Thursday, 25 October 2012

Persephone 100 (or, how I accidentally became part of their postal team)

Happy 100th title, Persephone Books!

I always use this photo when I blog about Persephone...
I've lived in three houses since this one!
(but I just like this picture so much...)

It really is an amazing achievement - Persephone have brought 100 neglected books (well, 99 and Flush by Virginia Woolf... teehee) back into print, and many of us have read at least one of their titles over the years.  I have them to thank for my arrival in the blogosphere, actually, albeit rather indirectly.  Here goes my chain of actions, from how-I-discovered-Persephone, to how-I-started-blogging...  Prepare yourself for lots of sentences which start with 'I'.

  • I grew up loving Richmal Crompton's William books.
  • I stumbled across her novel Family Roundabout in a secondhand bookshop (in an early edition) and thought I'd try it.
  • I loved it.
  • I saw a Persephone edition of Family Roundabout in Pershore library. (Incidentally, when I was 16 they turned me down for a Saturday job. I feel like writing to them now and saying that I've worked for the BEST LIBRARY IN THE UK [probably] for five years.  Bitter, me?)
  • I read a review of Family Roundabout on Amazon by one Lyn Baines.
  • In those days Amazon included reviewers' email addresses, so I emailed Lyn to enthuse about the book.
  • She told me about an online book group which discussed Persephone titles.
  • I joined... This was in early 2004, when I was 18.
  • About three years later, various people from the group started setting up blogs - including Elaine and Lisa.
  • I decided to follow suit!  And here we are.  Lots of lovely coincidences led to this blog... and how very different my life would be without it.

But that's far from the only wonderful gift Persephone Books have inadvertently given me (we'll get onto the ones they, er, advertently gave me) - what wonderful books!   I've read 41 of their 100 titles (or 42 or their 101, if we include the biography of Elizabeth Taylor) - giving me so much delight for the future.  Many of those were read before I started blogging, but if you select 'Persephone' from my drop-down publisher menu on the left-hand side, you can read the reviews I've put up of Persephone titles.

If you want any suggestions for which to read next - or which to read first, if you've never read a Persephone book - ask in the comments, and I'll do my best to help you out.  Hopefully I know the books well enough to suggest one, so if you tell me what sort of thing you're after, I might well be able to help... that seems to make more sense than just listing off all my favourites.

Now onto the second part of the title to this post!

I was in the British Library last Thursday, reading the play of Miss Hargreaves - so much fun!  (I had no idea that a copy would be there, since it was never published, but apparently they have all the plays submitted to the Lord Chamberlain for approval - thanks so much Tanya for suggesting I check.)  I finished earlier than I expected, so I wandered over to Lamb's Conduit Street to say hello to Nicola.  I'd promised to pop in for a cuppa next time I was in the area, you see.  Little did I know that it was envelope-stuffing-day!  Nicola didn't seem at all surprised to see me, though, and I'd joined half a dozen lovely ladies around a table in the middle of the shop, and started labelling envelopes.  The main sending out of biannuallies is done by a company, but the 4000 international customers are still served by hand - I was stickering surnames 'C' and 'L', and saw a couple of names I recognised (Cate Lombardo, and Claire from The Captive Reader - hello ladies!)  I had a really lovely afternoon, it was great fun, and Nicola very kindly gave me a copy of the Persephone 2013 Diary and Persephone Book 100 - the Persephone Short Stories.  Thrilled doesn't even cover it!

I remember once hearing that Persephone might stop after 100 books - thank goodness they aren't.  I'm really looking forward to the Persephone Lecture in November (are any of you going?) and being in a room of Persephone enthusiasts will be a complete treat.


Oh, final tangent - while in London I had the great joy of having afternoon tea at Miranda's flat - all baked by her, and completely delicious - and got to see Donna, Rachel, and Polly too.  Such fun!  The picture shows Polly, me, Rachel, and Miranda (Donna being behind the camera) - and what's left of the spread!  (Hope it's ok to post this picture, my friends!)  As Rachel wrote on her blog, it was a reminder of how lucky we are to find fun, lovely people with common bookish interests - I always love these gatherings.  If any bloggers or blog-readers are ever heading to Oxford and fancy a natter in a coffee shop, just give me an email!

Hope you're having a great week - my cold has almost gone, and I'm reading several great books, so I'm feeling rather cheery at the moment.  Off to read some more!


27 comments:

  1. Hi Simon,

    Thanks for the story of your Persephone history.
    Also adored the picture of kindred book bloggers having afternoon tea.

    I found book blogs through Persephone. Your blog was mentioned in a Biannually and I looked it up. That lead me to a wonderful world of book blogs which introduced me to the early mid 20thC writing that was (tragically) previously unknown to me. Had no knowledge of EM Delafield, Barbara Pym, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Baker, Mollie Panter Downes, Diana Tutton, Ann Bridge. Am grateful for all of you, and also Persephone for opening a world of domestic literature which I adore and passionately collect and promote.

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    1. I'm so pleased that you found my blog though such a perfect source! And so many wonderful books for us all to discover together.

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  2. Persephone certainly has a lot of quality fans. I've recently begun buying and reading books based on publishers. I'm not collecting Persephone titles yet, but you have me thinking about it.

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    1. I am a sucker for collecting books by publisher - especially if they're numbered, like Persephones. Not to mention the great content!

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  3. I discovered Persephone when I went looking for my own copy of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, but I didn't really learn to appreciate them until I started following blogs like yours. I still have so many of their books to read!

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    1. Hurrah! (Was it post-film that you sought out Miss P?)

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  4. Enjoyed your account very much, especially after reading dovegreyreader's experience of Persephone books just last night. It seems I haven't read any of the 100 but I've order the 6 I could find at my library and will make a start with those: Némirovsky, Hillesum, Burnett, Athill, Watson and Woolf. And perhaps convince them to purchase a few more. I'll have to start reading your reviews of them too as I go along. Between you and Lynn I'm sure I can't go wrong.

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    1. Quite the range you've got going with those Persephones, Sandra - I hope you enjoy them all!

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  5. It is so interesting to hear about your evolution as a Persephone fan, Simon. I'd know Richmal Crompton started it all off but hadn't known about Lyn's influence or the online book group before! I remember first learning about Persephone Books when I discovered book blogs in late 2009 and picked up my first two (The Making of a Marchioness and Mariana) from the library the week I started blogging in January 2010. Since then I haven't looked back! And your story of popping by the shop and ending up labelling the biannuallies (thanks for that by the way!) just makes me love Persephone all that much more - where else would that happen?

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    1. You've read an astonishing number since you discovered them so recently! I did read a lot in the first couple of years I found them, but somehow seem to read fewer at the mo - I must make sure to read some more next year.

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  6. Thanks for sharing your story, Simon! And thanks to all you wonderful bloggers who introduced so many of us to these beautiful books. We need another Persephone Reading Week. Paging Paperback Reader Claire and Verity. :)

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  7. Lovely to read your Persephone Books history Simon! So many wonderful reprints that have given me so much pleasure, and the delight of more to come. Hurrah!

    I had a fabulous time at the tea - so nice to have such a relaxed afternoon chatting about bookish things, drinking tea and eating - pretty much perfect. Thanks so much for getting the ball rolling. Unfortunately I can't make it to London for the Persephone Lecture, but it sounds fab doesn't it? Enjoy!

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    1. Wasn't it fun! We must do it again sometime - sorry you can't make the event.

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  8. I too discovered Persephone via your blog & also that of the lovely Verity. So thank you both very much & happy 100 Persephone!

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    1. Oh, I assumed you were already a convert - how nice!

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  9. Lovely post, Simon. I didn't realise Persephone was around for so long! The latest book of short stories sounds v interesting. Hope you all had a lovely time on Saturday and I'm gutted I couldn't join you. Incidentally, did you play games and more importantly, who won???

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    1. So sorry you couldn't join us! We played one game called Ex Libris which Miranda, despite not liking games as a rule, won! Rachel was not happy...

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  10. It was such a super afternoon! I love your account of how you discovered Persephone books- such a great idea as part of celebrating their 100th book (I might steal it :D). So fascinating that you got to read the Miss Hargreaves play too - what was it like?!

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    1. Steal away!
      The play was fun - also written by Baker, and very obviously the same style. Basically the same as the novel, but a little condensed. What was really fun was seeing his alterations in pen.

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  11. Delighted to read that your are "feeling rather cheery". Thought I would dispense with an "I am" at the start of this comment, as you appear to have already used most of this page's "I" quota for today. Just joking, of course.

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    1. 've defntely used my quota of ''s for a whle, haven't ?
      ;)

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  12. What a lovely treat Simon! I am hoping to meet up with an old friend in London next week, who I haven't seen for years, and make a pilgrimage to the shop! Isn't it amazing how things like blogging start? I have to say it was all the lovely LibraryThing people and blogs like yours that have inspired me to start - and I'm really enjoying it!

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    1. What fun!
      Yes, I love to hear how people's blogs started - and delighted that the LT group helped spur you on :)

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  13. I am happy to hear Persephone isn't going to sope after the 100th book :) You've reminded me that I should go and order their 2013 Diary (I've been eyeing one for a while and I can actually afford one this year, weeh). This should also give me an excuse to order another one of their titles.

    And it's lovely to see so many bloggers together. I'm always a little jealous of the UK-based bloggers for being able to meet up fairly easy. It makes me want to move ;)

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    1. We are lucky, I know! Well, one day you will have to come to the UK, and we will organise a bloggers party to receive you...

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  14. What a lovely post Simon, sorry I am so late commenting on it (as I mention in another post I am training to be a carer for Granny Savidge for the last months of her life so it has been a bit bonkers). I think it was you that introduced me to Persephone books in a roundabout way. I know Claire and Verity hosted their lovely weeks but one of the books you mentioned made me run and try them and thank goodness I did. The Shuttle is still one of my favourite books. Lovely post today.

    P.S I saw Polly the other week and she told me what a lovely time you all had, I was naturally rather jealous.

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