Sure, those hardcover books feel substantial in your hands when you hold then open to read. However, when you want to grab a book to take with you on a trip or to a waiting room, you want a paperback.
Paperback books were published in Europe as far back as the 17th century, but both the books and their contents were generally of low quality, described with terms like dime novels and penny dreadfuls.. Then in 1935, Allen Lane’s publishing company The Bodley Head was on the verge of bankruptcy during the recession that lead to the Great Depression. While waiting for a train, he looked for something to read at a shop at the train station and found nothing but magazines and low-quality fiction. He realized that the publication of high-quality paperback editions of good literature could both solve his reading problem and save his failing business.
Allen published his first such books under the name Penguin on July 30, 1935. In commeration, Paperback Book Day is now observed every July 30th.
The early Penguin paperbacks presented works of writers such as Ernest Hemingway and Agatha Christie. The first good-quality paperback published in the United States was The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. In addition to easy portability, the publication of these books, with their lower prices, made good literature accessible to people who couldn’t afford expensive hardcover editions.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown