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Penguins on Parade: Not Yet!
主题 : Penguins on Parade: Not Yet!
Penguins on Parade: Not Yet!
Penguins on Parade: Not Yet!
May 23rd, 2013: by Steve Donoghue
We can pause roughly mid-way in our Penguin Alphabet to daydream about all those great books out there that for one reason or another (critical unpreparedness, zealously guarded copyright, etc.) have never quite made it into the Classics canon – but very much deserve to. The full list of such Not Yet Penguins would be quite long and would encompass all the literary disciplines, but in this quick little alphabet-within-an-alphabet, we can look at a handful of them and wish we could walk into our nearest evil chain bookstore and buy them:
1. Apollonius of Rhodes: The Argonautica –
Since it’s such a fantastic story,
The Voyage of the Argo
has had many English-language translations over the centuries. Penguin has had the venerable E. V. Rieu edition for decades. But Penguin also has an institutional penchant I’ve mentioned before: they find great editions and bring them into the fold. The best edition of Apollonius by far is Peter Green’s
from 1997, with its playful translation and its brilliant notes. This is an Argo book fit to stand for a century – and so, fit for Penguin
2. Anthony Burgess:
Earthly Powers –
I’m far from the only person to suggest this particular elevation; in an incredibly productive career of fiction-writing, Burgess never wrote anything that even approaches the sheer cumulative power of this
about sin and redemption and more sin. It just got a snazzy new hopeful reprint, but it’s destined to get a Penguin Classic, and it’s tempting to want it now.
3. Frank Conroy:
Millions of people have read and enjoyed Conroy’s ebullient memoir, widely regarded as his best book (the too-neat ending of the otherwise-magnificent
Body & Soul
mitigating against it). A Penguin Classic (preferably with the original mass market Penguin paperback cover-art) would help to put this wonderful book where it belongs: on every high school curriculum, right next to
The Catcher in the Rye
– I’ve praised Dexter’s seedy, malevolent masterpiece
– in a long career full of great, fearless novels, this is the greatest of them all, as stark and unforgettable as a punch to the face. It’s lodged firmly in the alternate-canon of the 20
century along with John Gardner’s
The Sunlight Dialogues
, John Barth’s
The Sot-Weed Factor
, William Wharton’s
, and M. A. Harper’s
For the Love of Robert E. Lee
. All of those works deserve Penguin Classics, and so does this one.
Evelyn’s more famous contemporary Samuel Pepys is the better known for keeping a diary, but
’s is every bit as picaresque and very nearly as fascinating, and it’s long overdue for a Penguin Classic.
A Dictionary of Modern English Usage –
This fussy, hilariously frumpy 1926 classic of mandarin hectoring is now a curiosity, of
course; in an age where someone in a bookstore conference call can say “I’d like to surface a concern and group-interface it” and not get laughed out of the room (or where young people who like something can write “This. I can’t.” and not prompt inquiries about their mental health), there is no such thing anymore as correct grammar or usage, and the children of 2013 will grow up into adults of 2050 who communicate directly cortex-to-cortex via node implants, so the whole concept of grammar and syntax – correct or incorrect – will be meaningless to them. Nevertheless, Fowler’s book sold by the metric ton and shaped the public and private communication of two generations of people – and an annotated version could be immense fun.
Charles Cavendish Fulke Greville, courtier extraordinaire during the first half of the 19
century, filled eight jam-packed volumes of memoirs before he simpered off this mortal coil, covering the reigns of King George IV, King William IV, and Queen Victoria. In 1963 the great Louis Kronenberger crafted out of that sprawling mess a gem of a volume, which he titled
The Great World
, and that’s the volume Penguin should dig up and reprint, with a pretty Thomas Lawrence portrait on the cover.
Naturally, some copyrights will be contested more fiercely than others! Brian Herbert and the Herbert estate will defend this one to their last crysknife and lasgun, but in this list we’re only dreaming – and that
the greatest science fiction novel of all time
should have a nice plump Penguin Classic (a line deplorably deficient in sci-fi in the first place) is a very sweet dream.
The Life of George Washington –
Irving is already warmly inducted into
the Penguin Classic fold
, but this gigantic 5-volume work of his – which he (no mean literary judge) considered his life’s masterpiece – has fallen to silence, and that’s a shame. It’s biography on a big, romantic, Walter Scott scale, and, incredibly, it’s great reading throughout. With nifty onion-skin paper, Penguin could cram the whole thing into one fat volume.
Penguin already publishes Judt’s masterful tome on Europe in the wake of World War Two, and moving it over to the Classics line would not only be a fitting tribute to its cool, passionate brilliance but also a much-needed acknowledgement that works of history can be classics in their own right, regardless of whether or not their styles or even their facts go out of fashion. Reprint lines just generally tend to resist the idea that history can also be literature – the field is too vexed, so they steer clear of it entirely. Penguin Classics of
In Flanders Field
The Mask of Command
The Roman Revolution
(or even Carlyle’s
The French Revolution
, which you’d think would long since have earned its spot) would be wonderful things – and Judt stands in that select number.
Lawrence of Arabia:
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom –
T. E. Lawrence’s astonishing, incantatory memoir of the Arab revolt against the Turks during the First World War is, for good or ill, one of the great works of the 20th century, as strange and unforgettable as its author. A handy Penguin Classic paperback – preferably with extensive maps and all of its traditional illustrations – feels a long time in the arriving, and if it brought more readers to Lawrence’s personal epic, so much the better.
– McMurtry’s flinty, mordantly funny
about two retired Texas Rangers making an enormous cattle-run from south Texas to Montana has been reprinted by the author’s publisher ad infinitum, and maybe someday it’ll get the Penguin Classic it so obviously deserves.
A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush
– All of Newby’s books deserve canonization, but if one slim volume (suitable, again, for school curricula
badly in need of new blood) has to be chosen, it should be this one, as vivid and gripping as a tropical fever-dream.
The Last Hurrah –
Of the handful of truly great American novels about politics, this one is by far the most humane, wry, and flat-out hilarious, and like all great American novels, it lovingly describes a world that’s entirely vanished. Extra justice, then, if the book itself doesn’t vanish – and what better way to insure that than a spiffy Penguin Classic?
A Dance to the Music of Time –
Given the givens, it’s slightly baffling why Penguin hasn’t done this behemoth already; perhaps Powell’s literary heirs are as prickly and contentious as he himself was. But as mentioned, lawsuits and counter-suits can’t touch us here in the sanctuary of our dream-list, where we can imagine a sumptuous two-volume box-set with those enticing black spines.
Quintus of Smyrna:
The Trojan Epic
magisterial 2004 annotated translation
by Alan James of Quintus’ great continuation of Homer’s
is the obvious choice for elevation to the Penguin ranks – to fill a conspicuous gap, since they’ve never had an edition of this infectious ancient potboiler before. Everybody who’s ever wondered what happened in between the Iliad and the Odyssey (let alone anyone who’s ever been foolish enough to attempt telling those stories) owes a huge debt to humble Quintus … and perhaps an equally big debt to Alan James, for giving the poem the treatment it deserves.
The Last of the Wine
– Again, copyright tangles us up: Renault’s fantastic historical novels were once a part of Penguin’s UK-only lineup. But what we need is a smart, elegant Penguin Classic of this heartbreakingly beautiful book (which would also be a godsend to high schools, except it would be yanked from students’ hands as soon as the first Bible Belt teacher actually read it).
The Complete Works
– This is another shocking omission, not mitigated in the least by Penguin’s line of individually-printed plays (even though that line is constantly being updated and is wonderful); there’s no shortage of great fat annotated one-volume Shakespeares out there – Penguin’s editors should pick the best one they can get on the cheap (perhaps the nice fat volume put out by Running Press?) and do it up beautifully, preferably in one of their gorgeous “Deluxe” editions.
J. R. R. Tolkien:
The Lord of the Rings
– This and #23 are admitted moon-shots, but this list is about an imaginary bookshelf – and the jewel in the crown of such a bookshelf would be Tolkien’s seminal work of epic fantasy, as last in a thick square-bound Penguin volume, perhaps with a cheesy-wonderful cover illustration by the Brothers Hildebrandt.
The Book Reviews
– Some book critics (OK, I) confidently predicted that the entire Updike fiction-industry would begin to ossify and collapse in on itself the moment he was no longer alive to keep it going, and those critics were exactly right: with every passing season, Updike’s onanistic novels are more clearly revealed as the ephemera some of us always knew they were. But this has had the curious and unexpected side-effect of allowing his nonfiction some extra room to breathe. A collection of his ambling art reviews has already been published and done well; Penguin should amass 500 of his best book reviews (from volumes like
Hugging the Shore
) into one big collection and get somebody other than Martin Amis to write the introduction.
United States –
And while we’re on the subject of massive essay-collections,
Gore Vidal’s masterpiece
has needed canonization since the first moment it appeared.
T. H. White:
The Once and Future King –
As with Tolkien, so too here: although this
stunning, moving fantasy epic
has had some very nice editions
over the years, it’s unlikely White’s literary executors are going to be selling it to Penguin any time soon – but we can dream.
The Brocade River Collection
– Western readers (and, let’s be honest, Eastern readers as well, who are now thoroughly indoctrinated into the noxious practice of “teach to the test” and so are growing up every bit as culturally illiterate as their fatter Western counterparts) will have no knowledge of 9
century China’s Xue Tao, and that’s a shame: in her own day, she was renowned both for her lively, fun-poking manner (something of a staple of the Tang Dynasty, but she was reputed to be exceptional) and for her lovely verse.
The Brocade River Collection
was once a massive anthology of that verse, but even the fragments that survive, if properly annoated, would make a fantastic and eye-opening Penguin Classic.
The Memoirs of Hadrian –
It’s difficult to classify Yourcenar’s masterpiece, although countless attempts have been made. But Penguin’s already published a paperback of this powerful, surreal historical novel, years ago (and not in the U.S., of course); in the intervening time, the work as stayed every bit as vital, so induction into the Penguin Classics pantheon ought to come to Hadrian at last.
Zhu Xiao Di:
Leisure Thoughts on Idle Books
– The relatively tiny handful of Westerners who know of Zhu Xiao Di at all would probably argue that his quietly affecting memoir
Thirty Years in a Red House
is the work of his that deserves its own Penguin Classic, but I disagree: the author’s merry, digressive, endlessly inquisitive mind is best captured in his collected book reviews, the reading of which is about as close as most readers will ever come to chatting with the author over the Brattle bargain carts on a beautiful summer afternoon, or chatting with the author on a blustery walk across the Mass. Ave. bridge in the autumn, or chatting with the author over a little table at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Boston’s Chinatown.
But then, we’re charting dream-titles here, so there’s no reason both books can’t make the list, and plenty of runners-up besides: Joy Adamson’s
, for instance, or Robert Graves’
I, Claudius, or the Renaissance memoirs of Vespasiano, or the two novels of Jeremy Leven, or the nature books of Edwin Way Teale, or a dozen others. The Penguin line is ongoing, after all, and it’s full of surprises.
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