Well, Virago Reading Week was wonderful, wasn’t it? So many lovely posts to enjoy, so many new bloggers to meet, so many tempting books to add to my TBR pile! It was such a joy to see the responses by people who had never read Virago books before, and to read the often very thoughtful and perceptive responses to issues surrounding feminist literature and how books have touched and changed us. It has been an immense privilege to co host this week, and you’ll be pleased to know that Carolyn and I are already referring to a ‘next year’, so…this isn’t the end! This also isn’t the end of celebrating women’s writing and feminist presses for the time being, because Verity and Claire are once again hosting a Persephone reading event, though this time it’s over a weekend rather than a week (as there is so much work involved – now I can appreciate that!). So get your Persephone Books ready for the 25-27th of February, and Persephone Reading Weekend!
I have some prizes to announce…this has been terribly difficult, I must say, as there have been so many fantastic posts and comments and I was practically losing sleep over who to choose. Let’s hope I never have to judge anything more life threatening in future, because I have done enough hand wringing over this as it is!
The first category is Best Overall Participant. This was a tough one, as so many of you have been exuberant in your enthusiasm and have posted marvellous reviews, thoughts and comments every single day during the week. Who, then, could Carolyn and I pick from amongst you? It was not an easy decision. We mulled over several; Rachel of Flowers and Stripes posted beautiful quotes every day, that blew me away and gave me plenty to think on, as well as new book ideas to try; JoAnn of Lakeside Musing posted wonderful histories of two Virago authors, Edith Wharton and Collette, as well as reviews, and Verity of Verity’s Virago Venture picked out several unusual Viragos to review, which I had never heard of before. Ultimately though, for his generosity, enthusiasm and wonderful banner, we have decided to award this to Thomas of My Porch. I am sure you will agree that this is much deserved!
The second category is Best Review. Carolyn and I each decided on one of these. I was in agonies over this one. I managed to whittle it down to three, but then making a final decision was so hard! I swung between them all until a final reread helped me to make up my mind. The two runners up for this are the lovely Laura of Laura’s Musings, who wrote a very powerful review of one of my own personal favourite Viragos, Mollie Panter-Downes’ One Fine Day, and Lyn of I Prefer Reading, who wrote a very intriguing review of Vita Sackville West’s No Signposts in the Sea. Sadly there are no prizes for runners up, but you get a very, very honourable mention! The winner is Carol of Book Group of One, whose review of Enid Bagnold’s The Loved and Envied was superb. Congratulations, Carol!
Finally, there is the prize for the What’s Your Favourite Virago? competition. So many wonderful answers came in, all as persuasive as the next! Claire of Paperback Reader had me desperate to read Rebecca again with her atmospheric description of this brilliant novel, and Virginia reminded me of just how good The Crowded Street by Winifred Holtby was. However, Cristina of Rochester Reader wrote a beautifully moving comment about Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, which I had never heard of before, but now want to read very much, and for that, I award her the prize!
So, Thomas, Carol and Cristina are my winners; congratulations! Give me an email and I’ll let you know what to do next. Don’t forget to check over at Carolyn’s for the final two prizes later today!
In summary, I have been truly encouraged by this week. The amount of passion and excitement out there for reading good literature, by and about women, is wonderful to see. Reading is a revolutionary act, and books are powerful in ways we often do not realise. I read a wonderful article in The New Yorker this morning about the effect of books on social movements, focusing on the effect of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique on the feminist movement in the US. The article is entitled ‘Books as Bombs’, and I entirely agree with that sentiment. Books are incendiary devices, that light a fire in our minds and souls and hearts, that inspire us, educate us, move us, enlighten us, and open our eyes to people and places and situations we would never ordinarily come across in our everyday lives. Virago threw a bomb into the world of publishing forty years ago, when they dared to suggest that women’s literature was more than housewives’ potboilers and period pieces. Their smart green spines with the symbol of the forbidden fruit – subversive, but deadly – a reminder that women crave, and possess knowledge too, marked a turning point in how the world was beginning to view women, and how women were beginning to re-view themselves. Virago is a feminist press because it believes in women and their potential; it believes in the right for women to be heard, and in a context that encourages them to explore their creativity and write about their experiences of womanhood; be that oppression, liberation, the domestic sphere or the working world. It does not encourage the hatred of men nor does it publish books solely about women’s subordination, common misconceptions about feminist presses. Instead, it gives an importance, a platform, a validity, for the expression of women’s experiences, which, until just a few decades ago, was stifled by the ridiculous belief that women’s writing, and women’s history, was but a footnote in the annals of men. What a remarkable achievement. It is easy for us to forget that just a generation ago, the only women novelists on university courses could be counted on the fingers of one hand. I barely read a novel by a man during my entire university course, which I finished almost four years ago. What a difference a generation makes. What a difference these green spines have made.