Thursday, August 05, 2010

London Bookstores: Persephone

London has bookstores. Loads of them. I was taken by a few in particular, and I'll post about these over the next few weeks when I have the time. The first I admit I was attracted to simply because of its cover, or front. Excellent name, font, sign, window and location: 59 Lamb's Conduit Street. I first read of the street in Woolf's Diary. She makes mention of Lytton having bought paper from Lamb's Conduit Street, which is close to Coram's Fields, and Russell Square, etc.
The books themselves are a "dove grey" (arguably mauve) and simply and uniformly designed but for the front 'fabric' paper and folksy bookmark. Each with a preface commenting on the book--why has it been neglected, why we need to read it, etc. I bought four books, but could have bought many more. The first to catch my eye was Katherine Mansfield's Journal. Published shortly after her death by John Middleton Murray, it's a candid little gem.
Putting my weakest books to the wall last night I came across a copy of "Howard's End" and had a look into it. But it's not good enough. EM Forster never gets any further than warming the teapot. He's a rare fine hand at that. Feel this teapot. Is it not beautifully warm? Yes, but there ain't going to be no tea.
Or, as Woolf says in her review (printed at the back) "We feel we are watching a mind which is alone with itself..." or "Katherine Mansfield about Katherine Mansfield." Also bought The Montana Stories, but haven't dipped into those yet.  Two other titles made it into the bag including a 19th Century novel by a young woman, Amy Levy, offering a critique to the London world represented in Daniel Deronda by George Eliot. 
There were a half dozen others I could have picked up had I endless pockets and luggage. These might have included Leonard Woolf's novel The Wise Virgins, An Interrupted Life: The Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum, who like Anne Frank, lived in Amsterdam until 1943. Other picks: Julia Strachey's (yes Lytton's sister) novel Cheerful Weather for the Wedding, and Woolf's Flush. There are other greats: odd cook books and quiet collections of fiction.

I can't say I loved all the choices made here, but I love the concept behind this press, which is bringing out books that have been forgotten, or are less known, or good things missed...they look for women's texts, but don't limit their selection by gender. So yes, in a time when it's all doom and gloom these women are reinventing. 88 books so far. Online and physical, retail space.

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