Saturday, February 14, 2009

"There is a world of difference between domesticity and domestication." *

I love getting mail. Birthday, anniversary, and Christmas cards; notes from my elderly aunts; little treat packages from various points on the globe; even the bills give me a weird frisson of pleasure, reveling in orderliness and organization (of course, it's H's problem to pay them and balance the checkbook, so I would bet that he doesn't like them at all). I especially enjoy receiving magazines. I only subscribe to a couple - Newsweek, Brain, Child, the now (sadly) defunct House & Garden (Dominique Browning, this means you can have time to write another book now!), and the also now (sadly) defunct H&G substitute, Domino.

My point about my love of snail mail is twofold.

First, the mail this week brought me an eagerly awaited gift to myself, the new Persephone edition of DE Stevenson's long out-of-print Miss Buncle's Book.

When I was a small-ish girl growing up in NJ, I read all of DE Stevenson's gentle little romances. Every one was set in England, in a cosy world of afternoon tea and housekeepers and vicar's wives, and all of them end happily. They are the perfect comfort reading - like A Secret Garden or A Little Princess for adults. Miss Buncle's Book was the first half of a two-book omnibus (the second half was the sequel, Miss Buncle Married) that I checked out of my local library probably every few months. I read it over and over again, and I couldn't have been the only one because the library copy slowly grew more dilapidated until it finally fell apart and was removed from circulation.

Miss Buncle, a spinster living in the small rural village of Silverstream, writes a novel about her village and its inhabitants. The book, written under a pseudonym, is an unexpectedly runaway bestseller. When the citizens of Silverstream begin to recognize themselves in the book, the fun truly begins. (The only thing that could have made this book even more perfect would have been if Stevenson had seen fit to pen Barbara Buncle's actual novel for us, too.)

I searched for a copy of my own for years and years. It's been out of print for so long that any copy that turned up on Amazon or was exorbitantly expensive. But recently, the wonderful Persephone Books republished it, and I now own my very own beautiful copy of Miss Buncle's Book.

Which brings me to my second point: I couldn't remember where I'd discovered Persephone Books. I thought I'd seen them in an issue of Domino, because I often see lovely things in that magazine that I then long to own. Persephone's elegant editions would fit into its stylish pages quite nicely.

But some casual conversation with Suse, and some research consisting of wandering through the pages of another book I quite like, and I realized I had run across them in Jane Brocket's also-cosy The Gentle Art of Domesticity. She has more than one photo of Persephone novels, their dignified yet charming dove-grey covers making them stand out from their more gaudily colored bookshelf companions. In one photo, if I recall correctly, she even has a stack of the beauties, on an end table or nightstand, and I instantly coveted that sedate pile of books.

Their fronts are quiet, but their endpapers are gorgeously vintage.

The typeface is simple and elegant.

I even love the numbers on the back, which at the same time press home the point that I own ONE of these, and - groan - there are at least EIGHTY MORE I need.
I want.
I covet.

Persephone Books detail, in novel, poetry, and biography, the everyday lives of women. From the Persephone website: "Persephone prints mainly neglected fiction and non-fiction by women, for women and about women." The books are "readable, thought-provoking and impossible to forget." (There is a neat little piece on how Persephone finds and/or picks its books here.)

They are pretty, oh so pretty.
And they play well with others.

My one little grey book makes me feel, just for a moment, that I too could pull off the gracious living depicted in the pages of the style and decor magazines that will no longer liven up my mail delivery once a month.

*Jane Brocket in her lovely The Gentle Art of Domesticity


Eleanor said...

If I could I'd invite you to come over RIGHT NOW to borrow some of my Persephone long as I can have a little look at your Miss Buncle. But that is not possible, I shall write a little post about it and dedicate it to you, with love from my book-shelf to yours.

P.S. Did you see Eurolush's post a few days ago about D.E. Stevenson? (Jan. 31 "Post about library cards and sickness").

Mary said...

"Dove Grey" the most beautiful description of grey - I am sure it turned up in Little Women and Anne of Green Gables ....

I think it is why I love shopping at Etsy so much - getting something in the mail!!!

Duyvken said...

Beautiful! I borrow these from the library but don't own any. Yet. Enjoy it!

Peg said...

This was a sweet post and I loved it.

blackbird said...

Perfect, and now ORDERED, for my MIL.

Thank you!

Sinda said...

Jane introduced me to Persephone books too, and they are delightfully perfect!

Jess said...

My library still owns a copy of an older edition - now I can't wait to go to work and see how well-used it is. Thanks! I'd never heard of it before, but the author's name is vaguely familiar. Also, I just started Sing Them Home - I want to hear what you think when you get around to it.

Elizabeth said...

Before reading blogs, I thought I was the only one who liked these sorts of books. I love this global village.

Anonymous said...

Hello Fellow Persephone Book Lover!

So glad you stopped by to say hello recently. Loved this post!

I just discovered Persephone books myself a couple of months ago...somewhat accidentally...and only because I ordered Ms. Buncle's Book, and saw how lovely it was when it arrived.

Then I had to go online and check out the Persephone publishing web site...which is where I fell in love with Persephone books--and began my addiction. (I am also addicted to the vintage Modern Library series.)

I love that Persephone publishes works which have gone out of which more than DESERVE to be back in print again.

I'm so happy to "meet" friends like you and Eleanor...who also collect and covet these books.

PS-I'm on novel #4 of D.E. Stevenson...checked out from my wee little library here in Germany...and ordering Ms. Buncle Married soon! So happy!

Anonymous said...

I don't own even ONE Persephone book but I love browsing their site and would order them ALL in a heartbeat if I won the lotto.

Bearette said...

Frisson is one of my favorite words.

Anonymous said...

I don't even own ONE Persephone book, so you are at least one up on me. I love the little book shelf you have those books on - it's like a mini-TBR shelf.

Amelia Plum said...

Did I know you grew up in NJ? Our lives sound more an more similar. Although I never read DE Stevenson's books but they sound quite charming. I need to borrow Spook from you. And The Princess Bride book brings back such memories, I remember looking at my dad's copy in the seventies and finally reading it on my own in the eighties.

nutmeg said...

Oh I love Persephone books - I found my first couple on ebay (who would sell them I ask!) and have been ordering from Persephone since then. I got to visit their shop while I was in London last year. It was a very pleasant couple of hours. I cannot believe I have never talked "Persephone Books" with you before. I may well have to post a photo of my "collection". And I will now be ordering the Miss Buncle's Book too ;-)