Penguin Classics

Because what you read matters.

Reading the Classics from A-Z: Round #3

With an unbelievable two complete cycles under his belt, Alan Walker, our Senior Director of Academic Marketing and Sales has embarked on yet another Penguin Classics reading marathon from A–Z. This time, instead of choosing books by the author name, he’s reading one book by title per letter of the alphabet, beginning with John O’Hara’s Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara. Check out the Penguin Classics website to re-visit Alan’s entire first and second marathons!


Appointment in Samarra And once again we come full circle, back to the letter A where I can begin again my stroll through the Classics. This time, instead of going by author name, I will journey from A through Z using the title of the Penguin Classic, and will expect the customary wealth of choice for just about every letter except possibly X, where I will be forced to use its algebraic definition. And what better choice for the first selection of this new start than to pick the recently rediscovered John O’Hara’s Appointment in Samarra, which Penguin Classics published in 2013 in a lovely graphic deluxe cover, followed shortly after by publications of O’Hare’s BUtterfield 8, New York Stories, and Ten North Fredrick. For fans of Jazz Age greats Hemingway and Fitzgerald, Appointment in Samarra is a must read. In fact, Charles McGrath’s introduction in the Penguin Classic edition calls the novel “more Hemingway-esque than Hemingway—more transparent and less mannered.” Taking place in the small town of Gibbsville, PA, the story follows the stunning collapse of the seemingly perfect marriage between Julian and Caroline English, our two central characters, set against the backdrop of Prohibition and the town’s social, religious, and class distinctions. A large cast of local characters weave in and out of the novel, giving it a realistic yet unsettling sense of place. Julian’s destructive alcoholic binge is possibly only matched in literature by that of Geoffrey Firmin in Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano and starts when Julian throws a drink in the face of a “country club bore” (from McGrath’s introduction) from whom he has recently borrowed a large sum of money in order to support his failing Cadillac dealership. I won’t tell you where this epic drinking binge ends, only to say it helps explain the novel’s title and its reference to an ancient Arabic tale retold in a play by W. Somerset Maugham. Intrigued? You will be once you pick this book up! This one is a real standout, one of my favorites from all my Classics ventures. Hope you enjoy it as well.

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"Penguin Classics on Air," a half-hour series devoted to the discussion and exploration of some of Penguin Classics' 1,500-plus titles.