Be prepared: this piece contains romantic meetings between People and Books.

Nick Sheerin is commissioning editor at Serpent's Tail. Follow him on Twitter @NickSheerin

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I first came across Kenzaburo Oe’s The Silent Cry in a long-since-defunct bookshop on Whiteladies Road in Bristol. This was years before I started working in publishing – a prelapsarian age when I could walk into a bookshop and have absolutely no idea what any of the books in front of me were. Those of us who work in the industry – as editors or marketers, as booksellers, critics or bloggers – are probably too in the know to really remember what it’s like not to be. But for the vast majority of readers, this is what bookshops look like: wall-to-wall inscrutability, innumerable book-shaped objects with unfamiliar names and strange titles.

And so, from among the faceless ranks of the latest bestsellers and Booker prize shortlistees circa 2008, emerged The Silent Cry. Why this novel, in particular? I don’t remember finding the cover design especially remarkable; I’d gone into the bookshop with no more idea about Japanese literature than I had about astrophysics or neuroscience (and almost certainly less). What was it that recommended this masterpiece of family psychology to me, a student with as little interest in family psychology as I had in astrophysics or neuroscience (and almost certainly less)? Reader, it was nothing but common-or-garden serendipity.

The Serpent’s Tail Classics aren’t about canon-building; they’re not even really about celebrating our illustrious backlist (although that’s part of it). More than anything, they’re a celebration of serendipity. Peter Dyer’s series design – modern but faintly nostalgic, consistent but not uniform –  makes all of our classics feel like that favourite book you just happened upon by chance, and it’s no coincidence that many of the newly commissioned forewords to the series mention the serendipitous nature of their discovery. Patti Smith, in her foreword to Albertine Sarrazin’s Astragal, writes about discovering the book in the Eighth Street Bookshop; Gabriel García Márquez, in his foreword to Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo, describes his friend Álvaro Mutis bounding up the stairs to his Mexico City apartment to hand him, laughing, out of breath, Rulfo’s only novel. In both cases, the discoveries weren’t just essential: they were transformative in the way only the right book at the right time can be. So here’s to serendipity, and to the Serpent’s Tail Classics.

Nick Sheerin

Commissioning Editor, Serpent’s Tail

Visit the Serpent's Tail Classics series page & choose your own