Seven Skinny Pocket Penguins

In 2005, Penguin Books released a set of seventy skinny books that sought to celebrate the paperback revolution and represent the publisher’s history. [See Happy Birthday, Penguin!] The complete set is gorgeous, yes, but a sampling has me convinced that they won’t satisfy me. And not in the way that they’ll leave me hungry for more—presumably, to hunt down the original, complete editions [as I suspect is part of their marketing shiznit]—just, you know, like mildly nauseating puff.

I am glad, though, that I found these just now, [less than a day after reading this post from Michael]—since whatever I say will be quite irrelevant at this point. Ah, the joys of the bargain bin. Moreover, I realize I am never going to complete this set, but I’m quite happy with chancing upon 1/7 for 200 bucks [about $4] during some hardcore book-spelunking.

The list: Innocent House, by P.D. James; Idiot Nation, by Michael Moore; The School Inspector Calls, by Gervase Phinn; 1914: Why the World Went to War, by Niall Ferguson; Death in the Bunker, by Ian Kershaw; The Queen in Hell Close, by Sue Townsend; The Aristocratic Adventurer, by David Cannadine. [There are three more, but their short stories, and I’m practicing this barely-tested thingie called foresight, by saving them for Short Story Month this May.]

I immediately—and all-too-quickly—made my way through this teensy stack. Of the seven, I only marginally enjoyed Moore: he’s nasty, predictably subversive, but he made me laugh a handful of times. Townsend was enjoyable, though I doubt I’ll run out to get the complete novel this tidbit was excerpted from—but I will buy it if I see it. The James fell flat since I read it days after I read a new-to-me collection of Sherlock Holmes stories. The Phinn was so horridly sickly-sweet and icky, that gah. The rest. Well. Well. Funnily enough, Cannadine approximates satisfaction: as an excerpt, it’s substantial enough, though I am content to not read the original work.

Samples. They’re like those little slips of perfumed paper ninja-salesladies at the mall slip into your unwitting hands. They’re teasers. Gah, the deception.

I do realize that this über-random sample may not be the best sample. That perhaps this is best taken as a set. Then again, isn’t that a weakness in itself? That I can’t close my eyes and bob for the best—or, at least, readable—books? That these skinny little bleepers can’t stand on their itty-bitty spines?

_______

PS – I’m seriously wondering whether I give these away [then again, who’d want them after I basically stuck my tongue out at them?], or just keep them in their tidy little edge of the shelf. Hm. We’ll see when I read the last three in my “collection.” Lord, I sound like a tease, haha. I’ll ship them over to Michael’s kitchen. It is not in me to lurve them.

PPS – Although I’m snarky enough to suspect as well that the Mini Classics that are taking the blogosphere by ~storm are part of some Evil Marketing Shiznit, I am nonetheless excited to nab some when I see them—guys, they’re mostly short stories, thankfully not these bitten off excerpts. They’re a nice little shout-out to the short fiction of established authors, modern or otherwise, and I want.

PPPS – Although the list-maker and the to-do-list-annihilator in me is usually giddy to add to my record of 2011 Books Read, the skinniness of these books—their very excerpt-y nature—makes me feel like I’m cheating against a set of standards unbeknownst even to me. As I add an item, and another, a voice in me is screaming, “Yo, Sasha—that’s not a book, that’s a bleeping pamphlet—a brochure, a freaking advertorial.” /pathetic

ETA: Oh my, I sound so grumpy, hahaha. But, really, every excerpt encountered is a head-desk moment. Ta.

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9 comments

  1. I didn’t realize that these weren’t complete works! I thought that these were something akin to the novellas and short works collection that Penguin recently published. I would be pretty annoyed to find I had only purchased an excerpt of a novel… then again, I am one of those people who gets irrationally angered by “abridged” novels.

  2. THOSE ARE SO PRETTY. I love this picture. Do you remember Penguin Celebrations too? http://www.penguin.co.uk/static/cs/uk/0/minisites/celebrations/gallery.html I have collected a few from Powell’s and the used dealers on Amazon. I’m excited to see what you think of the non-Adrian Mole Sue Townsend (I’ve been reading that whole series). And they’re not bleeping pamphlets, Sasha, they’re just succinct. ;)

  3. oh they are so pretty! Awful that they are abridgments/ excerpts though. Sounds like the short stories would be better.

  4. I LOVE the editions that Penguin release – they’re irrisistable. Just found your blog via a recommendation on Twitter – can’t wait to start following your posts!

  5. That’s really weird, that they’re only excerpts… I wonder why Penguin thought those would sell well. It seems like no reader actually likes the idea… Lovely photo, though.

  6. […] 21. In “Seven Skinny Pocket Penguins” post: Innocent House, by P.D. James; Idiot Nation, by Michael Moore; The School Inspector Calls, […]

  7. I have often looked at these in the shops. Years ago, when they were released. And drooling. Until I found out they were excerpts etc. It made me still want to own the pretty covers, but not the books so much. I prefer to have a complete work.

  8. Hello, all! They are very pretty, no? And each has a different cover, too. Sadly, Penguin chose excerpts. Excerpts are inherently satisfying, more so when the editor seems to forgo conscientiousness in the hacking. Cannadine’s story of Churchill’s aristocratics roots is the only excerpt that could stand as an independent essay, actually.

    I’m making my way through the last Pocket Penguins I have, which contain short stories. I think I must have set them aside subconsciously. Pieces of short fiction definitely work better in these tiny samples, which is why, again, I’m excited for the Mini-Classics Penguin recently sent out — they feel more satisfying that way.

  9. […] the paaaaain. A pain I tried to assuage with The Dressmaker’s Child by William Trevor—another Pocket Penguin—but I realized that, as much as I wanted to be all free and shit, I was beginning to feel […]

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