Tag Archives: Persephone Books

Video Meliora Proboque, Deteriora Sequor: The Wise Virgins by Leonard Woolf

I have to admit that I was drawn to this book because of its autobiographical aspect.  Having just lately read quite a bit of Virginia Woolf’s extensive and varied forms of writing, I was curious to get a glimpse into her personal life with her husband.  Published in 1914, Woolf began to compose this biting satire of English life in the early 20th century on his honeymoon.  Harry Davis, the male protagonist in the novel who thinks he is very different from the other young people that live in his London suburb, is a harsher and more cantankerous version of Woolf himself. Harry has just  moved outside of London to Richstead with his parents and his younger sister Hetty.  Upon their arrival the Davis family is invited over by their new neighbors, The Garlands—four unmarried, virgin young women and their widowed mother.  Harry hates everything about their ordered and conventional life and these women view Harry as a discontented man whose behavior is strange and sullen.

Harry is restless and the last thing he wants to do is settle down with one of the virgins he meets in the suburbs and live a boring, formulaic life as a husband, father and businessman.  He reads deep, philosophical novels, he paints and he prefers to spend his time with other interesting people.  His painting at a local studio causes him to come in contact with a woman named Camilla Lawrence who is believed to be based on Virginia Woolf.  Camilla, unlike the Garlands, is urbane, sophisticated, educated and aloof.  Harry visits Camilla, her sister Katharine and their father and engages in witty conversation with people whom he feels are his equals.   Harry’s interactions with her make him contemplate the meaning of love and how one falls into it.  Camilla’s lack of  mutual desire or interest in Harry is, at times, a harsh portrayal of Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s own courtship.  Harry’s thoughts about love are depressing and confused:

It seemed ridiculous that one human being could affect another human being like this.  Love? Was it all imagination, a fantastic dream of this absurd little animal, man?  It was impossible at moments to believe that he felt anything for Camilla at all.  After all, what had he asked of her? To say: ‘I love you.’ Would that have thrown him into ecstasies—for twelve hours, or at most, to judge from what seemed best among others, for a few hours spread over twelve months.

Even though he has fallen in love, Harry continues to mock people like the Garlands and when Gwen, the youngest daughter, asks to borrow one of Harry’s books he has some harsh opinions of her and the other virgins in Richstead:

Harry did not forget to send Dostoevsky’s Idiot to Gwen, and he laughed to himself not unkindly as he handed it to the Garlands’ maid.  He was putting strong wine into the mouth of a babe with a vengeance.  He hoped it would not completely upset her digestion, yet he had not much compunction if it should make her feel a little uncomfortable, because, after all, that was what in his opinion these virgins of Richstead really needed—something to show them that life was not all Richstead, virginity and vicars, needlework and teas.  And when he had said ‘For Miss Gwen, please,’ he did not give very much thought to her or The Idiot.

In the end, however, Harry’s arrogance causes him to be hoisted with his own petard.   A comment that Mr. Lawrence makes to Harry is rather fitting for his tragic fate in the novel: Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor (I see better things and approve of them, but I follow worse things–Ovid, Met. 7.20)  The ending was quite a surprise for me and I won’t give it away but I will say that the title of Woolf’s novel is both ironic and sarcastic.  I highly recommend this book to those who are interested in taking a peek at Woolf’s mindset while he was on his honeymoon with Virginia.

 

 

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My Literary jouissance of 2016

This year has been a tough one for many reasons.  It is hard to believe that there could be a “best of” list for anything related to 2016 and I really wasn’t going to bother making a book list.  But Grant from 1st Reading  twisted my arm a bit and I was reminded that if there is one thing that kept me moving forward in 2016 it was the plethora of fantastic books I came across this year.

The French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, in his most recent book entitled Coming, explores the French word jouissance (pleasure) and the similarities between sexual pleasure and artistic pleasure.  Sexual jouissance and orgasm are irresistible desires for humans which we can never fully satisfy and thus we are constantly coming back and reaching for The Other.  Nancy argues that even when an artist produces a jouissance in his or her viewers, there is always a constantly renewed dissatisfaction that keeps the artist working again and again.  I would extend Nancy’s argument about renewed desire and satisfaction to include Bibliophiles such as myself who wallow in the aftermath of a great piece of literature.  We, as avid readers, are always attempting to renew that high, that euphoria, that bliss which slowly creeps up on us when we close the last page of a great book.  Some of us, after a good read, might even have the same expression on our faces as Caravaggio’s Ecstasy of Mary Magdalene which is depicted on the cover of Nancy’s book.  So the list of books below were the ones that brought me jouissance this year; or if I may be so bold as to say they were the standout books that caused me to experience a literary orgasm.

coming

Two Lines 25 is published by Two Lines Press and this 192-page volume contains fascinating literature translated from Bulgarian, Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Russian and Spanish.  What excited me most about this collection is that it introduced me to the philosophy and writings of Jean-Luc Nancy.

The writing of Jean-Luc Nancy is one of my favorite literary and philosophical discoveries this year.  I have read three of his books: Corpus, Listening and Coming.  His philosophy explores what it means to be human and he deals with subjects of touching, listening, desiring and loving.  My review of Coming will be out next month and I have so many thoughts about this slim volume that is only 168 pages.

Oblivion by Sergei Lebedev is a haunting reflection on what life was like for the author during the years of the Soviet Union.  Lebedev’s prose is dense and poetic and so thoughtful that I found myself rereading entire sections of the book multiple times.  I am very excited that Lebedev has another novel forthcoming from New Vessel Press entitled The Year of the Comet.

War Music by Christopher Logue is a book that I dismissed as soon as I saw it in the FS&G catalog because I don’t usually read any time of modern retellings of Ancient myths.  But Anthony at Times Flow Stemmed had such great things to say about it that I decided to give it a try and I am so glad that I did.  I have so many things to say just about the first 50 pages of this book that I am not sure how I am going to handle a review.  I am thinking of doing several short pieces on each section of Logue’s poem.  As far as retellings are concerned, I also discovered Christa Wolf based on his suggestion and I thoroughly enjoyed her Medea and Cassandra.

Seagull Books Catalog.  It’s unusual to find a catalog on a best of list, but the one that Seagull publishes each year is very special.  It includes writing from authors, translators and even bloggers from all over the world.  This year I was invited to contribute to the catalog and some of my favorite literary bloggers also have pieces in the catalog.  Selections from Roughghosts, Times Flow Stemmed,   Tony’s Reading List and of shoes ‘n ships can all be found in this fabulous collection of art and literature.

The Brother by Rein Raud is a fast-paced, hard-hitting, short book that uses the plot structure of a western as an allegory for demonstrating the balance of good and evil in the world. It my favorite title from Open Letters this year whose books are fantastic.

The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes is a skillfully written and poetic novel which serves as a fictional biography of the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. The ways in which he must navigate his life and his art around the Soviet regime are heartbreaking.

The Parable Book by Per Olov Enquist is a true literary book that reads like philosophy, meditation, autobiography and parable. Sometimes we are given a very specific story from the author’s life, other times we are given an unclear stream-of-consciousness narrative, and still at other times we encounter a list of questions that the author poses on an entire page of the book. Enquist gives us the totality of a life that includes pivotal childhood memories, a bout of alcoholism that nearly destroys him, and the reflection of his elderly days during which he is waiting by the river to be taken to the other side. For anyone who enjoys serious literary fiction this book is a must-read. So far the English translation has only been published in the U.K. I am hoping it will also be available here in the U.S. This is a book that I look forward to reading multiple times.

A Lady and Her Husband by Amber Reeves from Persephone Books is a charming and entertaining look into the life of a middle-aged British couple that has been married for twenty-seven years. This book was written in 1914 so it brings up many political and social issues that were relevant at the turn of the last century and which continue to be discussed into the 21st Century. Debates that have taken place during the recent elections in the U.S. have reminded us that women are still paid less than their male counterparts, the minimum wage for workers continues to be too low, and millions of Americans still do not have access to proper healthcare.

Berlin-Hamlet: Poems by Szilárd Borbély is my favorite collection of poetry this year published by NYRB Poetry.  The layers of imagery, references and allusions to great figures like Kafka, Walter Benjamin, Attila József and Erno Szép are stunning. I find it so sad and tragic that the author succumbed to his deep sense of sadness and took his own life.

American Philosophy: A Love Story by John Kaag is another work of non-fiction that was one of my favorites this year.  Kaag’s journey from Hell to Redemption in his own personal life via the 10,000 books in Ernest Hocking’s personal library gave me an entirely new appreciation for American philosophers. Kaag also reminds us of the amazing resiliency of the human spirit and that no matter what we might suffer we must keep moving forward.

 

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Filed under British Literature, Classics, Favorites, Literary Fiction, Literature in Translation, New York Review of Books Poetry, Nonfiction, Persephone Books, Philosophy, Poetry, Russian Literature, Seagull Books

Subscription Plans: A Great Way to Support Small Presses

In this post I will highlight some of my favorite small and indie presses that offer its readers subscription plans.  By offering subscriptions a press is able to fund upcoming publications and readers get a fantastic discount on books.  These are a few of my favorites and this is by no means an exhaustive list.   I have included links to all presses for those who want more information on each plan.  Please add any additional suggestions in the comments:

new-vessel-subscription-planNew Vessel Press: A subscription of New Vessel books includes all six of their books for the publication year.  Subscribers also get to choose one book from their backlist.  The cost is $80 which amounts to about 25% off of the cover prices.  I haven’t read a book from New Vessel yet that I haven’t enjoyed.  This year’s titles include If Venice Dies and A Very Russian Christmas so this subscription is definitely worth it.  New Vessel Subscription Page.

Two Lines Press:  I embarrassed myself with a gushing review of Two Lines 25, a collection of international writing for which the Two Lines editors have scoured the world.   A copy of Two Lines 25 is included with a subscription and to me that alone is worth the price of admission.  Two Lines is also one of my favorite subscriptions because every year they send some sort of book related gift to their subscribers.  This year is was a package of postcards which all contained quotes from their latest books.  A subscription for 2016 is only $40 ($80 International) and you get four fabulous books.  Two Lines Press Subscription Page

Deep Vellum: This non-profit press offers subscriptions of five or ten books and they also provide a few options with each subscriptions.  Readers can choose both paperback and ebook versions of their books for $60 or the ebook versions alone for $50.  International subscriptions are a bit more pricey at $150.  But Deep Vellum also puts out a large variety of fantastic books that are translated from languages around the world. Deep Vellum Subscription Page.

Archipelago Books: Archipelago is also a non-profit press dedicated to publishing contemporary and classic world literature.  A one-year subscription of print books which archipelago-subscriptionincludes twelve of their titles is $170.  A full-year of ebooks is $70 and a half year subscription for six books is also $70. They provide a lot of choices depending on one’s budget.  Subscribers who are really passionate about their books and want to spend some money up front can also purchase two or three year subscriptions. Archipelago Books Subscription Page

And Other Stories: This is one of my favorite book subscriptions because they offer a recurring subscription.  I don’t have to worry about there being a gap in the books I receive because I’ve forgotten to renew.  I wish that other publishers would follow suit and also do an auto renewal option.  I was very impressed that And Other Stories sent out a lengthy survey recently to its subscribers asking for ways in which they could improve their service.  They also offer a range of options to fit different budgets: 6 books a year for £50 in UK/Europe/USA/Canada (approx $80 US), 4 books a year for £35 in UK/Europe/USA/Canada (approx $55 US), 2 books a year for £20 in UK/Europe/USA/Canada (approx $32 US).  And Other Stories also prints the names of subscribers in their books since it is the funds from these readers that have helped to publish their books. And Other Stories Subscription Page

Open Letter: This small press also specializes in world literature in English translation (notice a theme here.)  One of my favorite books this year,  The Brother by Rein Raud, has been translated from the Estonian and published by Open Letter.  They offer a six month subscription for $60 or a twelve month subscription for $100.  Shipping is free within the U.S. for both subscriptions.  I love that each new release comes with a letter from the publisher which explains the book and how they came to publish it.  Open Letter Subscription Page

Persephone Books: Persephone specializes in reprinting neglected fiction and non-fiction by (mostly) female twentieth century writers.  A friend who has impeccable taste in books sent me a copy of Greenery Street and I have been hooked on their titles ever since!  They offer a six month subscription for £60 or a twelve month subscription for £120.  For an additional fee they will also gift wrap the books.  Subscribers get to choose which books they would like to receive from their catalog of 120 titles.  My husband bought me a Persephone twelve month subscription for my birthday last year and it was delightful to receive a new Persephone title each month.  It’s the gift that keeps on giving.  Persephone Books Subscription Page

nyrbplustpr-450pxThe New York Review of Books:  This press also specializes in reissuing lost classics from different countries around the world.  They call their product a “book club” but it is essentially a subscription service.   For $140 members receive a book every month for 12 months and the membership automatically renews.  For a limited time NYRB is also offering a four issue subscription to The Paris Review when readers purchase a membership.  I can’t get enough of the books from NYRB classics and I might have to buy a storage unit to house all of my books from their catalog.  I will pretty much read anything they publish and $140 is a pretty good bargain for a year’s worth of their books.  NYRB Book Club Page

Melville House: This indie press based in New York publishes a series called “The Art of the Novella.”  They have published classic novellas written by Chekov, Tolstoy, Melville and Woolfe just to name a few.  Subscribers can choose a hard copy book for $12.99 per month, an ebook for $6.99 per month or both for $17.99 per month.  Subscribers are automatically billed monthly until they choose to opt out of the service.  This is a great option for someone who wants to try a subscription and not spend a lot of money.  Melville House Novella Subscription Page

Peirene Press: Peirene specializes in contemporary European novellas and short novels in English translation. All of their books are best-sellers and/or award-winners in their own countries. They only publish books of less than 200 pages that can be read in the same time it takes to watch a DVD. As an added bonus, their books are beautifully designed paperback editions, using only the best paper from sustainable British sources.  A one-year Peirene subscription is £35.00 and members receive a book every four months.  There is also the option to sign up for automatic renewal (UK only). Peirene Press Subscription Page   Peirene has also decided to crowd fund Peirene Now! No. 2 on kickstarter. For a pledge of only £12 supporters will receive a copy of the book which looks like another fantastic and thought-provoking read.  Peirene Now! 2 Kickstarter Page

Pushkin Press: A one year subscription to Pushkin Press is £95.00 and subscribers receive one book each month from the Pushkin Collection, a %25 discount on all purchases from the pushkin-collectionPushkin online bookshop, and a free copy of Stefan Zweig’s novella Confusion.   The Pushkin Collection is a series of paperbacks typeset in Monotype Baskerville, based on the transitional English serif typeface designed in the mid-eighteenth century by John Baskerville. It was litho-printed on Munken Premium White Paper and notch-bound by the independently owned printer TJ International in Padstow, Cornwall.  The cover, with French flaps, was printed on Colorplan Pristine White paper. Pushkin Press Subscription Page

Vibrant Margins:  Ben Winston has started this fantastic subscription service that delivers to its subscribers a variety of books from several different small presses.  According to the website, “Great novels from small presses are out there. Let us find them and deliver them to your doorstep.”  For their debut season they have chosen titles from Dzanc Books, Restless Books, Lanternfish Press, Unthank Books, The Heart and the Hand Press, and New Door Books. Subscribers receive a new book every month and can choose two, three or six books for as low as $15.33 per book.  This is a great way to try a variety of small press books.  I will be reviewing two of the titles from their debut season later in the month and doing a giveaway.  So stay tuned!  Vibrant Margins Bookstore Page

For my next post maybe I will dare to dive into the world of literary magazines!

 

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Review: The Godwits Fly by Robin Hyde

My Review:
Godwits flyThis is the latest release from Persephone Press whose classic fiction I adore.  This book is unlike any other I have read from their catalog so far.  The entire time I was reading it I felt as if I were in the midst of a dream with lots of sounds and imagines, some vivid and some out-of-focus.  And the dialogue was sparse and poetic, sometimes difficult to understand.  The main character, a girl named Eliza, is an aspiring poet from a very tender age so it is no wonder that the author chose such a lyrical style for her novel.

Eliza and the other Hannays, her sisters Carly and Sandra, her brother Kitch and her parents have a somewhat nomadic life in Wellington, Australia.  Eliza’s father has a job as a office clerk on which salary he struggles to support his family of six.  They move from one cheap rental house to another and it is thanks to his wife, Augusta that their budget is stretched so far.  Augusta is an economical cook and sews clothes for her children who are always well-dressed and tidy.  The first part of the book is Eliza’s memories from the various houses and neighborhoods in which they have lived.

From the beginning we understand that the Hannay family does not get along well with one another.  Mr. and Mrs. Hannay are always fighting and one wonders how they ever got together and got married in the first place.  Mr. Hannay fancies himself a socialist and is always reading books on the subject and dragging home his seedy friends.  He appears to have little affection for or understanding of his wife and his children.  All of this behavior irritates Mrs. Hannay whose main concern is caring for her family and keeping the house clean.  She dreams of someday moving to her beloved England but as the story goes on it is evident that this is not an achievable dream for a poor woman with four children.

Much of the prose in the book is focused on capturing the details of the settings.  For example, in chapter nine, entitled “Reflections in the Water” is centered around Eliza’s birthday and the family celebrates by having a picnic and a swim at Day’s Bay.  The chapter opens with a vivid description of the people standing on the dock and boarding the boat to sail out to Day’s Bay.  Hyde writes, “Day’s Bay sand is smooth and warm, honeycombed with tiny airholes in which the blue crabs hide.”  I could feel the press of people, the heat and I could smell the water and the summer as I was reading the descriptive passages in this chapter.  The story continues to describe the beach and the picnic and although there is little in the chapter that advances the story we get another glimpse into the life of this family.

As Eliza and her sister Carly get older I was expecting that a man would catch their attention and there would be multiple weddings in the book.  But the hold that the Hannay family has on both of them doesn’t loosen its grip for anything, not even a man.  Carly is engaged for a while and she then tries her hand at becoming a nurse, but the connection with her mother pulls her right back home.  Eliza falls in love with a man named Timothy who is one of the socialists that her father brings home.  She has a lot in common with him and they like to discuss books but it seems that Timothy is a free spirit; although he loves Eliza, the pull of traveling and exploring the world is greater than his love for her.

Timothy does write letters to Eliza and even wanders back to her in Wellington from time to time but this is more of a torment to her than anything else.  She has a love affair with an older man in order to try to forget Timothy, but this episode in her life has long-term and hurtful consequences for her.  The only positive that comes out of her lost loves is that she is inspired more than ever to write poetry.

For those who love poetry, The Godwits Fly is a must-read.  Eliza reads and memorizes poems which she is fond of reciting from a young age.  She also writes a fair amount of her own poetry and she calls her gift for writing simply, “it.”  When tragedy strikes,  her gift for poetry suddenly returns: “She felt neither happy nor unhappy. merely still as the nurse moved about the room.  When she was alone, words ran in her mind, measured themselves, a steady chain of which no link was weak enough to break.  Long ago, she called the power ‘it’.”  Eliza is able to find comfort and solace in her art, but this book doesn’t have a particularly happy ending for any members of the Hannay family.  It serves as a stark reminder that growing up female in the mid-twentieth century was a struggle.

Please visit Persephone Books for more information on this title: http://www.persephonebooks.co.uk/the-godwits-fly.html

About the Author:
Robin HydeIris Wilkinson (1906-39), who wrote as Robin Hyde, is one of New Zealand’s major writers.  Brought up in Wellington (her father was English and her mother Australian), she was encouraged to write poetry. At 17 she began work as a newspaper journalist. Hospitalised after a serious knee injury, she later gave birth to two illegitimate children – the first died, but her son, Derek Challis b. 1930, was fostered (and would wrote her biography in 2004). Despite two breakdowns, she continued to work ferociously hard, notably during 1934-5 at Auckland Mental Hospital when she wrote half of her total output; here she began her autobiographical novel The Godwits Fly (1938) describing ‘Eliza’ up to the age of 21. During the 1930s Robin Hyde published a total of ten books – five novels, poetry (inc. Persephone in Winter, 1937) a travel book and journalism.  She travelled to China in 1938, made it to England, but killed herself in Notting Hill Gate a week before the outbreak of war.

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Review: A Lady and Her Husband by Amber Reeves

My Review:
A Lady and her HusbandThis latest release from Persephone Books is a charming and entertaining look into the life of a middle-aged British couple that has been married for twenty-seven years.  When the book begins Mary is being told by her second eldest daughter, Rosemary, that she is engaged to be married.  Mary tries very hard to be stoic about this announcement even though she is upset because another one of her children is flying the coop.  Mary married John at a very young age and she has been a devoted wife and mother for her entire adult life.  The thought that of all three of her children no longer need her makes her sad and she feels lost.

Rosemary feels so guilty that she is going to be leaving her mother that she comes up with an idea of how Mary can now occupy her time.  Mary’s husband, John, owns a successful chain of tea shops and Rosemary thinks it would be a great idea for her mother to take an interest in the shop girls and find ways to improve their working conditions in the shops.  Rosemary is much more liberal and progressive than her mother so she knows that this task is way outside her mother’s comfort zone.  But Rosemary encourages her mother to have a life beyond her home.  Mary has never ventured into the realm of social causes so she is very hesitant to agree to this little project but she does so reluctantly after her husband John talks her into it.

The real conflict in the book begins when Mary starts to form her own ideas about improving the working conditions in the tea shops.  Mary wants the girls to wear more comfortable shoes, to have a proper place to eat their lunch, and she wants to increase their wages.  When Mary timidly approaches John with her suggestions, his temper explodes and he berates her for what he calls her silly little reforms.  Mary’s idea to increase wages for his employees is especially worrisome to John who believes that he pays his workers a fair wage.  John immediately rejects all of Mary’s ideas for changing the tea shops and tells her that she is naïve and that none of her ideas are practical and would work in the real world.

There is an underlying commentary in the book on the differences between men and women and how they must recognize and learn to work around those differences in a marriage.   Mary and John have had a marriage that is free of arguing and misunderstandings because she stays at home and doesn’t have anything to do with John’s business. John often comes across as condescending when he calls Mary “little mother” or “poor old thing.”  He does truly care for her but he draws the line at wanting to please her when she tries to interfere with his business.  Mary, on the other hand, after visiting John’s shops, better understands the plight of the poor and working classes and she approaches these issues from an emotional angle.  At one point in the book she recognizes that she cannot make a rational decision free from emotion with John around so she takes a flat in London to give herself time to think.

This book was written in 1914 so it brings up many political and social issues that were relevant at the turn of the last century and which continue to be discussed into the 21st Century.  Debates that have taken place during the recent elections in the U.S. have reminded us that women are still paid less than their male counterparts, the minimum wage for workers continues to be too low, and millions of Americans still do not have access to proper healthcare.  Reeves has written a charming and humorous book about the differences between men and women and the perils of navigating a successful marriage.  But there is also a serious side to the book that highlights issues that persistently affect the working classes and the poor.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough.  If you love the titles in the Persephone catalog then you must read this book.

About the Author:
Amber Reeves, the daughter of William and Maud Pember Reeves, was born in 1887 in New Zealand. When her father was appointed Agent-General in 1896 her parents moved to England. Amber went to Kensington High School. Her mother was active in the Fabian Society and in 1912 wrote Round About a Pound a Week (now Persephone Book No. 79). In 1905 Amber, ‘a clear and vigorous thinker’, went up to Newnham College, Cambridge to read philosophy. After her affair with HG Wells led to pregnancy, in 1909 she married a young lawyer, Rivers Blanco White. Two more children were born in 1912 and 1914. She published three novels including A Lady and Her Husband (1914), worked at the Admiralty, and ran the Women’s Wages Department at the Ministry of Munitions; later she was briefly a civil servant, wrote a fourth novel, stood for Parliament, taught at Morley College for 37 years and published books on ethics and economics. She died in 1981.

 

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