Virago Reading Week: It’s Official!

Hurrah! Virago Reading Week will officially commence on Monday 24th January and finish on Sunday 30th January.

Many of you have already expressed interest and Carolyn and I both hope that there will be a good crowd joining us. You don’t need to ‘sign up’ to participate; just choose your books (or book, if you’ll only have time to read one!) and get ready to write about them! We’ll let you know more about how things will work nearer the time (as we may not have figured that part out yet ;)), but I can announce that there will be prizes thanks to Virago, so get excited!

If you’re reading this and wondering what the goodness I am on about, then, just for you, I shall explain. Virago Press started in the 1970’s, as a vehicle to publish fiction and non fiction by women (and later, some men, writing about women). Unlike the similar Persephone press, they also publish new fiction alongside resurrecting work that has long been out of print. The imprint of most interest to many is the Virago Modern Classics, which are mainly reprints of unjustly neglected fiction by a variety of female authors from the 1700s to the present day, writing from a myriad of different historical and cultural viewpoints. Unfortunately many of the Virago Modern Classics are now out of print themselves, but they are widely available second hand, and are to be identified by their distinctive green spines and decorative covers, or black spines and decorative covers if you buy the American versions.

What I love about them is the sheer scope of their list, and how many exciting discoveries you can make within it. There is a book to choose for every interest, and every mood, from Victorian Sensation Fiction to cosy interwar domesticity, hilarious social commentary to depictions of serious modern issues. They are truly windows into women’s lives and how they have changed throughout the turbulent centuries of our modern times. I can discover the life of a 19th century farmer’s daughter in Australia, or that of a pampered society belle in 1920’s London. I can read of the passion of a suffragette, and of a new wave feminist. I can read authors that are familiar, and others whose one hit wonders fell through the cracks of publishing history. In short, if you’re interested in women’s writing or history, you’d be interested in Virago Modern Classics. Most of my favourite female authors have been published in the Virago imprint; Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Rosamond Lehmann, Elizabeth Von Arnim, E M Delafield, F M Mayor, Margaret Atwood; even my most recent discovery, Marilynne Robinson, to name just a few. There is so much to discover, and if you go here you will find a complete list of Virago Modern Classics, compiled by members of the wonderful Virago Modern Classics group on Librarything. Carolyn, bless her heart, is working on a list alphabetised by author to make things easier, though seeing as both of us have a lot on our plates at the moment, I’m not entirely sure if we’ll get it finished on time. If not, the Librarything list is still very easy to navigate.

So, I wish you much happiness in perusing the list and choosing your titles. Personally, I will be having a Willa Cather fest and reading my way through O, Pioneers! and My Antonia, which I am very much looking forward to. If I get the time, I’ll sneak in The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton, but I won’t hold my breath! I am so excited to be co-hosting this week with Carolyn and I hope it will bring some literary spark to what is usually a rather dull month!

88 comments

  1. Sounds great! I’ve got my list narrowed down to five, but will have to choose just a couple to read that week! Too many choices (but a a good thing really.

    1. Fantastic to have you joining in, Danielle! I think it’s good not to be too tied down – you can just pick whatever you feel like when it comes to the week!

  2. How exciting but where to start? I think I’ll hold on to von Arnim’s The Pastor’s Wife, which I currently have out from the library, and perhaps track down a copy of Cather’s The Song of the Lark, having enjoyed My Antonia and O, Pioneers! so much. I think my problem with Virago has been that in the past I only picked obscure, depressing titles. This is definitely a chance for me to explore some of their more accessible titles!

    1. Well precisely – thankfully my entire unread collection of Viragos is safely in England, so I only have a couple to choose from! The Arnim sounds excellent, and Cather is always a wise choice – never a disappointment! Yes you definitely need to branch out and find some enjoyable non depressing reads – there are some truly excellent ones in that list!

  3. I am so looking forward to this! Thanks to you and Carolyn for organising and to Virago for providing give-away copies (there is something I have been meaning to do along those lines and perhaps Virago week would be the best time to do it). A Virago week and a Persephone Reading Weekend in the space of a few weeks is too much excitement!

    I’m not going to tie myself down to a particular choice as I’ll probably fare better choosing on a whim; however, like the other Claire above, The Song of the Lark and The Pastor’s Wife are both contenders as are Her Son’s Wife and One Fine Day and the list goes on an on.

    1. I am so glad to hear it Claire! It will be a joy to have you reading along.πŸ™‚ I know – I have a Persephone saved up ready for the weekend, too!

      Ooooh I am going to put in a not so subtle hint for One Fine Day…exquisite, and I know you would love it. But then a Dorothy Canfield too cannot disappoint…I see your quandary!πŸ™‚

  4. I’m looking forward to this! I’m planning to read The Return of the Soldier and probably something by Elizabeth von Arnim. Thanks to both you and Carolyn for hosting this!

  5. Oh Rachel, I had a gasp of excitement on seeing the image of the covers at the start of your post, how beautiful! (I confess to not working on that author list yet since we’re still unpacking and we had to take a short trip back to Calgary for my husband’s medication and ended up nearly having a car accident on the icy roads, plus various visits from overly chatty aunts…!) I have enough accessible Viragos here (I Capture the Castle, The Diary of a Provincial Lady) that I haven’t read yet, plus a few more challenging ones, so no lack of reading material even without my big library. Now time to get busy on this! (And get back into blogging too, everything’s felt too busy for that too.)

    1. I know they’re great, aren’t they? My collection has tripled since I did that…so ashamed of myself for buying so many books I have neglected to read! Oh Carolyn, don’t worry…you have been so busy! I don’t even think the list is that necessary, if you don’t have time. Don’t stress about it at all! Glad you have plenty of choice to hand – perhaps a nice cosy read will be best for you right now, to calm your poor frazzled nerves! I am so looking forward to hosting this with you. I think we’re going to have a brilliant time!

  6. This sounds great! I love all the focus on small presses blogosphere has been doing latelyπŸ™‚ I don’t think I’ll be able to participate, but I did just pick up (and, er, then set back down) My Antonia, so maybe I’ll read it some time.

  7. It looks like I can participate in both Virago Reading Week AND the TBR Dare, but the books won’t be Virago editions. Is that cheating?πŸ˜‰
    I’ll choose between Cather, Welty, Wharton, Von Arnim, and Pym. That won’t be easy…

    1. Good! No not at all – I won’t be reading Virago editions, and I’m hosting it!!

      Oh what choices you have! So many spectacular reads are coming your way!

  8. I’m super excited about this as I’ve never read a Virago before. I’ve got Kate O’Brien’s The Land of Spices all ready to go. Thanks for hosting this awesome event!

    1. Wow, that’s fantastic! I’m so glad that you are getting the chance to finally dip into a Virago, and Kate O’Brien is a brilliant place to start. You are welcome- thanks for participating!

  9. Hallo – I am keen join in the Virago reading week. I have been collecting Virago books for a long time. I have put aside The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West and The Clever Woman of the Family by Charlotte Yonge.
    I have just finished reading My Antonia and I hope you enjoy Cather’s writing as much as I did.

    1. I’m so glad, Patricia! Those two sound excellent choices – I very much enjoyed The Edwardians when I read it, and I’ve always wanted to read a Charlotte Yonge, so I shall be able to do so vicariously through you.
      I love Cather and can’t wait to read more – I am excited!

  10. Wow! Those covers are amazing (I’ve been know to judge a book by its cover.)! A busy month is ahead with a book group commitment, but, hey, I might just take a stab at your reading week. I will look forward to hearing yet more about this.

    1. I know, aren’t they? Virago used to have such striking covers. I wish they had stuck with those original designs. I understand what it’s like to have lots of commitments, Penny, but it would be a pleasure to have you along for the ride if you can find the time.πŸ™‚

  11. This sounds great. Am I allowed to join in from this end of the world? I have a few I have picked up. I was very excited to find A diary of a Provincial Lady with a green cover just this week. I haven’t read the sequels yet and the next day I got the Provincials Daughter.I don’t usually find the authors I enjoy and never know if I should be just buying them because of the covers. They’re usually very cheap.

    1. Merilyn, of course you are! It will be a pleasure to have you! The Diary of a Provincial Lady is superb and one of my absolute favourites – you have such joy coming your way! And I think buying a book for its cover is the best way to buy books!

  12. This will be a great way to knock a few books off my TBR shelf! I have so many of these authors begging to be read. I’ll probably read one by Cather and maybe a Bronte or a du Maurier. . . or a Wharton. . . oh, this is so hard! I have at least a dozen Viragos I need to read. Maybe I should have a Virago month!

    1. Good, I’m glad to hear it! It’s always good to have an excuse to take a sledgehammer to that teetering pile of books you keep meaning to tackle! So much choice, and so many excellent authors…perhaps you should keep it going until they’re all read?!

    1. Fantastic – and Frost in May is such a brilliant book, too. I know you’ll love it. It’s a pleasure to organise things for such enthusiastic and appreciative people, so thank you for joining in!

  13. Though I have read no books by Virago (or Persephone, for that matter…), I do admire the publishing house’s desire to draw attention to the more obscure titles written by women (or, about women). As you say, there seems to be incredible variety among the books and while there are probably a few bad apples here and there, there are many wonderful books to be found. I hope you enjoy the week!

    1. Well maybe it’s time you started, Biblibio! I hope you can find time to join in for the week. Yes, I am glad that there are presses like Virago who have resurrected unjustly neglected fiction for us all to enjoy. I can’t claim to have enjoyed all of Virago’s choices over the years, but most of them have given me great pleasure and I look forward to reading more of them!

  14. My list of tbrs for January was headed by a Virago, “The Weather on the Streets’ but then I discovered that it was a follow on from ‘Invitation to the Waltz’, so I’m hoping that will turn up from the library in time for me to join in.

    1. I hate it when that happens! I am always inadvertently buying books that are sequels without owning the first. So annoying! I hope Invitation to the Waltz does come in time..Rosamond Lehmann is so brilliant.

  15. This is good news, although I am a little confused – is your week for ALL Virago books or is it just the VMCs? Plus, I already have a list organised by author if you want….

    1. Sorry, I didn’t make that very clear, did I? Thank you for pointing that out! Yes, VMCs. It’s just ‘Virago Modern Classics Reading Week’ doesn’t have the same ring!

      Oooh do you? Could you send it to me? That would be wonderful, thank you so much!

  16. I’m in, I’m in! How perfectly timed for me as well as I’m reading The Bookshop for Cornflower’s book group which meets January 22.

    While we’re talking about Viragos…My copy of Blaming was on the coffee table while R was enjoying a slice of pizza nearby. He looked down and spied something red on my book and knowing my OCD tendencies he was horrified! Did he get pizza sauce on my Christmas gift and beloved Elizabeth Taylor!? Quickly investigating while my gaze was cast elsewhere he was relieved to discover it was simply the little Virago apple motif…phew!

    1. Fantastic, Darlene! I can’t wait to see what you pick!

      That story made me laugh so much! I can just imagine poor R’s face as he spied the red splotch! Thank goodness it wasn’t pizza sauce…or he would have been in big trouble!!

  17. I may have to cheat and re-read but that will bring extra pleasure as I’ll know what’s in store. I love re-reading favourites.
    How on earth do you find the time, not to mention the energy, to organise this, run your blog, respond to our comments AND hold down an exciting job? Oh and read and read and read, of course!
    What a great start to the reading year – and so generous of you both to set the whole thing up. Thanks, Rachel.

    1. Rereading is not cheating, Chrissy! Rereading allows the richness and value of a book to unfold with more intensity, and as such is a much more worthy experience than a first read, I often find. So reread to your heart’s content!

      I really don’t know…I am permanently exhausted and fall asleep all the time in public…does that help explain it?!!?!

      You are so welcome – it’s a pleasure to do things that bring such joy to fellow readers!

  18. It’s been six weeks since I read a VMC: I thought I was in withdrawal from chocolate deprivation, but maybe it’s the lack of green-spined lovelies on my current-reading stack. I’ll be happy to join in!

  19. Oo, I do hope I can join in… I’m trying to make myself get down to some serious study, but I daresay I’ll be distracted by at least one of the many VMCs I have lying unread on my shelves!

  20. I am going to have to go on the hunt for a lovely green Virago book or two I think so that I can join in. I think I have some in boxes in the garage but a trip to a few second hand stores could be just the tonic lol!

  21. This is my first dip into Virago classics; I’ve just completed The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim (what a treasure), and I’ll be picking up some Edith Wharton for this special week you’re hosting. Which, coincidentally, ends with my birthday.πŸ˜‰

    1. Oh Bellezza, you have so much joy in store! The Enchanted April is a great favourite of mine and Edith Wharton is too…I look forward to seeing what you choose and reading your thoughts. How wonderful! Perhaps a Virago themed present will end up in your hands?!

  22. I’ll be following the project avidly. May not be able to read any right now as I’m going through (another!) Austen phase, but I look forward to the posts.

    1. I’m glad you’ll be following even if you can’t find time to join in – though technically Austen is a Virago author, as she was republished by them!

  23. I’ve been a fan of Viragos since they started publishing. My first (and theirs, I think) was ‘Frost in May’ which made a huge inpression on my 20-something self! I’ve been picking them up ever since, often, it has to be said, buying a book from a charity shop just because it was a Virago, rather than for any other reason! I have a separate section for them on my bookshelves.
    In my TBR bookkcase, however, at the moment, are Willa Cather’s ‘My Antonia’ and Vita Sackville-West’s ‘The Edwardians’. I’m swithering between the two… Exciting!

    1. I love the Frost in May series, Penny – so brilliant, and so worthy of reprinting. I wish more people had read them! You’re lucky that you were around at the beginning – you’ve had a good head start on those of us who have just joined the club! I am excited to read your thoughts on either of those picks…I love Willa Cather and I greatly enjoyed The Edwardians so either way we are both in for a treat!πŸ™‚

  24. I wonder if at some point the spine colors were changed for America. All of my Viragos (including books I purchased when Virago first published them in the early 1980s) seem to have green spines–although all of them were purchased in America. Does anyone know if I’m somehow delusional–ha-ha!–or if the green spines were available in America 30 years ago?

    I just finished the entire DIARY OF A PROVINCIAL LADY series by E.M. Delafield–wonderful! Perhaps I’ll finally finish Emily Eden’s THE SEMI-DETACHED HOUSE and THE SEMI-ATTACHED COUPLE (a double, published in one book) which started out charmingly and I can’t imagine why I never finished back in the 1990s. But, as usual with reading challenges, I can’t make a commitment; life is just too unpredictable!

    1. Perhaps they used to import them, until they gave Dial Press the rights to print them? I’m not sure when the Black Spines came in…someone on the Virago Librarything board would know I am sure!

      Oh I love The Provincial Lady series…absolutely love it! I have Emily Eden at home as well…it is such a big book that I haven’t got around to it yet but I’d love to at some point! I hope you will join in our readalong, it would be lovely to have you!

    2. According to my information, Penguin was publishing the green VMCs in the United States from late 1985.If you check your editions you will probably find the Penguin emblem on the spine and the ISBN series number will be 014……. Dial Press published the VMCs (with the black covers) until late 1984/early 85 when that Publisher closed. From 1982 until 1986 Virago press was part of the Chatto Bodley Head and Cape Group of publishers. In 1987, it became an independent publisher again.

      1. Thank you–I thought I was going crazy (wouldn’t be the first time!). Everytime someone mentioned the American editions with black spines, I’d look at my collection and think, where did those green spines come from? I’m glad I can worry about other things now–like where I put my car keys or my reading glasses.

  25. I was just looking at the list, and just want to say I’ve read “Precious Bane” by Mary Webb – and highly recommend it! Prue is a very appealing character. But I’m still reading Dr. Zhivago, so I won’t be joining in. (and really liking it, by the way)

    1. I’ve been meaning to read Mary Webb for ages, Lisa…one of these days! Thank you for the recommendation! I’m so pleased you are still loving Doctor Zhivago…it’s a big reading commitment but worth it, I think!

  26. I read Diary of a Provincial Lady over Christmas and it was great! While I don’t own any Virago editions, and am trying to stick to the books I own rather than buy any, I’m planning to use the Virago Reading Week to finally get to Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop. I think one book will last me for the week, but if by chance I need more, then it will be A Jest of God by Margaret Laurence – or I’ll look for some VMC’s at the library. Thanks for hosting the challenge!

    1. Hi Kristin – isn’t The Provincial Lady series fantastic?! I love it! Good news about the Cather – I am going to be reading non Virago editions too so don’t you worry about that! I look forward to seeing what you read and reading your thoughts, too! You are welcome – I am excited for it!

  27. That’s so fantastic, I love Virago. I’m in!πŸ™‚
    I’ll probably read Mad, bad and sad: a history of women and the mind doctors by Appignanesi (hope non-fiction is okay) and/ or The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter.

    1. So glad to hear it, Bina! Oooh I’ve been intrigued by that Appoganesi book for ages – I’d love to hear about it. Non fiction is completely okay!πŸ™‚

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