Thursday, March 17, 2016

penguin popular 20th-century modern classics presents

A couple of follow-up thoughts after the last book review, mostly relating to my battered old Penguin paperback copy of Under The Volcano which I more than likely picked up on one of my strictly-rationed trips to Hay-on-Wye a few years back.

Firstly, it's always interesting to have a snoop into the endpapers of second-hand books to see if there are any inadvertent revelations about the previous owner(s). In this case there is an official-looking stamp inside the front cover which looks like this:

It turns out that Barnoldswick is in Lancashire, and that Barnoldswick County Secondary School still sort of exists, although it goes by a different name these days. Just for a second there I read the new name as Wes Craven High School, which would literally have been the best thing ever, but sadly the reality is a little more mundane.

Barnoldswick is apparently pronounced Barlick by locals, in one of those insider/outsider shibboleths that you'll find endearing or infuriating depending on your point of view (personally I tend towards the latter). More endearing, to me at least, are the claims to fame listed on its Wikipedia page, two of which make a strong claim for Lamest Thing Ever, as follows:
  • Barnoldswick, at 12 letters, is one of the longest place names in the UK with no repeated letters. Only Buckfastleigh in Devon and two places called Buslingthorpe (one in Yorkshire, one in Lincolnshire) are longer at 13 letters.
  • It is said, by some, possibly people who ought to get out more, that Barnoldswick is the biggest town in the UK not to be directly served by any A-roads. 
I really want to go and visit now, even if it has to be via an unsatisfyingly slow B-road route. Barnoldswick also sounds a bit like Barnstoneworth, home of the world's worst football team.

My copy of Under The Volcano, which appears to be from around 1963, is from an early series of Penguin Modern Classics. I've got a few books from a few different incarnations of this series over the years, plus a few from other Penguin series whose scope, you'd think, must overlap somewhere. Here's a photo (open it in a new tab for a full-size version):

So The Trial is a Penguin Modern Classic from probably the late 1980s, and The Queen's Gambit is probably no more than a couple of years old. As for the others, A Room With A View is from the old black-spined Penguin Classics series, and Things Fall Apart is from the newer version of the series which have mostly silver covers. Now since A Room With A View was published in 1908 and Things Fall Apart in 1958 (conversely, Under The Volcano was published in 1947), you might reasonably ask: where is the boundary between "classic" and "modern classic"? Things are complicated further by my green-spined copy of A Portrait of The Artist As A Young Man which is from a series called Penguin 20th-Century Classics. Finally, Gulliver's Travels (which I should confess is the only one of the books pictured that I haven't read) is from the Penguin Popular Classics series, which is a sort of budget series generally featuring slightly older books whose publication rights are presumably cheaper.

Lastly, I've linked a couple of times before to this list of great closing lines from novels - Under The Volcano is at number 73.

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