While pondering my 2017 reading goals the other evening I happened to look up at my bookcase to see the lovely row of dove grey Persephones and the colorful spines of the Persephone Classics that I have shelved together. I’ve been collecting Persephone titles for about 7 or 8 years now and, as happens to the best of us, the collecting has far exceeded the reading of these wonderful books. I recall Nicola Beauman saying in an interview I read (I can’t find the quote) that she hoped that people weren’t just collecting the books but reading them too. In this Guardian interview she says, “That’s all I care about, really, you see: the text, the text, the text.”, when asked about the design she chose for the novels she republishes. And I realized that maybe I have been collecting them just to have them – just out of a sense of pride in owning them, because I haven’t read nearly enough of them to justify their expense!
So – I came to the obvious conclusion that reading the Persephones I currently own should be my goal for 2017. I went to the Persephone website and found the master list of all the titles they’ve published, made a list of all the ones I own and haven’t read and stuck it up at the top of the page (under Operation Read Persephone) to serve as a constant reminder of this goal. Shockingly, I own 26 of the grey darlings that I have not read! The shame! But I will try to remedy that this year.
I decided that I will start with A Very Great Profession by Ms. Beauman herself as it describes her interest in and love for the books she’s chosen to republish. I’m looking forward to not just looking at and enjoying the beauty of these books but to actually honoring their authors by reading what is between the iconic covers.
Do you have a favorite Persephone? What are your reading goals for 2017?

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When Lisa from TBR313 recently wrote about the progress she’s made on her reading projects I was prompted to examine my progress on my own project. The only ongoing project that I’ve committed to is the Century of Books challenge and, frankly, my progress has been pretty slow. This is the second year I’ve recorded all of the books I’ve read from 1900 to 1999 and I was really sad to see that I’ve only read 21 books published in the twentieth century in almost 2 full years. I could have sworn I’ve read more twentieth century books than that! Granted, I’ve not consciously chosen books for this project – I’ve just read what I wanted and then counted them if they fit into the parameters. Most of the books I’ve read are concentrated in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, which is no surprise as these are my favorite years to read in. I haven’t read anything from 1900-1922 or from 1977-1998. Obviously I need to try to deliberately choose books from those years to read if I’m ever going to complete the challenge.

Next year, I want to pay more attention to this challenge and to get to the half-way mark. I’ve been a bit disappointed with my reading this year as I haven’t read as many classics as I’ve wanted to or as I’ve needed to to make me a happy reader. I’m still trying to find the balance between reading what I want to read and what I feel obligated to read as a librarian. This year I feel I went too far on the contemporary/popular side so next year I need to come up with a different ratio. Perhaps one for one – one classic for every contemporary book I read. It’s a constant puzzle that I’m still trying to solve.

How have you done on your challenges or projects this year?

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This month the LibraryThing Virago group is hosting the All Virago/All August event. The goal is to read as many Viragos (or Persephones -they’re included) during the month as you can or as you want. It’s a great opportunity to read those classics that you’ve been putting off or that have lingered on your shelves for years and years. I know we all have a few of those! At first I planned to only read Vs & Ps, but there are a couple of contemporary novels that I am looking forward to (like this one) that I’ll slip in among the green and the grey. I’ve already finished The Expendable Man by Dorothy B. Hughes and Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski (reviews coming soon) and have a few others in mind. Here are the titles that are top of the list right now:

Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden

The Echoing Grove by Rosamond Lehmann

The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West

Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner

Saplings by Noel Streatfeild

The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Tea By the Nursery Fire by Noel Streatfeild

Have you read any of these? Will you read any Vs or Ps in August?

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This is the last day of Mary Hocking Reading Week (although by the time I post this I think it will be Monday in the UK and I officially missed the deadline) but I am just now getting my impressions about A Particular Place gathered and recorded. I finished the book sometime last week on vacation and haven’t really known what to say about it. And I still don’t feel like I can do it justice, but I am going to do my best to tell you what I think.

This short novel is set in a small town in the West Country and focuses on a small group of parishioners who are connected through their church participation. The vicar, Michael Hoath, is a very intense, serious and traditional man who is married to the cold and beautiful Valentine, an amateur actress. Everyone in the novel is in some kind of crisis, whether emotional or faith-related or family/marriage based. Michael doesn’t really think or know that he is until he falls in love with a rather flaky woman in the congregation and has to come to grips with his own inner turmoil in the midst of helping members of his parish through their various struggles.

So there really isn’t a plot – it’s more a collection of scenes wherein the characters examine themselves, their motives, their beliefs and try to connect with God or their families or their fellow parishioners. The description on the books says it’s a successor to Barbara Pym and Elizabeth Taylor – I feel it’s probably much closer to Taylor as there is hardly any humor in the novel (which started to wear on me) yet I feel it’s unlike Taylor in that Hocking does show a smidge more compassion for her characters than Taylor does. The tone of this novel is hard to pin down. It is melancholy, woeful, at times hopeless, yet there is a transcendence that overshadows it all that makes it luminous.

Did I like it? I’m afraid to say I don’t think I really did, in the end. I admire it and like the writing and the style, but the tone is so dark and the characters so desolate that I couldn’t enjoy it. I think this is a case where I probably don’t understand this novel at all and am misreading everything about it. I am glad that I read it, though, and it won’t prevent me from trying another Mary Hocking novel.

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This week at work a bunch of us are scrambling to finish our Fall Reading Challenge. I’ve issued this challenge to all staff at my library for the past few years but this is the first time that people have really taken it seriously. The challenge started back in September and the last day to finish is Saturday. My goal in creating the challenge was to get staff reading more broadly across our collection – for the children’s librarians to read some adult titles and for adult librarians to read juvenile titles. My motto is ‘In order to market the collection you have to know the collection’. Here are the requirements:

Read 3 picture books

Read 2 early readers

Read 1 children’s non-fiction book

Read 1 juvenile fiction book

Read 1 juvenile graphic novel

Read 1 juvenile non-fiction book

Read 1 young adult book

Read 1 young adult graphic novel

Read 1 adult fiction book

Read 1 adult non-fiction book

Read 1 eBook of your choice

Submit a review to the library blog

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I am almost finished myself. I have to finish my adult non-fiction and my eBook and read the early readers and children’s non-fiction – and then I will join the two co-workers who’ve already finished. I’ve pledged to give all finishers a small prize next week. It’s been a lot of fun listening to everyone discuss their progress and share opinions and feedback on the books we’ve read. I’ve also had a couple of staff thank me for issuing the challenge and for motivating them to read outside of their comfort zone. I think it has been a great experience all around and I hope to do it again in the spring.