Wednesday, February 25, 2015

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

Penguin's Little Black Classics
Encouraging impulsiveness … Penguin's Little Black Classics
It was quite overwhelming, to open the box containing all 80 of these booklets – one for each year in the life of Penguin Books. Each is around 60 pages long; each is an extract from the Penguin Classics range. Where to start? In the end I just tipped them out and stuck out my hand at random. To my delight, I picked out Suetonius’s life of Caligula. You are never going to be bored by Suetonius, especially on Caligula. (Although it would perhaps have been more fitting, or certainly cuter, if my debased version of the Sortes Virgilianae – the ancient tradition of using the poet’s works for divination – had actually picked out Penguin’s snippet of Virgil.)

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?

No comments: