About a year ago, likely more, I said that I would soon be talking about my adventure in London, going to Persephone Books for the first time. That day of posting never came and I still cringe at the thought of a promise not kept, no matter if anyone was interested or not. Jodie’s Small Press Fortnight seemed the perfect opportunity to revisit my visit especially as I know that many of the other bloggers joining in will know of Persephone. After Persephone will come Peirene.
My visit to Persephone Books, then, occurred when I was wanting to explore places in London I’d not yet been. Persephone was reaching the peak of our (bloggers) discovery of them, and having read about the shop on various other blogs I wanted to go there myself. The shop, which combines both store and office, is a rather unassuming terraced building down Lamb Conduit’s street, a street that has seen local and national fame recently due to The People’s Supermarket, and which boasts a few lovely-looking pubs. It’s a small shop, made a lot smaller by the number of books, but it is an absolute gem.
The décor is simple, white, and the room is split in half, the front section housing the books, the back being where the team work. In almost every spot available, books are shelved, stacked, piled, and the front is a wash of grey owing to the monochrome nature of the books. The books are unsurprisingly organised according to title and in a way that means you have to look at each of the stacks carefully to find the one you want. Indeed in the end I had to grudgingly accept defeat and ask for the location of The Victorian Chaise-Longue, the book I was wanting to buy, but this difficulty is nothing like it would be in a regular bookstore, because it gives you the opportunity to discuss the books with the publisher themselves and to know that what you’re being told isn’t just what they’ve learned from a blurb. There is something wonderful about buying a Persephone at the shop itself and in truth the reason why my reading count has stayed at the two books I bought when there is because I want to buy my next Persephones this way again.
In the early days when I read about Peirene Press on blogs and then bought a copy of Beside The Sea (if you’re counting, that is now three books just in this one post that have been bought because of blogger recommendations), I saw Peirene Press as a publisher of good books, but since going to a Salon and seeing the HQ for myself, they have grown in my affections.
I attended a Salon last year and it was a wonderful experience. A lot of us bloggers start our writing because we have no one to talk to offline about books. My reason was partly this and so being able to go to the Peirene event where the subject of conversation was by and large books, and not just any books but literary books (I’ve no preference but having a particular subject was great), was like all the coffee dates with friends you ever wanted. To talk about books and not have to watch people’s eyes glaze over, to loiter over a theme or topic no one saw as boring, was something I hope every book lover gets to experience. We chatted informally downstairs before moving upstairs to listen to the author discuss the book with a guest, and the atmosphere was lively and comic despite the fact that in the main the audience only listened. Then it was to the kitchen for a lovely light meal. The mix of people who attended was interesting, so many different opinions and ages to learn from from a variety of backgrounds.
The Peirene HQ is very professional whilst being very homely, indeed I believe it serves as both office and home. And it has the same relaxed yet passionate feel that Persephone does, a true love of the books, each and every one of them. The service of the publishers is brilliant, they do not just sell you a book, they sell you an experience beyond that.
Books by Persephone and Peirene Press are considered expensive, and it is difficult to refute that, the books being often short. But the quality of writing and story, the beauty of the production, the sheer effort and passion of the publishers that is obvious in every copy, makes the price worth it. I said in the comments of my review of The Murder Of Halland that the price is right because of these things and because you always know that with Peirene you are pretty much guaranteed that every book is going to be brilliant. Whilst Persephone publish different sorts of books, I have read enough and read enough opinions of others to suggest that the same is true there also. These books are rather magical which is apt considering their publisher’s names.
I know that if it weren’t for blogging I would never have heard of these publishers that have enriched my reading life so much. As such I hope that their reach continues to grow because in a world where everything is about copying the latest bestseller, their uniqueness is something many would appreciate.
July 8, 2012, 5:54 pm
I wanted to go to the last Peirene Press bloggers meeting, but couldn’t make it. It is great to hear that it is as good as I imagined. Hopefully I’ll be able to meet you at one some day.
July 9, 2012, 7:30 am
Thanks so much for taking part in Small Press Fortnight. It’s great to hear that the Peirene salons are so interesting and you did make me want to go to one later in the year. The Persephone book shop sounds lovely too (although I’ve no patience and would be asking for help finding the books right away).