NONFICTION NOVEMBER: Becoming the Expert


A month-long celebration of favourite non-fiction reads

Nonfiction November is an annual challenge to read, critique and discuss non-fiction books through the most autumnal of months. The five hosts will each in turn post a different themed discussion prompt every Monday. This week’s topic is introduced by Julie at JulzReads (12th–16th – November).

Julie has asked us to: “…either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), …put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).”

I have opted to create my own list of books on the topic of Penguin (the publisher not the bird) in the hope of becoming an expert:


PENGUIN CLASSICSCo-founded in 1935 by brothers Allen, Richard and John Lane, Penguin is a British publishing house with a fascinating history. The company revolutionised reading in the 1930s by producing inexpensive, high-quality paperbacks for the masses, which were sold for sixpence in Woolworths and other high-street shops. It became famous for its simple design of three horizontal bands (or ‘horizontal grid’) in varying colours depending on genre (orange and white for general fiction, green and white for crime fiction, dark blue and white for biographies etc.). Now an imprint of the international Penguin Random House, it has become one of the largest English-language publishers in the world.

The book I would most like to find under my tree this Christmas is the newly published The Penguin Classics Book by Henry Eliot – the Creative Editor at Penguin Classics. Described on the website as “a reader’s companion to the largest library of classic literature in the world”, encompassing “500 authors and 1,200 books,” it is apparently brought to life with “lively descriptions, literary connections and beautiful cover designs.” I experience psychogenic book buzz merely thinking about plunging into its 480 fact and design-rich pages.

There follows a brief list of books I intend to read at some point to develop my Penguin ‘expertise’ (plus a few links to features of interest). Sadly, some of these publications are out of print, so I will be compelled to scour the second-hand stores.


A Penguin Collector’s Companion by R. Edwards
A Sort of Dignified Flippancy: Penguin Books, 1935-60 by S. Wood
Allen Lane, King Penguin: A Biography by J.E. Morpurgo
Fifty Penguin Years: Exhibition Catalogue
Penguin by Design: A Cover Story 1935-2005 by Phil Baines
Penguin Portrait: Allen Lane and the Penguin Editors, 1935-1970 by Steve Hare
Penguins March On: Books for the Forces During World War II by J. Pearson
The Life and Times of Allen Lane by Jeremy Lewis
The Paperback Revolution by Hans Schmoller
The Penguin Classics Book by Henry Eliot
The Penguin Collector 90 edited by James Mackay
This Once Was Us: The Life and Death of Penguin Education edited by Jonathan Croall


History of Penguin archive – The Telegraph
Pelican books take flight again – The Guardian
Penguin and Random House merger to create biggest book publisher ever seen – The Guardian
Penguin paperback cover designs – V&A Museum
Penguin’s pioneering publisher – who never read books – The Telegraph

Categories: Readathons / Challenges

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55 replies

  1. A great idea and done really well (much safer than becoming a racing driver). After the Brexit debacle, many of us have realised the enormous value of experts. I was once somewhat interested in the Left Book Club, but Penguins seem a better topic in part because there are more of them. Now which hemisphere do they live in? Sorry for the weak joke. Good luck.

  2. Can HIGHLY recommend the Penguin Classics Book, I’m getting through it at the moment and it’s wonderful. Not just beautifully illustrated and wide-ranging, but contains truly delightful trivia about the editors and translators that made the Classics imprint what it is today (including some great footnotes on the weird behaviour of particular translators). A perfect rainy day sofa read.

  3. What a fantastic idea, Paula! Your list is so extensive too. I hope you do get the Classics book for Christmas, that sounds wonderful 🙂 I love so many of their books, especially the Penguin Book of… series. I’m reading through the Russian poetry one now.

  4. I went to the same Bristol University Penguin Archive press launch as the Telegraph reporter. Sadly, it was just the two of us as no literary editors could be persuaded to come to Bristol from London, and I’m afraid I’d conned my way in as I was a reviews editor not a features editor. It was the perfect morning for an anorak like me, particularly one who’d spent time as a bookseller. I’m only sorry I couldn’t get the features editor to include a piece on it.

    • How sad and yet what a wonderful experience it was for you, Susan. Those London literary editors obviously thought Bristol was on the other side of the moon. Anyhow, good for you. I would definitely have gone given the opportunity, despite living in Darkest North Wales!

      • Don’t you have lighting up there in North Wales yet? (Sorry couldn’t resist that when I saw the reference to Darkest North wales) For the benefit of your non Welsh readers I’m from South Wales – and the North/South have a healthy rivalry…..

      • We have the odd flaming torch so as not to trip over the sheep if we venture downstairs at the night! 😉

      • Very wise of you. Those sheep do have a tendancy to get everywhere

  5. These all seem really interesting! I appreciate that you’ve included articles as well. I’d ideally like to wind up working at an imprint of Penguin Random House, and I’d love to know more about the house’s history.

  6. You always write a well-researched post and I love all the links and articles. Thank you for your patiences in putting this one together, now, if you will excuse me, I’m off for a long meandering read.

  7. What a fun thing to become an expert in! And scouring the used book stores is half the fun.

  8. What an interesting topic, something I would never have imagined to have found so much written about. The Penguin Classics Book sounds a gem….problem for me is that I would want to buy EVERY book mentioned

  9. What a great topic! I didn’t know there was this much to know about Penguin.
    (Also, I’m still sad that after the merger it didn’t become Random Penguin House…)

  10. I recently treated myself to ordering the new Classics book. Looking forward to receiving it.

  11. Fantastic topic 🙂 I think every book blogger has a Penguin Classic lurking on their shelves – I know I do!

  12. This sounds like a great thing to become an expert in! I would kill for that Penguin Classics Book. Well, maybe not kill, but definitely stamp on a few toes… 😉

  13. Wonderful post! Those orange penguins are a constant in my life. In recent years I’ve become partial to a green penguin too 🙂 I’m sure you’ve many happy hours ahead developing your expertise!

  14. Now that’s a penguin obsession! Who knew there were so many books about the penguin brand! But that’s what I love about this meme – seeing what topics excite other people 🙂

  15. What fun! There is a Penguin gift shop in the Toronto Penguin Random House building downtown. I’ve been there a few times in the evenings for events when the store has been closed. So I could admire it through the grid. You might think I’m about to lament that fact. But instead I am so grateful. If it had been open, I would not have a roof over my head right now: so. many. temptations.

    • Toronto seems like a wonderfully cultural city. I have family living there – my parents split when I was a baby and my dad remarried and went to work for the Bank of Canada (he was one of its early IT people). If I make it over there at some point the Penguin shop is now going to be at the top of my ‘Must Visit’ list. Although, like you, it may be wise to visit at night and admire it from the safety of the street! 😃

      • Let me know if you’re headed this way! I can either let you know how to visit the Penguin shop “safely” (It’s inside the building – you might approach too closely by accident and then be unable to resist its pull) or to other bookish places that would suit your fancy (there’s every kind of bookshop here and some of them have no advertising budget so they’re hard to find past the chain shops). I wasn’t born here either, but I fell in love with it nearly twenty years ago and have considered it home for the 14 years I’ve lived here.

      • Thank you so much, Marcie. I’ll definitely give you a shout if I’m heading in your direction. 😃

  16. I imagine you have some fascinating reading ahead of you – what an interesting topic to want to explore more.

  17. I had no idea there were so many books on the topic of Penguin. I love dipping in and out of my copy of Classic Penguin: Cover to Cover and seeing the lovely covers together. Also, I’ve heard good things about Penguin and the Lane Brothers by Stuart Kells. That one is on my list now because it was mentioned in the promo for his upcoming book about Shakespeare’s library.

  18. I didn’t know there were books about publishers. I love Penguin books. Thanks for the suggestions.

  19. How fun! It seems like you’ve put together a really great list, Good luck finding all the books on it!

  20. Penguin Books is a great expertise. Is this new Penguin Classics book the story of Penguin or more a list with excerpts from some of the books?I’d be interested in the former but not so much the latter.

    • Well, I thought, if I had to be an expert in something, it may as well be Penguin! 😉 From what I can gather TPCB isn’t really so much about the history of the publisher as a compendium of information about the books themselves. A very useful tool for researchers and collectors I would think.

      • Yes, that’s what I wondered – and if it’s that it would be a good tool for those people. We had a Penguin collector blogger – Travellin’ Penguin – but she downsized a couple of years ago and has reduced her collection significantly.


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