I got an email yesterday which reminded me I’d yet to talk about Slightly Foxed, who very kindly sent me the Winter 2010 edition of their journal – so I quickly unearthed it from the boxes of books I’d transported from Oxford to Somerset (was it good sense or simply coincidence that made it near the top of the box? Sadly, I suspect, the latter) and have sat down for an enjoyable half an hour. I am very far from exhausting it, and indeed have only read two or three in full, but I wanted to make sure I mentioned it before Christmas – and it’s not the sort of thing you’d want to rush.
For those not in the know, Slightly Foxed (as well as having one of the best selection of second-hand books ever – if not the cheapest – at their bookshop on Gloucester Road in London Town) publish a journal celebrating literature. It’s a very reader-friendly look at a whole range of authors, novels, and genres – not merely those recently published, but mostly those sitting on the margins of literature. As they say in their accompanying material, Slightly Foxed is more like a bookish friend, really, than a literary periodical. Companionable and unstuffy, each quarter it offer 96 pages of personal recommendations for books of lasting interest, old and new – the kind of good reads you knew you were looking for but somehow haven’t been able to find.If you’re anything like me, you’re thinking “that sounds a lot like a blog” – and you’re not wrong. It has the heart of a blog, but in print, and a selection of great names, great editing, and exhaustively researched. When I say the ‘heart of a blog’, I mean the sort of things they use to describe themselves above. These are passionate readers writing about books people might actually want to read.
My main bugbear with Slightly Foxed – and the reason why, until now, I have looked at their periodicals but never bought them. They are incredibly coy about the contents. The contents page tries to lure with titles as vague as ‘Cheers!’; ‘No Swotting…’; ‘Uncomfortable Truths’; ‘Essential Baggage’; ‘Spellbound’ etc. etc. Even now that I’ve at least flicked through every article, I can’t remember to which works these titles further. Presumably this ambiguity is deliberate… but why? I find it infuriating, and if the pieces themselves weren’t so captivating, I’m not sure I’d think it worth the struggle.
Because once you’ve been baffled by the contents, and fought your way through to the pieces, there are so many treats. Slightly Foxed have genuine variety and lesser-known authors, rather than simply nodding towards someone like Graham Greene and pretending they’re obscure. The authors considered range from the fairly familiar (John Betjeman, Daisy Ashford) to those with whom I’m familiar, but recognise aren’t all that widely known (Molly Keane, Beverley Nichols) to – by far the biggest category – those about whom I know nothing (Joann Sfar, Tete-Michel Kpomassiem…) I would be surprised if anybody could pick any SF up and not meet a new friend.
With so much variety, I can only really give a general recommendation. I will, however, quickly mention the first piece, by Daisy Hay, on that adorable book The Young Visiters [sic] by Daisy Ashford. Like all the other articles, this is four-parts appreciation to one-part literary criticism (much more fun than straight lit crit, I’m sure you’ll agree) but I did learn that my beloved Katherine Mansfield wrote one of the first reviews of the book. For those who don’t know The Young Visiters, it was written by a nine year old, later found and published with a foreword by J.M. Barrie. Basically it’s the adult world as understood by a child, but one who spent much of her time eavesdropping on grown-up conversation, mingling register in her writing. Hay points out her favourite line as ‘Oh Hurrah shouted Ethel I shall soon be ready as I had my bath last night so wont wash very much now.’ Hay writes delightfully of the book and, even if it sheds little new light on the work, it is thoroughly enjoyable to read.
I definitely think any fond reader of blogs would enjoy Slightly Foxed, if they can afford a subscription (may I suggest a last minute Christmas present for the bibliophile in your life – or something to drop hints about?) – it’s full of appreciation, celebration, admiration, and jubilation. You’ll nod in agreement when meeting old friends; hunt through your shelves when spying casual acquaintances; and run to the bookshop when greeting attractive strangers.