Henry Elliot makes for an ideal ambassador for English literature, assigned the task of taking the classics to the masses, and playing his part to foster reading habits among people, especially youngsters. Henry is the Creative Editor of the Penguin Classics imprint of Penguin Books, and his new project is The Penguin Classics Book, which serves as a reader’s companion.
“The idea is to take this compendium and encourage readers to explore the list and make their own discoveries, and create their reading lists,” offers Henry. Henry’s book includes entries on every title and every author from the Epic of Gilgamesh and the legends of ancient Mesopotamia to the poetry of the First World War, with Greek tragedies, Icelandic sagas, Japanese epics, Indian mythologies and more. “At some point, it really was a question of what’s not in the book,” rallies Henry, with a chuckle.
Illustrated with more than 3,000 photographs of classic covers through the years, the book serves as a comprehensive guide to the classics. In some way, the initiative is a reaction to changing modern-day reading habits. “With an abundance of literature in short form, and in text form on social media, or on news websites, there is a real danger of people forgetting how to read long-form books,” he admits.
That said, there’s a definite resurgence in interest in the classics, and not just in English, he adds.