Monday 5 September 2011

Beauty is in the Eye of the Bookholder

Quick post today, since I'm supposedly going to spend the day getting to grips with the conference paper I need to present next week. (Incidentally - anybody going to the Popular Imagination and the Dawn of Modernism conference in London?) So, something shallow and frivolous to make up for that... have you ever bought a book solely, absolutely solely, because of how it looked?
I have.

I was in Eastgate Bookshop in Warwick (which is rather brilliant, by the way) and spotted a little shelf of King Penguins. They're all beautiful on the outside, and a little drab on the inside. I couldn't leave behind this:

Am I interested in the English Tradition in Design? Very slightly. Moreso than I am in Ballooning, which is the other King Penguin I toyed with buying. But above all other criteria, couldn't resist that William Morris-esque cover, to say nothing of the beautiful feel of the book in my hands. So, thanks William Grimmond, who apparently designed the cover based on a design made by Eva Crofts for Donald Brothers, Dundee. 65 years after you created that cover, you indirectly helped me add an entirely unnecessary book to my library.

But, was it not William Morris himself who instructed us to have nothing in our house that we do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful? The same, dear readers, applies to books... doesn't it?


  1. This is one of the main reasons I end up multiple copies of the same book. I think our house has at least five editions of Little Women.

  2. i think this is heretical... but sometimes i DO judge a book by its cover!

  3. I have 'tidying the house' at the top of my 'to do' list this morning - with William Morris's words in mind, is anything safe?

  4. I'm not sure I do agree with Morris but I'll need some time to formulate my reasons coherently. Two other King Penguins that you should certianly look out for are

    A Book of Scripts and English Book Illustration 1800-1900


  5. I purchased A Book of Scripts only last week simply for its cover, with no intention of ever reading it. King Penguin K36 Ballooning is another one I'd like to find for the cover alone.

  6. I think everyone has bought a book solely because of the cover at sometime or the other.

  7. I buy books for the cover often, or sometimes the end papers, and it has led to some truly serendipitous reading experiences. I am now amazingly well informed on subjects as diverse as eighteenth century cook wear, how to write a letter to a lover, and the care of pigs. All esseential knowledge I'm sure you'll agree ;)

  8. I would leave such a pretty book lying around, it's much too pretty to tuck into a bookcase.

  9. Divine! That book makes my mouth water! Is it illustrated?

  10. it is a wonderful cover simon ,I love morris and the arts and crafts design peroid ,all the best stu

  11. I bought an old Penguin book printed in 1944 solely because it had a funny advert on the back for Pears JIF Shaving Stick and another one inside for Greys Cigarettes the strapline (is this the tight word?) being Just honest to goodness tobacco. The book isn't beautiful but it makes me smile.
    Oh yes the book is called Courduroy by Adrian Bell, father of Martin Bell, and was very funny so double the pleasure

  12. Dear Karyn, let me urge you to open your Book of Scripts and read it!

    Dear Mystica, I don't think I have yet bought a book just for the cover, though perhaps I will one day.

  13. sequesterednooks - and a very good reason it is too! My philosophy is that you never regret the books you *did* buy...

    Samara - oh, that's fine, you're in good company! I don't think there would be such a huge industry for cover design if you couldn't judge by the cover...

    Mum - Which is Dad?!

    Peter - they do both sound interesting, Peter - I don't think I've seen King Penguins anywhere before (I rarely look outside fiction and biography in bookshops) but if I spot either of those, I think I'll gather them up.

    Karyn - and I left Ballooning behind! If you want to email the bookshop and enquire about rates to the other side of the world...

    Mystica - you reassure me :)

    Annie - Oh, but naturally! I'm sure these topics all come to the fore at dinner parties.

    Darlene - I have this quandary about some books! It is one of the reasons I keep my Tove Jansson books spread out on my bedside table in Somerset - I love the covers too much to hide them.

    Sherry - I think it might be up your street! Sadly not illustrated - there are some rather drab photographs. It's definitely nicer from the outside than inside.

    Stu - one of my favourite places in the world is Blackwell in the Lake District, an arts and crafts house.

    Esme - what fun! I do love old-fashioned adverts. I must confess to not having heard of Martin Bell, but that's ok because I have heard of Adrian Bell!


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