Vicky over at booksandstrips tagged me to join her Femme Friday project. Every Friday, one ought to post something related to women and literature, be it favorite strong female characters, favorite female authors, women-run publishing houses, anything. The rules are pretty fast and loose.
My first entry into this project is a guide-slash-spotlight on the London publisher Persephone Books. Persephone’s mission statement is perfect for such a project as Femme Friday. According to their website, “Persephone Books reprints neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century (mostly) women writers. All of our 115 books are intelligent, thought-provoking and beautifully written and are chosen to appeal to busy people wanting titles that are neither too literary nor too commercial.”
Currently, I own six Persephone books and want to acquire many more. There’s something dependable about Persephone titles. I can expect some solid, charming storytelling and the books rarely disappoint on that front. I live for Persephone’s mantra of “neither too literary nor too commercial” – there are days (many days, in fact) when you have little patience for the abstract and the esoteric yet still want something with heft.
A sparknotes history of Persephone Books: it was established in 1998 by Nicola Beauman, herself an author of several books. Persephone’s 21st book Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day put them on the map (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day would later be adapted into a film starring Amy Adams). Persephone Books now have an office and shop in Bloomsbury, London.
Persephone Books have published novels, short stories, diaries, and memoirs. The majority of their books are women-centric, relationship-driven, and deal with the home and hearth. There is criticism that Persephone titles are too twee and too domestic, or not exciting enough. Maybe, but I enjoy slow, character-driven stories with good old-fashioned storytelling and an engaging writing style. If you like these qualities, there’s a good chance you’d like Persephone.
(And why is domestic an insult anyway? Don’t the majority of our life stories and dramas happen at home?)
My copy of The Persephone Book of Short Stories and its bookmark
All of Persephone’s books have the same dove-gray jacket, but a different endpaper and matching bookmark for each title. Not only do I love the content of Persephones, these books are beautifully published — with an immaculate paper quality and a luxurious feel. Which is why, yes – they are expensive at £12 apiece (although they do have a 3 for £30 deal). Persephone Books have reissued eleven of their more popular titles in a different edition at £9 apiece. These eleven ‘classics’ have pictures as covers, and does not have the full-color endpapers or bookmarks.
Persephone Books has, to date, reprinted 115 titles. Their entire list of books is linked here. To buy a Persephone, you can visit their Bloomsbury shop, place an order at their website, or e-mail them directly. I have e-mailed Persephone a couple of times and they always reply promptly. And yes, they ship internationally.
Their Bloomsbury shop is a must visit bookstore and is often included in lists of places to see in London. Persephone Books is located in 59 Lamb’s Conduit Street. I always find my way there via the Russell Square tube station. The shop is easy to find with the help of a good London map. Some negatives: the shop is small, their two phones often ring, and they don’t open late (10am-6pm Monday to Friday and 12-5pm on Saturday, closed Sunday). Their stock is limited and very occasionally a title runs out for a few weeks. But it is a lovely, cozy little shop and the staff is friendly and informed.
Once, I paid the shop a visit during the Christmas rush. People were barging in and out, buying Persephone books as gifts for their loved ones. The store’s two phones were ringing constantly with Christmas orders. Silly me only had a vague idea of what I wanted. The staff quickly recommended several titles. More than that, I was welcomed to sit down with whatever book took my fancy, read the first pages, and see which ones grabbed my attention the most. It took me some time to decide but I was never left to feel like an annoyance. And they gave me a free bookmark to boot.
Here is a list of the Persephones I own:
- Book 3: Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple
- Book 21: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson
- Book 38: Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey
- Book 74: The Closed Door and Other Stories by Dorothy Whipple
- Book 97: Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins
- Book 100: The Persephone Book of Short Stories
Some of them are still unread as I save my Persephones for awful, desperate days when I need a treat. So far, my most enthusiastic recommendation is meant for Dorothy Whipple (coincidentally, she is Persephone Books’ star author). She had wit, a skill with characterization, and a sturdy prose.
A (hopefully) helpful assortment of links:
- Persephone Books’ website, linked here
- Persephone Books’ FAQ page, catalogue, and shop information page
- Time Out London’s spotlight on Persephone Books, linked here
Finally, a photo of Persephone’s physical catalogue and biannual newsletter. My newsletter is from the autumn/winter 2014-2015 edition and it contains many fun things. There’s information on (then) Persephone’s newest titles, updates on what Persephone Books is up to, and a short story at the back.
I hope this is a helpful post. This is my first time highlighting a publisher and I hope I did well. Please let me know what I can do differently: if I inserted too much information or too much personal experience, if you found this post useful etc.