The Penguin Drop Cap Series: A Rainbow of Classics

atkins-bookshelf-booksWhat happens when you create an alchemy of literary classics, a large capital letter, an art director, and a type designer? The result is a splendid collection of 26 beautiful hardcover books, each with a cover that features an elegant foil-stamped initial (A to Z) representing the author and evocative of the book’s subject matter. When placed on a shelf, the spines display the full range of the rainbow (beginning with red and transitioning to violet); all three page edges are stained with a matching color. Finally, a reason to buy a book solely for its cover.

The beautiful capital letters were designed by type designer Jessica Hische. In an interview, she explained the process: “I started by reading each book. For the series, we worked on three or four titles at a time, which definitely was a time management challenge. As I read, I highlighted passages that spoke to me or that I thought could contribute to a cover idea. After I finished reading, I brainstormed ideas and presented a few sketches to Paul Buckley [art director at Penguin], each showing a unique idea and design for the cover. With the letterform designs, I wanted a good mix of narrative artwork — like The Lord of the Flies – and more abstract designs, like Great Expectations. Since we worked linearly through the series, I just had to pay attention to what we’d already done to make sure there was enough variety in approaches… In general, the books that were more plot focused were the easiest to come up with solutions for, and the books that were more ethereal or descriptive were hardest. Proust was definitely a challenge, both to read and represent.” The books have been very well received, not only by bibliophiles and designers, but the general reading public. Hische adds, “The reaction has been wonderful, so many people have sent me photos of the books lining their shelves or told me that they bought the books as gifts for the design-friendly folks in their life. My favorite feedback though is always from non-designers — a number of whom have written me to say they bought the books just for their covers!” The books can be seen here. The books included in the collection appear below.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
My Ántonia by Willa Cather
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Native Speaker by Chang-rae Lee
Moby-Dick; or, The Whale by Herman Melville
Five Children and It by E. Nesbit
Butterfield 8 by John O’Hara
Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust
The Greek Coffin Mystery by Ellery Queen
Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Kristin Lavransdatter: The Wreath by Sigrid Undset
Candide by Voltaire
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
Sky Burial by Xinran
When You Are Old: Early Poems and Fairy Tales by W.B. Yeats
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Read related posts:
Why Read Moby Dick?
The Great Gatsby Coda
Great Literature Speaks

For further reading:

4 thoughts on “The Penguin Drop Cap Series: A Rainbow of Classics

    • Hi Tim: Yes, some are very clever. Publishers have learned that the way to sell classics is to simply re-design them — taking a page from Knopf’s Everyman Library, Modern Library, and the Pocket Poets which have been very successful. Cheers Alex.

    • Hi Alex: As a book collector I receive catalogs from many different publishers, but I also visit bookstores (the ones still in business) to see what publishers are releasing each month. I look for books that I want to add to my collection, as well as books that might interest readers of Bookshelf. Cheers. Alex

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