I wrote about independent and feminist publishers a bit last term, and Pluto Press very kindly agreed to send me a copy of Simone Murray’s Mixed Media: Feminist Presses and Publishing Politics. I enquired about it not simply because the Bodleian inexplicably didn’t have it (since it’s published in the UK, they should have…) but because I thought readers of Stuck-in-a-Book might also be interested.
As the title suggests, this book is about feminist publishing, and though an academic text, it is extremely accessible and very, very interesting. Though sadly with no mention of Persephone (and the book was first published in 2004, so Persephone could have been mentioned) this is more or less the only omission I’ve noticed in the chapters I’ve read. With these sorts of texts, I always find it easiest to give chapter titles – the topics are so wide and the chapter headings so comprehensively descriptive, that my paraphrasing will be pretty pointless. So here they are:
1. ‘Books with Bite’: Virago Press and the Politics of Feminist Conversion
2. ‘Books of Integrity’: Dilemmas of Race and Authenticity in Feminist Publishing
3. Opening Pandora’s Box: The Rise of Academic Feminist Publishing
4. Collective Unconsioucs: The Demise of Radical Feminist Publishing
5. ‘This Book Could Change Your Life’: Feminist Bestsellers and the Power of Mainstream Publishing
Though I imagine Murray must be a feminist (though whether first-, second- or third- wave, I wouldn’t be able to say) Mixed Media isn’t didactic or polemical. Not that those things are inherently bad – there’s no point in writing if one can’t be a little didactic now and then – but this book is a fairly objective reading of certain publishing situations. I find the whole background to publishing houses extremely captivating, especially, it must be said, Virago. The first chapter of Mixed Media discusses the origins of Virago, and also the indications of an independent feminist press being bought by a conglomerate (Little, Brown & Co.) – but, importantly, there is an underlying affection for the books themselves, which makes Mixed Media both scholarly research and accessible reading.
Mixed Media isn’t, I should add, for the completely casual reader. It’s not every page-turner which includes Darnton’s Communication Circuit, after all. But for anybody seeking a little extra information behind the phenomenon of feminist publishing, Murray’s book is fascinating. The publisher’s online catalogue isn’t currently working, but their books can be bought from Amazon – and while the hardback is quite dear, the paperback could certainly be within some people’s budget – or encourage your library to get a copy, perhaps.