Penguin Vitae Series Review
About the Penguin Vitae Series
I’ve been enjoying reading a few of the new titles in the deluxe Penguin Vitae series that was first released in early 2020 (belatedly making its way to Oz).
The series title ‘Penguin Vitae‘ loosely translates to “Penguin of one’s life” (which is gorgeous imagery by the way, and I really want to have the ‘penguin of my life’ as a personal companion now). Its conception was apparently sparked by the question “What classic books would you place together on a shelf to represent the course of your life”.
Penguin’s answer to this question includes “a diverse world of storytellers from the past” that speak to us “at pivotal chapters of our lives and connects a community of readers across time and space” [quotes from the Penguin Classics Instagram account]. Which is just a fancy way of saying that apparently this is the first time that the Penguin Classics ‘brand’ has released a series that specifically features writing on race, gender and LGBTQ issues – and the fact that Penguin and others are working hard to diversify the understanding of what makes a ‘classic’ novel and make it more inclusive is excellent progress.
Penguin Vitae Design Features
This is another series designed by talented Penguin creative director Paul Buckley, and these hardbacks have a number of lovely features, including metallic foil stamped on the covers and spines, along with delightful illustrated endpapers and a distinctive sideways typographic cover design. As part of the Penguin Classics brand, the volumes also have valuable introductions and or/notes to assist with getting the most out of your reading. For shelf size reference, the books are slightly larger than the standard black spine or Sisterhood Collection paperback classics and just marginally smaller than the Penguin Classics Deluxe and Penguin Galaxy editions. Pages are acid-free, but the binding is (sigh) glued.
The represent a diverse selection of contemporary writers, and I have also listed anticipated future releases below which are available for preorder. The series includes fiction, non-fiction and poetry and there will likely be some interesting titles here that you don’t already have in a nice edition if you’re looking to expand your library in this direction.
As at September 2023, there are 32 titles in the series including pre-releases as well as a boxed set.
List of books in the Penguin Vitae Series
Orlando - Virginia Woolf
As long as she thinks of a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking.
– Virginia Woolf, Orlando
Rashōmon and Seventeen Other Stories - Ryunosuke Akeutagawa
But is there anyone who’s really good? Maybe goodness is just make-believe.
– Ryunosuke Akeutagawa, Rashōmon
Death Comes for the Archbishop - Willa Cather
Something soft and wild and free, something that whispered to the ear on the pillow, lightened the heart, softly, softly picked the lock, slid the bolts, and released the prisoned spirit of man into the wind, into the blue and gold, into the morning, into the morning!
– Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archibishop
To the Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf
She could be herself, by herself. And that was what now she often felt the need of – to think; well not even to think. To be silent; to be alone.
– Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
The Custom of the Country - Edith Wharton
She wanted, passionately and persistently, two things which she believed should subsist together in any well-ordered life: amusement and respectability.
– Edith Wharton, The Custom of the Country
The Portrait of a Lady - Henry James
I’m yours for ever – for ever and ever. Here I stand; I’m as firm as a rock. If you’ll only trust me, how little you’ll be disappointed.
– Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady
America is in the Heart - Carlos Bulosan
America is in the hearts of men that died for freedom; it is also in the eyes of men that are building a new world.
– Carlos Bulosan, America is in the Heart
Bless Me, Ultima - Rudolfo Anaya
The smallest bit of good can stand against all the powers of evil in the world.
– Rudolfo Anaya, Bless Me, Ultima
The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway
I can’t stand it to think my life is going so fast and I’m not really living it.
– Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Mrs Dalloway - Virginia Woolf
He thought her beautiful, believed her impeccably wise; dreamed of her, wrote poems to her, which, ignoring the subject, she corrected in red ink.
― Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway
We - Yevgeny Zamyatin
A man is like a novel: until the very last page you don’t know how it will end. Otherwise it wouldn’t even be worth reading.
― Yevgeny Zamyatin, We
How the García Girls Lost Their Accents - Julia Alvarez
Once they got started on words, there was no telling what they could say.
― Julia Alvarez, How the García Girls Lost Their Accents
In the Time of the Butterflies - Julia Alvarez
It’s about time we women had a voice in running our country.
― Julia Alvarez, In the Time of the Butterflies
The Yellow Wall-Paper and selected writings - Charlotte Perkins Gilman
“But I MUST say what I feel and think in some way — it is such a relief! But the effort is getting to be greater than the relief.”
― Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Yellow Wall-Paper
Sister Outsider - Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde
“Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.”
— Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider
The Awakening and selected stories - Kate Chopin
“Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world.”
— Kate Chopin, The Awakening
Before Night Falls: A Memoir - Reinaldo Arenas
Translated by Dolores M. Koch, foreword by Jaime Manrique. ISBN 9780143134848, Feb 2020.
The acclaimed memoir of homosexual Cuban author Reinaldo Arenas chronicling his life from his impoverished upbringing in Cuba to his imprisonment at the hands of a Communist regime.
“The difference between the Communist system and the capitalist system is that when they give you a kick in the ass, in the Communist system you have to applaud, in the capitalist system, you can scream.”
— Reinaldo Arena, Before Night Falls
Passing - Nella Larsen
“The trouble with Clare was, not only that she wanted to have her cake and eat it too, but that she wanted to nibble at the cakes of other folk as well.”
― Nella Larsen, Passing