I was recently "found" and friended on Facebook by a swell chap with whom I worked my first year in NY. Turns out that he's now working for Oxford University Press. In our "what's up" messaging back and forth, I oh-so-casually joked about what books he was planning on sending me for free. He responded seriously with my options: to pick something from the Oxford World Classics imprint.
WAAAAAAAHOOOOOOOO! I responded, and proceeded to spend a delicious hour and a half scanning through OUP's 1086 titles in the literature section and narrowed it down to three. It was a tricky process from the get go because for most literature, I like to buy Modern Library Classics. However, for less "blockbuster" classics, Oxford are the reliable folk. The only people who publish more than three Thomas Hardy novels, OUP seems to be the caretakers of the novels that only scholars seem to read anymore. But I think that's just because stupid Barnes & Noble will only print 3 of anything by anyone so no one knows anything else exists. I dare you to find a copy "Adam Bede" in any Barnes & Noble.
So the three finalists were:
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell.
OUP are the only publishers of this classic presently, and having just read Gaskell's "Wives and Daughters", it would be nice to read a book that she actually finished before dying.
"The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" by Anne Bronte.
Arguably the least strong novel of the least praised Bronte sister, but as this is the only book of the Charlotte, Emily, Anne cannon that I haven't read, I need to get to it evetually. And again, a book that most publishers ignore.
"The Vicar of Wakefield" by Oliver Goldsmith.
This 18th century novel is the novel mentioned in pretty much every 19th century novel. Just this past year it popped up in my reading of George Eliot's "Middlemarch" and Charlotte Bronte's "Villette". Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Louisa May Alcott, Dickens and Goethe all mention it in at least one of their novels. According to my memory, in those books the characters either mock it as something shallow people read or praise it as the best novel of its day. So I'm curious to read the book that so many of my favorite authors read.
Hence, that's the one I chose. And again, Oxford University Press are pretty much the only ones who publish it, so this was a perfect use of my freebie! Thank you you-know-who and thank you Facebook for faciliating reconnection with awesome people and new book friends as well.