My selection of Penguin Modern books, stacked up with spines facing.

My Selection of Penguin Moderns

If you hang out in bookshops, chances are you’ve spotted the bite-size books Penguin has been releasing for the past three years. It started with the Little Black Classics, a collection of £1 short seminal works and extracts, all published with the same recognizable black cover. The success of this format led to the addition of 46 new titles to the series a few months later, and this year, to the introduction of a brand new collection, more radical in content: the Penguin Modern series.

Four penguin modern books spread out on a white desk in a loose semi-circle.
They’re green!

Now, I must be honest with you. Because of my job, I hate these books. Why you ask? Try sorting out thousands of tiny identical books into hundreds of customer orders, and trust me, you’ll come to loathe the little buggers too. So I’d never taken the time to consider these books’ contents pas their titles, choosing to roll my eyes at the mere mention of their existence instead. With the Penguin Modern series however, something happened. As I picked the books off the shelves for my customers, I found myself drawn to individual titles, gradually building my own selection. More importantly, I noticed that my colleagues had been doing the same, so that each of us had a bespoke little pile of Penguin Moderns waiting on their desk. These books looked so tempting we had set aside our rancour.

Only a special collection could achieve that, so I thought I would share my selection with you.


Because the title already says a lot:

Africa’s Tarnished Name – Chinua Achebe

Because it’s an extract from a book I’m interested in but don’t have the courage to read:

The Problem That Has No Name – Betty Friedan

Because I’ve been meaning to explore the author’s work:

Dark Days– James Baldwin

The Black Ball – Ralph Ellison

Notes on ‘Camp’– Susan Sontag

Because the author is an old favourite of mine:

The Missing Girl – Shirley Jackson

The Vigilante – John Steinbeck

Because it’s unfortunately topical:

Letter from Birmingham Jail – Martin Luther King Jr

Notes on Nationalism – George Orwell

Because why not it’s only £1:

The Breakthrough – Daphne du Maurier


Bonus – Because I think you should read it (although it’s not on my own list)

The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House – Audre Lorde

This is Audre Lorde’s most famous essay, which I read in the collection Sister Outsider. I’m very much still discovering the work of Audre Lorde, but I’m already recommending her insightful, compassionate and intense writing to anyone who will listen. Master’s Tools is not necessarily the essay that marked me the most, but it’s still great. May it be your gateway drug.

The Survivor – Primo Levi

I’ve had to read Primo Levi’s If This Is a Man so many times in the course of my studies (in 3 different classes), that I can’t imagine anyone not thinking of it as a foundational text. I also can’t imagine reading more of Levi’s work ever again. So I’ll give him a respectful nod by recommending this poetry collection to you. If it is anything like his memoirs, it will convey the horrors of death camps and displacement with a matter-of-factness that will touch your soul more than any stylistic prowess could.


Anyone else planning to read Penguin Moderns? I’d love to know which ones you’ve chosen. The whole list is on the Penguin website.

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