Penguin Vitae Series Review

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Penguin Vitae Series - Review & List

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Last updated: Mar 2024

Penguin Vitae Series Review

About the Penguin Vitae Series

stack of penguins 2020

A stack of different Penguin editions

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 covers IG

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 March 2024, there are 34 titles in the series including pre-releases as well as a boxed set.

List of books in the Penguin Vitae Series

Jump to: 2024 | 2023 | 2022 | 2021 | 2020


Orlando - Virginia Woolf

Foreword by Andrea Lawlor. ISBN 9780143138372, Jun 2024.

Woolf’s pioneering novel about a time-traveling sixteenth-century nobleman who wakes up in the body of a woman.

→ Buy from Amazon | B&N | Blackwells

As long as she thinks of a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking.

– Virginia Woolf, Orlando

Monkey King - Wu Cheng'En

Foreword by Gene Luen Yang, translation and notes by Julia Lovell. ISBN 9780593511749, May 2024.

The title character, also known as Sun Wukong, is a shape-shifting trickster on a kung-fu quest for eternal life.

→ Buy from Amazon | B&N | Blackwells

A team of horses cannot overtake a word that has left the mouth.

– Wu Cheng’en, Monkey King

Ceremony - Leslie Marmon Silko

Foreword by Tommy Orange. ISBN 9780143137191, Mar 2024.

A young Native American’s quest leads him back to the Indian past and its traditions, to beliefs about witchcraft and evil, and to the ancient stories of his people. 

→ Buy from Amazon | B&N | Blackwells

You don’t have anything if you don’t have the stories.

– Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony


Rashōmon and Seventeen Other Stories - Ryunosuke Akeutagawa

Introduction by Haruki Murakami, Translated by Jay Rubin. ISBN 9780143137887, Nov 2023.

The best stories by the father of the Japanese short story—including the two that inspired Kurosawa’s classic samurai film about the subjectivity of truth

→ Buy from Amazon | B&N | Blackwells

But is there anyone who’s really good? Maybe goodness is just make-believe.

– Ryunosuke Akeutagawa, Rashōmon

Death Comes for the Archbishop - Willa Cather

Introduction by Kali Fajardo-Anstine.
ISBN 9780143137702, Nov 2023

A quietly beautiful novel of one man’s life as he encounters the harsh landscape of the New Mexico desert and the people who inhabit it.

→ Buy from Amazon | B&N | Blackwells

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

Foreword by Patricia Lockwood.
ISBN 9780143137573, May 2023

A remarkable, moving examination of the complex tensions and allegiances of family life and the conflict between men and women.

→ Buy from Amazon | Blackwells

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

Foreword by Sofia Coppola, introduction by Sarah Blackwood. ISBN 9780143137207, Nov 2022

A sly and delicious novel about the ambitious social ascent of Undine Spragg.

→ Buy from Amazon | Blackwells

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

Foreword by Brandon Taylor.
ISBN 9780143137320, Nov 2022

A lucid tragedy exploring the distance between money and happiness.

→ Buy from Amazon | Blackwells

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

Foreword by Elaine Castillo.
ISBN 9780143137238, Apr 2022

A 1946 Filipino American social classic about the United States in the 1930s from the perspective of a Filipino migrant laborer who endures racial violence and struggles with the paradox of the American dream.

→ Buy from Amazon | Blackwells

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

Foreword by Erika Sánchez, introduction by the author.
ISBN 9780143137221, Mar 2022

The bestselling Chicano novel of all time.

→ Buy from Amazon | Blackwells

The smallest bit of good can stand against all the powers of evil in the world.

– Rudolfo Anaya, Bless Me, Ultima

The Color Purple - Alice Walker

Foreword by Kiese Laymon.
ISBN 9780143137047, Jan 2022

A powerful cultural touchstone of modern American literature.

→ Buy from Amazon | Blackwells

Don’t let them run over you… you got to fight.

– Alice Walker, The Color Purple

The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway

Introduction by Amor Towles.
ISBN 9780143136866, Jan 2022

Hemingway’s classic novel of post-war disillusionment.

→ Buy from Amazon | Blackwells

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

Notes by Philip McGowan, introduction by Min Jin
ISBN 9780143136347, Dec 2021

Nick Carraway, a World War I veteran who moves to New York with the hope of making it big, finds himself attracted to Jay Gatsby and his flamboyant lifestyle.

→ Buy from Amazon | Blackwells

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

Notes by Elaine Showalter, foreword by Jenny Offill, edited by Stella McNichol. 
ISBN 9780143136354, Dec 2021

An engulfing portrait of one day in a woman’s life.

→ Buy from Amazon | Blackwells

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

Foreword by Masha Gessen, introduction by Clarence Brown. ISBN 9780143136293, Dec 2021

The Russian dystopian novel of totalitarian mass surveillance that inspired George Orwell’s 1984.

→ Buy from Amazon | Blackwells

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

Foreword by Elizabeth Acevedo
ISBN 9780143136552, Nov 2021

A modern Latinx classic that gives voice to four sisters as they grow up in two cultures.

→ Buy from Amazon | Blackwells

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

Foreword by Maxine Hong Kingston
ISBN 9780143136545, Nov 2021

A modern Latinx classic about four sisters known as Las Mariposas, or the Butterflies, who fought to liberate the Dominican Republic from Rafael Trujillo’s dictatorship.

→ Buy from Amazon | Blackwells

It’s about time we women had a voice in running our country.

Julia Alvarez, In the Time of the Butterflies

The Women of Brewster Place: A Novel in Seven Stories - Gloria Naylor

Foreword by Tayari Jones.
ISBN 9780143136163, May 2021

A contemporary classic that deftly portrays many of the realities of black life.

→ Buy from Amazon | Blackwells

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave - Frederick Douglass

Edited and introduction by Ira Dworkin.
ISBN 9780143134411, Mar 2021

An updated edition of a classic African American autobiography, with new supplementary materials.

→ Buy from Amazon | Blackwells

Not Without Laughter - Langston Hughes

Introduction by Angela Flournoy.
ISBN 9780143134428, Feb 2021

The great African American poet’s award-winning first novel about a black boy’s coming-of-age in a largely white Kansas town.

→ Buy from Amazon | Blackwells

We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson

Afterword by Jonathan Lethem.
ISBN 9780143134831, Feb 2021

A beloved gothic tale of a peculiar girl named Merricat and her family’s dark secret.

→ Buy from Amazon | Blackwells

The Souls of Black Folk, with ‘The Talented Tenth’ and ‘The Souls of White Folk’ - W. E. Du Bois

Introduction by Ibram X. Kendi and notes by Monica E. Elbert.
ISBN 9780143134435, Feb 2021

A landmark book about being black in America.

→ Buy from Amazon | Blackwells

The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton

Foreword by Elif Batuman, introduction by Sarah Blackwood, notes by Laura Dluzynski Quinn.
ISBN 9780143134817, Feb 2021

An acclaimed novel of love, duty, and half-known truths in Gilded Age New York society.

→ Buy from Amazon | Blackwells

Winter in the Blood - James Welch

Foreword by Joy Harijo, introduction by Louise Erdrich.
ISBN 9780143136194, Feb 2021

A contemporary classic from a major writer of the Native American renaissance.

→ Buy from Amazon | Blackwells

East Goes West - Younghill Kang

Foreword by Alexander Chee, afterword and notes by Sunyoung Lee.
ISBN 9780143136286, Feb 2021

Evocation of a newcomer’s America by the father of Korean American literature.

→ Buy from Amazon | Blackwells

Little Women - Louisa May Alcott

Foreword by Patti Smith, introduction by Anne Boyd Rioux. ISBN 9780143136200, Feb 2021

The beloved portrait of a nineteenth-century New England family in wartime.

→ Buy from Amazon | Blackwells


The Yellow Wall-Paper and selected writings - Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Introduction by Kate Bolick. ISBN 9780143134794, Feb 2020.

A collection of the groundbreaking feminist writer’s most famous works.

→ Buy from Amazon | Blackwells

“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

ISBN 9780143134442, Feb 2020

The essential writings of an influential black lesbian poet and feminist voice in twentieth-century literature.

→ Buy from Amazon | Blackwells

“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

Introduction by Claire Vaye Watkins. ISBN 9780143134800, Feb 2020.

A groundbreaking depiction of a woman who dares to defy the expectations of society in the pursuit of her desire.

→ Buy from Amazon | Blackwells

“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. 

→ Buy from Amazon | Blackwells

“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

Introduction by Emily Bernard, notes by Thadious M. Davis. ISBN 9780143129424, Feb 2020.

A  powerful, thrilling, and tragic tale about the fluidity of racial identity that continues to resonate today.

→ Buy from Amazon | Blackwells

“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

Penguin Vitae Series 5-book Box Set

ISBN 9781524705800, Feb 2020

A boxed collection of the first five books in the series.

→ Buy from Amazon | Blackwells


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Babs · 9 March 2024 at 12:13 pm

Thanks so much for all your hard work. Your page is so inspiring!
I noticed a mistake for Bless Me, Ultima – Rudolfo Anaya, I think you placed the wrong book info below it.

    Daisy · 11 March 2024 at 12:54 pm

    Thanks so much for letting me know!! ❤️

William Tucker · 27 September 2023 at 11:11 pm

“… but the binding is (sigh) glued.” I guess the “sigh” is because the binding is not sewn. Assuming that’s what you meant, I much prefer, and am willing to pay a two or three dollars more, for a sewn binding. Library of America does this, or at least did in the volumes I have, as do some university presses, without charging excessive prices.

However, the worst thing about many publisher’s series in glued bindings is that they are often so stiff that you have to almost break the glued binding to get the book to get it to lie flat. Is that the case with the Penguin Vitae series, or do they lie flat or almost flat without doing that?

    Daisy · 16 October 2023 at 8:36 am

    They are good quality for a glued binding and can be opened to almost flat, but I worry about longevity as glue becomes brittle over time, particularly if your shelves are exposed to temperature changes etc.

      Bill Tucker · 16 October 2023 at 7:08 pm

      Thank you for the information. I live in Vietnam, and donate almost all of the books that I receive to the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, here in Ho Chi Minh City. I buy books primarily for myself, but keep in mind the needs of the University library (my wife is a retired librarian)b. They prefer hardcovers, so that’s what I get if they are affordable. I suppose they favor sewn bindings, and as a former student of bookbinding, I certainly do. Unfortunately, these days sewn bindings are a small minority.

      You say these bindings, “can be opened almost flat.” That “almost” is disappointing, but I guess that’s all one can hope for.

      Thanks again, and best regards,
      Bill Tucker

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