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16 September 2021
Back from the holidays (there was no Letter in August because of being away) to various small dramas and, during the last few days, the twice yearly stress of getting the new Biannually and Catalogue to the printer. Some of the shop ups and downs are recorded on Diary of a Provincial Bookseller on Instagram. The down last week was one of the Persephone girls thinking her bike pannier had been stolen. But then it was handed in at the Guildhall with nothing missing – some sort of miracle.
The up is that we are slowly beginning to have events again. We are delighted that our first speaker in the new shop will be Elizabeth Day (whose new book Magpie has this week stormed up the bestseller charts): on Friday October 1st at 10.30 a.m. she will be 'in conversation' about everybody's favourite They Were Sisters (to be published in October as a Persephone Classic). Please ring the office if you would like to attend this event or there are more details here.
Otherwise: we went to London to see the absolutely brilliant Operation Mincemeat (partly inspired by Operation Heartbreak, Persephone Book No. 51).
This was rapturously reviewed in the Financial Times (‘there are some big, blowsy shows around in the West End, but this little belter is staging its own audacious invasion plan’), while London Theatre said: ‘Operation Mincemeat speaks perfectly to the current political moment, but in subtle ways. Its mockery of the privileges of white masculinity, the insulating power of wealth, the recklessness of government guided by and for the few, also points at the frustrating and insidious truth of privilege: sometimes those rich jerks look like they’re having so much fun.’ As well as being political, Operation Mincemeat is funny, exhilarating, wonderfully acted, oh it's amazing. It finished this Saturday but is returning to Southwark in January and we shall certainly go a second time.
At last there is something else to watch on telly: The Chair which is hilarious and yet rather profound (especially about political correctness). It is set in an American university English department and many of the witticisms go straight to one’s heart.
A book was published in March which had lovely pictures of the shop. It is called Bookstores: A Celebration of Independent Booksellers by Stuart Husband with photographs by Horst Friedrichs and it's about bookshops all round the world. The photographs are of us in Lamb’s Conduit Street which now seems a world away. But the book remains beautiful and the pictures of the shop and of Lydia are divine.
Laura Ashley and Homebase used our books in an ad, which was a delightful surprise.
Books we have read, both very sobering: Tunnel 29 by Helena Merrimen which is about the brave people who dug a tunnel from East Berlin to West in September 1962. The book started as a radio series which is available here. And there is a new book called All the Frequent Troubles of our Days which is about the incredible Mildred Harnack.
She was executed in February 1943 on Hitler’s direct orders: she had led the largest resistance cell in Berlin. The book is by her great-great niece Rebecca Donner.
Last spring we bought a beautiful waistcoat by Ishkar made in Kabul.
Now the days are getting slightly chillier we are wearing it over a shirt. But the website says ‘only three left’ and it makes us very, very sad that there will be no more in the foreseeable future. It's a bit like wearing mourning clothes.
The Fortnight in September is being beautifully read on the radio by Adrian Scarborough.
We are now sending out the Bloomsbury Heritage monographs.
There is a box containing one of every title in the shop for browsers; unfortunately the monographs are not available on our website so please telephone or email if you would like to order some. The list of all 87 of them is here.
On the other side of the street there is a new shop called Share and Repair. This is such a good idea – as the name says, if you need something just once you can borrow it for a small fee or if something breaks they will try and mend it
.The Jane Austen parade took place in Bath on Saturday and was rather marvellous: very cheerful and good-natured people walking along Great Pulteney Street wearing the most elaborate and beautifully made period costumes.
This Vermeer painting has been cleaned (but luckily not over-cleaned) and revealed the most startling original details (the cleaned version on the left), more information here.
We cannot stop thinking about Lytton, where Hetty Dorval is set. Here is a picture of it after it was destroyed by wildfire in July.
Heart-rendingly, one of the residents said: ‘A house can be rebuilt, and a tree can regrow. But you can never replace the close-knit nature of a community unless you’re there to help do it.’ Ironically, the book makes a great deal of the fact that Lytton overlooks the convergence of two of British Columbia's largest rivers: the Thompson and the Fraser. But all the water in those rivers could not save the town from destruction.
We were sad to see the death announced of Dinah Murray: obituary here, an extremely interesting and after-our-own-heart person. We were also sorry to hear about the death of Norman Levy, an anti-apartheid activist who was initially inspired by Hilda Bernstein. He 'literally fell into politics at the age of fourteen,' he writes at the beginning of his memoir. It was February 1944, and he had taken his older brother’s bicycle for a ride but slid to the ground when he ran into an unexpected street-corner meeting. He noticed that a white woman, in a clipped English accent, was addressing a small knot of black domestic workers as bemused white people looked on. A young man told Norman that the speaker was Hilda Watts (soon to be Bernstein), a Communist Party candidate for the Johannesburg City Council, and invited him to the next meeting of the Young Communist League. Norman went along, and found himself in the company of Hilda Watts, Ruth First, Joe Slovo, Ahmed Kathrada and others: 'together we were comrades, ready to change the world.' And they did.
8 Edgar Buildings Bath BA1 2EE