first_poemsName: Benjamin Lytal, author of A Map of Tulsa

Favorite Penguin Classic Title/Author: Homer in English, edited by George Steiner

Why do you love this Penguin Classic? I’m a fool for comparative readings.  How did Alexander Pope translate versus Robert Lowell!  In this anthology, we can finally see what was the big deal for Keats in Chapman’s Homer.  Truly an editorial godsend.

What should I read next? The First Poems in English, edited by Michael Alexander. Worth reading for the Exeter Riddles alone.  But you also get the Seafarer, the Wanderer, the Battle of Maldon.


narrow_roadName: Lydia Davis, translator of Madame Bovary

Favorite Penguin Classics Title/Author: The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Matsuo Basho

Why do you love this Penguin Classic? I have loved this one for decades.  What is consistently pleasing is the alternation between a fairly matter-of-fact prose narration of Basho’s journey, on foot, with a companion–complete with the difficulties of a muddy road or a missed turn in the path–and the lovely haikus in which he distills moments and images along the way.

What should I read next? New Grub Street, by George Gissing, a novel of the late 19th century set squarely in London’s literary world, one character an idealist, another a pragmatist, one a virtuoso, another a novice, all trying to make a name for themselves through their writing. It is all too full of tragedy, and a page-turner.

the_crucibleName: Tana French, author of Broken Harbor

Favorite Penguin Classic Title/Author: The Crucible, by Arthur Miller.

Why do you love this Penguin Classics? On the surface, it’s a play about how Puritan repression triggered the wild explosion of accusations that led to the Salem witch trials. Officially, it’s about McCarthyism. But because Miller’s characters are vividly, passionately real, and because what he’s exploring isn’t an era but a dark, snarled place deep inside the human heart, this play doesn’t date. In any time and place, it cuts right to the bone.

What should I read next? For a total change of pace, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Pure magic wrapped in some of the most beautiful lines ever written.

cannery_rowName: James Franco, Academy Award Nominated actor and poet

Favorite Penguin Classic Title/Author: When I scan the Penguin Classics list, so many titles and authors jump out at me, like old friends. Here’s one that’s been very important to me: Cannery Row – John Steinbeck

Why do you love this Penguin Classic? I’m proud to say that I have spent half of my life in books. I think it was John Ruskin who said that a good book is preferable to conversation because a book contains a more concentrated and intense version of a person. Nabokov would agree to interviews only if he could write out his answers beforehand because he knew that he was a genius on the page and bumbling when he spoke. Harold Bloom champions books for providing the closest kind of connection to another human. So when I find a book that speaks to me, like the one above, I feel I am in the presence of a friend. Books are the perfect embodiment of principles over personalities: I get to befriend so many people through their writing, people who in life, as their embodied selves, I might hate.

What should I read next? Moby-Dick by Herman Melville or The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck or On the Road by Jack Kerouac; these are all voices that make up the chorus of the spirit of America, at least the America that I love.

gerard_manley_hopkinsName: Geraldine Brooks, author of Caleb’s Crossing

Favorite Penguin Classic Title/Author: Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose

Why do you love this Penguin Classic?: To read Hopkins’s poems is to gain a new set of eyes with which to see the world. His descriptions of nature are so rich and original that it becomes impossible to look at a weedy field or a speckled horse without his words bouncing into your mind, springing up out of the subconscious like freshets of delicious, revivifying water. This edition is particularly valuable because it includes prose passages that give insight into the tortured soul behind the glorious visions.

What should I read next?: Fagles’s translations of Homer.

garden_partyName: Kate Bernheimer, editor of xo Orpheus: 50 New Myths

Favorite Penguin Classic Title/Author:  The Garden Party and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield

Why do you love this Penguin Classic?: These mystical socialist stories are always new. A translucid free indirect narrative moves through these tales as a ghost might pass through a séance. Mansfield is a spiritual and ethical writer and her work is as illuminating as Chekhov’s – though critics have underestimated her feminine style.

What should I read next?: You can never go wrong with an exquisite and scary collection of fairy tales – I’d start with Penguin Classics Deluxe Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen and then move on to Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories.

shropshire_ladName:  Steven Goldleaf, editor of John O’Hara’s The New York Stories

Favorite Penguin Classic Title/Author:  A Shropshire Lad and Other Poems by  A.E. Housman

Why do you love this Penguin Classic?:  Virtually perfect verse, rich with emotion and wisdom, even sadder and more lovely once you know Housman’s life story.

What should I read next?:  The best biography of Housman is Tom Stoppard’s play The Invention of Love

three_novelsName:  Lara Gochin Raffaelli, editor/translator of Gabriele D’Annunzio’s Pleasure

Favorite Penguin Classic Title/Author: Three Novels of New York by Edith Wharton

Why do you love this Penguin Classic?  Edith Wharton is one of my all-time favorite authors and I have read every one of her books.  I’ve read The House of Mirth over and over again and think about it very often.  One of my favorite quotes comes from The Age of Innocence: “There was no use in trying to emancipate a wife who had not the dimmest notion that she was not free”; it appeals to the enduring feminist in me.

What should I read next?: I’d love to re-read Middlemarch, by George Eliot. I loved this book.

virginianName: Craig Johnson, author of A Serpent’s Tooth

Favorite Penguin Classics:  Owen Wister’s The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains

Why I love this book: It is the quintessential novel of the American West. It elevated the Western to an art form above the pulp and penny dreadfuls and is an invaluable guide to period western dialogue and deportment. There is an endearing closeness to the epic tale of the nameless, mounted aristocrat of Medicine Bow, Wyoming, a feeling that you’ve read the story before, and you have in Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour and the countless writers who’ve ridden and written the trail that Owen Wister blazed.

What Should I read next? In counterpoint read Bret Harte’s The Luck of Roaring Camp and Other Writings as an ironic and comical send-up of the classical Western invented by Wister but with a surprising quality of human expression.