Recently I finished the last of the 127 books from the Little Black Classics collection, which were all published by Penguin in 2015-2016. Small bites of Classics, to try them out and discover new authors. Or that was what I thought. In a couple of posts I will be looking back at the multi-year reading project, sharing with you the ups and downs and also some recommendations. Previously I discussed how getting all the books was a small project on itself (you can find the post here), and last week I take a dive into the meta data of the series in order to find the quintessential classic (you can find that post here). This week, in the concluding post I will finally turn my thoughts on the series as a whole and provide easy access to the individual reviews.
When I first came across the Little Black Classics, I was immediately taken in with the idea. Reading classics is one of these things which is on my Bookish bucket list and I know from many other people that they would like to do it more often as well. The biggest problem is that many works can look intimidating and also there is so much out there, where to start? The Little Black Classics seemed like a perfect solution. These works are short (the longest around 120 pages) and contain works by many authors (as I discussed last week). And in general, I am really glad I read all of them, and would certainly start the project over (in fact, I have the modern classics minis lined up for next year!) but there were some things I wanted to talk about today which were maybe not ideal.
First off, I felt – I mentioned this last week as well – that the diversity could have been better (including more women and authors from outside the English language field), but more importantly I think they could have been spread better throughout the collection. The books are numbered, and I assumed for a reason, so I mainly followed and read them in order, which sometimes gave me multiple Latin/Green/Russian books close to each other, and then also stretches of English only books. I was thinking that had I been the editor of this collection, I would have taken more care here.
Sometimes it was also the themes of the books ended up being very similar. I remember a set of rather depressing 19th Century stories near the end which included Matilda by Mary Shelley and White Lights by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Bother were rather heavy, and I would have also made sure to spread these works better.
Another thing I missed was context. Save for a few words on the back of each Little Black Classic, there is no information given as to why these works have been chosen from all the classics. Also, no context is provided at all. Sometimes, little pieces of larger works are included, but also without the context. I didn’t realize how much I would have liked to have this information until I recently picked up a ‘real’ Penguin Classic with a proper introduction and context – and it helped so much to appreciated the actual classic. I understand the space restrictions which made the Little Classics Little, but it adds a lot.
I think it is partly why, when I took the average of my rating for all the classics, it came back at 2.85 stars. Which even for me, is a rather low rating. I further broke it up and found that it was particular the poetry (2.57) and non-fiction (2.62) which I didn’t really like.
In fact, in the individual reviews I have often stated that I have a hard time with the poetry, much of it doesn’t really work for me. I feel like I might be missing parts or am not thinking about it well enough. Next to that there were rather a lot of non-fiction works which might have a lot of historical value but are a pain to read, as well as some random letters and thought which apparently were published and I couldn’t enjoy.
In fact, as a small revenge for last week’s winner, I enjoyed the books best if it was a play or fiction, written by a woman in Old Greek/Russian in the early 20th Century. Unfortunately, such a work was not included in the collection. However, if you know a classic which meets these characteristics, be sure to let me know because I would really like to read it.
Since there was a lot of variation between the works, I have been reviewing them all separately as well. I am still moving them to the blog one a day, so as to not flood anyone’s feed. Be sure to check out today’s review for The Yellow Wall-paper which was one of my favorites in the entire collection. Here you can find all reviews (by clicking on each cover), the list will further be updated as more reviews are being published.