Monday, 2 September 2013

Penguins, Fags and Exeter

My links with  Exeter pretty strong. After all, I lived there for over twenty years in six different places around the city, did two degrees at the university and the now defunct St Loye's School of Occupational Therapy and worked in the city briefly as a clerical assistant for BT and then as a tax consultant in a couple of international accountancy firms.  I thought I was pretty well versed on the city's history gleaned accidentally when going about my business and going on a few of the excellent free Red Coat  Tours run by volunteer guides.   But I never knew, until a couple of days ago that Penguin books have a very strong association with the city.

Here I am relishing the pleasantly warm climate of South West France, trawling through more books than I read in three months at home.  May I recommend Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch, ghostly crime fiction which isn't a genre that I usually enjoy but this book was so well written and  imaginative that it passed muster.   The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid, an extraordinarily beautiful narrative giving an alternative perspective on the War on Terror.  Its final paragraph is perplexing and I'm still at odds with what happened so if you read it and understand, let me in on the secret!

This latter book is one published by Penguin and on one of the back pages there is a description of how the publishing company was set up as a response to Allen Lane being unable to find something decent to read at Exeter St Davids railway station.    Perhaps there is a plaque commemorating this to seek out when I'm next there.  Mr Lane brought to fruition an idea that saw quality paperbacks being sold in newsagents, tobacconists and even vending machines for the same price as a packet of cigarettes.

Alas! This is not true of the Penguin paperback today.  My novel was a few years old and has a cover price of £6.99 whereas cigarettes cost around £6.30 for a pack of twenty unless you have access to a dodgy tobacco seller with links to the continent where duty prices are lower.  I know this, not as a smoker, but because I was looking for a gas canister to refill the lighter in the van the other day.  Perhaps if Penguin got back to their original remit they'd tempt people away from those evil nicotine filled cancer sticks that could considerably less now than a shiny new read!

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