On October 28th, 2014, Penguin Canada celebrated its fortieth anniversary as part of the Harbourfront Centre’s International Festival of Authors (IFOA). To commemorate the event, four authors joined a round table discussion to discuss the transformative power of literature and Penguin books, specifically. The discussion was moderated by Jared Bland, the Arts Editor of the Globe and Mail, and the authors present were Joseph Boyden, Lee Henderson, John Ralston Saul and Johanna Skibsrud.
Unfortunately, I was a bit late for the event, so I missed some of the readings that happened. Each author picked a book Penguin has published in that the recent or distant past to read from, describing its importance in the literary world. The reading I particularly enjoyed was given by John Ralston Saul, a published author as well as the international President of PEN International. He read from Dead Souls a novel by Nikolai Gogol published in 1842. The novel is a satire meant to demonstrate the flaws and faults of the Russian population. This ailing social system is shown through the selfish actions of one man named Chichikov. The book is anything but subtle in its criticism and its obtuse obviousness was hilarious to behold during Saul’s reading from different sections of the book. I find myself intrigued to read the whole book, considering the love I already have for Russian literature.
After the readings, all the authors sat down with Jared Bland to discuss books, the act of reading, and their favourite publisher, Penguin of Canada. However, I think the best conversation, or debate really, was on the phenomenon of e-books. As a publishing professional, I understand the value of this new technology and keeping up with the trend, but as a ready I haven’t joined in. I am a lover of the physical book, therefore, I can’t imagine giving up the sensation of feeling or smelling the pages of old and new books alike. Frankly, I don’t think the smell of technology is all that enticing. So when Lee Anderson started to berate the e-book’s existence, I was all for it.
Anderson went on to say he can’t leave the house without a book and that when he visits other people he loves browsing their shelves if they have a great library in their homes. He made it quite clear just how odd it would be to ask to see someone’s e-reader and be amazed at their collection. Hands down, it was the best rant ever! You had to be there to truly appreciate what was said and Anderson’s accompanied hand actions to support his opinion. Absolutely priceless, and many of the other authors in attendance agreed.
They also all agreed that Penguin is everlasting and infinite. Everyone knows that orange colour and that little penguin logo. Merged with Random House or not, Penguin will always stand on its own as a valued publisher and a friend to all readers and their shelf space. Anderson put it perfectly when he said, “You can always trust that little bird.”
Overall, it was a great evening at IFOA and a beautiful celebration of Penguin and the art of publishing. And upon filing out of the Brigantine Room, all the attendees were given a Penguin bag, a miniature Penguin notebook, a key chain in the shape of the infamous penguin, and best of all, a Penguin poster with the statement “Go Away I’m Reading” (there was also champagne!). Pretty awesome perks from a pretty awesome publisher.
Happy Anniversary, Penguin Canada! (now shush, I’m reading)