Feeling bookish

My Persephone Books magazine arrived on Saturday. If I had to choose any field other than yarn to work in, it would be books, and if I had to choose one publishers in the world to work for, it would be Persephone. They are gradually bringing back into publication some wonderful books, written by and for women, and mainly from the earlier part of the 20th century. I have spent my adult reading life hunting down this kind of book, and I’m glad to know I’m not the only one! My favourite books are written by women in the 1930-50 period, with domestic settings in which character leads over plot, laced with gentle wit. The kind of book in which little happens, but you become very fond of the people you meet in it.

Some Persephone books that I have enjoyed include Mariana (by Monica Dickens), Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day (by Winifred Watson, to be released as a film next year), The Children Who Lived In A Barn (by Eleanor Graham), Greenery Street (by Denis Mackail, one of the few male authors who I enjoy), and Miss Ranskill Comes Home (by Barbara Euphan Todd). I do wish they published more new books each year, as I’m always looking out for new authors that I might enjoy. Thanks to Abe Books, I now have all of Monica Dicken’s earlier books (The Happy Prisoner is a particular favourite), as well as most of Denis Mackail’s novels.  

If you think you share my taste in books, here are some more of my favourites that you might want to hunt down:

  • Henrietta’s War & Henrietta Sees It Through, by Joyce Dennys. These are fictional collections of letters written in the Second World War, and are in a similar vein to E M Delafield’s Provincial Lady Series, or Jan Struther’s Mrs Miniver (which is wonderful, and far better than the movie version). They are filled with witty little illustrations too. 
  • Guard Your Daughters, by Diana Tutton. If you enjoyed I Capture the Castle, you’ll enjoy this. It’s about a 1950s family of girls, ruled over by a frighteningly unpredictable mother. Despite the rather grim premise, it’s a light sweet book.
  • M for Mother, by Marjorie Riddell. This is a collection of essays about a typical mother, worrying about her independent career minded daughter, and is very charming and very funny.
  • As Cooks Go, by E Jordan. I’m not sure if this is autobiographical or fictional, but it’s very good either way, about a woman who hires herself out as a day cook to rich London households in the 1930s, to make a little extra money.
  • Wild Strawberries & Pomfrt Towers, by Angela Thirkell. I know that Angela Thirkell (the sister of Denis Mackail, by the by) is not so unknown, but I think her books can be very typecast, which may put some people off. These two are by far her best work, involving many characters, but without being so bewildering as some of her other books. 
  • Chloe Marr, by A A Milne. So many good writers are remembered only for their childrens books, but A A Milne wrote some marvelous novels, most of which I’ve managed to find. This is my favourite, frothy, funny, and sweet.
  • The Curate’s Wife & Miss Mole, by E H Young. The characters in these books are finely drawn, and remind me a little of Barbara Pym’s books. 
  • The Flowering Thorn, Something Light, Harlequin House, & The Eye of Love, by Margery Sharp. Yes, I’ve mentioned her before (several times!), and will continue to recommend her on every possible occasion. I’ve managed to get hold of a copy of all her books, including the highly sought after Rhododendron Pie, and each one is a delight. I re-read The Flowering Thorn each year (as I do Cranford), and enjoy it just as much each time. I have contacted Persephone to suggest that her name be added to their list of forthcoming authors, so here’s hoping.

There is one author, beloved by so many, who I’ve never really enjoyed, and that’s Nancy Mitford. I really don’t know why, her books have just the kind of setting I love, but I just don’t find myself amused by them. Another book that I should enjoy, but don’t, is The Brontes Went To Woolworths, by Rachel Ferguson. I ploughed through the first half today, and gave up in despair. My bookshelves are full of books that have only been partially read. I’m very fussy, and not at all highbrow, so I won’t continue reading if a book doesn’t make me feel good, however clever it is. So, those are some of my recommendations, can you recommend any to me? I’m going away over Christmas, and I’m already stockpiling books to take with me……

9 thoughts on “Feeling bookish

  1. gosh i’m just like you: knitting and books has what it’s always been about. I want to be a costume designer and have just started working in Waterstone’s. Many thanks for the list – you’ve got some really thought-provoking titles on it.

  2. I’m always full of good intentions with books, but never get round to reading them – too much knitting and too many cakes to decorate. But I did read Toast by Nigel Slater and loved it – really easy to read and dip in and out of – every ‘chapter’ has the title of some food, ‘marshmallows’always brings tears to my eyes

  3. I’ve no idea how I managed to post this to yesterday’s comments! I’ll try again:

    You will already have read One Pair of Hands and the sequel One Pair of Feet by Monica Dickens (autobiographical, I believe) then? Two of my favourites! Along with Cold Comfort Farm, they are the books that I read when I am ill and tucked up in bed with a Beechams. (Okay, I read Paddington Bear too, but only when I’m feverish. He always makes me feel better)

  4. Hi, Dee, Thanks for the great book recommendations. I, too, love Persephone and I think my favourite one of theirs is Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski. Warning: do not read when emotionally fragile – it really puts you through the wringer! But the book I’d really recommend to you is The Blue Castle by L M Montgomery. Everyone knows the Anne of Green Gables books and some people will remember the Emily of New Moon series, but The Blue Castle is a stand-alone title that is pure feel-good escapism. My copy is now pretty battered because I’ve lent it out more times than any other book I own and everyone has loved it.

    Saw a scarf pattern you might want to recommend – it’s the Gillian scarf from Three Irish Girls. It was featured on Lime and Violet’s Daily Chum and looks perfect for a skein of Sophia 8 ply. I’ve just finished a pair of baby socks in Emily (Hula colourway) – soooo cute!

  5. Thanks for these lovely leads!!!!!
    In my 30s, I binged on Elizabeth Bowen and Barbara Pym, then the works of the woman who wrote Hotel du Lac. . .Anita something, who ended up writing the same book over and over, it seems.
    Something American I think you’d like: Happy All the Time, by Laurie Colwin, who died way too young.

  6. I’m popping to say I can’t add to your list, even though my main loves are reading and knitting we don’t seem to be be on the same wavelength book wise as I’m into mythology and hence fantasy, sci fi and crazy humor (ie Terry Pratchett, Jasper Fforde, Tom Holt and Robert Rankin). Hope you get some good suggestions though.

  7. I just looked it up – and Hotel du Lac was Anita Brookner (bless Google!). I personally like some of Doris Lessing’s works – I read “Martha Quest” for my AS Level English many moons ago, and went off to buy and read the other 4 books in the Children of Violence series. Others are a bit too much on the feminist polemic for me. If you’ve not heard of the series, it follows Martha from her adolescence in Zambesia (the Rhodesia of Lessing’s youth) through to a post-apocolyptic ending in the fifth book. It may be worth a look for you? (and Ms Lessing is extraordinarily fond of cats!)

  8. Have you ever read AA Milne’s Once on a Time? Wicked funny. Out of print, but there are some very beautiful secondhand copies available, which I have been badly drooling over… (On the internet, don’t worry, no books have been soiled by my saliva.)

  9. And Dee – another authoress – Winifred Holtby (a lot of her works were published by Virago) has written some real curl up by the fire books. She was from Yorkshire, and died tragically young. South Riding is a favourite of mine – she led an interesting and full life – her best friend was Vera Brittain (Shirley Williams’ mother) and her “Testament of Friendship” is a warm and loving account of WInifred’s life, and particularly their friendship.