Thirty years ago, the pelican became extinct. Hardly a peep was heard from the Audubon.
This May, in what is more a miracle of modern readership than Jurassic Park-style DNA revival, it will soar the proverbial skies once more.
Begotten of penguins –more specifically, Penguin Books – the Pelican imprint, like its parent, helped make good literature that was previously the preserve of the upper classes available to the mass market. Pelican Books was hatched in 1937, just two years after Penguin had been founded to offer titles such as A Farewell To Arms and The Great Gatsby at irresistibly reasonable prices.
Its goal was to leave the entertainment to Penguin and instead focus on educating readers on contemporary issues. The distinct Penguin colour block style in Pelican-only light blue and white flew (apologies) off the shelves starting with the very first title, The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism by George Bernard Shaw. Sigmund Freud's Psychopathology of Everyday Life sold out completely within a week in 1938. The trend continued for nearly a half-century, but Pelican books eventually fell out of fashion and, subsequently, out of existence.
Pelican books – whether sticking haphazardly out of a back pocket or casually lining a living room wall – were a signifier of (real or projected) intelligence and a willingness to engage with new ideas, much as, decades later, the first white earbuds indicated a passion for music and technology (and a sizable disposable income). As the pelican mimics the phoenix and rises from the ashes of its predecessor, it will be interesting to see whether it will once again become an icon in homes, residence rooms and back pockets around the world.
The first title of the new Pelican series, an original work called Economics: A User's Guide by Ha-Joon Chang, will be released next month. Five books are set to be published each year.