The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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February 26, 2011

Persephone Reading Weekend: Introduction, no 32

Does anyone else remember a now-sadly-ended book catalog called A {or maybe it was The} Common Reader? It was a small-format, black and white catalog filled with what was clearly a personal, non-commercial (or not-too-commercial), and often quirky selection of books. The best thing about it was that the entries that the booksellers wrote not only drew me to books and authors (often from the backlist) that I had not heard of, but often made me want to read a book, or read about a subject, that in lesser hands would never have caught my attention.

Thankfully, there are so many wonderful blogs now that serve the same purpose...and places like the Persephone Books web site.  This weekend, for me, is a celebration of both!

I read about The Carlyles at Home on Thomas' blog, My Porch, and immediately added it to my reading list. {Full disclosure: I would if I could, but I'm not reading this in the Persephone edition. I do have a habit of buying treasured books after I've read them, though, and this will probably be one of them.} Though I've heard of Thomas and Jane Carlyle, and of Chelsea and Cheyne Row, I don't know much more about them or their famous neighborhood. {They are included -- oh! and shown on the cover, in the Persephone-endpaper portrait -- in one of my unread books, Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages, by Phyllis Rose. Some readers have alluded to the fact that the Carlyles had a very unhappy marriage, something that doesn't come across, yet, in the early pages of this book. I'm going to leave this other book out to read soon.}

The author, Thea Holme, was a British actress (she played Jane Austen, Mrs. Weston and Mrs. Croft in BBC productions in the 1950s and 1960s) who was married to the curator of the Carlyles' house and lived there with him.  {It's not surprising that she was an actress; there's something dramatic (exuberant, showy, in a good way?) about the writing that is very captivating.

Another book that I started early, can't wait to read more of, and don't want to end.  It's hard to imagine a book (literary biography, full of domestic details) more perfectly suited to my reading tastes. 

{The portraits of the Carlyles -- I love the one of Jane -- are from the National Trust print collection; if you click here and type 'Carlyle' in the search box, you can see wonderful images of their house and some of their possessions.}

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Frances said...

I absolutely remember that book catalog! I LOVED it. I still have a few in a box somewhere. As a matter of fact, I saw some up for auction last year. Think some people collect them.

But you are right that blogging events like this weekend's Persephone fun do take the place of things like that. We can still miss that charming catalog though.

Cristina (Rochester Reader) said...

I'm afraid I've never heard of that catalogue and it's a pity it's gone.
You've written such an inspiring post... I wish I had this book with me now!
Thank you for the link for pictures of their home... I love looking at such things :-)

Paperback Reader said...

Verity and I had the good fortune of visiting Carlyle's House last year, which was fascinating. I also pass Caryle's birthplace whenever I'm travelling home to Scotland via car but I have not yet read the book.
Looking forward to your review.

Danielle said...

I also remember that catalog and often ordered from them. I came across such wonderful books--It really is a pity they went out of business. I'd like to read this as well--my library has an old edition of it, which is what I am sure I'll also read but it's nice to think I might someday add the Persephone edition to my library.

lyn said...

I loved The Carlyles & Thea Holme wrote several other biographies including one of Caroline of Brunswick. The Phyllis Rose book is excellent, it will fill in a lot about the Carlyles that TH doesn't go into. So nice to see a review of one of the lesser-known Persephones.

Joan Hunter Dunn said...

I've given The Carlyles as a book, I used to walk past their house a lot in my previous job but I've yet to read this book.

Anonymous said...

You have planned your reading for this weekend well. I am in awe scrolling through all of your posts for this weekend. And that catalog sounds wonderful, but I do agree that blogging events like this work that way for me now..

Katherine said...

I read The Carlyles at home last year and enjoyed all the little bits and pieces of their day to day life (despite the fact that their marriage was apparently so stormy...)

Bellezza said...

Hmmm, I have The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, but I don't think that's what you mean. :) I don't know of that book catalogue, but I liked the photographs you posted in celebration of this weekend.

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