The way I envied those who owned this book was completely insane, considering I’m not such a great fan of the white modern classics. The lack of introductions and forewords is a wasted opportunity in my opinion. Besides I’m more of a black Penguin classics person. Still it was no great surprise that the great Waterstones half-price sale at the end of last year saw me make a beeline to my favourite Waterstones on Sauciehall Street in Glasgow to haul myself a copy (along with a few other bargains, it has to be said.)
Once I got home, I then spent a good couple of hours happily browsing the pages. This book catalogues every title in the Penguin Modern Classics series from April 1961 to April 2021, including those that are out-of-print or by authors whose lists have moved to other publishers; in total over 1800 books by more than 600 authors. Each title is illustrated with its first modern classics cover, and so a browse through this book is also a trip through memory lane. It’s like meeting old friends after a long absence. “Oh you haven’t changed at all!” “There’s the edition I read 4 decades ago, etc, etc.” (Paperbacks come and go in my house, especially when they fox, which is why those older editions are no longer in my possession.)
The catalogue is organised geographically by country within continent. And then not alphabetically by author, rather by – actually I’m not sure. But this just makes the book more interesting. There is an index to help find a specific title, and another in which titles are listed in original publication date order. Prefaces give an overview of the development of the imprint and the aesthetics of the jacket designs. There are also helpful suggestions on how to use the book, given that very few, if any, will want to read it from cover to cover. A box on page vi works as a springboard to 75 mini lists based on theme, another on page xviii to 65 based on literary movement. (I immediately turned to Young Vienna.)
I’m going to use the book to help this year’s objective of reading 50% from my pre-2022 TBR. I may not have many Penguin Modern Classics in my library, but I own many titles in other editions. With 1500 TBR (an accurate figure, I’ve just brought my librarything catalogue up to date), it shouldn’t be too difficult to find at least one book a month to dovetail with my whims or social reading events. Let’s test out the theory, right now. See what I can find … You know, this is a plan that might just work out.