Black and White and Read...

July 30, 1935: The first Penguins were published on this day in 1935, the event generally regarded as the birth of the modern paperback industry. Albatross Books, based in Germany, had met some success with their paperbacks several years earlier, but with the rise of the Nazis to power they were forced to abandon the project. Allen Lane, Managing Director of The Bodley Head publishing firm, said the Penguin idea came to him when he couldn’t find anything to read while waiting at Exeter station for his train back to London — appropriately, he had spent the weekend visiting Agatha Christie. Bodley Head wasn’t interested in financing Lane’s idea, but they did allow him and his two brothers to raise their own capital and publish their paperbacks as if a regular Bodley line. But the Lanes had also noticed the Albatross success: they switched birds, borrowed the idea of color-coding — at Penguin, it was orange borders for fiction, green for crime, dark blue for biography — and published their first ten books, selling out the 20,000 copies of each almost immediately. Agatha Christie had one of the two books in green (Dorothy Sayers had the other); Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms led those in orange.

In 1937, Penguin added Pelicans, a series devoted to intellectual topics, the first book George Bernard Shaw’s The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism; in 1940 Puffins, for the young reader, were introduced. The new breeds provoked the company to issue some clarifying ornithological PR:

Penguins, taken on the train
Elevate and entertain
Pelicans, as you’d expect
Suit the adult intellect
Puffins, on the other hand
For the growing mind are planned


When a new book is published, read an old one.

—the British poet Samuel Rogers, born on this day in 1763


Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.


When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).