Capturing my library, March 18, 2021
Everyone knows one when they see one — but that animals and letters have a lot in common is not something we think about all the time. That books are made of pages, paragraphs, sentences, of words and words from letters: and if we go (all the way) back to hieroglyphs, that these letters are often an animal becoming a sound, shortened to the first vowel or consonant of its name, like the A is an aleph or an ox's head that the Romans later flipped on its side, and it is unclear whether there is a snake or a fish hiding under the N.
The story of the Penguin logo is another, apparently an idea by Allen Lane of The Bodley Head following the example of the first publishing house to produce mass market paperbacks: the Albatross Books company.
Beyond the effect of copying the copier —every library hiding a menagerie (a zoo, an Artis) of different birds and bees and bears— what the spines of books keep telling us is also a soft reminder of the pictographic origin and the rebus principle that underlies written language.
“Every time we issued an expensive publication, I tried to issue an inexpensive publication. And the series which we used as our vehicle was called The Great Bear Pamphlets. It was a very hot August day in 1965 when I was trying to dream up the name of this series, and I went to pour myself a cup of water, from the water cooler in my office, and the water cooler was made by the ‘Great Bear Company’ and it just seemed to me ‘Gee, wouldn’t it be wonderful’ if we could make these pamphlets as refreshing as this water is. So that’s how the series got its name” (Something Else Press and Since: a lecture by Dick Higgins, January 13, 1981 00:15:11-00:15:45).