Friday, December 11, 2009

A grand day out with my mother

It’s my birthday at the end of the week when at least I won’t be as old as I feel in the morning, so as an earlyish celebration my mum and I went to London today. She had Very Important Shopping to do in the Silver Vaults (sadly not for me) so we actually spent most of our time down there – no hardship because it really is the most amazing place. Literally underground vaults filled with the most amazing collection of silver – each vault is a different shop and you can find anything and everything you can imagine being made from silver.

Highlights included what appeared to be a bath (probably a wine cooler?) made of silver, a large model elephant; actually a zoo worth of animals and generally a sense of having stumbled on a pirate treasure hoard. It’s another world down there and worth a look if you’re ever on chancery lane. Sadly it didn’t leave as much time for book shopping as I would have liked; I managed the big Waterstone’s on Piccadilly, Hatchards, and the Foyle’s in St Pancras without actually buying anything. Yet again I couldn’t seem to give my money away, which given the long list of books I was looking for and that it’s almost My Birthday really annoyed me (why the entire book trade is concentrating on Christmas and not bibliophile Sagittarians is something of a mystery I think).

All of which made me more grateful than ever for Persephone Books. Convenient for the train station and a guaranteed oasis from the rest of the world it made my day. Finally a purchase (Marghanita Laski’s ‘To Bed With Grand Music’, Mrs Rundell’s ‘A New System Of Domestic Cookery’ and Christine Longford’s ‘Making Conversation’), all newish titles, but, and this is key to my love of Persephone – they keep all their titles in print and even if availability in bookshops is sadly patchy Persephone themselves are always helpful, I discovered them 5 years ago and have gone back time and again to follow up new recommendations of older books and I’ve always been able to find them. After today I’m certainly in the mood to appreciate that this is both immensely satisfactory, and really quite rare.

I wonder how many of the growing number of publishers of ‘neglected classics’ will manage to match Persephone on this? I think not very many, certainly not many are as approachable, or as ready to talk to their customers – the shop/office combo really helps with this – and perhaps it’s one of the reasons that people become so evangelical about Persephone. It feels personal, not in a company policy demands we try and engage you in conversation even though we don’t much care way, more a we know what we’re talking about and can answer your questions because we’re passionate about it way. Genuine passion is infectious; it makes me care in return. I’m glad Persephone are thriving, they provide a quality benchmark of how to do these things right, and I'm very pleased with my present to myself as well - a happy birthday is pretty much in the bag.


  1. Lovely purchases and lovely words about Persephone: I wholeheartedly agree. They are passionate and devoted to publishing wonderful books, which is communicated in the cosy nook of a shop that I visit whenever I can to while away time admiring their beautiful books. If only other publishers and bookshops would be as dedicated and stripped back to the essence of loving what they are producing and selling.

  2. Ooh, lucky you. I do agree with what you say abou Persephone books. I am very much looking forward to my own trip there in the New Year. I hope you enjoy your books and have a very happy birthday!

  3. The London Review of Books shop is not far from Persephone Books on Bury Place opposite the British Museum. It's an easy walk between the two and the LRB is well worth a browse - they have a good cafe too! Barbara