Toilet humour and Everyman’s Library

Another lazy book list entry, this time the Everyman Library 100 Essentials. Everyman is one of those heroes of the world of literature, bringing the written word to the masses. Originally founded by Joseph Dent in 1906, the aim was to bring the world’s great classics: “to appeal to every kind of reader: the worker, the student, the cultured man, the child, the man and the woman … for a few shillings the reader may have a whole bookshelf of the immortals; for five pounds (which will procure him with a hundred volumes) a man may be intellectually rich for life.”

And they are beautiful editions, although their uniformity betrays the pre-fab library nature of the Everyman sets. In some respects it is lazy too – buying one of the sets means you are relying on someone else to tell you what “literature” is, and it suffers from the questions of “do you only own the book because it looks intellectual to have it” that besets so many of these lists. I’ll confess, I’d want most of the books on the list, and it would be visually appealing to have rows of books with uniform bindings. However, I like my idiosyncratic mix of hardback and paperback books of varying sizes and colour.

I won’t rehash the list, but there are some of the usual suspects that we’ve seen on other lists – the adulation of Joyce for example, and it relies heavily on multiple appearances by certain authors (Austen, Joyce, Dickens). But there are refreshing inclusions – political philosophy from de Tocqueville (Democracy in America) personal favourites Thoreau (Walden) and the Tao Te Ching, even Confucious’ Analects, short stories from Kafka and Roald Dahl, classic noir from Raymond Chandler, and with Don Quixote, Herodotus’ Histories, Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad and Virgil’s Aeniad there is a great selection of ancient to pre-modern writing represented.

I came to the Everyman 100 through a Guardian Book Blog entry Reading in schools, from the bottom up where author Anthony McGowan recounts his experiences of reading from the more scatological portions of his children’s books at schools around the country. The kids love it, and generally so do the teachers, but there is always one adult who thinks it “inappropriate” for an audience of children.

It is at that point McGowan likes to grab copies from the Everyman collection in the schools (hence the link to that!), or similar, and read from the saucier sections of books deemed “worthy” for inclusion in a school library. I don’t recall my school library having a copy of Procopius’ The Secret History, but promises of “the Empress Theodora, bewailing the fact that she only had three orifices with which to gratify her desires” certainly sounds like a cracking read!

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