Earlier this summer, while on vacation in London, I made a pilgrimage to Persephone Books. My friend Caryl introduced me to Persephone a few years ago, and I have been a huge fan since. Thank you, Caryl!!
Stateside, Persephone isn’t widely known, sadly. They’ve published 88 books ranging from serious fare, such as Etty Hillum’s Holocaust journals, to unique selections, such as Miss Ranskill Comes Home, a novel about a woman who was swept overboard and lived on a desert island for three years. But, Persephone published Winnifred Watson’s Mrs. Pettigrew Lives for a Day, which is even more delightful than the movie version with Amy Adams and Frances McDormand.
There is so much to love about Persephone.
~The packaging: French flaps and hefty high-quality paper make these books more substantial than most paperbacks. Dove gray covers look like a classics library when you have multiple books lined up on the shelf. But, the real treat is the beautiful endpapers and matching bookmark, which are inspired by vintage textiles that mirror the mood of each title.
~The content: “neglected” and rediscovered 20th century fiction, mostly by women, for women. They also publish select nonfiction, such as short memoirs and cookbooks. I groove on the nostalgia factor. Persephone describes their choices as not too literary but not commercial and definitely unforgettable.
~The catalog: the Biannually, which Persephone mails to me free. It doesn’t only have the newest books, wonderfully described, but the catalog also has articles so it’s meaty.
Not surprising, I loved the store. It’s located in my old stomping grounds, Bloomsbury, just on the other side of Russell Square from the British Museum. The store is tiny and softly lit and brimming with books. This is also the location from which Persephone ships books so all around the store tidy piles were waiting to be packaged. I thought about all the lucky recipients. My favorite feature of the store was a display table with piles of books and a sign that read: Books We Wished We Had Published.
Naturally I bought a few souvenirs. I had a hard time choosing just one so I took advantage of Persephone’s special—three books for a flat, slightly discounted rate—and picked up Good Food on the Aga, Cheerful Weather for the Wedding, and, for Caryl, Dimanche and Other Stories (Irene Nemirovsky).