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20th June 2024

Here in the UK we are holding our collective breaths until July 4th. However, realistically, there will then be a great sense of anticlimax because, if Keir Starmer does form a government, it will be months and months, years and years even, before change can happen: the NHS, the need for food banks, sewage, the kind of money needed to put everything right because 'nothing works', is simply impossible to conjure up. It’s all a bit overwhelming and we would help if we could, my goodness if only it was so simple that the wringing-their-hands, well-meaning majority could change the state of the nation. But it’s hard to know what we can do apart from simply carrying on, in our case trying to sell enough books so our little business can keep going while flying the flag for the values we care about. (What these values are is well understood by the readers of this Letter but if anyone is doubtful may we recommend a read of PB no. 146 Two Cheers for Democracy?) 

However, for those of us lucky enough to have the wherewithal (emotional, intellectual, financial) normal life must go on. So, as usual, here are references to some of the things that have moved, intrigued, preoccupied, upset or pleased us in the last month. They won’t of course have much to do with the paragraph above unless one focuses on the word values. Publishing is political, but it is also about values, and one of these is joy. So, first of all, although we were ridiculously upset to hear that Francoise Hardy has died, what a huge amount of joy she brought. Here is her obituary and here is a link to one of her most famous songs, ‘Tous les Garçons et les Filles.’ 

We were sorry to miss last month’s Peckham exhibition of photographs of Lady Readers, a collection of 'found photographs [which] are drawn mainly from flea markets and websites like eBay, the vast majority of them from the middle of the twentieth century, when the volume of commercially produced photographs —including personal records of life and formally produced press prints — was expanding exponentially.'


Do take a look at the interesting interview with Philippa Lewis who compiled the Persephone Literary Map, recently reprinted (and slightly expanded) by Dennis Maps.


And do, if you haven’t already read it, make a point of reading Miss Austen by Gill Hornby (one of the most eloquent speakers at the recent Persephone Festival) since it is going to be a film starring Keeley Hawes and Jessica Hynes.


Also, please listen to a rather charming item about us on Front Row here (we are on after 34 minutes); and, if you get bored of words, you can now listen to our twenty-year-old-but-still-beautiful Café Music CD free of charge here, or watch our printer’s charming little video about the process of printing our books (accompanied by some marvellous music) here.

We were pleased to read that there is now a blue plaque (in Herne Hill in South London) for Joan Clarke who worked at Bletchley.


And talking of Bletchley, we highly recommend a trilogy of books by someone who for many years has been a huge Persephone supporter and now writes novels under the name Molly Green. The books are called Summer Secrets at Bletchley Park, Wartime Wishes at Bletchley Park and A Winter Wedding at Bletchley Park and they are marvellous. 

This is peak foraging month, which is why some of us go out into the countryside round Bath with They Can’t Ration These, PB no. 54, in our backpacks. (Do most people know that dandelions are apparently among the healthiest thing one can eat?) And vis-à-vis cookery books, Plats du Jour, PB no. 70, is newly on the CKBK (as in CookBook) site here, which has now become one our favourites – one can download recipes from virtually any cookbook in the world.

In Bath Bridget de Léon has been exhibiting works by some inspiring painters. This is Shadows hold their breath, 2022, by Kaye Donachie, and here is a piece about this very interesting artist.


For those who missed it originally, the Guardian wrote about a new charity called Bookbanks started by Emily Rhodes, who helped Fran organise the Persephone Festival, and Hattie Garlick, whose mother is a huge Persephone supporter, so yes it is all rather incestuous, but it’s such a wonderful idea that we must all support it as much as we can: what can be more worthwhile than encouraging people to take a book home from a book bank, thereby combining elements of libraries, reading groups and jumble sales in one fell swoop? 

For ages we have been grumbling about people wanting to buy so many new clothes. Why does it matter wearing something that is five, ten or fifteen years old? It does not. Now Patrick Grant has written Less, about consumerism, ie. we should all be less consumerist, and obviously the smart thing to do is to buy clothes from his label, which is called Community Clothing, and wear them forever. The next time we feel the urge to buy something new (and we try to resist this as we have quite enough clothes already) maybe we'll less guilty about it by buying from them. (And btw, Patrick Grant is talking in Bath on Wednesday June 26th.) You can be sure Isabella Tree and her family almost never buy anything new, cf. their new film Wilding – we cannot wait to see it. Here is the trailer.

On an extremely gloomy note, we read Lucy Mangan’s review of the documentary about the mother and baby deaths in Nottingham. We mourned all of them but, tbh, were so upset that we could not bear to watch the programme itself.

Nicola Sturgeon reviewed the new Colm Tóibin novel in the New Statesman and this was her conclusion: 'Good though this novel is, would I revere it quite as much as my brain is telling me I should if it had been written by someone less well known and respected? Would it be attracting the same critical acclaim that it is being showered with had it been penned by a different writer? Someone who, perhaps by virtue of being a woman, would see an equally impressive work pigeonholed in the archives of genre fiction? Or might it, instead, be considered a good, satisfying read, and left at that? Unlike Tóibin himself – if his past comments are to be relied upon – I am not dismissing genre fiction. It’s more that I sometimes ponder, and won’t be alone in doing so, the extent to which the characterisation of a novel as a masterpiece of literary fiction is, on occasion, more to do with the identity of its author than the objective quality of the work.’ Well (and bravely) put. As we often say mournfully: if Jonathan Franzen’s massively successful The Corrections had been written by a woman no one would have taken any notice of it.

One of us has a big birthday today and without wanting to sound curmudgeonly we cannot help thinking of the marvellous Penelope Mortimer short story in the First Persephone Book of Short Stories, which was also read aloud by Fran during lockdown (it's one of her most favourite short stories, since it says SO much about the realities of motherhood). Of course we all love having our birthdays celebrated. But there is a little bit of one that wishes one didn't have to be so jolly... Read the story and see what you think. (For those people who subscribe to The New Yorker it's also there.)

Nicola Beauman 

8 Edgar Buildings 


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