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2 August 2020
The shop is now closed until 1st September, although of course one of us will be in most days to fulfil orders. The good news is that after four months of being behindhand on orders – ie. it taking anywhere from two weeks to two days longer than usual for us to send out books – we have now caught up! The new website has helped in some ways (it is far quicker to use) but hindered in others (it was a stressful few days changing from the old ‘shopping cart platform’ to the new one). But now we are used to the new system, and things should be quieter in August, so by the time we publish the two autumn books at the end of October, a backlog should be a thing of the past.
However, ‘subs’ are still lagging behind. For anyone who doesn’t know about them: many people buy, or have bought for them, a book a month for six months or a year. They pay in advance (and enjoy the cheaper-for-three discount) and then a book arrives at roughly the same time every month. Or did until the advent of Covid, and should again when we have caught up – which should be quite soon, probably even this week.
Otherwise: we all continue to be okay, though pretty despondent a) about Covid and b) about Trump and Johnson. Reading the paper every morning is a daily ordeal as everything is so grim. Then we look at Twitter and occasionally are cheered by, and often very involved in, other people’s thought processes. For example, Robert Harris (whose books we recommend enthusiastically to people in the shop) sent this Tweet today: ‘Here is a speculative future narrative. The 2nd spike is really serious. The economy tanks even more badly. Brexit has to be postponed. This Vote Leave govt fails. A new PM – Hunt? – forms a govt. of national unity. Starmer is Depty PM. Labour splits and the Corbynites break away.’ Well of course apart from the 2nd spike we would adore this. But there are two major flaws: Dominic Cummings (who dictates every single decision in Downing Street) would rather we crashed out than not leave Europe at all, and that is what will happen; and European leaders are so fed up with us – rightly and understandably so – that they would not countenance our staying ‘in’.
One of the important pieces of news since the last Persephone Letter was the statue in Bristol (above), which was alas taken down the day after it was put up but goodness Marc Quinn has created something beautiful. And so speedily! What he did was extremely impressive and although we understand about protocol and procedure we still think it a pity that his statue couldn’t have been left where it was.
Most Persephone readers will have heard of the magazine Time and Tide. For one thing it was where Diary of a Provincial Lady first appeared, but in fact several of ‘our’ writers published in its pages. The first issue appeared in May 1920 and recently there was a celebration of this event and a new website entirely devoted to Time and Tide - here. By 1929, the year of A Room of One’s Own, Time and Tide had moved to a house of its own at 32 Bloomsbury Street.
We very much enjoyed the article in the Financial Times inspired by Nigella Lawson saying that she was only going out twice a week and was 'feeding gratefully on solitude and silence'. Joy Lo Dico wrote: ’At some point in the not too distant past we believed the busy social life a sign of success… but now the regular communing of humans seems less important.The competition to be out there, the itch of Fomo, has, for many, dissolved …Being alone has become normal, no longer a sign of failure, and sometimes a source of strength.’ Interesting…
Do read this piece by Jack Monroe, who is someone we at Persephone Books admire enormously. There are lots of takeaway points but one of them (and it is perhaps a bit trivial compared to the deeply important observations she makes about food and poverty) is of especial interest to people who work in publishing: it is how admirably Penguin behaved to her, touchingly well, and how terrible, mean and despicable her agent was. We try not to bang on about agents in the Letter. But let us just say that Jack Monroe’s attitude to them very much echoes our own. (And yes there are exceptions. And yes we are generalising madly. But we still agree with her.)
The brilliant Isabel Wilkerson wrote an excellent article in the Guardian called ‘The Silent Caste War’. By this she meant the caste war in the United States. She said: ‘Caste is not a term often applied to the US. It is considered the language of India or feudal Europe. But some anthropologists and scholars of race in the US have made use of the term for decades. Before the modern era, one of the earliest Americans to take up the idea of caste war was the antebellum abolitionist and US senator Charles Sumner, as he fought against segregation in the north. ”The separation of children in the Public Schools of Boston, on account of colour or race,” he wrote, “is in the nature of Caste, and on this account is a violation of equality." He quotes a fellow humanitarian: “Caste makes distinctions among creatures where God has made none.”’ Hear hear a thousand times over. And, incidentally, we had (shamefully) never heard of Sumner. But now we know why the heroine of The Deepening Stream by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (which we publish next April) called her dog Sumner! If we hadn’t already named Gilbert we would be tempted by Sumner and perhaps he should be called Gilbert Sumner. He is fine by the way (in fact we are devoted to him), he now sleeps through the night (so we are a little more human) and looking forward (all fingers crossed) to coming to the shop if not every day then on a regular basis from September onwards. But who knows…
We wish every Persephone reader a very happy and healthy August and look forward to being in touch on September 1st.
as from 59 Lamb’s Conduit Street.