Monday musings on Australian literature: Popular Penguins at a Perfect Price

Penguin with No. 1 ribbon

Since Penguin never responds to my copyright queries (Courtesy: OCAL via

You all know Penguin Books – and perhaps something about the company’s origin. The story goes that Allen Lane, standing on a train platform in 1935 and not being able to find “something good” to read, decided that there existed “a vast reading public for intelligent books at a low price”. He staked all he had, apparently, and a publishing giant was born.

Over time though, prices have climbed and so a few years ago, Penguin decided to introduce plain covered (much like the original orange and white covers) editions of popular titles. The first set was published (here, anyhow) in September 2008. The price, in Australia dollars, $9.95. I like them – their bindings are easy to open, they are light and easy to carry, they look classic, and they are inexpensive. What’s not to like?

Content-wise – and fair enough, since reading should not be not an exclusively nationalistic activity – the majority of the offerings are non-Australian. However, each release of new titles includes a small selection by Australian authors, and it is these that I look out for and buy if I don’t already have them (because some nationalism is good!). Here is a list of what I believe are the currently available Australian titles published as Popular Penguins:

  • Astley, Thea It’s Raining in Mango
  • Carmody, Isobelle Obernewtyn
  • Clarke, Marcus For the Term of His Natural Life
  • Conigrave, Timothy Holding the Man
  • Courtenay, Bryce Power of One
  • Cracknell, Ruth Journey from Venice
  • Drewe, Robert Bodysurfers
  • Drewe, Robert Our Sunshine
  • Garner, Helen Monkey Grip
  • Garner, Helen Postcards from Surfers
  • Hartnett, Sonya Of a Boy
  • Hartnett, Sonya Surrender
  • Horne, Donald Lucky Country
  • Hyland, M.J. How the Light Gets In
  • Jolley, Elizabeth The Well
  • Leunig, Michael Curly Verse: Selected Poems
  • Lindsay, Joan Picnic at Hanging Rock
  • Marshall, Alan I Can Jump Puddles
  • Niland, D’Arcy Shiralee
  • Park, Ruth Playing Beatie Bow
  • Park, Ruth Harp in the South
  • Richardson, Henry Handel Getting of Wisdom
  • Stow, Randolph Merry-Go-Round in the Sea
  • Turner, Ethel Seven Little Australians
  • Winton, Tim In the Winter Dark

That’s twenty-five titles, mostly novels, but some non-fiction as well as poetry and short stories. A couple of the novels are children’s or young adult.

The temptation of course is to quibble with choices like this, to argue for one’s favourites, or on other grounds for why some other title/s may be more worthy … but why bother? The point is that it’s good to see an interesting variety of Australian titles being re-published in an affordable format – and, since the series seems to be popular, we can only expect that more Aussie titles will be published in the future. Meanwhile, non-Australian readers looking for Australian titles to read would not go too far wrong by choosing (according to their own interests) from this list.

A little postscript

I’m (well Whispering Gums, anyhow, is) 2 years old today. I can’t quite believe how quickly these two years have gone. It’s been great fun writing this blog, responding to comments on it, and reading the blogs of those I’ve met through blogging. Thanks a bunch for sharing your thoughts and ideas. And thanks especially to those who helped me get going in my early days. You know who you are and, while I won’t out you here, I want you to know that I greatly appreciate you! Roll on year 3 …

22 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Popular Penguins at a Perfect Price

    • Thanks John … glad you enjoy them. They are a bit of fun to write … I can’t quite believe two years have gone since I started this blog. Time is going scarily fast!

  1. Even I’ve read one of these titles. Picnic at Hanging Rock. I read it a few years back (it must have been before the penguin version); my copy was a used, rejected library book.

    • “Even I” doesn’t seem to quite right for you Guy, given the Aussies you’ve read … I think Picnic is here because of the iconic status of the film, making it I suppose a “popular” Penguin rather than a “literary” Penguin. Did you notice the two Drewes (though not The shark net!).

      • I see that MJ Hyland makes the list and I’ve read that one too. Didn’t connect the Drewe with the copy of Shark Net that’s sitting here while I stare at it.

        • Ah, you noticed! It was Penguin’s classification in their spreadsheet, not mine. I’ve decided not to be an nationalistic appropriator! Glad I pointed out the Drewe to you. (I have The body surfers next to my bed and have read some of it … I like him for the way he captures place and time.)

  2. Well done on the birthday. Like John, I’m a fan of the Monday Musings — I wait to find out what you’ll come up with next.

    • Thankyou Lisa … and my birthday present? An iPad. (Coincidental really) I’m having fun… Any hints you (or the spouse) can give re using the iPad for travel would be very welcome.

  3. Happy 2nd birthday! The years do go by quite fast. I think my blog is nearly 3 years old.

    I love the Orange Penguins. The quality isn’t too bad and reiterates Penguin’s original message. The selection is great too. I have built up quite a collection. I do love their non-fiction though. Some great choices there and they can be good references.

    • Thanks Mae. Yes, I love the orange ones too. They are nice to hold and open pretty easily don’t they. And, as you say there’s a nice selection of nonfiction too. And they are so well priced it’s often hard to walk by them!

  4. Congratulations on two years! I hope there are many more to come as I so enjoy visiting your blog! And I’m going to have to coy and save your Penguin list and see what I can find here.

    • Thanks Stefanie, it’s been great getting to know you via this blog. I love to visit your blog too. Blogging has brought me much more than I thought it would when I started.

  5. and thank you too Sue (now I know that’s who you are!) from a blog acquaintance who has broadened her reading horizons as a result of your finely-written critiques. May there be many more birthday wishes whispered through the gums.

  6. Happy Bloggiversary. You always write such thoughtful and considered posts that are a pleasure to read. Thanks for all the hard work and effort that obviously goes into your whispering gums, to keep us amused and make us educated.

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