It’s been quite a while since I introduced a new book to my ’50 Books You Must Read But May Not Have Heard About’. That’s partly because I have those examination things, but also partly because I got a little bit panicky… running through my fifty so quickly, I wanted to make sure the central thread of the blog didn’t end by June, leaving me without that directing force. Plus I lost the list I made.
I’ve talked before about my troubled ethics in reading the diaries of others. I’ve never sure whether or not it’s too invasive – and while I make up my mind, I devour authors’ diaries at a rate of knots. Same can of worms, but a different kettle of fish, provided by letters. I love writing and receiving them – I also love reading those written between others, especially when those others happen to be interesting, literary, friendly types – like Joyce Grenfell and Virginia Graham.
Confession first. I haven’t actually read this entry in the list of 50 books. Nope. But, may I add before you throw your hands up in horror and strike this website from your list of links, I have listened to it on cassette at least fifty times. One to which I listen, when slumbering.
Dear Joyce, Dear Ginnie, as the cassette is called, or Joyce & Ginnie: The Letters of Joyce Grenfell and Virginia Graham, the more prosaic title of the book, is well worth looking out for. Indeed, a ‘must-read’ for anyone intrigued by either correspondent. Everyone knows who Joyce was – for those unfamiliar with Virginia, she was a poet whose work includes Consider The Years, now republished by Persephone. The exchange of letters between the two women spans many, many years, and offers a unique perspective upon the lives of each – life as they wished to convey it to their closest friend. Without the modesty (assumed or otherwise) requisite for autobiography, or the idolatory of biography, reading letters may feel a little like encroaching upon a friendship, but also allows closer and more genuine understanding of the women than available elsewhere.
Grenfell appears to have been a prolific letter-writer – I’m also currently enjoying An Invisible Friendship, letters between Grenfell and Katharine Moore, a pen-friend she never met, though who often attended Grenfell’s concerts and readings. What makes Dear Joyce, Dear Ginnie superior, to my mind, is that they saw each other as equals. Katharine Moore (though interesting writer herself, as Cordial Relations demonstrates) never quite loses the sense of appreciation and awe that Grenfell is writing to her.
So there you are. If you’ve hurriedly read all 9 previous recommendations in this ongoing list (seen on the left hand side, somewhere) then here is manna for you. It’s even available, from £0.01, on Amazon. Don’t say I don’t spoil you.