Saturday, 13 December 2014

Penguin Drop Caps Set: A-M

There's an attractive set of Penguins available, an A-Z of hardbacks with covers designed by the notable Jessica Hische and Penguin Art Director Paul Buckley.

If you're looking for a Christmas gift for someone, these are definitely a good idea - excellent writing and a cover that lifts them out of the ordinary.

Shamefacedly, I have to confess that I haven't read them all; don't tell Caffeine and Chapters, a book blogger with a wider range than I.

A is for Austen, and a worthy classic to kick off the list. Pride And Prejudice is one of the great works of English literature, a sweeping account of the culture of the landed gentry of Regency England. Witty, sharp, it's amazing to think that an Englishwoman produced it in 1813.

Click to buy Pride and Prejudice (Penguin Drop Caps) from Amazon US Amazon UK

Some thirty years on from P&P, Charlotte Bronte published what is now one of the most famous novels of all time. Astonishing in style and subject matter, the life and love of Jane Eyre has crossed times and genres. Perhaps the best book in this set.

Buy Jane Eyre from Amazon US Amazon UK

Okay, first confession - I haven't read Willa Cather's My √Āntonia. If anyone would care to give a quick review, please get in touch.

Buy My Antonia from Amazon US Amazon UK

Dickens: Great Expectations. I picked Oliver Twist as one of my five favourite books for a desert island so it's no surprise that I'm delighted to see any Dickens on this list. Great Expectations is a monster of a book, one of Dickens' most readable. Most of you will know of the orphan Pip, the convict Abel Magwitch, Miss Havisham, Estella and the rest of the rich cast. If you haven't read this for a while, treat yourself.

Buy Great Expectations from Amazon US Amazon UK

Middlemarch. To my shame, or the shame of English education at the time, I was put off George Eliot through the forcefeeding of great chunks, to be regurgitated in exams. Years later, I read Middlemarch and found it to be well worth the wait. A tale of life in a provincial English town from 1830–32, it covers a myriad of social issues at a time of enormous change. Martin Amis loves the book but don't let that put you off.

Buy Middlemarch from Amazon US Amazon UK

Gustave Flaubert's debut novel, the tale of Emma Bovary's sad life and adulteries. Married to a dull but worthy plodder, Emma embarks on a series of doomed love affairs. Each ends, as does her life, in pain and despair. A beautiful piece of writing, one that makes me wish my French was strong enough to read it in its original tongue.

Buy Madame Bovary from Amazon US Amazon UK

Lord Of The Flies by William Golding. This is a chilling book, the tales of a group of young boys cast ashore after a plane wreck. They form a social order that matches what they knew at home but soon descend into laziness, brutality, selfishness and savagery. Perhaps the saddest thing about the book's themes is that they appear much less far-fetched now than they did when it was first published.

Buy Lord of the Flies from Amazon US Amazon UK

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. The tale of the eponymous protagonist's search for spiritual enlightenment, a journey both physical and spiritual. Hesse seems to have fallen out of favour, a shame as he is an excellent and thought-provoking writer. Penguin might have been better advised to select The Glass Bead Game or Narcissus and Goldmund but Siddhartha is certainly a good addition to the set.

Buy Siddhartha from Amazon US Amazon UK

Kazuo Ishiguro's An Artist of the Floating World. One of the most recent books on the list and a fine example of Ishiguro's writing. It's an examination of Japanese imperialism and how society's views change after WW2, focusing on the life of Masuji Ono, artist producer of wartime propaganda.

Buy An Artist of the Floating World from Amazon US Amazon UK

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. Joyce's first novel, the tale of a young artist (surprise, surprise) based on Joyce himself. Set against the background of the socially and religiously restrictive Ireland of the early 20th century, Joyce wrote and rewrote for several years before producing a work that divides opinion to this day. It's not an easy read: Joyce's style can be an acquired taste. If you haven't read him before, I'd recommend beginning with the short stories in Dubliners.

Buy A Portrait of the Artist as Young Man from Amazon US Amazon UK

Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees. One of the more accessible books in the set, it's a lovely, enthralling tale of the life of Lily Melissa Owens, young white girl, and the black people she meets on her journey. Part civil rights novel, part personal development, definitely one to read.

Buy The Secret Life of Bees from Amazon US Amazon UK

Native Speaker by Chang-rae Lee. Henry Park, Korean American, tries to fit into a society that doesn't suit him. There's a rich cast of characters in this very well-written debut novel by a professor of creative writing at Princeton University.

Buy Native Speaker from Amazon US Amazon UK

Moby-Dick, Herman Melville. A great work, the hunt for the great white whale. This isn't the easiest book in the bunch but buy it, get into it; it is truly an amazing novel. Names that resonate, whether through retelling or film, Ishmael, Captain Ahab and the whale itself - brutal, stark, lyrical in turn - buy it and settle down for a fine read.

Buy Moby-Dick: from Amazon US Amazon UK

So, the first half of the set. Some amazing books, some that you might think shouldn't be there because there are better available. I think Penguin have played it a little safe in most of their choices but I'd still welcome almost all of these in my Christmas stocking.

Second half of the collection, N-Z, reviewed here

4 comments:

Meg Meltz said...

Sorry. Can't help with My Antonia. I re-read Death Comes for the Archbishop and found it to be way better than it was in high school. Back then I lived in PA and the book didn't make much sense to me. Now I live in Santa Fe and can look at Bishop Lamy's cathedral any time i want. He has become a flesh & blood human and Cather's book has become splendidly relevant.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you on Hesse - N&G is a much better book.

Maxine said...

An interesting mix here, my all time favourite book (Middlemarch) and my least favourite book (Moby Dick). I haven't read My Antonia but I've just downloaded an audio copy, I'll listen to it on my drive down to Melbourne next week ��

Jasmine Ann Marie said...

You have some of my favourites here Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre and Lord of the Flies. I haven't read any James Joyce in ages but I do remember A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I know what you mean about George Eliot, much better when no exam :)

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