A Penguin Summer

This past summer, I tried to have a Summer of Penguin. Here’s how it went, how it failed, and I how I didn’t understand what I was taking on. A follow up post will cover the iteration it inspired by accident.

When I was a teen (and, honestly, well into my 20’s), I worked for a public library system back in the Fredericksburg, Virginia area. I was fifteen when I started working in our tiny branch in North Stafford after school and weekends and quickly adapted to thinking of the library staff as an extension of my own family. One of the librarians in particular, LVK, offered me this advice once:

This summer, for every fun book you read, read one classic.


I, of course, scoffed. What did LVK know about me or my reading? I continued on my way, devouring a half dozen books a week, most of which I couldn’t recall the titles of now. But that advice haunted me, stuck with me, became a lamp post goal.

Until this summer when I tried it. I had grand plans, mind you – I average a week or so per book. Sometimes more if it’s a “thicker” read, sometimes less if I’m really into it. Surely I could knock off a half dozen books over the course of a summer?

With this in mind and the arrogant confidence of my teen years slipping through after all these decades, I bought a dozen Penguin Classics in hardback. They’re all books that are on the poster my oldest gave me, all books I want to read. How could this be a problem?

As it turns out, I can’t read them anywhere near as fast as I thought I could. Of the dozen or so books I set out with, I’ve read three so far. I’m still trying, and even that three feels like an accomplishment. The first book was Lord Jim, then Moby Dick followed (eventually) by The Picture of Dorian Gray. I really loved the Picture of Dorian Gray, which was a much easier read with a lot less whale bits. I read other books at the same time, and was often amused to see that most of them bore the Penguin imprint. I wish that had been on purpose.

Why Penguin? This goes back to college, when they were the publisher of choice for most of my Classics and Philosophy texts. I tend to enjoy/prefer their translators and formats.

Would I consider this a success? I think so. I finished this summer (school starts here on Wednesday) having read more from the classical canon than when I started the summer, and I do feel wiser for it. Will I continue? The pile of clothbound Penguin classics I bought in anticipation says yes.

But this also inspired me to try another reading experiment, the topic of a future blog post. Until then, keep reading!

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