An interesting article appeared in The Guardian promoting some lesser known classics published by Penguin Classics. I admit to having read only one of the selections but I do have a couple of the titles hanging around my bookshelves. Which titles do you consider adding to your reading list in the next few weeks?
You might ask whether a book can justify the term “classic” if it only has a handful of readers. I believe it can. There are three essential criteria for defining a classic: it must have endured a number of years; it must have intrinsic literary quality; but, most crucially, it must still be alive, to be able to connect with readers, thrilling them with flashes of recognition and revelation. This is the brilliant paradox at the heart of a classic: it may have been written centuries ago, but its kernel of truth still feels startlingly contemporary. So it doesn’t matter how many people admire a classic; the important thing is what it can do to you. There’s even a particular pleasure when you make a literary connection and you know you’re among a limited number of initiates. “Few people love the writings of Sir Thomas Browne,” wrote Virginia Woolf, for example, about the esoteric 17th-century essayist, “but those that do are the salt of the earth.” So I recommend striking out and investigating those more shadowy shelves. What follows is a personal selection of some less well-known classics. I hope you enjoy these and that they lead you to other lesser known passages in the marvelous library of world literature.