27 August 2008

A short history of Penguin

A colleague drew my attention to a book called Penguin Special: The Life and Times of Allen Lane. Lane was the founder of the iconic publishing house, Penguin Books. His biography has been out a while - I'm not quite sure how I managed to miss it when it was first published.

It's about much more than the world-famous imprint, though. It's also about the development of quality publishing too. I'm reliably informed that it's quite a racy read. For example, Lane hired a man called A.S.B. Glover, who had bombarded him with a steady stream of complaints about typos and factual errors - Lane decided the only way to shut him up was to employ him as a proofreader. And he was considered to be so good at his job that Lane said Glover was "the only man I have ever known who could correct galley proofs whilst strap-hanging in a busy rush-hour tube".

Hmm. Compared to Glover, my daily round of on-screen copy-editing must give the impression I'm a complete lightweight. But at least I don't have to commute.

Also intriguing is the revelation that the early editorial meetings took place in a Soho Spanish restaurant where much wine was consumed and the manuscripts were dumped in heaps on the floor. As the editors got drunker, there was more chance a budding author might be looked upon favourably.

It all sounds like gripping stuff and definitely a book I shall be seeking out on my next buying spree.

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