I can't tell you how thrilled I was when an unexpected package arrived from Persephone Books last week.
Tucked up inside I found a copy of the one hundredth Persephone book, The Persephone Book of Short Stories complete with two bookmarks, the Biannually, a catalogue and a lovely note from Nicola Beauman.
I have spent a happy hour browsing the catalogue again, remembering the books I have read and recalling the huge amount of reading pleasure that these books have given me over the years, and though I didn't discover Persephone until they were up to number thirty-six or so, as soon as I did I wasted no time in ordering up the ones I had missed.
Forgive the repetition but I have never forgotten this moment...
I had finished my OU English Literature degree in 2002 and, as is customary with the OU, the results had arrived about a week before Christmas. I had a quick gnash of the teeth over missing a First by a whisker, but was delighted with my 2:1 considering I had done all the studying over the previous six years, and whilst working a full time health visitor caseload and raising teenagers. No I don't know how I managed it either beyond picking up the derisory gauntlet thrown down by a very cynical GP I was working with at the time who said, when I mentioned that I was doing it...
'Oh that's one of those things everyone starts and no one ever finishes.'
In a way I think the whole family earned that degree with me because they all helped and supported me enormously, but the upshot was that I just couldn't pick up a book and read it for pleasure.
Unbeknown to me Bookhound had seen an article about Persephone Books in the newspaper. He phoned and spoke to Nicola Beauman and asked her to choose six books and gift wrap them for me for Christmas. Then he put them on my desk on Christmas morning...where I was supposed to find them...except I didn't go near my desk until eventually, at about 3pm, Bookhound suggested I did.
I was beside myself, as you can well imagine, as I opened my first read, Fidelity by Susan Glaspell... and possibly chosen above the others for the endpaper. It is that wonderful log cabin quilt, and I had studied Susan Glaspell's short story A Jury of Her Peers and made much of the log cabin quilt being stitched in that story for an exam question... well I knew instantly that I was back into me real reading life again.
The next ten books I read in succession (because I quickly sent for more) were...
Lettice Delmer by Susan Miles
The Far Cry by Emma Smith
The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski
The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson-Burnett
Reuben Sachs by Amy Levy
A Woman's Place by Ruth Adam
The Montana Stories by Katherine Mansfield
Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day by Winifred Watson
A House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair
After a short rest when I see from my reading journal that I read We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates and Embers by Sandor Marai, I was back with Persephone again..
The Homemaker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
Mariana by Monica Dickens
Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple
Saplings by Noel Streatfeild
Before the year was out I had also read
The Carlyles at Home by Thea Holome
The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay-Holding
Hostages to Fortune by Elizabeth Cambridge
Tell it to a Stranger by Elizabeth Berridge
The Priory by Dorthy Whipple
William - An Engishman by Cicely Hamilton
Brook Evans by Susan Glaspell
Family Roundabout by Richmal Crompton
Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Stracehy
They Knew Mr Knight by Dorothy Whipple
I don't think that year's glut and gorge has ever been repeated, but I have read a Persephone book regularly ever since, not only for the pleasure and the memories of that Christmas day discovery, but also because the books will always fit the moment and when perhaps nothing else does. Links to those I have written about can be found here. I nip into the shop when I am in London (I was there on Monday and did so) and may buy a book or two I have missed (not this time). I often associate them with that train journey back to Devon too because I can never resist a read on the way home.
The book of thirty short stories, the hundredth book and a landmark, is billed as a celebration of the diversity of the writers that Persephone publish, and the list is certainly stellar... Katherine Mansfield, Irene Nemirovsky, Mollie Panter-Downes, Dorothy Whipple, Edith Wharton, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Penelope Fitzgerald to name but a few. With the dates of the stories ranging from 1909 to 1986 and in order of publication date within this volume, a really clever touch is the different endpapers; the front a fabric dating from 1911 whilst the one at the back dates from 1983. I have decided to alternate, reading one story from the beginning and one from the end until I meet myself in the middle, and four stories in I am loving the way the old and the newer do 'compare and contrast' as suggested by Nicola in her write-up of the book.
For those who loved the Persephone Diary of a few years ago there will be another one for 2013 so that's one for the Christmas list too, and if you are a fan and don't already subscribe to the daily Persephone Post hie there over to the new website now and be ready for a wonderful weekday fillip of something special.
So it's a great big THANK YOU from me to Nicola Beauman and Persephone Books for all the reading pleasure they have given me in the last nine years, and for bringing forgotten fiction by women right back into a spotlight of its own.
So how about you...
Do you have a favourite Persephone book and why...
A favourite endpaper...
Do you keep the books together on one shelf or all over the place...for a while some of mine were in this cabinet, now I'm a bit hither and thither with them...
And what about a book or author you wish Persephone would publish...