After ten months of living in London, I start finding my way around its central districts. But even with this slight familiarity the magic of the city does not fade – no, quite the opposite: to me, London always seems as a city of subdued superlatives.
Last week I decided to have a day out in Bloomsbury, which still, after over a decade of fandom, is the dearest spot in London for me. My target was to step into Persephone Books, which I had never visited before, and then see Dickens Museum, which, also, I hadn’t seen before. I had great expectations of something elitist, grand and even stiff-ish, but as normally, things don’t turn out as you think they will.
I knew from pre-visit research that Persephone Books is specialised in inter-war writers, especially the forgotten female ones, and that their books are beautiful. This is why I expected elaborate, beautifully frilly floral patterns, golden handwritten titles and a scent of lavender filling the air.
None of this I found in Persephone books. The front already had a cosy and inviting feel to it with a wide open door luring passers-by to step into the cool interior. The books had pleasant, grey covers (the perfect shade of grey!), and the whole bookshops just seemed to ooze good-natured bookishness welcoming all – not a trace of that Bloomsbyrian elitsm I had expected!
The bookshop itself is quite small and covered with books – almost to the brink of overcrowding, if that is possible what it comes to a room filled with books. To me, it almost seemed that it could be someone’s living room. From a translator’s point of view, this was the golden cauldron at the end of a rainbow: forgotten writers a shelf after a shelf after a shelf, and each one of them I would gladly translate if I had the opportunity.
I admit, I was mesmerized, I picked up a book, skimmed through it, put it back. Picked up another book, skimmed through it, and put it back like an automaton. In the end, I settled for buying only one book, Katherine Mansfield’s collection of short stories, The Montana Stories, and a few bookmarks both for myself and a booky friend who, I am sure, would have lovde this shop maybe even more than I did.
I highly recommend a visit to Persephone Books for any booky visitor in London – or, to anyone having hard time deciding on souvenirs for someone special waiting at home: the pretty books cost 12 pounds, and you can match them with a bookmark!
I was so hype over my discovery that I just picked up a take away coffee from a coffee shop around the corner, walked to Russell Square and started reading – Dickens Museum, you have to wait!
What: Persephone Books is a publishing house and a bookshop dedicated bringing lost, forgotten books back to print. They say: “Persephone Books reprints neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century (mostly) women writers. All our 112 books are intelligent, thought-provoking and beautifully written and are chosen to appeal to busy people wanting titles that are neither too literary nor too commercial.” I add: the titles are pretty perfect even if you are not that busy!
Where: Persephone Books is situated in Bloomsbury’s famous Lamb’s Conduit Street, where you find many pubs, cafés and restaurants. Charles Dickens Museum is just around the corner heading to east, whereas in the west you’ll find British Museum and the famous Bloomsbury Squares, such as Russell Square, where the closest tube station is located also.
When: Persephone Books started in 1998 with Cicely Hamilton’s William – an Englishman. After three years Persephone Books published its 21st book, a word-of-mouth bestseller Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, by Winifred Watson, and moved to its Bloomsbury offices where it also opened the shop. Persephone Books is open from Mon to Fri between 10 and 6, and on Saturdays from 12 to 5. You can also order books online.
P.S. You can read more of my bookshop visits here: Historical Hatchard’s!