Tag Archives: Persephone Books

The Persephone Project is Back (Again)

I have always loved a Persephone book, back in 2012 I made the decision that I loved them so much I would go back to the very beginning and read them all in order. This was back when there were just 100 of them and it seemed like quite the treat to do. And it was. I started with the idea of reading one a month and writing about them on a specific Sunday so that I could let people join in who wanted to. It was great, I managed one a month for 8 months, then things off blog went awful (after Gran died) and I didn’t quite get my mojo back reading one in 2014 and one in 2015 and not even blogging about them – shame on me. You could say it all went a bit awry, however after heading back into Persephone Books a few weeks ago to say (a slightly shamefaced) hello and buy some books I am back on it and have picked up the challenge again, with the biography of Julian Grenfell by Nicholas Mosley…

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It seems a particularly apt title, completely coincidentally, considering we have the Tower of London Poppies in Liverpool at the moment (indeed I will be event managing them on Saturday so if you happen to be passing do say hello) and this is about one of the soldiers who fought, and died, in the war. It is giving the book and extra poignancy and resonance for me.

The only difference in the ‘Persephone Project v3’ is that while I will still be reading them in the order they were published, I am reading them as and when. This will probably be one a month, yet it might be one every other month (especially if one is massive) or sometimes two a month if they are slighter, or if I just have an urge to read the next one straight after the others. So still planned and yet still whimsical too, I like it.

Now as I mentioned above I didn’t review two of the books I read in 2014 and 2015, thank heavens then for book notes. I thought before I finish the latest title and even contemplate sharing my thoughts on it, I would share some thoughts on those two books so I have a record of them (and can’t be told off for cheating) before we move on, I say we as I would love it if you read along the way. So you can find the reviews of Few Eggs and No Oranges by Vere Hodgson and Good Things in England by Florence White in yesterday’s post, they were both marvellous treats as I had hoped, especially the Florence White.

Anyway, I thought I would update you all and hope that some of you will join in whether it be for the long haul or just now and again. In the meantime do tell me all about some of your favourite Persephone titles that you have read, I would love to know what I have to look forward over the forthcoming weeks, months and years.

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Rounding Up The Reviews #6: A Pair of Persephone’s – Vere Hodgson & Florence White

In the latest of my review round up posts I thought I would catch up with two Persephone Books that I should have mentioned before and haven’t; especially as they are both very good indeed and as The Persephone Project is coming back. More on that soon but let’s get to the two books and thank the heavens for notebooks filled with bookish, erm, notes. Right, the books…

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Few Eggs and No Oranges – Vere Hodgson

During the Second World War, whilst working for a charity in Noting Hill, Vere Hodgson kept a diary during the Blitz from 1940 – 1945. From the opening line ‘Last night at about 1 a.m. we had the first air raid of the war on London. My room is just opposite the police station, so I got the full benefit of the sirens. It made me leap out of bed…’ she draws us straight into the real life loved by those at the heart of London town as we follow her life, and the lives of her friends, as the city tries to carry on in the face of danger, loss and the toughest of times.

I wasn’t sure I was going to love Few Eggs and No Oranges because, as many of you will know from previous posts, I had to study WWII over and over and over again during my school life and, without sounding callous, became somewhat numb to it all from the endless source material we had to read. I found Few Eggs and No Oranges a really interesting and engrossing read. Not everyone is born to be a diarist but Vere Hodgson draws us straight in, even when she is writing about some of the smaller things that might initially seem less interesting, they become more and more fascinating as we realise the little things often meant the most (like the lack of eggs mentioned in the title). I think part of this is possibly down to the fact that, having done some reading after, she was writing this to one of her relations on the other side of the world.

The descriptions of the bombed out streets are incredible and the way she describes “showing how unimportant people in London and Birmingham lived through the war years”. My tip reading it is to spread it out over a longer period of time as you cannot read it like a novel, even if the 600+ pages have a wonderful warmth that some diaries can lack. I actually wish I had taken slightly longer with it, though the longer you take to read a book the harder they are to review and encapsulate as I am being reminded now. Well worth digging out and spending time with for another look at WWII.

Good Things in England – Florence White

I am not normally someone who can pore over a cookbook for hours and hours it has to be said. I love looking at the pictures and receiving the end results but living with a chef the kitchen is out of bounds to me anyway. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that Good Things in England is a collection of 853 regional recipes dating back to the C14th. First published in 1932 and written by Florence White, this country’s first ever freelance food journalist, when you read it you can see why it is such a hit.

As with all good British cookbooks, its starts with breakfast and works through breads, appetizers, soups, ‘oven cookery, etc’ (which made me laugh), fish, boiled meats, sauces, preserves, chutney, sweet dishes, wines and good old country teas. There are wonderful dishes like Camp Treacle Pudding (I don’t think she meant camp like I did, though maybe actually, ha), Fat Rascals, An Interesting Fruit Pudding, or Bacon Olives from The Fanny Calder School of Cookery in my very own now home of Liverpool from 1904. Oh and Another Gingerbread or Parkin and maybe Another Gingerbread or Parkin… or… oh, there’s a lot of gingerbread and parkin.  Each section comes with an introduction, as does the book, and what makes the book all the more wonderful are that here are also wonderful sections of Florence giving advice, tit bits and best of all stories. You have things like ‘concerning seasonings generally’ or one of my favourites ‘the story of stilton cheese’.

I don’t know if you have guessed or not but I was completely smitten with Good Things in England which was a complete and utter joyous surprise. I did eat a lot while reading it though. Like Few Eggs and No Oranges, which actually sounds more like a cook book, I read it over a long period dipping in and out. The only thing I am kicking myself about is that I didn’t try any of the recipes; I have heard there are some other cook books ahead in my Persephone reading so maybe I will try those, or get him indoors to… he has said that he might read this and try some of the cakes and bakes over the next few weeks if I am very lucky – I will report back

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So there are some brief thoughts on two wonderful books. Who knew I could be won over by a WWII or cook book when neither are normally my cup of tea (pun slightly intended) it is the power of Persephone I guess. I am very excited about getting back to these dove-grey delights and what lies ahead with the next 105 (and more that will come) I have awaiting me.

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Books All Over The Underground (They Made Me Do It)

I am down in big London at the moment, which is becoming my second home at the moment, for lots of meetings. What has been lovely to see as I have dashed here, there and everywhere from meeting to meeting is how many adverts there are for books, and not just your usual suspects – you know the big dark thrillers aimed at men or the bright pink ones aimed at women commuters. Okay, maybe I am being slightly harsh, however the ones I have seen have shown books for the joys we know they are; a gift that keeps on giving, a lovely present someone will really get joy from, etc.

So well done Foyles…

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And well done The Folio Society…

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I blame you both for the amount of books that I have bought so far on this trip. I think I need to take shares in Foyles the way I am going. Though I actually popped into Persephone Books yesterday and had a wonderful shopping splurge, one of which was a gift for my lovely pal Polly who I met for lunch. Bookshops eh? I can’t be stopped.

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What is the latest book you bought for yourself and for someone else? I would love to know, because I am a nosey so and so.

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Other People’s Bookshelves #70 – Thomas Otto

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the natural filthy book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week, for the (fanfare) 70th post in the series we are going through the shelves of a very special guest, Thomas Otto. Thomas is not only my co-host on The Readers but he is also one of my best bookish buddies and someone I have known since my blogging began, or at least it feels like that. So we head to Washington D.C where he doesn’t just have shelves but an entire library, one which I will be having a gander at in four weeks when I spend a few days in DC after Thomas and I go on a road trip around America to Booktopia MI. So let’s all grab on of John’s pina colada’s, give Lucy a pat and find out more about Thomas and his books.

A puppeteer and demolitions expert by day, Thomas Otto has been blogging since 2006. Okay part of that first sentence is true, I will leave it up to Simon’s readers to figure out which part. But seriously, I live in Washington, DC with my husband John and our dog Lucy. I blog about bookish stuff at Hogglestock.com (formerly My Porch), and I co-host a bookish podcast with some guy in England.

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

My reasons for keeping books aren’t very straight forward. The only thing that is a constant is I don’t keep books I don’t like and I keep books I like. I know that sounds straight forward but there is a middle ground of books I am somewhat ambivalent about that fall under other criteria that aren’t always the same. At some point, if I need to start getting rid of books, I will probably keep stuff that is harder to find because they have been long out of fashion. I hate the thought of those books disappearing. Lately I’ve been thinking of my will. My collection may not fetch much money but I want it to go to someone who will appreciate some of the oddities I have rather than having my next of kin pulping them when they find out they aren’t worth anything.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

With a few exceptions, all of my fiction is organized alphabetically by author and then chronologically by title. I used to have my TBR on separate shelves, but since we moved back into the house after the renovations I have mixed them with everything else. I can’t bring myself to break up my Persephones into alpha order, so they are all together as are my collection of Melville House novellas and those little old Oxford World Classics that can fit in your pocket. My nonfiction is roughly divided into memoirs/letters, books on books and literature, books on music, books on England, etc. One day I will organize John’s collection of garden books, but for now they are grouped rather higgedly-piggedly.

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I also ‘face’ my shelves. That is, I make sure all the spines are lined up at, or near, the edge of the shelf. It drives me bananas when they are pushed to the back of the shelf and the spines of the various sized books are uneven. I should also note that I got to customize the dimensions of my shelves and I made them shallower than the typical bookshelf which I find far deeper than what I need for fiction.

What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

One of Helen Cresswell’s Bagthorpe books, but I don’t remember which one. It may have been Ordinary Jack which is the first in that series. My copy of it disappeared over 30 years ago, but oddly enough I just bought it on my recent trip to Powell’s Books in Portland. There was a small, very short-lived bookshop in my hometown when I was a kid. For some reason I bought the Cresswell and was wildly confused by all of the Britishisms in it that I didn’t even realize were Britishisms at the time. I guess even then I was an Anglophile.

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Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

Although I don’t feel any guilt about them, I think that the non-Buncle D.E. Stevenson novels probably fit this category. They are overly twee, chaste romances that are not very well written, and some of the 1970s paperback versions are definitely embarrassing to be seen reading in public. I also have most of Nevil Shute’s novels. He tells great stories but his prose can be a little embarrassing. Still, I never feel guilt when I read them, only pleasure, and they both hold pride of place with the rest of my fiction collection.

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

Many of the books on my shelves are not expensive but they are hard to come by, so it is hard to think of which one I would save in a fire. There is a whole class of books on my shelves that fit that category. However, if I had to choose just one I would have to go with a limited edition of Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street. Not only is Lewis one of my favourite authors but this edition has colour illustrations by Grant Wood and is numbered and signed by the artist. It was also an insanely thoughtful gift from my husband.

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What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

Although my parent’s read quite a bit, there really wasn’t a bookshelf, it was more of a library existence for us in those days. The first adult book I read was Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews. I was far too young to read it but that didn’t seem to bother anyone even though my mother and older sister read it first.

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

I haven’t borrowed a book in many years, but if I did and loved the book, I would definitely buy my own copy.

What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

I just bought 61 books at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, but they are being shipped so I haven’t added them to my shelves yet. I did, however, recently add Sybille Bedford’s Jigsaw. I have never read her so I hope I like it.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

I still need to find about 20 D.E. Stevenson novels as well as more R.C. Sheriff and Richmal Crompton.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

Unless they have tastes similar to mine I think their eyes would cross as they tried to find books or authors they recognized.

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A huge thanks to Thomas for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. I am beyond excited about heading over to the US to see him and go on our road trip, I am counting down the days. If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint as without you volunteering it doesn’t happen) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Thomas’ responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?

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My Top Ten UK Bookshops (Currently)

I thought today, in honour of the Books Are My Bag initiative, I would share some of my favourite bookshops with you all. Obviously you will be heading to your local bookshop today and supporting them, if they are one of these then pretend I am there in spirit. Though actually if you are in my number one choice this afternoon it is quite likely that I will be there perusing the shelves and then head up for coffee and cake. So without further waffle or ado here are my top ten bookshops…

 

  1. Scarthin Books, Cromford, Derbyshire

Scarthin Books has been a constant in my life from roughly from birth. Coming from Matlock Bath, which is just up the road, we would often go for a walk (not every week) that took us up and down the hills with a wonderful reward halfway along. I used to love spending a good hour or so in the small corridor room under the stairs which was the children’s section whilst Gran and Mum explored the new and second hand books. Of course as I have grown up it has been a case of myself and Gran and/or Mum doing the same while someone waits upstairs eating a cake! Scarthin is a wonderful place, brimming with books and happy memories for me.

  1. Scriveners, Buxton, Derbyshire

Derbyshire is doing well with my selection so far, true there is the bias of my background and homelands BUT to only think it is that is to do both Scarthin and Scriveners a disservice. Scriveners is like a wonderful maze of second hand books over five floors. Yes you read that right, FIVE FLOORS. So that you have a good old browse there are even free refreshments and sofas, you need a good few hours to wander and I doubt you will leave empty handed. Two additional fascinating facts about Scriveners is that they print books in house and also have a ghost!

  1. Wenlock Books, Much Wenlock, Shropshire

I think if I was ever to own a bookshop, which is the dream of many of us isn’t it, then Wenlock Books would pretty much be it. They have a wonderful selection of new books downstairs which you feel are truly hand selected. There is also a wonderful array of bookish gifts (mugs, bags, etc) and stationery and then, if that wasn’t enough, there is a wonderful floor upstairs that are crammed with second hand books. Wonderful.

  1. The Book Barge, On The Canals of the UK

Floating along the canals of the UK, and possibly heading to Europe soon, is the lovely Sarah and her wonderful barge filled with books and even a house boat bunny on occasion. Here there are a mix of new and old books and it just feels like a wonderful haven bobbing up and down brimming with books. If the Book Barge is ever near your house then get yourself to it pronto! Sarah has even written a book all about running it which you will be hearing about here very soon!

  1. Foyles, Charing Cross Road, London

I have always been a big fan of Foyles and when I was part of a London bookshop I would a) meet my other book group members before and b) buy the next book afterwards in the South Bank branch. I also loved spending hours on the old Charing Cross Road branch. I was slightly apprehensive about the ‘new’ one, but when I went there for a GCP meeting last month I fell in love. It is airy, spacious, has thousands of books, a wonderful cafe – let’s face it I could move in. Expect a tour on the blog in the next few weeks!

  1. Gays The Word, London

I remember when I first moved to London I went and hunted Gays The Word down. It was a place of legend. As a young gay man I used fiction as a way to discover ‘people like me’ and try and understand it all and indeed myself. I was too scared to go in and so looked at it, walked past, turned around, walked past and looked in again. I finally went in a year later. Since then I have always popped in and since becoming close friends with the lovely Uli there make sure I pop in on every trip back. They have brilliant events, often with booze  – booze and books are a wonderful mix, and it is like the history of LGBT writing opens before your eyes when you walk through the door.

  1. Persephone Books, London

I am quite cross that I didn’t discover this gem until not long before I left London, especially as I was such a fan of the books however for some bonkers reason I didn’t connect the two. Perspehone Books of course only stock Persephone Books and there is something rather magical about that in itself. Now whenever I go back I make sure that I pop in and if I am lucky Nicola Beauman is in and we have a coffee and a natter. I always end up buying at least two or three books, how could you not?

  1. Waterstones Deansgate, Manchester

I wanted to include Waterstones because whilst they aren’t independent they are a place that I have spent many happy times and indeed have been a wonderful place to head to in unhappy times. Waterstones were always a treat, like Thorntons, to visit when myself, Mum and Gran went on shopping trips. They were the reward after wandering around a museum, cathedral, art gallery or three hour tour of John Lewis. I would be allowed to pick three books and that was my treat. In adulthood I have spent many hours wandering them with Polly, competing as to who has read the most. Deansgate is extra special to me because when I left London is was a haven and the place I would meet most of my mates. I also got to read Rebecca, well the first chapter, to an audience for World Book Night there, have been to some of my mates book launches there, even had (hope The Beard isn’t reading) a few dates in there and ran a literary salon there for a while. Books and brilliant memories, with the odd splash of something sparkly. Lush.

  1. White Horse Bookshop, Marlborough, Wiltshire

When I was a youth, and in my early teens, I lived in Marlborough in Wiltshire. The library was the place that we headed the most, however as a treat when I had been extra good (which in my teens wasn’t very often, the telly got banned once) I would be allowed to go and get a nice new pristine book from the White Horse Bookshop which spans over a few floors. I haven’t been in quite a few years but I heard from Naomi Woods, when she was at the Marlborough Literature Festival, that it is still wonderful.

= 10.  Lingham Booksellers, Heswall, Cheshire

Now I have a joint pair of books at number ten and that is because they are both local to me and very, very different in delightful ways. Linghams won the independent bookseller of the year last year and as soon as you walk in you know why. There are the latest must reads, unusual staff picks (from some of the most friendly and knowledgeable staff) and they have some corking events. They also do their own line of wonderful bookish gifts and I have a very special ‘one off’ purple Linghams bag which I am most proud of. Happy, knowledgable, friendly staff and a good selection are always a winner.

= 10. Oxton Village Books, Oxton, Cheshire

Finally there is the wonderful Oxton Village Books which used to be in the post office, and when I saw had closed down I almost physically wept, yet now resides in the wonderful Williamson Art Gallery and Museum which is roughly three minutes walk from my house. They only deal with second hand books inside BUT you can order new ones through them. They are my number one destination when I am looking for something slightly older or just fancy a browse and also when I have a good few bags of books that were sent unsolicited that I don’t want – well after my mother gets first dibs obviously, in case she is reading this. The owners are wonderful and it feels like the perfect addition to such a cultural spot. Lovely stuff.

So those are the bookshops I would highly recommend. Obviously I have not been to every bookshop in the land, though wouldn’t that be marvellous? I could write a Rough Guide to British Bookshops.  I have missed a few of my other favourites, but eleven seemed a cheat enough, I could also have mentioned any of the Daunt Bookshops, which are wonderfully organised by country which is a brilliant idea; I could also have mentioned the lovely Review Bookshop in Peckham which is run by the lovely Evie Wyld… There are so many!

So which bookshop will you be heading to? Which is your local favourite and do you have any other favourites that you think readers of this blog should visit? Have you any titles you have in your site that you might end up popping in your Books Are My Bag bag?

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Does Anyone Else Think…

That this portrait that my Granddad (Bongy) painted of his mother, my Nana Doris which I have inherited and finally picked up from my mothers this weekend, would look rather wonderful on a Persephone Classics or Virago Modern Classic (especially the old green ones) book cover?

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Or is it just me?

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Does The Imprint Matter?

A few things have been making me ponder the imprints of books over the last few weeks. First up was when I was discussing a book and someone asked me what the imprint was and then if that imprint was very good which was something I wasn’t aware I give much thought to but then realised that I do. A bit like prizes actually thinking about it, you know the ones you really trust the selection of, or not as the case may be.

While in London I bumped into Meike Ziervogel who wrote Magda and also runs Peirene Press, who translate novella’s, which instantly reminded me I hadn’t read as many of their brilliant (they have all been very good so far) books as I have meant to. I also have a friend who has been looking for a new publisher and who asked me if I would recommend any, I instantly reeled off three or four who I would recommend because a) the staff there are lovely b) overall the books I read from their publishing house are just up my street – a publisher to trust on all counts. I also spotted a receptionist in a museum reading a Penguin Modern Classic this weekend, which I instantly recognised from the brand which whenever I see a copy of second hand I snatch up even if I know nothing about it because I trust them on previous experience.

This isn't a biased subliminal picture, it just looks pretty.

This isn’t a biased subliminal picture, it just looks pretty.

Mulling it (I like a good mull) all over made me wonder if I am partial to certain publishing houses in particular and where my bias lies. To get a negative out of the way, a certain book won a prize the other day and I looked at the publisher and rolled my eyes as I don’t really like them, not because of their books but because their publicity departments are a nightmare to work with. It shouldn’t matter but then again it does, a lot like one publishing house who has a publicists whose tweets were so up their own bottoms I blocked them and have avoided their books since. Bad, I know. Judgemental? Very. Yet once you have an impression of an imprint it sticks, good or bad. And it isn’t just the publishers you know in reality, it is also just the publishing houses you read regularly simply as a reader. For example Gran used to say she could generally trust Virago’s if she was stuck for a book to read.

Obviously I am working my way through the Persephone Classics (if a little slower than intended) and the reason for this is because through all the ones I have read, which I think is about ten or twelve now in total, maybe more, there is only one which I haven’t like and I have forgiven it everything because it is a Persephone – which is clearly a rather partial leaning isn’t it? I am hoping that when I re-read it (it was The New House by Lettice Cooper) I ‘get’ it the second time around and am 100% proven that all Persephone’s are brimming with wonder. Anyway, I digress…

Another pair of publishers that haven’t gone wrong for me are another two small independents (I need to mull over the bigger imprints more). They are Peirene Press (who I have already mentioned) and And Other Stories. Both feature novels that tend to be short-ish and cover fiction from all over the world and even though every book has something different about it you understand why it fits in the imprints umbrella, a certain je ne sais quoi if you will? I have actually rearranged my shelves recently so that these imprints’ titles all sit together and I can make a beeline for them as I must read more of them. In fact I really must pick one of them up next!

What about all of you? Do you have a certain publisher that you turn to when you need a good read and are pretty much certain any of their books will do the trick? (Feel free to tell me which one publisher it is!) Are there any you’ve had a pretty bad failure rate with? Do you have a classic or independent print you make sure you have the whole collection of and really support? Or does it simply not matter?

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