Tag Archives: Persephone Books

Persephone 100 and the Persephone Project…

I have been meaning to write about Persephone, one of the UK’s most delightful independent publishers, reaching their 100th title for some time. However the right reason never quite presented itself. Well, that is partly true. I could simply have simply said ‘Happy 100 Books Persephone’ and then put a link to all the titles of theirs that I have read so far, only one of them I didn’t ‘get’ I think, but I wanted to do something a little bit extra and a little bit different and then fate stepped in delightfully.

To me, Persephone books are a real ‘treat’ of a book. Despite this blog I am actually not really a big buyer of new books, I have the odd binge once a year in a certain chain, a brief yearly dabble with a certain online retailer (basically when they offer me prime for free, you know who I mean) and whenever I fall into, because it is never planned *cough*, an independent bookshop I like to buy a book or two. I am much more of a borrower from the library or perusing bargain hunter in second hand and charity bookshops, I think this stems from the fact it was the way it was when I was a youth. Anyway despite having borrowed many a delightful grey copy along the way, Persephone’s I saw/see as treats and so had been slowly building up a collection of titles, some I had won from the very people who had introduced me to Persephone Books, Claire and Verity (thank you ladies, why did your bookish blogs stop?) and there Persephone Reading Weeks etc, and others I had seen in independent bookstores along the way.

Well you may have remember that in the last move I lost a special bag of books and in it, amongst some other special copies of other special books were SIX, yes six, Persephone books. ‘Someone at a Distance’ by Dorothy Whipple, ‘Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes’, ‘The Far Cry’ by Emma Smith, ‘Dimanche and Other Stories’ by Irene Nemirovsky, ‘Still Missing’ by Beth Gutcheon, ‘Miss Buncle Married’ by DE Stevenson all just somehow disappeared. I was left with ‘Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day’ by Winifred Watson because it was in my boxes of ‘already read’ books and ‘Miss Buncle’s Book’ by DE Stevenson as that was in my ‘to read very soon’ moving box. I still haven’t read it; I think it might be the trauma, maybe. Anyway the collection I was slowly building was down to two, until I spotted this in a charity shop last week…

I actually had spotted a separate Persephone Classic, ‘The World That Was Ours’ by Hilda Bernstein which I will be writing about tomorrow, on a different shelf but I didn’t think I would spot a further five of the gorgeous grey spines!! Naturally I did a double take and scooped them all up in my arms and practically ran to the till. This joy was made all the sweeter discovering that three of them still had the bookmarks when I got home and perused my finds further. It was reading all about them and seeing how different they were, and indeed starting the Bernstein when an idea popped into my head and everything clicked… I would read ALL the 100 Persephone titles and start ‘The Persephone Project’!

Initially ‘The Persephone Project’ sounds bonkers I will admit. Especially from someone who only the other day was saying I am not sure I should start any more projects (apart from Classically Challenged and 40 Before 40, the latter which I am still mulling) or challenges as I want a year of reading by whim. Yet the more I thought about it the more sense it made.

The main point is that I will not be reading these books in one big gulp. Now this will possibly sound even madder, especially seeing as I have worked this out as taking me to March 2021 (when I will be almost 39!), but I am going to read one a month in order though should I fancy reading one of the later titles earlier that’s fine as its likely to be years until I re-read it. That makes sense in my head anyway. Having spent ages going through the catalogue and making a page with all the titles and when I will read them the diversity of the list means I won’t get annoyed either. I will talk more about this tomorrow but ‘The World That Was Ours’ really opened my eyes to how different the books are it being the polar opposite of ‘The Shuttle’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett (my favourite Persephone so far) in every way apart from the fact I love it just as much.

I am also really looking forward to building a collection as one book a month fits my budget (though I have just bought the first three, but please don’t tell The Beard – actually he might not mind as he likes the books as they match the carpet) and over the next few weeks, months and years who knows what gems I might find in any bookshop I might fall into. I may have to get a special set of shelves for Persephone books alone.

So that is the plan! The first book, ‘William – an Englishman’ by Cicely Hamilton is on the way and I will be discussing it on Sunday the 16th of December here (the Project Persephone posts will go live every third Sunday). I am hoping some of you might join in along the way (I am sure somewhere on the internet people are already doing something similar but I want to start at the start) or if you feel a bit crazy and whimsical start with me and go for the whole lot. I feel like it is going to be a real bookish adventure, and indeed by the time I get to book 100 there will have been more added to the list.

Anyway, that is quite enough from me for now. I would love to hear what your favourite Persephone books have been so far and if you have found any forgotten but now favourite-to-you authors in the mean time. Do tell, and let me know if you might join in be it for the long haul (crazy but might be great) or just dip in and out along the way…

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Bonjour Tristesse – Francoise Sagan

I have to admit that if it hadn’t been for the fact that ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ by Francoise Sagan had been a book that I managed to rescue, and allowed myself to because it was short, then I am not sure it would have crossed my path. I know since mentioning it that a few of you have since said you read it (some even reviewed it – which I had missed, oops) and had been very impressed. It was also described as a ‘dark little book’ by someone and I have to say those can be my favourite sort of reads.

Penguin Books, 1954, paperback, translated by Irene Ash, 107 pages, saved from pulping

The story of ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ (which translated means ‘Hello Sadness’) is initially a simple one. Cecile is a seventeen year old free spirit who is used to a life with her father, one that is lived in relative comfort, without much expected or demanded of her . However things have begun to subtly change in the dynamic as Cecile is starting to embrace her womanhood and sexuality whilst her father has started to take on lots of rather young lovers, none lasting for particularly long.

“He refused categorically all notions of fidelity and serious commitments. He explained that they were arbitrary and sterile. From anyone else such views would have shocked me, but I knew that in his case they did not exclude either tenderness or devotion; feelings which came all the more easily to him since he was determined that they should be transient. This conception of rapid, violent and passing love affairs appealed to my imagination. I was not at the age when fidelity is attractive. I knew very little about love.”

In fact it is shown how often these women are in and out of her fathers life rather quickly for at the start of the book Cecile, her father and his latest fling Elsa all go to a villa on the French Riviera but it isn’t long before Elsa is usurped by the older and more wilful Anna. Only Anna has decided she isn’t going anywhere. Initially we see Anna, who happens to be a friend of Cecile’s dead mother, as a pleasant addition to the world of Cecile and her father. However before long the woman who so helped and guided Cecile so well after her mothers death soon starts to show the smallest signs of control, including banning Cecile from seeing her boyfriend Cyril. Cecile decides that Anna needs to go, it’s just a question of how to go about it.

I admit that when I first heard of the premise of the book I was thinking of the ‘wicked stepmothers in fairytales’, this is no fairytale. What Sagan has done, and I could almost not believe she was eighteen years old when she wrote this, is created a simplistic tale which carries all the complexities of the human psyche and the spectrum of emotions around love, from the first flushes to the darkest jealousy. This isn’t just romantic love either, it’s about platonic and familial love too. It’s about how we react when we become threatened in our routine life by something and how we use people to get what we want.

“Destiny sometimes assumes strange forms. That summer it appeared in the guise of Elsa, a mediocre person, but with a pretty face. She had an extraordinary laugh, sudden and infectious, which only rather stupid people possess.”

I was really impressed with ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ and devoured it in a single sitting, I will admit that it has faded a little bit in the weeks since I have read it. What particularly blew me away though was the insight that Sagan had at such a young age of the awful ways in which we can behave in order to get what we want. She also manages to cleverly describe how even when we have thought of every outcome to a plan we conceive something else can happen to change that chain of events and take it right out of our control. I certainly didn’t think I would get all of that out of this book before I opened the first page. 8/10

You can see Kimbofo’s thoughts here and Simon of Stuck-in-a-Book’s thoughts here. I had missed their reviews previously somehow.

After doing some research I was shocked to learn that Francoise Sagan has written 20 novels. I see that Hesperus Press publish ‘The Unmade Bed’ which sounds like it could have caused as much uproar in France on its release as ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ did, Basic Books (who I had never heard of) publish ‘That Mad Ache’ and ‘A Certain Smile’ comes out in a lovely issue in October from University of Chicago Press. I am wondering if I should be priming myself to purchase any of these, have you any thoughts or tips. Have any of you seen the film of ‘Bonjour Tristesse’? I also had a lovely vision of Persephone Books and Peirene Press coming together to publish some of her other lost and slightly forgotten books, wouldn’t that be wonderful?

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Come See Me in Cambridge, Oranges & Favourite Female Writers

A few bits and bobs today, that all evolve around female writers. First up is the exciting announcement I have been hankering to tell you for a little while, and that is where I am going to be talking about ‘female fiction’ in the Summer at a literary festival I hinted at a while ago (after which a small Orange update will make perfect sense)…  

I had an email from the lovely Sophie Hannah a while back asking if I would be up for joining a panel she is hosting on Sunday June 26th 2011 at Cambridge’s Lucy Cavendish College who host ‘Women’s Word’ each year. I will be on the panel talking about ‘Why Men Don’t Men Read Books By Women and Does It Matter That They Don’t’ and I’m literally be the good guy on the panel that does indeed read a lot of fiction by women writers. I will be up there with our host Sophie Hannah (as I mentioned), and the other confirmed panel members who are poet, playwright and short story writer Michelene Wandor along with writer and Persephone Books founder Nicola Beauman. As you might guess I am really, really excited (it’s the perfect pick me up with all this health nonsense) and already gearing up for it. Which is where the next part of this post might just come in handy…

I am sure you are all aware that The Orange Longlist 2011 was announced this week and I mentioned that I didn’t think I was going to read the longlist… well I am. I am also going to try and read all the books I hadn’t yet managed on my guess list. I have been quite lucky as some Oranges have already made it through my letter box and are now about to be read through (see there are some benefits to having a big operation on your birthday, this coming Thursday, and then having lots of recuperation time), I doubt very much I will manage the 19 I haven’t read yet, for ‘Room’ was devoured last year, but then I don’t have them all. I do have these to be getting on with…

I think this will be perfect reading material to get me thinking and bursting with ideas and thoughts for the talk. I will also be doing a post next week asking you for your help, but I think maybe that’s enough excitement for one day. If you do happen to be free on Sunday 26th of June I would love to see you in a hopefully sunny Cambridge. I will be making a weekend of it and going backstage and meeting everyone so will report back if you can’t! Oh, and on the subject of books by women, don’t forget you can win one of the best, in my opinion, female novelist debuts in recent years – so go have a gander at that.

In the meantime can you tell me who your favourite female author (alive or dead) is, why and what it is about them that simply means I have to go and read them now? I might just surprise some of you with some more goodies for this one too as would be very good research for me! You can probably all guess mine.

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A Trip To Gran’s… Do Come Along

I know a lot of you like all things Granny Savidge Reads and so I thought I would do a little report back from the trip that myself and The Converted One went on two weekends ago back to my homeland of the Derbyshire Dales. I have already shared a trip we took to Scarthin Books which deserved its own post and so I thought I would share some more pictures of both the peaks, my past, more books (Persephone ones, really old ones and damaged ones – the latter caused me real horror) and lost of other bits and bobs – including a charity that I would love you all to have a look into.

So on the Saturday morning we left the grey skies of London for what I assumed would be the even greyer skies of ‘oop north’. However it would appear I was very wrong as the further north we got the sunnier it became.

First up was an early lunch both preceeded and followed by tea and coffee. This provided the perfect picture for any of you who love Persephone books as Gran had hers placed rather delightfully on a tray with some rather wonderful china.

It was soon off to Matlock Bath for a wander down the promenade and over the wonderful old Victorian Jubilee Bridge (you know how I love my Victoriana)

This takes you across the River Derwent to a land of rather marvellous grottos, fountains and fantastic views from which you can see my old house (where I lived with my grandparents for half of every year growing up) in the distance below The Heights of Abraham.

 

Here’s a close up of that very house, the one I have sworn I will buy back one day.

We were in Matlock Bath both for a bit of nostalgia and to go to an event organised to ‘Save the Pavilion’ (or the Pav as we call it) and celebrate its 100th Birthday it is a rather historical old building on the main promenade. It’s a place that means a lot to me personally as my Mum and Dad actually met at a school disco in the dome on the roof. They had allsorts going on including a Punch and Judy show which had The Converted One in awe and I let Gran explain.

 

It was actually a ‘typically British fate’ with both a wonderful band…

And a Women’s Institute charity book store of delightful old (and rather saucy if you look at the picture in detail) books, I had a rather longing look and had to move away swiftly.

Soon it was time to dash back for more tea and cake with my aunty and cousins back over the hills and in Gran’s rather wonderful garden before dinner, it was a real treat to sit, drink and natter outside over that view.

Later on we went through the family albums and I found this rather wonderful picture of my Gran as a little girl in her nursery which I just love, I am going to have to get it blown up and framed for one of my walls.

Next day after visiting my Dad’s parents who I hadn’t seen for five years and who hadn’t yet met The Converted One we headed to the grandeur of Chatsworth and its wonderful park land.

After a nice cream tea we toured the village of Edensor where the Dowager Duchess and last surviving Mitford sister Deborah lives where I found a house that I desperately wanted, I have a thing about turrets and could be ‘Debo’s’ neighbour.

Then it was all too soon time to go home which was rather a fraught journey as we almost had a fight with a man who was sat in our booked seats. Then, if that wasn’t stressful enough, a woman sat with this opposite me…

I could almost hear the book and its pain. However my distressed spirits at both that poor book and the fact I wanted to stay up north longer were somewhat eased when I found two gifts on the bed from that book stall I mentioned above I had no idea I had been bought! (Village Tales by Miss Mitford and The Lamplighter by Miss Cummins – anyone read either of these?)

So hopefully that hasn’t bored you all silly and you have enjoyed that little tour of a small part of Derbyshire. Do these break in bookish posts appeal to you all now and again? Should I be sharing little bits of my non bookish life with you now and again? Let me know as I don’t know if I share too much, not enough or just about right! Have you had any nice trips lately?

You can find out more about the great cause of ‘Save The Pavilion’ and watch a marvellous video about Matlock Bath and the Pav here. Do pop by!

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Simon’s Bookish Bits #24

Well after a little holiday my Bookish Bits are back with a catch up to some links around the blogosphere, my thoughts on a book everyone has been talking about, and an update on some of the places that you read and what sums up your reading tastes.

First up I want to say a thank you to all the people who commented on the post I did on ‘Where Do We Read’ (if you haven’t commented then do as I want to do a post on the results over the next few weeks) I am still waiting for some pictures from some of you of where you are reading at the moment or the strangest places you have read.

One picture I did get sent this week was from Norman in Australia, who asked for your advice on literature about men in cardigans, in response to Simon of Stuck-in-a-Books request to get us to find pictures that sum up our reading tastes. (You can see all the bloggers who have contributed so far here.) I asked for non bloggers to have a go and here is Norman’s which “depicts my interest in “calm loneliness”. Single men and single women managing bravely to survive outrageous fortune. Some writers who explore this empathetically are Anita Brookner, Barbara Pym, Elizabeth Taylor, Penelope Lively, E.M. Forster, Graham Greene, Camus, Kafka, Pinter, Patrick White, and Elizabeth Riddell (a little known Australian poet)”

Who else has any they would care to share? Send them to savidgereads@gmail.com and I will pop them up on ture Bookish Bits.

I thought that I would try something a little different with my bookish links this week and simply list a selection and see how that all goes with you all?

The last link brings me onto the book that everyone is talking about this week which is the winner of this years Orange Prize ‘The Lacuna’ by Barbara Kingsolver. I have to say I was a little surprised that it won. I am not sure about it being rigged, of course you never know. I do think that not letting a book win because its won other awards is a bit silly though – if a books bloody brilliant it should be allowed to win everything surely?

Myself, I am currently in the Kirsty of Other Stories camp on the book so far. I have been reading it on and off for about five or six weeks and I love it, then don’t and then just leave it with no desire to get started again. I am reserving final judgement though until I hit the very last word of the very last page. In terms of the Orange though this year seems to have been a weird one almost like no one quite knew what to do with it, or be ballsy? Am I being overly harsh?

I may well finish ‘The Lacuna’ this weekend as I am planning on a big weekend of ‘finishing off’ several books that I have been juggling. Book switching in terms of reading is not a talent that I am really blessed with and maybe that’s what a recent reading funk was slightly about?  What have you got planned this weekend both reading wise and in general?

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The New House – Lettice Cooper

I don’t know about you all out there but I am aware that I put a certain pressure on specific authors and sometimes publishers to deliver a selection of books any of which I can pick up know I am in safe hands and am bound to enjoy. Only what happens when you don’t really enjoy one of the books. Disappointment is the answer to be honest only the fault really is more with me than the book isn’t it? After all I have put it on a pedestal before I have even turned a page and I do wonder if that’s why you are about to get the thoughts that you are on ‘The New House’ by Lettice Cooper.

I will start of by saying that I had instantly loved the premise of ‘The New House’ hence why I picked it up. A single, and really rather stressful, day in the life of a family moving house in the years between wars, the reader popping into all of their minds as the day goes on. It doesn’t sound complex and that’s because it isn’t some books are all about the subtlety and I thought this would be one such book, in many ways it is. We meet each of the Powell’s either residing in Stone Hall or those who have come by for the day to provide help and support painting the full family picture both as it stands currently and giving insight into the past.

Natalie Powell the mother and matriarch of the family is finding the move and widowhood trying ( a description of her waking up and the realization her husband is gone is written beautifully) and downsizing more so especially as the land is being built over, though you wonder if they could really afford to stay there anyway. Rhoda is the long striving daughter who has refused marriage in order to stay with her mother and is becoming increasingly bothered by the situation (which is fair her mother is a nightmare) and concerned she may turn into her Aunt Ellen, a spinster who gave her life to her relatives rather than herself. Delia is the engaged sister who got away and Maurice the brother who married the rather cold Evelyn (I laughed at Maurice’s thoughts on Evelyn’s attitudes to sex). All the little intricacies of the family are brought to the fore as is their lifestyle and the ‘day to day-ness’ of everything.

This should have been just my cup of tea and a delight to read and yet sadly it didn’t really capture me. Don’t get me wrong I read it from cover to cover otherwise I wouldn’t think it fair of me to ‘review’ it but on occasion it felt like an effort, I felt with every chapter that I had read this all before in the last one and intricate became repetitive for me and I started to get a little frustrated with the situation and the characters. Why did I keep on reading? Well, it’s a Persephone and until now not a single one has failed me and because now and again there were moments of delight and some of brilliant humour they just, for me personally, came too few and far between which was a shame and then as a whole it fell a little flat and left me a little cold when I wanted to be charmed. 6/10

Funny in a week I have mentioned two books that left me ambivalent, a feeling that doesn’t sit well with me. I will however, and you might think this is very odd, be recommending this to a few people as I think they would totally be charmed by it and think it a marvellous book. I am wondering if it was a timing thing and in getting very excited (naturally) about Persephone Reading Week (I would possibly have given up on the book had it not been for Claire and Verity’s delightful venture) I picked it up when I wasn’t in the right mood and therefore did it a slight disservice. Maybe I will get it out the library in a year or so and give it another whirl?

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Simon’s Bookish Bits #19

Sorry if when you start reading this you are lulled into the false sense of security that this is Saturday, it isn’t unfortunately, I have just moved my bookish bits a day forward. This week we have some competition winners, some Persephone bits, big books and you have the opportunity to ask Granny Savidge Reads anything bookish and my mother too (who is just as hot on books) so rather than waffle on let’s get cracking.

First up a HUGE thanks to all of you who came up with the wonderful descriptions of a Bunyip that author Evie Wyld and I asked for last Saturday, they are some of my favourite comments ever and I was thrilled how creative you got. Evie has had a look and named three winners who are Jenny, Fliss and Jodie! If you email me your addresses then a copy of Evie’s book will be in the post and your Bunyip’s will be on show next week as Joe is creating your visions right now.

Now links and things this week are about bookish events both bloggish and in the flesh that are coming up. Not only is next Saturday the 8th the ‘UK Book Bloggers Meet’ which is being organised by the lovely Simon T (and I will be popping into briefly) it is also ‘Vintage Classics Day’ at Foyles where you can see and meet A.S. Byatt, Martin Amis, Adam Foulds, Julie Myerson… oh and me and my rather special plus one who will be reporting back on it all! So that’s something to head out for I feel, you can find out more about it here.

From Monday it is also ‘Persephone Reading Week’  hosted by Verity of The B Files and Claire of Paperback Reader (who has done a wonderful Angela Carter month, I have been loving ‘The Bloody Chamber’ so much I have been rationing it). Do you have some Persephone’s lined up? I have five options I am mulling over currently.

Speaking of Persephone I was a little over excited by the fact I had not one but two quotes in the Persephone biannually…

 

You should be able to click on the pictures to see larger versions or you could just pop and see my thoughts on Little Boy Lost and The Shuttle. The Shuttle is my favourite Persephone that I have encountered so far and will soon be on my ‘A Readers Table’ which a lot of you have emailed about the disappearance of along with a lot of other pages. They are having some nips and tucks but will be back over the next few days, though not this weekend as I will be away and having no signal I will be getting to grip with this monster (which I have started and have to say is addictive)…

My being away leads to the final part of today’s post. I am off up north (or already on my way/there dependent on when you are reading this) to see my mother, step dad, siblings and THE WHOLE Savidge family, all 22 of us, which of course includes Granny Savidge Reads (who has told me her column is half done). Mum has agreed to do a Savidge Reads Grills like Gran did too. I then thought though I would go one further and let you ask either of them any bookish based question you like!!!! Just leave it in a comment and I will corner them sometime on Sunday and let you have the results in due course.

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