Dear The Second Persephone Book of Short Stories:
I purchased you on an amazing return trip to England last summer, and have been waiting to read you ever since. As I wrote about in this post, I honestly never thought I would get the opportunity to visit Persephone Books, and when I did I knew I would have to purchase a book to take home. But which one??? There were so many incredible options, but I ultimately decided to go with you, The Second Persephone Book of Short Stories. I wanted something that would encompass Persephone Books and my visit there, and you seemed to be the perfect sampler of this lovely bookstore: thirty stories written by women, presented in the order they were written. Including stories from 1896 to 1984, you span nearly one hundred years of womanhood, joy, sorrow, heartache, loss, uncertainty, love, family, nostalgia, and hope.
To be honest, I haven’t read that many short stories in my life. The few that I have read were mostly assigned for various classes over the years, or were by authors that I already knew I would love. Reading you was my first time diving into a short story collection where I had never read anything by any of the writers before, and I absolutely loved it. Not only did I get to explore new writing styles and ways of writing short stories overall, but I also now have a list of so many new-to-me authors whose works I can’t wait to read more of. It’s so rare nowadays that I start reading a book blindly with little to no information about it, but reading you makes me want to seek out those little moments of surprise more often.
I also loved how you contain a list of brief biographies of all the authors in this collection. Before reading each story I always made a point to turn to that list and read the biography of the author first. Those little biographies were quite helpful from a contextual standpoint, but I appreciated them for another reason: they were like little snapshots of women throughout history who may or may not have guessed that someone would be reading about their lives in a short story collection like this one decades and even over a century later. These bios also made me ask some important questions: Why hadn’t I heard of these women and their amazing accomplishments and lives before??
Moreover, I think your chronological order really added a lot of depth and perspective to your collection. Even though these stories were written by women of different ages, backgrounds, classes, and experiences, it nevertheless felt like they were bound together through this chronological snapshot of time, mostly the twentieth century.
While reading, I made a list of my favorite stories from your collection to highlight here with a few words describing each of them:
- “In Dull Brown” by Evelyn Sharp. A bittersweet account of how society has often made “smart” and “beautiful” mutually exclusive categories that women can fit in.
- “The Bedquilt” by Dorothy Caufield Fisher. A powerful, touching story of what it means to create art and identify yourself as an artist, even when the world seems stacked against you.
- “After Tea” by Dorothy Whipple. A fascinating, captivating look at the idea of choosing your own family as well as what constitutes a family at its core.
- “Miss Anstruther’s Letters” by Rose Macaulay. An absolutely heartbreaking story of how a single event can seem to cut your life into before and after pieces.
- “The House at Hove” by Diana Gardner. Told from a first person perspective, this story shows how war can interrupt family life and change one’s memories of it when there is very little physical evidence of childhood left.
- “The Little Willow” by Frances Towers. This beautifully written story shares the sadness of the loss of a lover in the war, while also encompassing the bittersweet joy felt at discovering that someone you love once loved you back.
- “The Professor’s Daughter” by Margaret Bonham. Detailed and witty, this story leaves you wondering what constitutes “make-believe.”
- “The Prisoner” by Elizabeth Berridge. Berridge somehow perfectly captured the feeling of when something happens in your life and you know you won’t be able to go back to the way it was before.
- “No Laughing Matter” by Diana Athill. Such a striking, powerful, resonating description of first love and the conflicting feelings that can erupt in the wake of a break up.
You made me feel a vast, intense spectrum of emotions, The Second Persephone Book of Short Stories. It’s not every day that a reader stumbles upon an incredible, thoughtful, seamless curation of stories like you. I would encourage any and all readers to give you a try, regardless of whether they usually read short stories. I, for one, will certainly be picking up more short stories in the very near future.
Until next time!