Tuesday 24 August 2010


I never take much notice of publishers. I don't go into a bookshop, stride up to the counter and ask, 'Do you have anything published by Penguin?' They've always seemed to be ghost brands, like film studios or record companies. Of course there are occasional exceptions - Arden Shakespeares and Longman editions of poetry - and there's a certain kudos to making it onto the Penguin Classics list. But on the whole I neither know nor care.

However, I am moving house, and in order to move house I have to pack all my books (it turns out I have several), and in order to pack my books I thought it would be efficient to arrange them in order of size, and in order to do that I have just begun pulling them off the shelves by publisher.

I was working on the basis that publishers would print all their books in a standard size which isn't quite true, but almost is. And thus I have discovered that there is a difference between brands. Picadors are all high-brow and foreign. Routledge is a scholarly fellow and Vintage seem to do the bestsellers. But the great discovery is Flamingo. I own only six Flamingos but they include Antic Hay by Aldous Huxley and Et Tu, Babe by Mark Leyner which are just about my two favourite novels. They've even got The Third Policeman, which is pretty damned high up the list.

That's rather impressive, I thought. Maybe I ought to go into a bookshop, stride up to the counter and ask, 'Do you have anything published by Flamingo?'

In fact, I thought, why don't I just Google them and order the entire bloody back catalogue?

Turns out Flamingo was an imprint of HarperCollins and is now, so far as I can descry, defunct.

Oh well.

Pretty, isn't it? Unfortunately that's only the tip of the cliché.


  1. I also don't look at the publishers too much. The one exception is that when I was in school I read lots of fantasy and science fiction and in those genres the publisher was generally a good indicator of quality and also of style. They made an effort to establish why they were different from other publishers.

    Actually thinking about it there is one great exception but it isn't in the english language but in spanish. Editorial Porrua a mexican based publisher is probably the best way to get an inexpensive edition of a classic with a very good translation.

  2. No problem. Just go to a shop that sells second-hand books.

    On second thoughts, perhaps not. Most second-hand bookshops I've been in (and that's a lot - I can't seem to walk past one without being drawn inside for an hour or so) can't usually find a specifically-requested book. The usual reaction is along the lines of, "I know we've got it somewhere, now let me think" followed by a fruitless search through every shelf for an hour or so. I must say, though, that they are unfailingly helpful and indeed apologetic.
    That won't keep me out of second-hand bookshops, though!

    Juan's comment also reminds me: Gollancz SF books were published in bright yellow dustjackets and so could easily by spotted on my local public library shelves. Like Juan, I read lots of SF when I was at school and I made a bee-line for those yellow jackets. It saved me a lot of time and introduced me to a number of authors I'd never heard of before.

  3. I never ever would have thought of arranging by publisher. Ingenious.

  4. Terry Waite et al were on BBC Radio 4's The Reunion.

    Waite talked about his time in solitary confinement. He was desperate for something to read and eventually a kindly captor brought him in a book: A Guide to Breast-feeding.

    Waite drew a picture of a penguin and signalled that if his captor ever saw the penguin logo on a book, then he should bring it to him. In this way, his choice of reading matter improved dramatically.

    I tend to enjoy Cannongate books as they have an interesting catalogue.

  5. In theology publishers can be very informative... different publishing houses tend to publish what fits into certain values, interpretations, and viewpoints they hold. you can learn a lot about a book by who puts it out, and what sort of books it cites.

  6. I'm going to have to pack mine up shortly, but I've only got so far as looking at them in mute despair and going and doing something else instead.

    Following this post I went and looked at them more inquiringly, (enquiringly?) and discovered that there's an aviary on my bookshelves. I have the ubiquitous Penguins, but also Pelicans, Bantams, a Kestrel, a Falcon, and several Firebirds. Also some Mammoths, Lions, a Beaver and a Firefly, but a preponderance of birds.

    Why books and birds? A couple of them are Penguin imprints, but the majority are not. Inspired by Penguin, perhaps?