Thursday, August 30, 2012

In pursuit of vintage Signet Classics

I believe I've mentioned a few dozen times that I was an English major in college. In those days, I favored the black-and-yellow Penguin Classic paperback editions of the books I was assigned to read; as a result their black spines fill several shelves in my guest room (you never know when a guest might want to peruse The Princesse De Cleves or Gargantua and Pantagruel poolside). But over the past few years of estate and library sale shopping, I've become a li'l obsessed with the piquant eye candy that is the Signet Classic paperback, the first printings of which date from the 1960s. I now find myself buying duplicate copies of books I already own just because I love the covers so dang much—and, lo, another paperback collection was born (see: Edward Gorey Anchor Doubleday).

Of this batch, I've only actually read Defoe's Journal of the Plague Years, a fantastic book I recommend to all readers with a taste for the medieval and macabre. I'm sure I'll read Edwin Drood at some point, but it's at the bottom of my Dickens pile. And I like the cover, but I'm certain I'll never read Nostromo because Conrad is just not my bag (unless he's delivered to me in the form of Apocalypse Now). The Kenneth Grahame book is the most thrilling discovery, because for one thing, I never gave any thought as to whether the author of The Wind in the Willows wrote anything besides The Wind in the Willows. Apparently, he did, and the book jacket description suggests it's right up my street:

In this series of tales of five orphaned children who live with relatives in an English country house, the author's superbly modulated prose captures the sensuousness, the mercurial temper, and the fantasy life of childhood. Neither sentimental nor condescending, with perfect sympathy and gentle humor, Grahame creates a world in which each child is a distinctive individual, adults are regarded as doubtful guests, and every passing moment brings the promise of rare adventures.

Sounds pretty irresistible, am I right? To top it off, I'm convinced this cover was illustrated by the great Tomi Ungerer, or else by someone aping his style—though I doubt that: The Signet covers of that period were all done by super-accomplished illustrators, including Milton "I heart NY" Glaser. I'll feature some of his beauteous covers next time.

The Golden Age & Dream Days, Kenneth Grahame, 1964

The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Charles Dickens, 1961

Nostromo, Joseph Conrad, 1960

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...