One of my favourite things is the feeling you get when you are utterly swept off your feet by a book. That sweet sense of uplift, when you can feel the words taking hold, and the itch to keep reading sets in. Finding a book that makes you feel like that is rare-but you know you have found in when you are sat at work, willing the clock to get a trot on, so you can dash home, throw your pyjamas on, sit in front of the fire and read.
Nothing in life is sweeter than sitting on my sofa, with Mort cuddled up on my lap, a great book in one hand, and a mug of cranberry tea in the other.
I get very attached to books – so attached that when a true great book stumbles into my hand, I can remember where I was, what I was eating, what I was listening to and even what the book smelled like. I can’t remember people’s names ten seconds after I was told them-but I can remember that when I read The Time Travellers Wife I was in my rented room in Peckham, eating a bowl of cereal and listening to a beautiful Radiohead song I cannot name but love, on repeat. I remember reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the caravan on my childhood home’s driveway, eating chocolate biscuits, with distinct summer sounds in the background, like my dad mowing the lawn. And the smell of that book lingers in my senses still today. And I definitely remember reading Random Acts of Heroic Love on a plane to Malta, sat next to a man I had only met a couple of hours before, but who had already become the most important person I had ever met. The only thing I can’t remember is what the book was about. It’s a wonder Dan actually looked twice at me, reading a book with a title that soppy. Ick.
But I digress. The point of this blog is to share with you a VIB (Very Important Book). Or books, actually. A while ago, I read about a bookshop based in London, which sold books written decades ago, but overlooked at the time. Mostly women writers, who had never been published, or never emerged from the shadows of other more acclaimed women writers. Persephone Books’ novels are all gorgeously presented too, with grey jackets and a unique print for each book inside the cover-complete with a matching bookmark.
My favourite author that I have discovered through Persephone Books is Dorothy Whipple. Her books are beautiful observations of family relationships – which sounds quite boring, but they are honestly some of the best books I have ever read. And they are so easy to read-there is often a difficult starting point with books, where you try to decide whether you like it, and if it is worth carrying on reading. There is none of this with The Whipple. I’ve read ‘They were sisters’ and ‘Someone at a distance’ so far, and I can’t wait until I am next in London, so I can rush along Lamb’s Conduit Street, past the fancy florists, and hear the tiny jangle of the bell above the door as I push it open.
I wish I had the same relationship with Anna Karenina, which I am also currently reading-although enduring might be a better way of phrasing it. I know her story isn’t going to end well, and I feel like she’s trying to drag me down with her. I’m 400 pages in, and the story so far could probably be condensed into 50 at the most. There are flashes of brilliance, when I can’t wait to see what happens next. The central story is heartbreaking, already, and it will become increasingly so. However, in between every three pages of drama and intrigue, there are approximately 50 pages where Tolstoy blathers on about farming. He’s like Hardy in that respect; he cant help himself. Every time you find yourself getting swept away in the story, he indulges in a 100page description of a field, and by the time he finishes, you have forgotten why you cared in the first place. So, as much as I care about Anna, the silly wench, my sympathy has been slightly diluted by a chapter about grass.
If you’re looking for something cosy and lovely to read, look no further than Persephone Books. Don’t, under any circumstances, turn to Russian literature. I’m sure I will love Anna Karenina once I have finished it. But that doesn’t mean I have to like her very much right now.