Books issued its first 10 paperback titles.

Penguin owes its success to a German publisher, Tachnitz, which had been publishing paperbound books in a variety of languages, including English, as early as 1845. In 1931 an English language offshoot of Tachnitz was established in London. Wanting a name for the company that could be understood in a variety of languages, the German company selected the name Albatross Books.

Albatross had early success in selling English books, but when the Nazis seized the company's presses in Germany, the company failed.

The brief success of Albatross was noted by Allan Lane, the president of England's Bodley Head Publishing House. Lane approached the head buyers of F.W. Woolworth, a chain of retail stores, with the idea of publishing ten literary titles in paperback in the Woolworth stores at a cost of sixpence each, about the same price as a pack of cigarettes. Imitating the Albatross model, Allan called his company Penguin Books.

Lane's plan doesn't sound very radical today, but in the 1930s books were sold in bookstores, not retails stores. In addition, the 10 titles Lane proposed were considered to0 highbrow for the lower classes, the main buyers of paperbacks.

Here are the titles and authors of the first Penguin paperbacks:

1. The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Agatha Christie
2. The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Dorothy L Sayers
3. Gone to Earth, Mary Webb
4. William, E. H. Young
5. Carnival, Compton Mackenzie
6. Poet's Pub, Eric Linklater 7. Madame Claire, Susan Ertz
8. A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
9. Twenty-five, Beverley Nichols
10. Ariel, Andre Maurois

The conventional wisdom of the publishing world was wrong, however, and Lane's plan was a rousing success. Paperbacks became all the rage in England. By the end of the year over 3 million books had been sold and by 1937, Penguin paperbacks were being sold from vending machines at train stations.

Today's Challenge: Paperback Writers

Try to match up the first sentences below with the list of first 10 titles release by Penguin Books.

1. Small feckless clouds were hurried across the vast untroubled sky - shepherdless, futile, imponderable - and were torn to fragments on the fangs of the mountains, so ending their ephemeral adventures with nothing of their fugitive existence left but a few tears.

2. The intense interest aroused in the public by what was known at the time as "The Styles Case" has now somewhat subsided.

3. What in the world, Wimsey, are you doing in this Morgue?" demanded Captain Fentiman, flinging aside the "Evening Banner" with air of a man released from an irksome duty.

4. If you wish to be relieved from the worries of housekeeping; if you wish to cultivate the society of retired army folk, or that of blameless spinsterhood, ask for a room (inclusive terms) at the Kensington Park Hotel, Kensington.

5. In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.

Quote of the Day: Paperbacks blink in and out of print like fireflies. They also, as older collectors have ruefully discovered, fade and fall apart even more rapidly than their owners. --Paul Gray

Answers: 1. Gone to Earth 2. The Mysterious Affair at Styles 3. The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club4. Madame Claire 5. A Farewell to Arms

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