Penguin Classics Newsletter | June/July 2009

Just launched!

Check out the new feature at, "From the Publisher's Office," featuring a new online audio series, "Penguin Classics On Air," hosted and introduced by Penguin Classics Editorial Director Elda Rotor. Each of the first five episodes focuses on a new, timely, or rediscovered Penguin Classic, and features an in-depth conversation with an expert on the subject, ranging from Jane Austen to a Filipino revolutionary hero to old New York to Russian and Yiddish literature. Listen to short book reviews by Alan Walker, our Senior Director of Academic Marketing & Sales, who reads a classic for each letter of the alphabet, and hear an audio sampling of the featured books in a segment called First Pages by our Associate Publisher and Editor in Chief Stephen Morrison. We hope you enjoy our new online audio series for our Penguin Classic readers.

Click here to listen and find out more.


From one enfant terrible to another

In his foreword to Natasha Randall's brilliant new translation of Mikhail Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time, Neil LaBute calls our hero, the dashing yet disaffected Russian army officer Pechorin, "one of the very first sociopaths in serious Western literature" and goes on to praise the novel as "one of the most vivid and persuasive portraits of the male ego ever put down on paper" and its author for writing "with the precision of a surgeon but with the heart of Caligula." High praise from the director of In the Company of Men.

A Hero of Our Time, considered the first major Russian novel, is also thought to contain the first literary reference to Russian roulette, and this playing-with-death quality pervades the novel, which culminates in a duel scene for the twenty-five-year-old Pechorin that has eerie parallels to the scene of its author's death in a duel at the age of twenty-six. Lermontov's novel had a catalyzing effect on Russian literature, inspiring the likes of Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and Chekhov, and it finds its modern-day counterparts in Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, Mike Leigh's Naked, and the novels of Chuck Palahniuk. It clearly hasn't lost its power to provoke or inspire—especially in this new translation, the first for Penguin Classics in more than 40 years.


"Prison is the hardest place to fight a battle." —Ruth First

Almost fifty years after antiapartheid activist Ruth First's arrest and detention by South African authorities, Penguin Classics publishes 117 Days, her harrowing account of solitary confinement under the government's ninety-day detention law. In a spare, haunting voice, First recounts her grueling war of nerves with her captors—South Africa's dreaded Special Branch of interrogators. World renowned scholar and activist Angela Y. Davis contributes a new introduction.


The Talmud 

The Talmud is a massive and complex book, whose beauty is underscored with unusual anecdotes, exciting parables, and wise proverbs. But to truly plumb its depths, it helps to have a rabbi who can explain the text. The new Penguin Classics edition provides just that rabbi in the figure of Norman Solomon, who guides the reader through his translation, explaining unfamiliar words, clarifying the historical timeline, contextualizing names and stories, and providing numerous helpful appendixes. In his hands, this transcendent text suddenly becomes a surprisingly practical book, informing relationships, legislation, and business. The Talmud is certainly worth the centuries of wisdom it encapsulates.

  Little Red Riding Hood  

Great Gifts for Dad: Classic Stories of War, Greed, and Adventure

The best way to thank Dad for all his devoted years of chemistry tutoring and games of catch? A Penguin Classic, of course!

For the History Buff: Caesar's The Civil War

For the Economist: Theodore Dreiser's The Financier

For the Retired Beatnik: Jack Kerouac's On the Road: The Original Scroll Edition

For the Adventurer: Alexandre Dumas's The Three Musketeers

For the Sci-fi Geek: Jack London's The Iron Heel

For the Nature Lover: Peter Matthiessen's The Snow Leopard 


Happy 233rd Birthday, America!

Celebrate Independence Day with a Penguin Classics beach read.

What is more American than Mark Twain? Curl up with Huckleberry Finn this summer and relive the adventures of Huck and Jim on the Mississippi!

Steinbeck's Travels with Charley in Search of America is the perfect way to reacquaint yourself with the great American landscape as you travel along the scenic highways with Steinbeck's beloved poodle, Charley.

Re-live the excitement of 1787 with The Federalist Papers, recounting the furious battle over how best to govern our very young nation.


Campus Classic: Charles Dickens's Bleak House

For each Penguin Classics Newsletter we invite a professor to share an experience of teaching with a Penguin Classic. Gage McWeeny chose the Penguin Classics edition of Bleak House by Charles Dickens for his class.

On the first day of my nineteenth-century British novel course, I like to bring in all the novels we'll be reading that term and stack them on the desk as a way to remind students, and me, of what we're getting into. Given the realist novel's maximalist aesthetic, its conviction that it might just be able to tell the story of not only anything or anyone, but everything and every one, the stack tends to tower, to teeter even. My Penguin edition of Charles Dickens's Bleak House, which runs to over a thousand pages, is Exhibit A in the extraordinary moxie of the British realist novel's aspirations and its Big Tent policy of social inclusiveness, which means scores of characters.

On the blank end-page of my edition, I draw a sort of family tree of the characters each time I read the book as a way of marking the nearly innumerable interconnections among them, and I always share this with my students to show them that even the most ardent and compulsive readers of Dickens develop techniques for keeping track of storylines and characters. But it's not all just about the Mega-book and its bulk. There's also the Megalosaurus in the opening paragraph of the novel, a figure thrown up to us by Victorian London's Mesozoic mud, a city so foggy, Dickens tells us, it seems "gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun." The grimness of the scene becomes exquisite through Dickens's breathtakingly inventive language, casting the utterly modern streets of London as both the terra incognita of the age of dinosaurs and the end-of-days scenario of solar extinction.

There's just so much happening in the first two paragraphs of this book that we usually spend our entire first session getting a feel for the rhythm and workings of Dickens's prose, seeing how his images can shape-shift across the span of a single sentence, how astonishing and strange London becomes in the pages of Bleak House. It's a sort of teacherly sublime each time I do Bleak House, I have to admit, diving into this massive book with students, experiencing alternating states of absorption and bafflement together as the plot takes ever more turns, and admiring the acuity of Dickens's vision of modernity.

Gage McWeeny
Assistant Professor of English
Williams College
Course: The Nineteenth-Century British Novel

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Reading the Classics from A to Z

Beginning in January 2008 Alan Walker, our Senior Director of Academic Marketing, steadily read one Penguin Classic per letter of the alphabet, going above and beyond the initial request to select one classic to read as part of a new year's resolution. Alan has created a following of supporters, from Penguin colleagues to librarians, who have followed his blog on our website. Alan completed his epic trek through the classics in our April/May Newsletter; click here to read his humorous and stimulating synopses as he inspires us all to pick up a classic. We've given Alan a much-deserved hiatus from his classic marathon, but stay tuned for another reading adventure led by Alan Walker.


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