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.

tarnishI get asked a lot of questions about writing and history.  From, “How long does it take to finish a book?” to “”What is your favorite thing about Anne Boleyn?”  But The question I get asked most frequently is “Why do you write historical fiction?”  And I don’t have a single answer.

I have many.

The most glib would be, “Because I get to talk about codpieces and bumrolls.”  As a former student of costume design, I love the lushness and extravagances of Renaissance fashion.  The almost exhibitionist quality of the enhancements of always gets a laugh.  But I don’t do it for the clothes.

The advice often given to new writers is, “Write what you know.” I know how to sew a dress, drive a manual transmission and make a mean cappuccino.  I have experience teaching preschool, traveling the world and acting on stage.  I will never know how it felt to be a woman in the 16th Century or experience life in the Tudor court.  I love to write what I imagine.

I love immersing myself in a completely foreign, dazzling and dangerous world.  A place where beauty was prized and opulence expected.  Where a single word could raise you up or get you executed.  Where who you know—and with whom you ally yourself—is more important than honesty or affection.  A place utterly and tyrannically dystopian, before the term was coined.

If I were feeling self-deprecating, I might say, “History is a crutch.  It provides characters, setting, structures—I just write the dialogue.”  Except that would be patently untrue.  Sometimes I think it’s more difficult to penetrate the noise generated by the past 450 years of anecdotes and rumors and extract a story that feels fresh and new and hopefully escapes the prejudices created by others.

The good and honorable answer to that oft-repeated question would be that we ought to be exposed to history so we are not doomed to repeat it. By showing a world where girls are held hostage to the belief in their weakness, perhaps readers might be more aware when they see it in their own lives.  But any novel written to preach a moral is not fiction as much as propaganda.  Something I wish to avoid.

So why do I write historical fiction for teens?

Because it makes me, as one of my friends said when I posed the question on Facebook.

I write historical fiction because I love the lush setting, the extravagant clothes, the jigsaw-puzzle structure already laid out before me.  I love finding the right voice for a well-known figure, the bright detail in a palace no longer standing.  I love the sense that I might connect a modern teen to the sixteenth century by a thread of understanding, and that through that thread a reader may discover her own path to solve a problem.

I love history.  I love writing.  How lucky am I that I get to combine the two?

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.

F2R_logoThis week we launched First to Read, a new program that will allow readers to read some of our forthcoming big titles before they go on sale.

A few of this month’s featured books are Hotshot by Julie Garwood, The Childhood of Jesus by J. M. Coetzee, and Dark Lycan by Christine Feehan.

First to Read is free, but you do have to sign up for an account or sign in with an existing Facebook account. The launch schedule can be found at

Here’s what the media is saying:

Christian Science Monitor: Penguin Books’ First to Read program will give readers sneak peeks

Good eReader: Penguin’s First To Read Program Entices Readers With Early Releases

Time: Read Books, Earn Points: A Publisher Unveils a Rewards Program

We hope you’ll check out First to Read and discover some great new books.


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.

Excerpt (8)

Excerpt The Silent Wife A.S.A. Harrison (Penguin)
Excerpt The Read-Aloud Handbook Jim Trelease – Author  (Penguin)
Excerpt Entwined with You Sylvia Day  (Berkley)
ExcerptBuilding Great Sentences Brooks Landon (Plume)
Excerpt 365 Vegan Smoothies Kathy Patalsky (Avery)
Excerpt Night Terrors Ashley Cardiff  (Gotham)
Excerpt SYLO D.J. MacHale (Razorbill)
Excerpt Detroit Charlie LeDuff (Penguin Press)

Reading Group Guide (4)
Reading Group Guide The Widow Waltz Sally Koslow (Viking)
Reading Group Guide The Lemon Orchard  Luanne Rice (Viking)
Reading Group Guide Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love  Sarah Butler (The Penguin Press)
Reading Group Guide The Collini Case Ferdinand von Schirach (Viking)

Video (6)
Video The Working Class Foodies Cookbook Rebecca Lando (Gotham)
Video Afoot on St. Croix Rebecca M. Hale (Berkley)
Video  Night Terrors Ashley Cardiff (Gotham)
Video Diary of Edward the Hamster 1990-1990 Miriam and Ezra Elia  (Blue Rider Press)
Video The Cheap Chica’s Guide to Style Lilliana Vazquez (Gotham)
Video Tiny Confessions Christopher Rozzi (Perigee)

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.