If Lylah Goodwin has two claims to fame on this blog, they are these: she introduced me to Miss Hargreaves, as aforestated, and she was also the first person to tell me that ‘Persephone’ isn’t pronounced ‘Percy-phone’. You live, you learn.
I first came across Persephone Books when I spotted a copy of Richmal Crompton’s Family Roundabout in our local library – I’d started reading Crompton’s novels for adults about a year beforehand, on a why-not impulse buy, whilst in Hay-on-Wye (a town of second bookshops, for those not in the know), and loved her. Thus, I couldn’t help picking up the Persephone edition, and thought “hmm, quite pretty”. Damning with faint praise: such is the effect of library plastic ‘dustjackets’ – but, still, the seed was sewn.
It was a while later, on Amazon, that I noticed a reviewer called ‘Lyn’ had reviewed a lot of Persephone Books. This was back in the day when Amazon gave contact details for their reviewers, and so I emailed Lyn, asking for recommendations – and recommending Crompton in turn. If you recognise the name Lyn, then it’s because she is a regular visitor to Stuck-In-A-Book, and has been a friend since that time in – what was it? – 2003. Lyn, a Melbourne bookaholic, introduced me to what was then ‘persephonites’ – an online group of Persephone Book fans, which transformed itself into ‘dovegreybooks’ along the way, and widened its net of interest. When I joined I’d read only Family Roundabout, and Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day.
Oh, how times have changed.
I haven’t had many opportunities to read Persephone Books while at university, but it hasn’t stopped me buying them, and sneaking in the odd read – and I have worked my way through quite a few of the catalogue. Oh, what words can I use to express the sheer PERFECTION of these books, both in terms of content and presentation? They’re a beautiful, soft grey – but inside each book has a unique and evocative endpaper, almost always just right for the book in question. Even the little twirly bits at the top of each page (I’m sure there’s a proper name for these) are different for each book. They look beautiful, agreed? (Whilst I’m on their appearance, many thanks to Our Vicar’s Wife for the photographs – all my Persephones are at home, and she had the excellent idea of combining them with our lovely wisteria).
And the content? These books are mostly from the first half of the twentieth century, and a mix of novels, poetry, cookery books, biography, gardening books – all, well, ‘Persephone’. It deserves to be an adjective. The novels are my favourite, and they’ve provided some gems, which might appear later in my ’50 Books…’ Do try Family Roundabout, Hostages to Fortune, Consequences, Someone at a Distance, The Home-Maker… in fact, just ask for a catalogue at their website. They’ll post the books anywhere, and are very speedy at it, too. Warning, though: once you’ve got one, you’ll want to get them all. There are currently 72. If I ever clear my student debt, the 40+ that I don’t have will be winging their way to me.
What more can I say about them? Just buy one (or three, to get the discount) and you’ll be hooked – you can’t possibly regret it. Something so special about small press republications – like you’re being allowed to browse someone else’s bookshelves while they’re in the kitchen (we’ve all been there, admit it) and then keep the ones you like best.
Today’s sketch mocks my mispronunciation of ‘Persephone’, and requires knowledge of those two denizens of culture – Salvador Dali, and Thomas the Tank Engine…