For those who love books: the complete Penguin Classics Collection

Kathryn Gursky’s Penguin Classics library

Penguin Books used to offer an option to buy the complete set of their Penguin Classics Collection that contained over 1,000 titles in good ‘ole fashioned paperback format. The price tag ranged between $9,000 and $12,000, but for awhile you could actually order this set right from an Amazon listing page. It is currently unavailable from Amazon, but I like to go back and check for it every once and awhile. I love reading the Amazon reviews for this collection, especially the top-rated one written by a person who actually forked over the (serious) cash and entered Penguin Classics heaven.

Kathryn Gursky wrote this Amazon review and submitted a customer image of her grand bookshelf (shown above) filled with this massive pile of literary classics. Because Penguin owns the rights to some of our greatest 20th century authors, you get more than your average public domain classics collection when you purchase this set. My favorite part of Kate’s review is when she talks about seeing the giant, shrink-wrapped, wooden pallet of books on her doorstep. I bet the mailman loved delivering that package. All book lovers should enjoy her review:

I bought the Penguin Classics Collection — Wow!

This is an orgy for a book-lover. I have had a wonderful time from the moment I placed the order. They arrived in 25 boxes shrink-wrapped on a wooden pallet, over 750 lbs. of books. It took about twelve hours to unpack them, check them off the packing list (one for each box), and then check them off the list we downloaded from Amazon.com. They take up about 77 linear feet.

I have always loved Penguin books. They are a special publisher, and I would not have considered this sort of purchase from most other publishers. Since I have already read perhaps a quarter of these titles in my life, you can see that I have an affinity for their selections. Penguin books don’t just contain the text of the book. They generally include editorial material with biographical, historical, and bibliographical information that is scholarly, well-written, informative, and very useful in adding to the enjoyment and understanding of the book.

Why buy a collection rather than picking the books I want? This is like having books recommended by a good friend who knows what you like to read. Yes, this collection contains books I wouldn’t have necessarily thought about picking up and reading. That is one of the real pleasures.

Why buy paperbacks when hardbounds will last longer? Have you have tried to put together a hardbound collection of over 1000 titles like this? It would cost a lot more, for starters. Not all are in print, even classics. If you don’t like good quality paperbacks like these, will you settle for a foxed used hardbound copy? I will concede that the print is small. You can get a pair of magnifying reading glasses at any pharmacy for a minor cost. Surely no one is arguing that a classic can only be read in large print versions? I also like books I can carry with me, like these. Well, except for the complete Shakespeare (hardbound), or the Domesday book, or Clarissa, or a few other pretty big volumes.

Lastly, this collection has a particular appeal to me as a former cataloging librarian, which it undoubtedly will not for many people. I love handling books, reading books, and also organizing books. Just the process of taking these out of boxes and putting them randomly on shelves has given me hours of pleasure. Deciding how to organize them will provide more pleasure. Yes, I’m going to catalog my collection. Being able to pluck a book at random from that collection and know that it is almost certain to be worth my time to read is the best treat of all.

Many people have left messages inquiring about how the books have held up over the years. Penguin is notorious for producing cheap, fall-apart-in-a-year paperbacks. The glue even dries up and falls out of the binding. Let us know how they are doing, Kathryn!

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