Penguin Classics began in 1946 with the publication of The Odyssey - and now, 62 years later, Penguin Books is still publishing what they consider to be "the great books of all times." To that end there is an expansion of the Classics to include the "Modern Classics", a category which includes writers D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf, and even Robertson Davies and Mordecai Richler.
I have on my bookshelves all of the classics I have read in the past - and some I think I should read and haven't yet - many of them Penguins.
There are some I think I may read again one day - knowing that it is unlikely. Each year I do read one or two old favourites - Dickens perhaps or Thomas Hardy - Virginia Woolf for sure.
Reading the classics, for me, means slowing right down. Finding a time during the day - the classics are not for bedtime reading after a tiring day - and taking the time to read more slowly, to savour the language and become immersed in another time and place.
This year Penguin Books has launched a program to encourage readers to read the classics. Starting in January 2008 Penguin celebrates the Classics, in partnership with The Globe and Mail and Classical 96.3 FM, they challenge Canadians to read The Best Books Ever Written.
They have selected 52 Classics, one for every week of the year, from Chekhov to Kerouac, Tolstoy to Chaucer, Fitzgerald to Forster, to stir debate and entice book lovers to take the plunge and read the books they have been meaning to read for years.
I know that I will not be able to read a Classic every week, but the idea of it is lovely, and we will have the books in stock for readers who want to jump right in and spend the year of 2008 with Penguin Classics. The selections for January are The Fifth Business by Robertson Davies, Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy, Mansfield Park by Jane Austen, and Of Human Bondage by William Somerset Maugham - what delicious company to spend the cold winter days with!
I am going to escape the winter for a week - and take along a favourite old friend, now a Penguin Modern Classic, To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf.
I invite you to join me, and other Canadians, and take up the challenge to make 2008 the year you read the classics.