FullSizeRenderKellie Schirmer is Director of Trade Production for The Berkley Publishing Group. Originally from Western NY, she now resides in Bergen County, NJ. When not making books…or reading books… she enjoys genealogy, baking, and travel.


9780141392462The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Originally published in 1844-1845, The Count of Monte Cristo revolves around a young man named Edmund Dantes, whose future is bright. He’s just been promoted and is soon to be married to a beautiful woman, but on the very day of his wedding, he’s accused of a crime he did not commit and is taken away….for a loooong time. Unbeknownst to him, three of his acquaintances, each jealous of him for different reasons, had banded together and plotted against him.

This book is often described as “the ultimate revenge story” and that may be true…the core of the story revolves around Dantes, his transformation into the “Count of Monte Cristo” and how he goes about punishing those who wronged him…but in my opinion, it’s also a story of adventure, friendship, envy, jealousy, love (and love lost), death, loyalty and deceit. Whew!

There are many versions of this book floating around, but if you are interested in a great read I’m recommending you pick up the Penguin Classics Unabridged edition, translated (and with notes and intro) by Robin Buss. The translation is excellent — the 200+ year old story reads as though it was written in present day – and the notes section is exhaustive, which saved me a lot of Googling!)

 Start Reading an excerpt!

9781101075821 2Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

“What do you mean, ‘Angle of Repose?’ she asked me when I dreamed we were talking about Grandmother’s life, and I said it was the angle at which a man or woman finally lies down. I suppose it is; and yet … I thought when I began, and still think, that there was another angle in all those years when she was growing old and older and very old, and Grandfather was matching her year for year, a separate line that did not intersect with hers. They were vertical people, they lived by pride, and it is only by the ocular illusion of perspective that they can be said to have met. But he had not been dead two months when she lay down and died too, and that may indicate that at that absolute vanishing point they did intersect. They had intersected for years, for more than he especially would ever admit.”

Published in 1971 and awarded the Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction in 1972, Angle Of Repose may be one the most beautifully written stories I’ve ever read. The story’s narrator is Lyman Ward, a former history professor who was forced to retire due to health issues. He moves into his deceased grandparents’ home and begins organizing their personal effects. As he reads through his grandmother’s correspondence, he reflects on his own life and marriage while imagining his grandparents life living in various mining towns in the west at a time when the land was still wild and untamed.

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9780142437254 2On the Road by Jack Kerouac

It took me a long time to pick up On the Road but once I did, I was diggin’ it! There has been so much written about this book, there’s probably nothing more I can add that hasn’t already been said, so I’ll let Kerouac speak for himself. The plot is a simple one….the adventures of two guys criss-crossing the country….but it’s the way the story is told….the frenetic pace….that keeps you turning the page:

“Sal, we gotta go and never stop going ’till we get there.’

‘Where we going, man?’

‘I don’t know but we gotta go.”

“I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn’t know who I was – I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I’d never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn’t know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn’t scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost.”

“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”

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The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution and The Federalist Papers

9780143121961 2I’ve always been interested in the historical, but the last few years I find myself interested in the Founding Fathers and the early years of our country. I’ve been reading Ron Chernow’s bio of George Washington, and waiting patiently for the new season of AMC’s Turn.

9780143121978 2I had  been wanting to read The Federalist Papers (which are a series of essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, making the case for the Constitution) but  I found them a bit daunting. So when I came across these two volumes the other day, I was very excited. Both are annotated by Professor Richard Beeman, who provides context and notes making the text easy to digest. If you have even a passing interest, I would recommend  you check these out. You will be pleasantly surprised.

Start Reading an excerpt!


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Brianna Kelly Staff Picks Headshot

Brianna Kelly is a Production Assistant for Berkley Publishing Group. Her words to live by are those of Ms. Amy Poehler: “Kiss every baby, and pet every dog. Walk slowly, and lie down when you’re tired.”



The Aeneid by Virgil

Many people have read Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, but far fewer have read Virgil’s The Aeneid, which chronicles the journey of the defeated Trojan army after their city has been sacked (thanks, Odysseus.) If you enjoyed the epic poems of Homer, you are doing yourself a disservice by not reading Virgil’s tale. After the destruction of their homeland, Aeneas and his army sail from place to place, looking to find somewhere to start a new city. Along the way they encounter kings and queens who try to help and hinder his quest. Of course the gods and goddesses are heavily involved as well—Venus, the goddess of love, is the mother of Aeneas and tries to protect him from Juno, the queen of the gods, who hates all Trojans. Despite the interference of gods and humans alike, Aeneas follows his destiny of settling in Italy where the Roman empire will one day be founded.



A Doll’s House and Other Plays by Henrik Ibsen

Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House was first performed in 1879, but it is so progressive and sympathetic to the rights of women that it could have been written today. Nora and Torvald Helmer are a married, middle-class couple with three children living in 19th century Norway. Although she is living a relatively comfortable life that society has told her to aspire to, Nora is not happy. This play encapsulates the frustration and oppression of women like Nora, who are smart and capable but who society does its best to restrict. The ending of this play genuinely surprised me, especially given the fact that it was written at this time, and by a man.  It is still so relevant today, and with two of Ibsen’s other plays included in the text as well, this book is a great introduction to his works.




A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift’s satirical essay positing that the poor people of Ireland should sell their babies for the rich to eat is so over-the-top macabre that you cannot help but laugh the whole way through. Swift wanted to skewer the way the wealthier people of Ireland would discuss its impoverished population as if they were livestock, without thought to their humanity. Why not just buy and eat their babies? That way the poor would get some extra money while also getting rid of an extra mouth to feed. It makes perfect sense! Swift lays out his argument so well that you could almost imagine someone making the argument seriously.  It’s like an Onion article for the 18th century.




Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

This book is one of my favorites. No matter how many times I read it, it always makes me happy, sad, and mad—mad mostly because I will never get over who Laurie ends up marrying. The story follows the lives of the four young March sisters Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. Living in Civil War-era New England, the girls each struggle with something different as they grow up. The thing I like best about this book is that there is really no antagonist other than the perils of real life. It’s refreshing to read a sweet story about very realistically flawed but essentially good people who are doing the best they can to be happy and good. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot of drama though; life for the March sisters is not easy and tragedy befalls them just like any other family. If you haven’t already read it, do yourself a favor and just read it. If you’ve already enjoyed it, read it again!

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525671_584447470707_901838343_nMelissa Faulner is an Assistant Editor in Dutton Children’s Books. A “spiritual New Yorker” who grew up five miles from the beach in Florida, as a child she preferred to spend her free time indoors and her allowance on hilariously ambitious books like Middlemarch (when she was twelve). When she’s not reading on trains, she can be found baking, listening to podcasts, or finally watching tv shows that everyone has been raving about for years. (I finally get it! Mad Men is amazing!)


Persuasion, by Jane Austen

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Though Pride and Prejudice is, of course, the gateway drug of (almost) all Austenites, it’s Austen’s oldest heroine, the quiet, thoughtful Anne Elliot, who remains my truest love. Persuaded at a young age to reject the marriage proposal of a poor sailor named Wentworth whom she loved, Persuasion opens when twenty-seven-year-old Anne Elliot is suddenly thrust back into an acquaintance with the now Captain Wentworth. Representing a huge shift in Austen’s representation of wealth and aristocracy as a savior for her heroines (spoiler: it’s not), Persuasion is a novel about regret, longstanding affection, and coming to terms with the mistakes we make when we’re young. It’s also about dark, brooding sea captains and unrequited love, so, I mean, it really doesn’t get much better than that.

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White Noise by Don DeLillo

Though it falls under my pet peeve category of “Novels about navel-gazing white men having a mid-life crisis,” White Noise grabbed me and shook me apart the first time I read it. Set in a Midwestern college town, the book chronicles a period of time in the life of college professor Jack Gladney, a Hitler studies professor who’s only now taking German lessons, and is in constant fear of the death of his fifth wife Babette. Our “modern” obsession with distraction and consumption, our struggles with our own mortality, the looming possibility of death-by-a-manmade-airborne-toxic-event—it’s all there, and it’s a wild, glorious revelation.

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Savvy by Ingrid Law

One of my absolute favorite books of all time is the Newbery Honor–winning Savvy by Ingrid Law. Readers are introduced to almost-thirteen-year-old Mississippi “Mibbs” Beaumont and her family, all of whom are born with a special ability—a savvy—that reveals itself on their thirteenth birthday. As Mibbs wonders and worries over what her own savvy will be, she must also journey to save her father. Brilliantly told and filled with the sort of beautifully imagined magical realism that serves to highlight the humanity of its characters, Savvy is soul-warming, and has within its pages one of my favorite scenes in a book of all time.

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I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Even though it was still in ARCs, everyone here was already buzzing about  I’ll Give You the Sun by the time I finally read it. Jandy Nelson’s stellar young adult novel, which won the Printz Award this year, follows the rift in the relationship between fraternal twins Noah and Jude, who had once been inseparable. Breathtaking, almost poetic prose, along with vivid explorations of art and love and death, this is one of those books that gives you that anxious, fluttery “I can’t believe it’s really this good” feeling when you read it. I cried through the last twenty pages, and then, when I’d finally finished, gave it a big hug.

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Middlemarch by George Elliot

The story of a fictitious provincial town and its residents, Middlemarch primarily centers on the life and marriage of Dorothea Brooke. I’ll admit that I only know a bit more about the plot than that, and am reluctant to learn too much more since I’m FINALLY reading it! It may have taken me almost two decades, but it’s finally happening. Unfortunately, at about eight hundred pages, it might be another year before I actually finish it.

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Maggie Rosenthal_photoMaggie Rosenthal is an Editorial Assistant at Viking Children’s Books. A lifelong New Yorker, she loves discovering new worlds in books, trying her hand at new recipes, and – most importantly – eating.


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The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

If, like myself, you are a longtime lover of fairytales, there is no one better to rip apart your idyllic childhood memories of story time than Angela Carter – in the most gruesomely satisfying way possible. Carter transmutes classic stories into the stuff of nightmares, but she does it with evocative and nuanced artistry. When I first read this collection, it alternately gave me chills and a sense of hope. In Carter’s able hands, the passive heroine of old is transformed into a decisive and self-assured one.  The Bloody Chamber brings new life to tales that, love them as I do, often get retold over and over again without much reimagining. Carter brings imagination to the table by the truckload.



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The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

This is the ultimate revenge story. As shameful as it might be to admit, there are few things on this good green earth as gratifying as a hard-won revenge. Add to that some romance, drama of the highest order, and gritty determination and you have a deeply rewarding classic. I imagine Edmond Dantes as a mixture of Bear Grylls and Tim Gunn; he does whatever he needs to in order to survive, but he does it with panache. His escape from the Château d’If after his wrongful imprisonment and methodical decimation of the people who put him there had me on the edge of my seat. I think I first read this when I was in middle school, when it fed my need for adventure, and then again in college, when I could better appreciate the beautiful writing (even though I read it in translation) – which just goes to show that it can be appreciated on so many levels.

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The Portable Dorothy Parker by Dorothy Parker

In a dark mood? Don’t read Dorothy Parker. Or do – maybe her sadistic sense of humor can knock you out of it. In one example, she writes with an almost frivolous honesty in a catchy poem about suicide. You can probably tell right there if she’s the writer for you. I think what I like most about Dorothy Parker is her expansive wit and perceptive eye, which never feel cloying or burdensome to me. She was a fascinating woman and I’m still finding out interesting things about her. Did you know she bequeathed her estate to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Well! She also attempted suicide many times, which tint her writings with a sadness for the woman behind the words, but they also draw out an earnestness in them that might be missed if one knew nothing about her. There’s always so much to discover about her, and I urge you to dip into her world if you can.


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Ivanhoe by Walter Scott

Maybe I’m a glutton for antiquated writing styles, but I was amazed at how much fun I had reading Ivanhoe. I know: “fun” and “the Norman Conquest” don’t often go together, but trust me on this one. Our protagonist, Ivanhoe, has just returned from the Crusades and gets himself embroiled in the struggle between Richard Coeur de Lion and his brother, John, so clearly this is a story of epic proportions. This read does require a bit of stamina (a modern-day Penguin editor would grab the garden shears and have a field day cutting this one down), but it still has a place in my heart. It’s a great historical piece, but it also has some of my favorite kickass heroines: Rebecca and Rowena. While Scott unfortunately does not avoid all 19th century stereotypes, he won me over with Rebecca, the young, fiercely independent, and wise-beyond-her-years Jewish woman battling the wants of the heart and the prejudice of her time. Now who could resist that?


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The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Here is a real romance. And I mean that in the sense that everything about this book is romantic, from a passionate love of books to the sparks that fly between these vivid characters. I’ve never been to Spain – let alone traveled back in time – but the story of young Daniel uncovering the history of a mysterious book in 1945 Barcelona comes alive off the page. There are some truly heart-pounding and heart-wrenching moments in this book. The writing is lush and the ending is rewarding. The Shadow of the Wind is what I call a good “any time” book. Looking for something fun and distracting? Read this. Looking for something thought-provoking? Read this. Now, I’m not trying to tell you what to do…but read this.

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CBJ PantheonCasey Blue James is a publishing assistant in the president’s office at Penguin. She’s a native Chicagoan and a proud resident of Jackson Heights, Queens. When her nose isn’t buried in a book on the subway, chances are you can find her in the park, on the beach, or somewhere else where the vitamin D is plentiful. (If you’re reading this bio in the winter, she’s probably eating pasta somewhere or snuggled in bed watching RuPaul’s Drag Race with a puppy named Pickles.)



The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe

Half a decade before Mary McCarthy published The Group, and fifty years before Peggy and Joan became the past-tense idols of twenty-something women working in corporate offices everywhere, Rona Jaffe wrote the original portrayal of mid-century office life that didn’t entirely relegate women to the reception desk and the coffee cart. I’ll admit it’s hard to find a true heroine in this woefully outdated storyline, but even a thoroughly 21st-century lady may find herself sympathetically nodding along with a young editorial assistant’s travails in the big office and the bigger city.  In fact, I think The Best of Everything makes a fun read for anyone who works in publishing. Remember when the whole company used to take the Jitney out to the publisher’s Hamptons house for summer soirees? Man, those were the days!


fear-of-flying-by-erica-jongFear of Flying by Erica Jong

Isadora Wing travels with her psychoanalyst husband to a conference of psychoanalysts in Vienna and hilarious trouble ensues. If you haven’t read this one yet, you’re depriving yourself. With a narrator who is witty and candid and utterly unabashed re: sex, Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying is frequently alluded to as a precursor to Sex and the City. Behind the veneer of sarcasm and snides, there’s a whipsmart woman who isn’t sure what she wants from love or sex or art or work. You don’t have to be Carrie Bradshaw, or a woman, to relate to that kind of honest vulnerability. Also, this scandalous new cover art makes for a fun subway ride. After one too many questionable glances from strangers, I may or may not have made myself one of those brown paper bag book-covers kids make for textbooks in grade school. (Don’t worry; the brilliant design is displayed in all its glory on my bookshelf at home!)



The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum by Heinrich Boll

Heinrich Boll, the Nobel Prize-winning German author famous for flaunting his liberal views in his fiction, delivers a fun and thinly-veiled allegory about yellow journalism in The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum. This sharp little novel turns the thriller/police-procedural genre on its head, telling us on page three what crime has been committed, and by whom. The rest of the story is a nimble account of why the crime took place. An admirable economy of language, the ruthlessness of Boll’s wit, and a swoon-worthy use of lists (nerd alert!) have endeared this book to me forever. Also, at 103 pages, it’s a dream-read: the kind you can finish in one sitting (or two or three short subway rides).


The Bar on the Seine by Georges Simenon

Ever wonder what the solemn and stony-faced literary heroes of yore read for sheer, escapist pleasure? William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller, T. S. Eliot, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez all agreed on one author: Georges Simenon. I think that group is recommendation plenty, but since I’m meant to give you mine: This book is a treat for those who enjoy a good old-fashioned whodunit. The plot is no-frills and the writing is elegant and deadpan (you really will be able to see why Hemingway in particular appreciated Simenon). In this new-fangled age of psychological thrillers and unreliable narrators, it’s refreshing to go back and read a pared-down, unfussy classic. Plus, this is set on the banks of the Seine in summertime, and the cast of characters are fashionable artists, moneyed elite, and deplorable philanderers—fun! This is another short read (did I mention I love pithy books more than anything?) in a petite trim size. Perfect for tucking in your pocket and reading on the banks of the Hudson during your lunch break. Bonne lecture!




Civic Classics, Vol. 1: The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution, edited by Richard Beeman

I won’t belabor this recommendation: SCOTUS has had a productive 2015, and we should all brush up on our constitutional knowledge. Plus, this is yet another gorgeous edition from our friends at Penguin Classics.

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Thank you to everyone who participated in Week 4 of our #Penguin80Sweepstakes in celebration of Penguin Books 80th Anniversary!

This weeks mystery location was South Street Seaport, which we selected in honor of Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, one of the 80 all-time bestsellers from Penguin Books. Check out the full #Penguin80 Bestsellers list.

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Moby-Dick is Herman Melville’s masterpiece, one of the greatest works of imagination in literary history. Over a century and a half after its publication, Moby-Dick still stands as an indisputable literary classic. It is the story of an eerily compelling madman pursuing an unholy war against a creature as vast and dangerous and unknowable as the sea itself. But more than just a novel of adventure, more than an encyclopedia of whaling lore and legend, Moby-Dick is a haunting, mesmerizing, and important social commentary populated with several of the most unforgettable and enduring characters in literature. Written with wonderfully redemptive humor, Moby-Dick is a profound and timeless inquiry into character, faith, and the nature of perception.

Congratulations to the winner of Week 4!



Follow along on Instagram and see if you can figure out Week 4s mystery location!

To Enter:

  1. Follow @penguinusa on Instagram
  2. Decipher clues posted to the Penguin Instagram
  3. Post a photo of the mystery location on your Instagram account
  4. Geo-tag the location, use the hashtag #penguin80sweepstakes, and tag @penguinusa
  5. Repeat each week all summer long!

Can’t wait to get started? Sign-Up for our Newsletter to receive all 3 clues at once rather than waiting for them to be posted each day on Instagram!

Penguin 80th Anniversary Sweepstakes Official Rules

Enter for a chance to win: A copy of one of the following books, or the Grand Prize of all eight books, including A Discovery of WitchesThe Omnivore’s DilemmaThe Lords of FinanceDeath of a Salesman;The Rules of CivilityIn the WoodsMoby-Dick andThe Boys in the Boat(ARV = $14.00-$26.00 each or $145.00 for all). No purchase necessary. Entry is limited to U.S. or DC residents aged 18 and above and who have a public Instagram profile. Sweepstakes begins July 6, 2015 and ends at 11:59:59 PM Eastern Time on August 31, 2015. Winners will be selected at random weekly and on September 3, 2015 for the Grand Prize. Odds of winning depend on number of eligible entries received. Void where prohibited by law. For the Full Rules click here.

When Dennis is not at work, he spends his time cooking classic recipes, making classic cocktails, listening to classical music, and studying classical languages—and reading classics, of course. (Yes, he’s involved in an array of non-classical activities as well, but we’re not interested in those right now.) He likes to read novels in which you learn things.


the-saga-of-gosta-berling-by-selma-lagerlofThe Saga of Gösta Berling by Selma Lagerlöf

Right away, let me also recommend that you see the silent film of this novel, starring Greta Garbo—if you have any interest at all in the silent screen, this is a must-see. This early twentieth-century novel, for which the author won a Nobel Prize in Literature, is told in episodes yet has an overarching sweep to it as well. Set in 1820s Sweden, it follows a handsome defrocked minister of singular character as he teams up with a bunch of veterans, cavaliers, eccentrics, and raffish fellows. I can’t quite put my hand on what exactly it was that made this novel so endearing. It’s melodramatic in the best sense of the word and does a good job of capturing the human heart—both in the ways it can stay true despite everything as well as the ways it can constantly shift and change.

• You will learn about rural Sweden, the price of vengeance, what it means to follow your own path.


moby-dick-by-herman-melvilleMoby-Dick by Herman Melville

Yes, we know, you read it in high school. But let’s be honest: You didn’t understand anything about anything back then, and if I were a betting man I’d wager that you didn’t really take this book in properly. Moby-Dick has everything: philosophy, adventure, existential dread, beautiful writing, sailors, the age-old thrill of the hunt, humor, cetacean taxonomy, obsession, the mystic bonds of friendship, peg-legs, and so much more. Just do yourself a favor and read it—and when you do, be sure to savor every line.

• You will learn about whales, human nature, existence itself.



the-red-and-the-black-by-stendhalThe Red and the Black by Stendhal

Ah, Julien Sorel—he’s one of those characters that you can’t decide if you love or hate. Despite his scheming and self-interest, there’s something about Julien that somehow pulls you in as he works his way up the rungs of post-Napoleonic Parisian society. To my eye, he is such a strange mixture of earnestness, even naïveté, and power-playing hypocrisy, someone who (thinks he) knows his own mind and stands apart from the crowd yet who is all too aware of the importance of what others think of him. Most charmingly he has the honesty to be shocked at the changes that happen within himself even as he boldly moves ahead on a new path. And one last thing: Stendhal is a master of tempo and pacing, so give yourself the pleasure of reading The Red and the Black.

• You will learn about France after Napoleon, French society in general, the mysteries of character and the human heart.


strange-tales-from-a-chinese-studio-by-pu-songlingStrange Tales from a Chinese Studio by Pu Songling

This collection of Chinese short tales is one of the great collections of fantastic literature in the world, bar none. Written in the late 1600s and early 1700s, and filled with fox-spirits, ghosts, otherworldly bureaucratic offices, metamorphosing family members, magical animals, erotic peccadilloes, haunted temples, enchanted musical instruments, and more, the stories ranges from the supernatural through various gradations of “the extraordinary.” Witty, funny, chilling, enlightening, bawdy, moralizing—this collection covers a lot of ground, but the effect is absolutely one of being charmed and entertained.

• You will learn about China in the early Qing dynasty, the effects of karma, and the many nuances of the human psyche.



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Christine DonougherLes Misérables is a novel whose themes have a universal and very topical resonance, but they are themes that emerge from a narrative that is very specifically related to a particular time and place –post Revolutionary France. My translation attempts to preserve that specificity of time and place, so I was anxious not to contaminate the text, as it were, with a vocabulary or with expressions freighted with connotations from a later era or a radically different environment that would sound inappropriate or jarring.

I was also anxious not to adopt a style that was unduly mannered or artificial, not to create any sense of the ‘costume drama’. I wanted the text to read as if it was written in a living language, but not in an aggressively twenty-first-century idiom.

My approach was to view Les Misérables not from the perspective of the present, as a nineteenth-century classic, but rather to see it as the modern phenomenon that it once was, reflecting, as it did when it was published in 1862, a modern view of recent history, written by an author who was regarded–in literary terms, in his political views, in his own private life–as something of an iconoclast, a radical, a rule-breaker, a trail-blazer, but who also respected more conservative views and values, and who had contrived by the end of his life to become an establishment figure par excellence.

Hugo had a seemingly effortless mastery of French versification and had published a huge body of poetic work by the time that he was revising and completing Les Misérables in the early 1860s. He was steeped in the classics, and he knew his La Fontaine inside out. He lived in a world of political upheaval, of scientific inquiry and technological innovation, and his writing reflects all these elements.

To bring out these aspects of his writing I relied not only on translation but also on footnotes to illuminate textual features of a linguistic nature–puns, quotations in foreign languages, literary allusions etc–and endnotes to explain factual and historical references, and my hope is that this editorial apparatus is not intrusive but supportive. (While I was working on the translation I became aware of the internet community of fans of Les Misérables whose detailed knowledge of Hugo’s text and their readiness to exchange information about it are remarkable.)

I was intrigued, for instance, by Marius’s tribute to Monsieur Maboeuf, to whom he is indebted for telling him about his father: “He removed my cataracts.” The more clichéd expression would be, “He opened my eyes,” but in 1752 the French surgeon Jacques Deviel published an account of his revolutionary procedure of cataract removal, which laid the foundations for the method used right up until modern times.

I was also struck by how Les Misérables seems to have anticipated so many of the now familiar elements of later novels, thrillers and films, from the literary–there are strong echoes of Jean Valjean’s dream in the South American writer Juan Rulfo’s ghost town in his short novel Pedro Paramo, which Garcia Marquez and Borges revered as a masterpiece–to the mass market bestseller–the long, so-called digressions being not very far removed from the detailed background research incorporated into the modern techno-thriller. The chase through the sewers is memorably reprised in Carol Reed’s film noir The Third Man, based on Graham Greene’s screenplay, and the Champmathieu Affair is a forerunner of many later court room dramas.

les-miserables-by-victor-hugoSo, bearing all these considerations in mind, this translation aims to convey as directly and as unobtrusively as possibly the enduring and timeless appeal of Hugo’s great novel.

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Andrea Lam is a Publicity Assistant at Viking / Penguin Books / Penguin Classics, where she is the in-house champion for tall ships, world mythology and folklore, and Anne Brontë.





north-and-south-by-elizabeth-gaskellNorth and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell is one of my favorite Victorian novelists, and North and South is easily my favorite of her novels. Gaskell wrote candidly and compassionately about class differences in British society, particularly as they applied to the heavily industrial North of England. In North and South, Southern Margaret Hale is forced with her family to move up to Milton-Northern (modelled after Manchester), where she comes into repeated conflict with mill owner and native Northerner John Thornton. As Milton-Northern’s mill workers increasingly agitate for rights, Margaret and John must come to an understanding both personally and politically, but their path is far from smooth. A bonus: the 2004 BBC series based on the novel is a wonderful adaptation, and I recommend both to just about anyone who will stand still long enough to listen.



Spunyarn by John Masefield

I usually credit my deep love for tall ships and the Age of Sail to having read the entire 20-book Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian when I was twelve years old, but I’m sure that I encountered John Masefield’s poetry some time before then. Though I know intellectually that I’d not survive the physical toil of daily life on a merchant mariner or naval warship, Masefield’s ‘Sea-Fever’ makes me long for the far-ranging view from the bow of a ship running free, and moves me like few other poems do each time I read it.




the-turnip-princess-and-other-newly-discovered-fairy-tales-by-franz-xaver-von-schonwerthThe Turnip Princess by Franz Xaver von Schönwerth and translated by Maria Tatar

I’ve been passionate about world mythology and folklore since I was very young, and when I read the news in 2012 that a cache of previously unseen German fairy tales had been discovered, I jumped to follow the story. Imagine my surprise two years later when, shortly after I started working for Penguin, I learned that not only was Penguin Classics publishing a selection of Franz Xaver von Schönwerth’s tales, the tales were to be translated by the inimitable Maria Tatar! I’ve long admired Tatar’s scholarship, and I’m so pleased that her translation of Schönwerth’s tales are now available to the reading public and fellow fairy tale enthusiasts like myself.


passing-by-nella-larsenPassing by Nella Larsen

Nella Larsen’s short novel Passing is a poignant, painful exploration of race and racism in the Harlem Renaissance that deals with issues of racial identity formation, cultural assimilation, and self-presentation. Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry’s respective struggles with life as mixed-race women in a racist, male-dominated society still ring true today. Larsen’s other novel Quicksand, published a year before Passing, deals with related issues and is also well worth reading.




the-tenant-of-wildfell-hall-by-anne-bronteThe Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

Jane and Emily are both well and good, but Anne is my favorite of the Brontë sisters and—I feel—the most under appreciated. Anne published only two novels, the other being Agnes Grey, and in both her straightforward depiction of casual male chauvinism stands in contrast to that of her sisters’ in Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. For readers accustomed to the exploits of Edward Rochester and Heathcliff, Tenant’s Arthur Huntingdon may come as a shock. Given that popular culture through history has a deleterious tendency to gloss over abusive behavior, I appreciate Anne Brontë’s refusal to do the same.




The Penguin Book of Witches edited by Katherine Howe

If you thought you know about witches, think again. The Penguin Book of Witches is a well-selected collection of historical accounts (all primary-source documents) of accused witches and witch-hunters in North America and England that ably demonstrates that the history of witches is the history of legalized persecution of marginalized groups. Katherine Howe’s explanatory essays and notes are both intelligent and accessible, and help to contextualize the varying time periods in which the documents were written. Witches are a popular trope in fiction for good reason, and The Penguin Book of Witches is a great look at the history behind the fiction.


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Ryan Murphy noodles

When Ryan Murphy lived in California a barber told him he seemed like a New Yorker. So he moved there. If he’s not at Penguin or flogging literature at Three Lives & Company, he’s probably tucking away noodles in Flushing, samosas in Jackson Heights or banh mi in Elmhurst.








My Antonia, by Willa Cather

Is there a more beautiful writer in the English language than Willa Cather? Years after I first read My Antonia the storyline has become a jumble in my head, but Cather’s peerless vision of the American prairie remains. Pick any random page and you’ll find a gorgeous metaphor or crystalline phrase. Page 201 from the Drop Caps edition: “We sat looking off across the country, watching the sun go down. The curly grass about us was on fire now. The bark of the oaks turned red as copper…The girls sat listless, leaning against each other. The long fingers of the sun touched their foreheads.” There is a subtle mastery to Cather’s words, a clear-eyed sense of rhythm and place that coalesces into a portrait of America that few writers of any era have matched.


flatlandFlatland, by Edwin A. Abbott

On the opposite side of the literary spectrum from My Antonia we have Flatland, Edwin Abbott’s spare satire of Victorian society. The story is told by a Square (a member of the privileged, all-male Polygon class), who describes his two-dimensional world and the hierarchies that spring from such inborn characteristics as the number of sides one possesses. Women are Lines, one-dimensional mathematical constructs without depth or importance and mainly notable for the danger they pose as sharp objects. Shapes with irregularities are either shunted into the working classes or, when an aberration is uncorrectable, euthanized. As Abbott said in a later preface, the narrator Square has identified closely with historians “in whose pages (until very recent times) the destinies of Women and of the masses of mankind have seldom been deemed worthy of mention and never of careful consideration.”



Typee, by Herman Melville

Long before James Frey and David Sedaris, Herman Melville set a standard for pseudo-memoir with his rollicking South Pacific adventure tale. Expanded, exaggerated and embellished, Typee nonetheless is based on Melville’s real experiences as a captive on Nuku Hiva. Though simpler and far less philosophical than the later Moby-Dick, Typee shows clear strains of Melville’s genius for inquiry and narration, and even a few flashes of humanistic insight beyond the Noble Savage stereotypes. The book (and his next one, Omoo) is an exotic and exciting travelogue that clearly caught the attention of the American public—unlike the epic story of the White Whale, which sank like Ahab in the marketplace, Typee was snapped up by readers eager to read tales of a world entirely inaccessible to them.


The Log from the Sea of Cortez, by John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck’s books could almost fill my best-of list all by themselves, but for the purposes of this post I’m limiting my Steinbeck picks to one. The Log from the Sea of Cortez tells the story of the author and his friend, biologist Ed Ricketts (who might be familiar to fans of Cannery Row, Sweet Thursday and several other works), traveling down Baja and into the Gulf of California on a scientific expedition. The book is as funny and thoughtful as Steinbeck’s acclaimed fiction, and his descriptions of life on the Gulf are as sumptuous as those of the Salinas Valley in East of Eden. Just as The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay shaped my perception of New York City prior to living here, Steinbeck’s West Coast stories gave me a minds-eye view of the opposite side of the continent before I moved there myself.

songlinesThe Songlines by Bruce Chatwin

If I had my own country and wanted one person to write a book about it, I’d pick Bruce Chatwin. Sure, like Typee, some of the events and dialogue in The Songlines are invented. Yes, Chatwin was just as interested in self-mythologizing as in chronicling the places he visited. But I defy anyone with either an iota of artistic feeling or a restless soul to read Chatwin’s story of Aborigine Australia and not put it down exhilarated by the effortless prose and stunned by the complexity of the cultures he visits. Any attempt to chart the physical and spiritual landscape of Aborigine religion would be doomed to failure in lesser hands, but Chatwin’s words flow and entwine like the very Songlines trod by their master-creators during the Dreaming.



The Liars’ Club, by Mary Karr

(Okay, it’s not technically a classic yet, but it’s close enough—Penguin Classics will release a Graphic Deluxe edition of The Liars’ Club in late 2015.) Notable not just for the quality of the work itself but also for its influence on countless memoirs in the following decades, Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club is the story of a cracked childhood told with wit (but not snark) and feeling (but not schmaltz). Like most worthwhile memoirs, Karr’s life is both a pleasure and a pain to read, with cringe-worthy moments of youthful indiscretion, parental failures on a Child Protective Services scale, and moments of gritty, hard-won redemption.


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