shelf by shelf : from Pym to Persephone

As you will see as soon as you take a look at the photo, the system breaks down a bit at this point. My largely alphabetical arrangement suddenly gets fudged up by some non-fiction related to Barbara Pym; a stack of Melville House novellas; and the start of my Persephone collection. The homogeneous design of the both the Melville House and the Persephones required me to keep them together rather than intershelve them according to their authors. I’m not saying I won’t ever do it, but I truly can’t imagine ever doing it. And just wait until you see the next shelf. One shelf of nothing by Persephone gray.

Easier to inspect if you click on the image.

SHELF NINETEEN: 50 Books, 19 unread, 31 read, 62% completed

Pym, Barbara – No Fond Return of Love (completed)
Pym, Barbara – Crampton Hodnet (completed)(twice)
Pym, Barbara – Excellent Women (completed)(twice)
Pym, Barbara – Less Than Angels (completed)
Pym, Barbara – Jane and Prudence (completed)(twice)
Pym, Barbara – A Glass of Blessings (completed)(thrice)
Pym, Barbara – Some Tame Gazelle (completed)
Pym, Barbara – A Few Green Leaves (completed)
Pym, Barbara – An Academic Question
Pym, Barbara – Civil to Strangers 
Pym, Barbara – An Unsuitable Attachment (completed)
Pym, Barbara – The Sweet Dove Died (completed)
Pym, Barbara – Quartet in Autumn (completed)
Pym, Barbara – A Very Private Eye (non-fiction)
Cocking, Yvonne – Barbara in the Bodleian (non-fiction)
Burkhart, Charles – The Pleasure of Miss Pym (non-fiction)
Holt, Hazel – A Lot to Ask (non-fiction)(completed)
Bell, Hazel, ed. – No Soft Incense: Barbara Pym and the Church (non-fiction)
Pym, Hilary and Honor Wyatt – The Barbara Pym Cookbook (non-fiction)(completed)
Wow. If you couldn’t tell from reading my blog, you most certainly can see now how much I LOVE Barbara Pym. Not only have I read all but two of her novels, I’ve read three of them twice and one of them thrice. The odd thing is the ones I have read multiple times are not necessarily my favorites.

So, what’s that? You say you haven’t gotten around to Barbara Pym yet? Well, get off your butt, get one of her novels, get back on your butt, and read one. The one that gets the most attention, and for good reason, is Excellent Women. However, I think Some Tame Gazelle is wonderful and not a bad place to start with Pym. And for those of you that like things a little darker, try Quartet in Autumn. It’s a bit Brookneresque but sunnier. For the academic nerd in your life, you can’t go wrong with No Fond Return of Love. It starts at an indexer’s conference and turns into a bit of a stalker tale.

Pym really was a genius. The world she creates is gentle but not twee. Her powers of observation are superb. Her writing is lovely and often funny. But she’s got stuff to say. These are far from fluff. At the risk of overhyping her, I think there is no other author that makes me as happy as Pym does.

And by the by, I have indeed baked a few things out of the cookbook. The recipes are a bit like the technical challenges on The Great British Bakeoff in that they don’t always give you enough information for a successful bake. A little baking intuition and cross-referencing with other recipes of the same type are recommended. If you would like to see my baking efforts from Pym Week in 2013 follow this link.

My delicious version of the Victoria Sponge from the Pym cookbook.


Svevo, Italo – The Nice Old Man and the Pretty Girl
Melville, Herman – Benito Cereno
James, Henry – The Lesson of the Master
Wharton, Edith – The Touchstone (completed)
Howells, William Dean – A Sleep and a Forgetting (completed)
James, Henry – The Coxon Fund
Turgenev, Ivan – First Love
Dostoevsky, Fyodor – The Eternal Husband
Constant, Benjamin – Adolphe (completed)
Joyce, James – The Dead (completed)
Twain, Mark – The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg
Gogol, Nikolai – How the Two Ivans Quarrelled
Tolstoy, Leo – The Death of Ivan Ilych
Morely, Christopher – Parnassus on Wheels
Proust, Marcel – The Lemoine Affair
Austen, Jane – Lady Susan (completed)
Chopin, Kate – The Awakening (completed)
Flaubert, Gustave – A Simple Heart (completed)
Kipling, Rudyard – The Man Who Would Be King (completed)
Jewett, Sarah Orne – The Country of the Pointed Firs (completed)
Pushkin, Alexander – Tales of Belkin (completed)
von Kleist, Heinrich – Michael Kohlhaas (completed)
Tolstoy, Leo – The Devil (completed)
de Balzac, Honore – The Girl with the Golden Eyes
Stevenson, R.L. – The Beach of Falesa
Back in August 2011 Frances at Nonsuch Book decided to read all Melville House’s Art of the Novella novellas in one month. At that time there were about 42 of them. She was crazy to try and I was even crazier for joining her. I think it was the lure of a set of books that caused me to order all of them. I only finished 19 of them, and oddly, not all of those 19 are here. Either I got rid of them at some point or they are lurking somewhere else. Of those I completed, I really loved A Simple Heart by Flaubert, Austen’s Lady Susan, and surprisingly given how much I hate his other work, I really loved The Dead by James Joyce. And The Awakening is one of my favorite books. One that I didn’t keep was Mary Shelley’s Mathilda. I hated that book so much it made me angry.

Benjamin Constant’s Adolphe arrived just as I finished re-reading Anita Brookner’s novel Providence. So what? I’ll tell you what, the protagonist in the Providence was a scholar of Adolphe and the work was woven into the Brookner novel. I liked Adolphe, but the experience of reading right after Brookner heightened my enjoyment and comprehension of it.

Downes, Mollie Panter – Good Evening, Mrs. Craven (completed)
Dickens, Monica – Mariana (completed)
Whipple, Dorothy – Someone at a Distance (completed)
Strachey, Jessica – Cheerful Weather for the Wedding (completed)
Crompton, Richmal – Family Roundabout (completed)
Burnett, Frances Hodgson – The Making of a Marchioness (completed)
The two Persephone books at the left in their gray livery are indicative of the cover design for almost all Persephone books. However, they also publish some of their more popular titles with more colorful colors. In general I really like and often love most of what Persephone reissues. From the group above, I absolutely adored the Crompton, I liked Making of a Marchioness far more than I did The Shuttle, Burnett’s other Persephone. Someone at a Distance is a very popular Whipple but I think it is my least favorite. Next shelf, you are going to get to see nothing but Persephones.

NEXT TIME: Persephone to Persephone


31 thoughts on “shelf by shelf : from Pym to Persephone

  1. Travellin' Penguin (Pam) October 5, 2016 / 6:39 pm

    Your shelf by shelf posts have made me want to just spend time reading my large library of TBR books. I spend so much time on book club books I am thinking of having a year off and concentrating on my own books. Many are ones you have from my Penguin collection. I have never read a Pym book and would like to after hearing you rave about them. So much I want to read. The only problem is I love my book club friends and not sure I can manage leaving them. I wish I was a faster reader. Maybe I’ll just do book club as audio and listen in car and everything else from my shelf. Suggestions welcome. Love these posts and looking forward to the Persephone books.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Karen K. October 6, 2016 / 3:10 am

      I think the audio versions for your book club books is an excellent idea — that way you won’t have to leave your group and catch up with the TBR pile as well! And I find that book club books tend to have more audio available — so many books on my TBR shelves are out-of-print or mid-century books that it’s nearly impossible to find them on audio.


      • Travellin' Penguin (Pam) October 6, 2016 / 11:38 am

        Thank you Karen K. The more I think about it the more I think it is a good idea too. cheers


      • Thomas October 9, 2016 / 8:20 am

        One mid-century author who has lots of audio books is Nevil Shute–and they make really good listening. In fact, I’ve always thought his books felt more like 1940s sceenplays.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thomas October 9, 2016 / 8:19 am

      I agree with Karen. Audio books have been great for me as I try and plow through that pile of 26 new books between now and the end of the year.


  2. Annie D. October 5, 2016 / 7:52 pm

    As another big fan of Pym & Persephone, this may be my favorite of all your shelves. You would not be able to handle my bookcases – there is a kind of odd logic to them and I can usually pull off a book in minutes, but non-fiction is mixed with fiction, biographies with cookbooks, travel books with poetry, authors scattered about. If I ever get all the bookcases in one room and create my library, I will tackle it all and make it more conventionally organized.

    I really love this series – thanks for taking the time to do this.

    Also – I must read Brookner one day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thomas October 9, 2016 / 8:22 am

      I don’t know if my need to alphabetize is an inherent character trait or the result of having worked at a library in high school.


      • Annie D. October 9, 2016 / 7:41 pm

        I worked in the library in college and now work for a rare bookseller (and have a degree in accounting), but I still don’t alphabetize! There is a system though, known just to me.


  3. Ruthiella October 5, 2016 / 8:24 pm

    I read Barbara Pym because of you and per your suggestion I did start with Some Tame Gazelle, which I liked but will probably like even more upon re-reading. I then went on to Excellent Women and LOVED IT.

    I also shelve my Pym and Persephone together, but like Annie D. above, I don’t shelve alphabetically or logically. Pym and Persephone are together because they fit thematically in my head. My one Elizabeth Taylor and my one Mollie Panter-Downes books are on the same shelf too.

    Looking forward to perusing the solid dove grey of your next “shelf by shelf” post!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thomas October 9, 2016 / 8:24 am

      I’m glad you have given Pym a go. And with two titles no less. I definitely enjoyed Excellent Woman more the second time–and that’s not saying I didn’t enjoy it the first time. I haven’t read STG for almost 7 years and have been very curious lately what i would think about it now.


  4. Deb October 5, 2016 / 8:36 pm

    A wonderful shelf! Another huge Pym fan here–and I even have some of the same Pym-related books also shelved right next to Pym’s books. I always recommend EXCELLENT WOMEN to Pym newbies. It is a perfect example of her work.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Karen K. October 6, 2016 / 3:13 am

    I have all my Persephones, Pyms, and Angela Thirkells in the same bookcase (E. F. Benson had to go in another case; sadly there wasn’t enough room). And I think that “Get off your butt, get one of her novels, get back on your butt, and read one” is possibly the best line I have ever read in a book blog. I shall do so immediately — I still have four unread Pyms and “A Very Private Eye” yet to finish!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thomas October 9, 2016 / 8:26 am

      I’ve got a bunch of Thiirkell that another blogger sent me but haven’t read any of them yet. It’s been years, I am not sure what I am waiting for.


  6. MarinaSofia October 6, 2016 / 6:39 am

    Yes, yes, to a shelf full of Pyms! I have yet to discover the Persephones, so that should be fun!


  7. Michelle Ann October 6, 2016 / 3:25 pm

    This is a great shelf. Of the books you have yet to read, on the downside, An Academic Question is the weakest of Pym’s books, and I read that it had been completed by someone else from some drafts she had left. On the plus side, Parnassus on Wheels is one of my favourite books. It is the story of a travelling bookseller in the old wild west, and It shows how isolated the pioneers were and how desperately they needed books (even more than we do!).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thomas October 9, 2016 / 8:28 am

      I think I have been avoiding Parnassus because of the wild west thing. That tends to turn me off a bit. I’m more interested in it now though.


  8. ASD October 6, 2016 / 4:52 pm

    My dear Thomas,

    Miss Pym’s novels look absolutely beautiful on your bookshelf. I do not know if it is their uniformity, hardcover edition or the background colour of the shelf, the colours of the binding look very pleasing to the eyes.

    I read Anita Brookner’s Providence novel many years ago and yet, I still remember the pages and pages of beautifully lucid writing especially when the main characters of the novel discussed the French Romantic novella, Adolphe by Benjamin Constant during their tutorials. Anita Brookner was so very insightful in her depiction what the students were thinking or how they would respond to a particular question because she had the first hand experience of teaching many years at Courtauld Institute.

    There is another book that was mentioned, if I remember correctly, in Providence. It’s Memoirs of Hector Berlioz. I read it straight after Providence and I very much enjoyed Berlioz’s memoirs. I hope you would look out for this book as it must have been one of AB’s favourites.

    Your cake looks absolutely delicious. Congratulations on your successful baking.

    With best wishes, ASD


    • Thomas October 9, 2016 / 8:29 am

      The Berlioz book sounds right up my street.


  9. Susan in TX October 6, 2016 / 7:11 pm

    A very impressive shelf! You would be proud of my daughter…she found No Fond Return of Love at a pop up HPB warehouse sale and picked it up for me. I would love to shelve all of my Persephones together, but I don’t think I have enough yet for them to make a statement, so I’m going to wait until I’ve acquired a few more before I rearrange them. I read somewhere that the Persephone edition of The Shuttle was abridged, so I opted to buy it in a different edition. I was sad to read that you didn’t care much for it, but I secretly wonder if it was due to the abridgment of the story? It was one of my top reads a few years back. And, I have to echo Michelle Ann’s recommendation of Parnassus on Wheels – it’s a fun read, but I haven’t read any of his other stuff that would equal it for entertainment.
    Thanks for sharing your shelves with us!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thomas October 9, 2016 / 8:30 am

      If my memory is correct, I think as I read the The Shuttle I began to wish it had been abridged more. Or at the very least, I was conscious of the fact that I didn’t mind that it was abridged.


  10. Liz Dexter October 7, 2016 / 4:23 am

    Ooh, lovely, Pyms and Persephones on the same shelf! My Pym novels and non-fic are separated by two floors as I have only fiction upstairs. I have a separate bookcase for my Persephones, a small one I’ve had since childhood, which has one free shelf at the moment …

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thomas October 9, 2016 / 8:31 am

      At some point I could see putting all of the Persephones on one small bookcase in one of our guest rooms. They would make nice decor.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Nicola October 11, 2016 / 5:40 pm

    I’ve only read one Pym – Excellent Women and I’m afraid I didn’t like it. Odd because she is often described as Austenesque and I adore Jane Austen. I also loved Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac. However, I won’t give up on Pym – I will try one of your other suggestions.


  12. Izzy October 12, 2016 / 10:19 am

    I read Crampton Hodnett last summer, and ordered Excellent Women and Quartet in Autumn immediately after. I know I will want to read them all.
    It’s a happy incident (for me) that you should mention Providence and Adolphe in your post, seing that they both are on my TBR pile but I wouldn’t have thought of reading them one after the other. You know, Brookner actually reintroduced me to Balzac, whom I hadn’t read for decades, with A Start in Life.
    As for the Persephones, I’m still trying to decide which to buy first, as they come at a price and I woudn’t want to be disappointed ! Also, I’m suspiscious of what they call “Feminine middlebrow literature”. I’m not sure i’ve ever read any.


  13. biggardenblog October 15, 2016 / 11:47 am

    [J] “So, what’s that? You say you haven’t gotten around to Barbara Pym yet? Well, get off your butt, get one of her novels, get back on your butt, and read one.” Well I hadn’t … but that’s now sorted, thanks to Amazon. And without getting off my butt at all! As I’m already a Brookner fan, I’ve gone for Quartet in Autumn. I’ll report back in due course!


    • biggardenblog November 19, 2016 / 4:32 pm

      The book arrived. I started, I read, I finished – and I thoroughly enjoyed! For a book with no apparent plot, it’s a page-turner! It’s a long time since I’ve read a novel so quickly. The four main characters are – intentionally – unremarkable, weak even, yet are so well drawn in words by Barabara Pym that we come to care about them, and their fates. And perhaps to learn to care more about all those real people who are ‘invisible’ to us: perhaps we’ll start to see, to notice, to reach out.


      • Thomas November 19, 2016 / 4:36 pm

        I’m so glad you liked it. Definitely the darkest of her novels.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. ninevoices October 21, 2016 / 4:18 am

    I’m so thrilled I’ve discovered this blog! Barbara Pym, Persephone Books, Anthony Trollope – all so happy-making. I’ve got all the Barbara Pym novels on audio and listen to them again and again when I’m ironing. The enjoyment never diminishes. Then there’s Timothy West reading Trollope’s The Way We Live Now and The Palliser and Barchester series …


    • Thomas November 19, 2016 / 4:41 pm

      I’m thrilled you found it too. It’s always good to come across like minded readers.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.