It was my Dad’s lifelong dream to own a secondhand book shop. So in what could be termed a curiously backwards step, the Hindin Miller family was uprooted from its Muriwai Beach life of sun, sand and cinematic success (he’d recently had three film scripts made into features), and found itself in cold, conservative, Christchurch town. The year was 1992. The book shop opened shortly thereafter. Bookmarks, on the corner of Hereford and Manchester Streets. Stocking everything from the rare, the popular, the scientific and the political, Dad once estimated that – between Bookmarks and our house – we were in possession of somewhere in the region of 40,000 books at any given time. I remember the Penguins.
I’ve recently started collecting the newly reissued Popular Penguins (pictured above), and have two to my name so far – Usage and Abusage: A Guide to Good English by Eric Partridge and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby was my favourite book as a teenager and I’ve just finished reading it for the third time. I’m a big fan of reading and re-reading books – you take something new with every turn of the page.
This time round, there was one passage in particular that stood out to me:
“Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.”
Perfect in its simplicity.
The story of how Penguin Books came into being is a good one too. It’s on the back cover of every book:
“He just wanted a decent book to read… Not too much to ask, was it? It was in 1935 when Allen Lane stood on a British railway platform looking for something good to read on his journey. His choice was limited to popular magazines and poor quality paperbacks. Lane’s disappointment and subsequent anger at the range of books available led him to found a company – and change the world. ‘We believed in the existence of a vast reading public for intelligent books at a low price, and staked everything on it.'”
It was probably the first time the British lower classes could afford to buy great books. The democratisation of literature. Back then they were a couple of pennies a book. Now they’re $12.95. Still a steal.
As much as I like to read, my decision to collect the Penguins stems from a much more shallow place – they just look so damn good.
I LIKE YOU!