Wednesday, June 30, 2010

My Alibis #7

"The conditions governing your life have been codified and set down in a little book, but no one has ever given you a copy, and when you have sought it in libraries, you are told that someone else has it on extended loan. Still, you are free to seek love to the best of your ability, or to wash your clothes in the machines that stand with their round doors temptingly open, or to buy something in one of the many shops in this area - a puppy perhaps.... Not that you are indifferent by nature - you want nothing so much as a deep-going, fundamental involvement - but this does not seem to happen.... Full of good will, you attempt to pretend that you do not feel this way, you attempt to keep the level of cheerfulness and hope approximately where it has always been, to keep alive a sense of 'future'. But no one is fooled."
--Donald Barthelme, 'Daumier'

A Short Rant About Book Design

I'm as much of a sucker for Penguin's history of paperback designs as the next man, but, like a lot of others, I find their habit of redesigning their books seemingly every other week rather annoying. This is not least because most of their recent redesigns have been completely out of keeping with the best qualities of their design history - about the only one that has pleased me was the series with covers by prominent comics artists. It occurred to me this morning that there are 4 series, which I tend to buy when I come across them (to say I collect them would imply a dedication I don't have), to whose properties Penguin should just stick forever:

1) the Penguin Modern Classics series with concrete-grey spines and back-covers, white lettering and geometric arrangement of central images that resist such rationalising tactics (cf. this)
2) the classic blue-cover Pelicans, that formed the basis for pretty much the entire aesthetic of Ghost Box (the only one of these I have is my copy of Marcuse's
Soviet Marxism) (cf. these)
3) the Penguin Science Fiction series, already noted by pretty much every blogger ever, but particularly the 60s covers, from when Brian Aldiss was editing the series, with surrealist deathscapes enclosed by Marber grids
4) the first incarnation of Penguin Modern Poets, which I still regularly come across in charity shops, my personal favourite volume being the Ashbery/Harwood/Raworth (sadly not on Google Images, though this is).

Everything else can fuck off, frankly.

While we're on the subject of design, am I the only one who thinks the Faber Poetry Firsts series is pretty pointless? Firstly, if you're going to reissue old single volumes, why not just revert to the old Faber design template, which was superior to the duo-chrome ugliness of their recent publications? Secondly, if you're going to bestow nice new hardcovers, give them to books that are exciting - no-one needs another edition of Larkin's Whitsun Weddings in this world, nor of Ariel, no matter how wonderful it is; if it wasn't for the presence of Alice Oswald's Dart (about the best poetry collection Faber have published in the last 10 years) you'd have thought they hadn't released a decent book in decades. The whole enterprise, arriving at a time when Faber are publishing about 2 new poetry collections a year, smacks of the most blatant laurel-resting.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Second Option