Penguin Great Food

May 6th 2011

These gorgeously ornate book covers for the Penguin Great Food series did the design-blog rounds a few months ago – and rightly so – but I actually picked a few of them up at the weekend – the buy-one-get-one-half-price display at Foyle’s was winking at me…

Designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith, the slender, textural volumes are obviously beautiful items in their own right, but the subject matter of the series is also fascinating, focusing on the history of food through 400 years of civilisation, from Mrs. Beeton recipes to 18th-century pub menus. A happy combination of my two favourite reading subjects – food and history – so I’m really excited to dig in and have a read.. then hang the covers on the wall when I’m done.

Check out all the lovely covers on Coralie Bickford-Smith‘s site, and buy the books on Amazon.

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Comments (6)

  • James

    May 6th 2011 at 12:43 pm

    I'm a big fan of Coralie's work at Penguin, especially the lovely F. Scott Fitzgerald editions, 3 of which I have so far. I also enjoy cooking and good food, history, and beautiful prose, so I was really excited about this series. Penguin also are the only publishers that I feel an emotional commitment to, not unlike how many Mac users feel about Apple, partly because of their unique history and ethos, partly because so many of my great adventures in literature have been between the covers of Penguin books, and partly of course because of the great designs of those covers. In short when I entered my local bookshop, I really wanted to like this series.

    I was very disappointed indeed. It was as if I had been presented with a beautifully wrapped, exciting looking birthday present only to find a dull pair of socks inside. Coralie's covers (and Steven Raw's lettering) are absolutely lovely, but inside it's a series of cut down disposable samples, not books you will treasure and keep. Each book is a repackaged retitled version of a classic cut down to fit in the page limit required, so that they can all be sold at the same price of £7, which to my mind is too much for a this type of throw away book. This might not bother me if the originals were not in most cases such great books, so these remind me too much of Reader's Digest condensed Dickens. Elizabeth David wrote very carefully considered books. Brillat Savarin's "Physiologie du Goût" is a great book, and a very amusing read, which more people should know. Claudia Roden's "Book of Middle Eastern Food" is a great work of scholarship, beautifully written and containing some lovely illustrations too. These are not things that should be just chopped about. There's also another reason that I said these are throw away books, and that is because none of them have a recipe index, so there's little danger of you actually trying to use them in the kitchen.

    All in all this a great wasted opportunity. Penguin should not have attempted to publish all of these at once, cut down so they can all be at the same price. Then indeed I might also have been tempted to collect them. They are works that deserve a lot more care and respect, something I used to expect from Penguin, who I up to now had always thought of as book publishers for whom the content was king, rather than book packagers driven by their marketing department. Sad.

  • katie

    May 6th 2011 at 12:50 pm

    James – fair point. But I assume most of the original texts are out of print or hard to get hold of, and I kind of see this series as a taster into a broad history of food writing – I suppose if one particularly grabs you, you can look more into the author's other works. For £4.50 (the BOGOHP/Amazon going price) isn't too bad at all – cheaper than a lot of magazines…

  • Rachel

    May 6th 2011 at 2:23 pm

    Thank you so much for posting these – I had absolutely no idea what to get my Mum for her upcoming birthday, but she's a total foodie and loves pretty things – you've just solved my problem!

  • James

    May 6th 2011 at 3:02 pm

    Well a lot are not out of print, and maybe this was an opportunity to republish and rekindle interest in some great authors. It would have been great if this rather than a one off, became another Penguin imprint like Penguin Modern Classics. I also think it's deceptive, if they were clearly marketed as samples, or even a Best of you'd know what you are getting, but that was not my initial impression.

    Mainly it saddens me because it is not what Penguins used to be about. I like most people I would guess have more Penguins on my bookshelf than any other publisher, because Penguin published real books, not ephemera. Or to take another example in art books, you trust Thames and Hudson in a way that you do not trust Taschen, even though Taschen do publish some good books, but they too are packagers not publishers, and so you don't expect to see Thames and Hudson publishing some of the more trashy art porn stuff that Taschen does.

  • katie

    May 6th 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Not sure about that either, I see Penguin as champion of the flimsy, almost throwaway, paperback. Making literature affordable and digestible. In that case, this series fits their ethos rather well.

  • Siobhan

    May 6th 2011 at 8:48 pm

    I work right by Foyles on the Southbank, and I have to force myself to not go in because every time I do I buy something because it has a pretty cover! These ones are beautiful.

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