2016年3月14日 星期一

Penguin 80th birthday booklets are where publishing meets public service

From 3,000-year-old Chinese oracle bones to Penguin paperbacks - via the Gutenberg Bible and the Book of Deer.
Our new film, to mark the launch of Lines of Thought at Cambridge University Library, charts the revolutions in communication over thousands of years of human thought.



Penguin Little Black Classics review – affordable snippets of great literature
From Homer to Balzac to Darwin to Dickens, these Penguin 80th birthday booklets are where publishing meets public service
Nicholas Lezard
As I was reading about the emperor’s vanity and excesses (“during the day he would indulge in whispered conversations with Jupiter Capitolinus” – a statue – “pressing his ear to the god’s mouth and sometimes raising his voice in anger”), I wondered who among us today is so puffed-up that they feel they can bend a venerable institution to their own will, making themselves a laughing-stock while doing so?
Yes, readers, I thought of Morrissey, and his declaration that if his somewhat overwritten autobiography did not appear in the livery of Penguin Classics, it would not appear at all. It is one of the more notably absurd episodes to have occurred in British publishing, and though Morrissey’s work is not one of those chosen for filleting, I dwell on it because it raises the issue of what it means to be a “classic”, in both the wide and narrow senses. Quality plus the passage of time would seem to cover it, added to which might be the idea of necessity – that a certain work should be preserved in order to understand the society that produced it. It is not quite as simple an idea as it seems, and when I asked the publicity department how many books they had published and how many were still in print, the reply was not cut-and-dried. “Slightly tricky questions,” began the answer; “I’ve asked the editorial team and they’ve come up with: 2,358 editions of Classics still in print (which includes Great Ideas, Penguin English Library, Clothbounds, etc). Based on figures for the past five years, we publish around 66 new classics each year.”
That’s a lot, and it seems to imply that once a Penguin Classic is in print, it stays in print, which would seem logical and honourable, although hardly practical. (In fact, that’s not the case. The publisher that does have a policy of keeping all its classics in print is the estimable NYRB Classics – but then it has a very different brief from Penguin, and publishes considerably fewer books.) But the passage of time means that Penguins that started out in the Penguin English Library with orange spines turn into Classics with black ones; and the list is also topped up by works from other countries. One wonders if, like coal (also black, also laid down long ago), such resources are finite; and sometimes, as you look at another new title that you have never heard of, you consider the elasticity of the term.
Meanwhile, we have our Little Black Classics. If I had to resort to stochastic methods in order to pick my reading matter, then the Penguin team had a far harder task, although at least they were slightly helped by making sure not to repeat anything from the last time they did something like this, which was 20 years ago, and involved 60 classics at 60p each. Presumably we can look forward to 100 in 2035. In 2015, the selection is heavily weighted to the 19th century, although most other centuries are represented (albeit with nothing from the Dark Ages, or at least nothing European); and, naturally enough, it goes back toHomer (Circe and Cyclops from The Odyssey).
Contemplating the books en masse is like being let loose in a sweet shop. Austerely desirable, but also playful in their way: some familiar authors have been given unusual titles – It Was Snowing Butterflies for a selection from Darwin’s Beagle voyage; Mrs Rosie and the Priest for a story from The Decameron – and others are discrete, self-contained, such as De Quincey’s On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts, or The Communist Manifesto. I do not know The Dhammapada; now I can get a taste of it. Ditto Pu Songling, Kenkō, Akutagawa and Shen Fu. Buying the lot doesn’t seem like a crazy extravagance.
No notes, no introductions. The texts stand or fall on their own. This may mean that we do not instantly appreciate, for instance, what exactly Peter Whigham was doing when he modelled his translations of Catullus, in 1966, on the likes ofWilliam Carlos Williams or Ezra Pound (a daring editorial decision half a century ago); but the selection we have for the LBC series, published under the title I Hate and I Love, still reads as if it is alive, and it is a testament to Penguin’s wisdom all those years ago, weighing up the conflicting needs of the student and the general reader. Besides, I would like to think that the phrase “spintrian perverts”, from the Suetonius, is all the more resonant for not knowing exactly what it means. Also, such a policy slims the budget and encourages, in the reader, impulsiveness. One of the problems, for many casual and indeed non-casual readers of, say, 19th-century literature in particular is its sheer length: being able to pick up a slim chunk of Honoré de Balzac instead of feeling obliged to read the entire Comèdie Humaine must be a considerable weight off one’s mind; and the thought that you could buy something at a train station that will keep you entertained for an hour at a price so tiny it is almost invisible is remarkably cheering.

I mention train stations, because it was his dissatisfaction with the reading material on sale in them that inspired Allen Lane to come up with the concept of Penguin Books in the first place. It is one of the things this country can be proudest of: not only does it honour its own great and good, it honours the great and good of other nations and cultures; and when it does so, it doesn’t put them into fancy editions (Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Library of America); it puts them into black jackets and makes them affordable to virtually everyone. It is where publishing meets public service, and may the imprint continue for as long as civilisation.
 To order the complete Little Black Classics for£50, go tobookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846.

Little Black Classics – the list in full

1. Boccaccio Mrs Rosie and the Priest
2. Gerard Manley Hopkins As Kingfishers Catch Fire
3. The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-tongue
4. Thomas de Quincey On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts
5. Friedrich Nietzsche Aphorisms on Love and Hate
6. John Ruskin Traffic
7. Pu Songling Wailing Ghosts
8. Jonathan Swift A Modest Proposal
9. Three Tang Dynasty Poets
10. Walt Whitman Alone on the Beach at Night
11. Kenko A Cup of Sake Beneath the Cherry Trees
12. Baltasar Gracian How to Use Your Enemies
13. John Keats The Eve of St Agnes
14. Thomas Hardy Woman Much Missed
15. Guy de Maupassant Femme Fatale
16. Marco Polo Travels in the Land of Serpents and Pearls
17. Suetonius Caligula
18. Apollonius of Rhodes Jason and Medea
19. Robert Louis Stevenson Olalla
20. Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx The Communist Manifesto
21. Petronius Trimalchio’s Feast
22. Johann Peter Hebel How a Ghastly Story Was Brought to Light by a Common or Garden Butcher’s Dog
23. Hans Christian Andersen The Tinder Box
24. Rudyard Kipling The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows
25. Dante Circles of Hell
26. Henry Mayhew Of Street Piemen
27. Hafez The nightingales Are Drunk
28. Geoffrey Chaucer The Wife of Bath
29. Michel de Montaigne How We Weep and Laugh at the Same Thing
30. Thomas Nashe The Terrors of the Night
31. Edgar Allan Poe The Tell-Tale Heart
32. Mary Kingsley A Hippo Banquet
33. Jane Austen The Beautifull Cassandra
34. Anton Chekhov Gooseberries
35. Samuel Taylor Coleridge Well, They Are Gone, and Here Must I Remain
36. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Sketchy, Doubtful, Incomplete Jottings
37. Charles Dickens The Great Winglebury Duel
38. Herman Melville The Maldive Shark
39. Elizabeth Gaskell The Old Nurse’s Story
40. Nikolai Leskov The Steel Flea
41. Honore de Balzac The Atheist’s Mass
42. Charlotte Perkins Gilman The Yellow Wall-Paper
43. CP Cavafy Remember, Body...
44. Fyodor Dostoevsky The Meek One
45. Gustave Flaubert A Simple Heart
46. Nikolai Gogol The Nose
47. Samuel Pepys The Great Fire of London
48. Edith Wharton The Reckoning
49. Henry James The Figure in the Carpet
50. Wilfred Owen Anthem for Doomed Youth
51. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart My Dearest Father
52. Plato Socrates’ Defence
53. Christina Rossetti Goblin Market
54. Sindbad the Sailor
55. Sophocles Antigone
56. Ryūnosuke Akutagawa The Life of a Stupid Man
57. Leo Tolstoy How Much Land Does a Man Need?
58. Giorgio Vasari Leonardo da Vinci
59. Oscar Wilde Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime
60. Shen Fu The Old Man of the Moon
61. Aesop The Dolphins, the Whales and the Gudgeon
62. Matsuo Bashō Lips Too Chilled
63. Emily Bronte The Night Is Darkening Round Me
64. Joseph Conrad To-morrow
65. Richard Hakluyt The Voyage of Sir Francis Drake Around the Whole Globe
66. Kate Chopin A Pair of Silk Stockings
67. Charles Darwin It Was Snowing Butterflies
68. Brothers Grimm The Robber Bridegroom
69. Catullus I Hate and I Love
70. Homer Circe and the Cyclops
71. DH Lawrence Il Duro
72. Katherine Mansfield Miss Brill
73. Ovid The Fall of Icarus
74. Sappho Come Close
75. Ivan Turgenev Kasyan from the Beautiful Lands
76. Virgil O Cruel Alexis
77. HG Wells A Slip under the Microscope
78. Herodotus The Madness of Cambyses
79. Speaking of Śiva
80. The Dhammapada

From Homer to Honoré de Balzac to Charles Darwin to Charles Dickens, these Penguin 80th birthday booklets are where publishing meets public service

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