Virago Reading Week: Final Thoughts…and Prizes!

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.

39 comments

  1. Dear Rachel

    Excellent choices.

    Judging is most awkward, particularly when there is such stiff competition.

    It has been so much fun this week. A real tribute to both your hard work and the a tribute to the love of Viragos.

    A beautiful post this. Now – sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labours….more reading!

    1. Thank you, Alex! It really is! I wish I could have given everyone a prize!

      I am so glad you have enjoyed the week – I know I have! But I must say, I am looking forward to spending some time off line!

  2. Oh, thank you for awarding me a prize! And congratulations to Thomas and Carol🙂 I loved your summation and wholeheartedly agree. Thank you again to you both for a lovely week! I’m already looking forward to the next🙂

  3. Congrats to the winners! And thank you for hosting VRW – you’ve inspired me to seek out more Viragos. I’ve already ordered three that I found on Amazon and can’t wait to get, and read, more.

  4. Congratulations to the winners! I’m delighted simply to have made the “short list,” as I expected nothing of the sort. This was bags of fun and I can’t wait to do it again!

  5. Well, Rachel, I’m thrilled! And especially pleased that you singled out the review of a book I consider quite magical. Cristina, Thomas, what are we wearing for the awards ceremony? Seriously, I think we all got so much out of this week and if my TBR list has tripled in length, surely that’s a good thing.
    I loved your summation above, Rachel. You and Carolyn have done a lovely job.

    See you all for Persephone Weekend?

    1. Fantastic! And well deserved, Carol! Thank you so much, and I will indeed be there for Persephone weekend, enjoying the fact that I can sit back and merely participate!

  6. Thomas definitely deserves a prize for his participation and his generosity! The whole week was a little reward for me — every day I had amazing books to read about and new bloggers to discover. Thanks again for doing this — I look forward to reading all the Viragos I discovered this week!

  7. Congratulations to the three winners! And thanks to both you and Carolyn for hosting this week. It’s been fun reading all the posts and I’ve been able to add lots of Viragos to my wish list!

  8. Thank you for your kind words and congratulations to the winners. Congratulations too to you and Carolyn for hosting your inaugural Virago Reading Week; it has me *green* with envy at some of the wonderful books read.

    Thomas was a wonderful participant and most deserving of the prize (he is always one of the most prolific and enthusiastic of Persephone Reading event participants).

      1. Thank you Claire! It was exhausting but so much fun and I am so glad we did it and had such a great response. Thank you for taking part!!

        I had never heard of Ursula Le Guin before Cristina mentioned her so I am looking forward to finding out what she’s like!

        Looking forward to Persephone Reading Week!

  9. We have all been winners, Rachel! Huge rounds of applause to Thomas, Cristina and Carol and everyone else who was mentioned. If you get started now, you can make all of us a little medal for participation in time for next year!

  10. Thank you for the homourable mention & congratulations to the winners. Thank you for hosting the week, it’s been such a success & a lot of fun.

    1. You are so welcome, Lyn! I wish it could have been a prize! It has been such a wonderful week and I am so thankful for everyone who participated with such enthusiasm.

  11. What a wonderful post, Rachel! Love the last paragraph and as you know, have been so inspired this week by my reading and by finding my own blogging voice, as it were, in leading this event. (Ok, co-leading! ;)) I feel more confident in my blogging now, more sure of myself after seeing all the marvelous things that have happened this week. Thank you for the feminist inspiration, I’m looking forward to more great books and discussions together!

    1. Thank you, Carolyn! Watching your love for Virago grow has been such a great pleasure and it’s wonderful that you have got so much from the week. Fantastic! And we have next year to plan for and get excited about, and more reading in between! Can’t wait!🙂

  12. Your blog is wonderful, I love that it is devoted to reading. Your comments on your university education were very interesting to me. I was in college in the early 1970’s and the women’s movement was happening then. It was such an exciting time, Women’s literature classes were just being developed at UCLA, where I was, and I discovered Virginia Woolf, who was a quiet kind of feminist, but a powerful one all the same. I’ll never forget the impact she had on me, and to this day, she is my favorite writer. Her ideas about women’s freedom and independence in “A Room of One’s Own” and her love and support of writers and literature through the Hogarth Press have had a great influence on my life.

  13. I have really enjoyed reading all the various posts throughout Virago Reading Week. Many thanks to you and Carolyn for hosting this. I really hoped to be a part of this, but have been so busy at work and home that I haven’t been able to (although I did manage to finish My Antonia yesterday). I do plan to dedicate a few posts about Virago over the next couple of weeks (things I was hoping to post about last week), as better late than never I think :o)

    1. Thank you, I’m so glad you enjoyed it. It’s a shame you couldn’t take part as you wanted to, but at least you read a Virago, so you were with us in spirit! I look forward to reading your belated thoughts – it’s always better to be late rather than not take part at all!

  14. Lovely post and sentiments I wholeheartedly agree with! I am still working away on my Viragos, as I hope to continue to do all year long! Thanks so much for doing this–I can only imagine how much time it took (actually I really can imagine, so kudos to you and Carolyn!!). I still have blog posts to catch up reading and the posts I did get to this week inspired me to order a few more Viragos (as if I need inspiration there!). I’m looking forward to reading a Persephone title later this month, but now I think I need to read the New Yorker article!

    1. Thank you Danielle, and thank you for taking part so wonderfully! It was such a pleasure and it was VERY time consuming but 100% enjoyable nonetheless – thankfully I had a quiet week at work so I managed to do quite a bit while at my desk! I can’t wait to hear what Viragos you picked up, and I look forward to joining you for Persephone Reading Week! Oh and yes – do read that article, it’s excellent!

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