So many new authors and books vie for media attention that I almost feel guilty admitting that I usually prefer to read books written several decades ago. Luckily, many imprints and publishers specialise in reissues. My favourites are two small publishers that resurrect books they regard as unjustly forgotten, Slightly Foxed Editions and Persephone Books.
Slightly Foxed is a magazine that describes itself as "not so much a review magazine as a magazine of enthusiasms", which is what makes it so likeable. It expanded into book publishing in 2008 with the intention of reissuing what its founder Gail Pirkis calls "fascinating memoirs and personal accounts that bring alive a particular moment or place, that allow you into someone else's world and make you feel you have actually known the writer".
Persephone, founded by Nicola Beauman in 1999, also specialises in unfairly neglected titles, concentrating on female writers from the middle of the 20th century.
Because both publishers are driven by personal taste rather than marketing committees, every time they release a new book it feels like an enthusiastic recommendation from a friend whose tastes you trust absolutely.
If you like one Persephone book, chances are you’ll like many more; I’ve got three shelves crammed full of them, and I don’t think I’ve ever been disappointed.
Both publishers’ books are beautiful objects, and all cost less than a typical hardback. Their books are primarily sold online, from foxedquarterly.com and persephonebooks.co.uk, and each time an ordered title arrives it feels like a present.
Persephone’s books are elegant paperbacks with silvery grey dustjackets; each title has unique, brightly patterned endpapers and comes with a matching bookmark.
The Slightly Foxed editions are lovely little hardbacks with embossed cloth covers. They are amazingly satisfying to hold in the hand, and this isn’t an accident.
“To us the look and the feel – even the smell! – of a book are part of the pleasure of reading,” says Pirkis.
Slightly Foxed publishes just 2,000 copies of each book, and several titles are already sold out, but it has reissued some of them as equally charming paperbacks.
Both publishers have built up devoted cult followings, and with good reason. Whenever I meet another Persephone devotee, a conversation about favourites inevitably ensues. (Mine is Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes .)
And I've recently been raving to my friends about the latest Slightly Foxed Edition, Ysenda Maxtone-Graham's The Real Mrs Miniver ; it's a witty and moving biography of her grandmother Jan Struther, the author.
Gail Pirkis says the Slightly Foxed team have “even been sent cakes, marmalade and jars of chutney” by happy readers. It’s not surprising. Once you’ve been introduced to books by Slightly Foxed and Persephone, you might want to send them an appreciative cake yourself.