Monday, April 23, 2007

The 'I love Penguin' Soliloquy

Ahem. Ahem.

Out of all the publishers out there, it is Penguin that I love best. To me they have always been solidly staid if a little on the boring side with the spectrum of classic art (including the modern masters) with its equal measure of greatness providing further candy for the eye. But recently they have got me excited again. Those guys in Penguin sure know how to pull my strings (that's purse strings).

I know Penguin have always been for affordability and widespread readership, but I like that they have been also releasing little droplets of literature for some time now. That's, for example, what I call the series from the scrumptuous Great Ideas series (both volumes) which publishes certain extracts of Philosophers (David Hume, Kierkagaard, Sun Tzu, Seneca for example) and Writers (Orwell, Hazlitt, Swift, Woolf) in a small book often not more than a hundred over pages for a very affordable price. Here you have some awesome piece of writing come through the ages to you for only a measly fee of RM 19.90 (some are pricier, don't understand why) which is sometimes more than half of what a magazine these days costs.

For example, I had the fortune of reading Cicero's 'Attack on the Enemy of State' which I have to say was a rather mind blowing experience. 'Amongst the most famous and influential of all political polemics, Cicero's scathing speeches against the dictatorial ambitions of Mark Antony are the passionate last testament of the greatest statesman of his age; a final attempt to restore his beloved Republic that was to cost him his life,' sums up Penguin themselves on their website. So inspired was I after reading that book that I wanted to read more of him and purchased a collection of his famous speeches (which were really his arguments in certain cases). There is one thing that I learned from Cicero is that you must turn over every little piece of fact and consider it, weigh it, test it and see where it may assist in your argument. The thoroughness with which he considered every meaningful facet of the case was simply awe inspiring. Now when you think about that and the fact that he lived about two thousand years ago, you begin to feel a strange comforting sense of humility. And sometimes even hope, because you realize that once upon a time we did have great men who were willing to sacrifice themselves in the service of their State. Men who once upon a time, asked not what our country could do for us, but what we could do for our country. That such men existed before means that they could walk this earth again. When you read this book, try to imagine yourself, as one of those nervous cowering Senators somewhere in the Senate with an armed Roman guard by your side ready to slay you at the flick of a wrist. Then imagine the courage one needed to have to launch a polemic against Mark Anthony at the height of his power. Can you imagine how potent this little baby is? And at such dirt cheap prices. Pick any one of them you can't go wrong.

And so it was with their 70s Pocket Penguins released in conjunction with its 70th anniversary (mmmm), then there was the Mythology Series (who said old ancient texts and myths were boring? Siegfried's Murder rocked!), the new classic travel writing series and what I wanted to gush about, their 'Read Red' series. This has been a refurbished line where they have reprinted an eclectic collection of the best shorter novels of from both the classic and modern masters. I've been collecting them and enjoying all of them. They've also reprinted one of my all time favourites, Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck (I like to pet nice things with my fingers, sof' things) in a nice portable format. I can tuck it away on my back left pocket. And introduced me to some great writers like Stefan Zweig's perfect 'Chess: A Novella' and Eduard Morike's picturesque 'Mozart's Journey to Prague'. And if you want full on German romance have a go at Goethe's 'The Sorrows of Young Werther' (would not advise severely depressed people to read it).

And the part I love about all these series is that they are affordable and let me taste a whole range of writers, philosophers, political thinkers without having to commit myself over their entire argument or doctrine. Each of them opens up whole new worlds to explore. Even just stopping by with them for those hundred over pages would leave you in some way cleverer than you were before or showed you insight or a different view of life for that moment. I cannot think how anyone can be the poorer for reading them. Thank you, Penguin.

Stage direction: Curtain Falls.

Cue: 'A Whole New World' by Peabo Bryson and Reginal Belle during the chorus.

'Read not to contradict or confute, nor to believe and take for granted, nor to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider.' - Francis Bacon, Essays.

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