19 October 2011

Even More 'Readable' When the Price Is Right

First Oprah, now this.

While everyone else is congratulating Julian Barnes for winning the Man Booker Prize last night for The Sense of an Ending--at the end of what felt like a very long Booker season in which the most loaded term in public literary discourse was 'readability' (saluted by some as a genuine strength of certain books under consideration, decried by others as code for 'dumbed-down-ed-ness')--let's recognize Charles Dickens' latest triumph: Monday's post about his bicentenary and the Dickens readathon, immediately shot to sixth place (out of 84) in the list of all-time most-read entries at Jascha Writes. Dickens still has a way to go before he overtakes Jo Nesbø (who has long been in first place), but the Nesbø post has been up, collecting clicks, since March. (Soon it will be time for a 'sequel', a post about the eighth and ninth Harry Hole novels, The Leopard and Phantom.)

In that Dickens post I mentioned in passing that Amazon.com was offering some very attractive Kindle deals on Dickens titles in Penguin Classics. I recommended that you consider Pickwick Papers and the other Dickens titles to which you could surf from there. What I didn't realize at the time was that there are dozens of other Penguin Classics at Amazon prices the likes of which I haven't seen for close to three years.

In my experience, prices like this don't last. So if you take one of the links below and don't find anything special... well, that means the train has left the station. But, as of this writing, the prices for US Amazon customers are under one dollar. If you share any of my attachment to Penguin Classics, such prices for annotated editions with introductions, may just be too good to pass up.

From today's perspective, the Victorian novelist best situated to rival Dickens, is of course George Eliot, and her masterpiece is Middlemarch. Virginia Woolf called it 'one of the few English novels written for grown-up people'; to put it quite differently, I can assure you that there is life after Silas Marner.

My second recommendation comes with multiple caveats. The edition in question is an abridgment, and the work is one that could be assailed from either side of the 2011 'readability' debate. I find it highly readable in the best sense of the term, and an edition like this one (or the old Viking Portable, with which I'm more familiar but which this one has supplanted) is a good way for first-time readers to test that assessment. The book is Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire--which I propose as a document of its own time (the 18th century) rather than of the centuries it treats. (Notes to the principal text, incidentally, are Gibbons' original ones; editor David Womersley provides a good introduction and the bridging passages.)

In each case, surf on from the initial link to find more.

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