Persephone Books

Monday, 26 November 2012

Two Women Reading

I don’t know why it took me so long to discover Persephone Books, but I’m glad I did. In an age where keywords such as ‘bestsellers’ and ‘market audience’ seem to dominate in publishing, it warms my heart to find a publisher like Persephone, which, in their own words, “prints mainly neglected fiction and non-fiction by women, for women and about women.” Their books are numbered 1 – 100, with each title carefully selected, ranging from genres such as poetry, short stories, World War I and II fiction and non-fiction, cook books, feminist works, diaries, travel, house and garden, history, country life, thrillers, science fiction, and more. What really attracts me is their overarching sensibility of focusing on women’s lives and neglected stories; stories previously deemed ‘unworthy’ of publication, stories forgotten in history, lost treasures. It speaks to the idealist in me who is tired of hearing what new things I simply ‘must’ consume and buy, and would much rather be digging more thoughtfully into what has already been created, but forgotten.

Tea in the Garden

Girl Reading in a Sunlit Room

Woman Reading by a Window

If you’d like to discover more about Persephone, they send out two issues of The Persephone Biannually (along with the Persephone Catalogue, which describes each book in loving and thoughtful detail) free of charge in the mail, so simply email them for copies. When I received my copies in the mail, I devoured them in one evening and then went online to make an order in their shop. I also emailed them to ask whether it would be okay for me to write this post and spread the word about what they’re doing.

Apart from the obvious love I have for the concept behind Persephone, I also appreciate the visual and physical design of the books themselves. All their books (except for the Persephone Classics) have a simple grey cover and an individually selected ‘fabric’ endpaper and bookmark design. Next to each book in their catalogue is an explanation of the design picked out for the endpaper, which aims to suit the mood and original time-period of the book. This relationship between design and words is an interesting one for me, especially amidst the current (and perhaps verging on obsessive) trend of minimalist design amongst my own generation, because Persephone actually extend their own simple design with a deeper understanding of our relationship with the past and what the process of recovering lost words and images means for women. In their own words again: “Fabrics are as much a part of our daily lives as furnishing and dress materials, yet we rarely see them used in any other context. However, fabric design should be celebrated for its own sake; and because it is a field in which women designers have been particularly prominent we would like to use their work whenever possible.” It’s so nice to hear an explanation of a design choice actually linked with some meaning.

Mary Reading

Reading_A Portrait of the Artist's Wife

Girl Reading under an Oak Tree

Jane tweeted a few days ago that she would probably marry anyone who bought her all the books in the Persephone catalogue (which, by the way, you can do for £1000), and I’d have to agree with her. I once got a marriage proposal from a guy who reads my blog, so I hope you’re reading this (cough, cough).

: : Persephone Books : : Online Shop : : Persephone Biannually : :

Grace reading at Howth Bay

Image credits (from top to bottom): Two Women Reading by Robert Lewis Reid; Le thé au jardin (also known as Tea in the Garden) by Frederick C. Frieseke; Girl Reading in a Sunlit Room by Carl Vilhelm Holsøe; Woman Reading by a Window by Gari Melchers; Mary Reading by Edmund Tarbell; Reading. A Portrait of the Artist’s Wife by Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoy; Girl Reading under an Oak Tree by Winslow Homer; Grace reading at Howth Bay by Sir William Orpen.

13 comments: said...

I love Persephone books for all the reasons you eloquently mentioned. I confess I even love their catalogue and can pour over that for hours. xx

Olga Bennett said...

So amazing! I've instantly fallen in love! Thank you for sharing this great find Hila

poochbooks said...

I found Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day in the Persephone bookshop last year and fell in love. I don't know what the film is like but the book is amazing!

Jane Flanagan said...

Oh I love Persephone - the founder Nicola Beauman was one of my first "Inspiring women"!

I also have to tell you that the last painting by Orpen is one of my favourite. Howth is where I'm from and indeed this is the cove I swim in when I'm at home!

Danielle P. said...

I'm also a Persephone devotee! It's always such a treat to receive the Biannually and the Catalogue.

domesticated_desk said...

I love your blog and this post on Persephone was wonderful. What a great find, I have not heard of this company. I hope to order some books soon.

Megan said...

I love this post--Persephone books are really so great. Every time I look at the gray cover of my copy of Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day it makes me happy. Here's to great books and great publishers.

Also, the images you chose for this post are stunning--I keep clicking back to your blog to look at them again and again.

Miss Bibliophile said...

I'm a big fan of Persephone, too. I love the way that so many of their novels are marked by small yet significant, and easily recognizable from our real lives. They're exactly the kind of books that I feel in the mood to read this time of year, as the holidays approach.

Hila said...

Josephine: That's exactly what I did with their catalogue when I received it - even their catalogue is in a class of its own!

Olga: oh my pleasure.

poochbooks: I haven't seen the film either, I wonder what it's like.

Jane: I got an email from her yesterday, she's lovely. That Orpen painting is also one of my favourites.

Danielle: It did feel like a huge treat - it doesn't take much to make me happy :)

domesticated_desk: thank you! I ordered some books too.

Megan: I felt a visual tribute to their beautiful books was necessary, glad you like it Megan.

Miss Bibliophile: Yes, and such small aspects, usually domestic details, are often considered 'insignificant'. I like the whole concept of this press, and the way they recover women's stories.

Chuck said...

I have yet to bond with any specific Persephone book but the ethos and design is wonderful. X

Miss Heliotrope said...

I have adored Persephone for some years - the whole concept is fabulous & beautiful.

I always feel a little sad that being in Australia I cant make it into the shop or attend all the lectures/book groups they run - I do wish they would make some of them available online. Please?

Hila said...

Chuck: Oh really? I'm bonding right now with 'Mariana'. Have you read it?

Miss Heliotrope: I feel the same, it would be wonderful to have some of the lectures available online - although I imagine that would require much work.

mary said...

The Miss Pettigrew film is delightful and great fun.