Celebrating their 80th anniversary, Penguin Books released their Little Black Classics in February. This collection of 80 pocket-sized books that celebrate literature across cultures, disciplines, and history, plays upon the idea of the classic little black dress. All uniform in size, with a simple yet striking black and white design, these wide-ranging classics were released in the UK for only 80p! The size and affordability of this collection helps to make literature accessible to the masses, and coming in around 50-60 pages, they make for easily digestible introductions to different writers.
Each book in the collection is numbered 1-80, and features poetry, short stories, and selections from longer works. I was particularly impressed by the wide-ranging selection, which incorporates ancient writers such as Sappho and Ovid, beloved classic authors such as Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, and comes write into the modern era with Wilfred Owens and Kate Chopin.
If you’re not in the UK, you can still pick up these Little Black Classics on Book Depository. I purchased three books in the collection, and already want to get a few more.
How To Use Your Enemies by Baltasar Gracián. “Unlikely Spanish priest Baltasar Gracián shows us how to exploit friends and enemies alike to thrive in a world of deception and illusion.” My favorite of the three, How to Use Your Enemies has an undeniably Machiavellian flair that makes this perfect reading material for newly sorted Slytherins. Just saying. I underlined several passages and lines throughout these 55 pages, and although Gracián was writing in the seventeenth century, many of his maxims still hold true to today’s society. Undeniably cynical and calculating, this may become my default book gift.
The Yellow Wall-Paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. “Written with barely controlled fury after she was confined to her room for ‘nerves’ and forbidden to write, Gilman’s pioneering feminist horror story scandalized nineteenth-century readers with its portrayal of a women who loses her mind because she has literally nothing to do.” Gilman’s short story was my very first introduction to feminist literature, way back when I studied it in high school. And what an eye opening experience it was! The Yellow Wall-Paper is iconic for its disturbing story and style, and I inhale it upon every reread.
The Night is Darkening Round Me by Emily Brontë. “Some of Emily Brontë’s most extraordinary poems.” [Great synopsis, thanks Penguin.] I can’t quite remember why I picked this one up…probably because the little excerpt I read sounded so haunting. This poetry collection was just that – dark and haunting and romantic, in a way I imagine only a Brontë sister could accomplish. Admittedly, poetry is not something I have a natural appreciation for, but I really enjoyed most of this collection. “…ever present, phantom thing; my slave, my comrade, and my king.”
I think it’s safe to say that I’m hooked on these darling pocket books, and plan to acquire many more. Not all 80, but at least a few. Here are the five Little Black Classics at the top of my “want to acquire just take my money” list:
Ovid, The Fall of Icarus
Sappho, Come Close
Wilfred Owen, Anthem for Doomed Youth
Kate Chopin, A Pair of Silk Stockings
Anton Chekhov, Gooseberries
What do you think of Penguin’s new take on the little black book? Any of these pocket readers calling your name?