Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Persephone Books

Last week, my friend Lisa and I popped into The Persephone Bookshop on Lamb's Conduit Street. I love this shop. Even on a grey, English winter's day, it is still a bright, little haven of calm. The large store-front windows cast their light across the inviting, wooden-floored room where tables and shelves alike are stacked high with piles of books, all covered in Persephone's signature plain grey covers.

Interspersed between the piles of books are tiny towers of beautifully designed bookmarks. The bookmarks are such a clever idea and deeply appealing in their own right. Each one is based on a design (often from fabric or wallpaper) that complements the time and feel of the text inside and matches the endpapers of the book it accompanies.

Persephone specializes in reprinting both fiction and non-fiction from mid-20th century authors (mainly women) that have often been long (and unjustly) forgotten. There are wonderful stories, diaries, cookbooks and gardening tomes, ghostly tales, children's books and more. There really is something for everyone and they make perfect presents for almost any occasion.

Many Christmases ago, I bought my first Persephone book, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (originally published in 1938), and as soon as I read it, I immediately went back and bought six more copies to give to friends. This is one of those truly uplifting titles that everyone should have on their shelf. As it says in the preface (and I paraphrase): this book feels more like a Fred Astaire film than anything else…sheer, light-hearted fun!

When my children were still very young, I enjoyed Dorothy Canfield Fisher's The Home-maker, lent to me by my canny friend Sara in a subtle, yet timely gesture! This is the story of a woman who is driving her family crazy with her perfectionist ideas about how to be a mother when really the problem is her own boredom and frustration. We shall say no more…!

And, just last week, I picked up Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey, about a girl who realizes on her wedding day that she is making a terrible mistake. It is a testament to the good judgement of the editors at Persephone that several of their reissued titles have since been made into films. We are clearly ready to engage once more with these intelligent, well-written titles.

Nowadays, we seem to be looking to days gone by more and more often to find answers as to how to live more simply. The worlds covered in the wide array of Persephone books are a fantastic place to immerse yourself for lessons of all kinds as well as just for the sheer pleasure of it. If you ever happen to find yourself in the quiet streets of Bloomsbury, do be sure to pop in. You'll be very glad you did.

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