Midweek @ Musings: Virago Collecting and Reading

Welcome to Virago Reading Week!

My little bird is playing second fiddle this week to Thomas‘ lovely button, promoting the first-ever Virago Reading Week.  Hosted by Rachel and Carolyn, the idea is to read one or more Viragos and blog about them.  There’s also a lively Virago Reading Week discussion on LibraryThing.  Each day Carolyn or Rachel give a roundup of the day’s posts.  It’s been great fun already.

I’ve blogged about my Virago collection before, here and here.  But I’ve never mentioned what inspired me to collect and read Virago Modern Classics.  In October, 2007 I spent a weekend with a wonderful group of women I’d gotten to know on LibraryThing.  Some were avid Virago collectors, and their LibraryThing discussions had me a bit mystified:  what are Viragos?  Why collect them?  Holy cow there are more than 500 of them, which ones are best?  In short, what’s all the fuss?  Well, as is often the case with bookish meet-ups, we had a little book swap.  And those collectors made sure I came home with two VMCs:  The Sugar House, and The Misses Mallett:

I soon learned that The Sugar House was the third book in the Frost in May Quartet.  Of course I couldn’t very well read the third book without reading the first two … and so the hunt was on.  About a month later, my husband and I paid a visit to a used bookshop and I left with seven Virago Modern Classics, including Frost in May (whew).  I was really quite taken with the cover art, and with finding all these women authors I’d never heard of before.

Suddenly I had nine Virago Modern Classics and hadn’t read a single one.  Oops.  I felt a little foolish, but the situation was easily remedied.  I decided to start with Frost in May, because it was the first VMC published back in 1978.  It was interesting, but not wonderful, and I was afraid I’d been suckered into something (read my review of Frost in May).  But then I read Elizabeth Taylor’s Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont.  It was touching, with wonderful well-drawn characters, and it made me think (read my review).   That was the moment I became a fan.  I’ve read more than 30 VMCs now, and have yet to be disappointed.  I’ve discovered new authors, some of whom have become favorites.

Winifred Holtby is one of my new favorite authors, so it seems fitting to read her work during Virago Reading Week.  I got an early start reading Anderby Wold, and finished it last night.  It was an excellent first novel, hinting at the greatness shown in South Riding.  I’ll publish a review soon.  And now I have time to fit another Virago into the week.  I’m going to read Mollie Panter-Downes’ One Fine Day, chosen because Rachel raved about it not long ago. And why not honor one of the Virago Reading Week founders by reading a book she loved?

So more about my Virago reads later.  I hope you are enjoying Virago Reading Week as much as I am!

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13 thoughts on “Midweek @ Musings: Virago Collecting and Reading

  1. Ooh, I hope you enjoy One Fine Day – I liked it, although naother friend was left cold. So interesting reading about how people have come to Virago…

  2. Laura, what a wonderful post! It’s so interesting to read how people first came across Viragos – often in weird and wonderful ways! Collecting VMCs can get very addictive – I went through a phase of buying loads – and now I have so many boxed up at my mum’s, unread, that I feel quite ashamed!

    I hope you love One Fine Day as much as I did. Such a sublimely beautiful and elegiac book!

    • Rachel, I’ve only read about 20% of my collection and I seem to collect them faster than I can read them. But what if there were a book famine someday? I’d be all set … 🙂

  3. I’m afraid I’m old enough to remember when the Virago imprint came into being. In the early days I collected a lot including the ‘Frost in May’ Quartet, which were the first ones I read. Latterly I have bought far fewer, so perhaps I should use the impetus of Virago week to get back to them.

    • Annie, I’m also technically old enough to remember when Viragos came into being (I’ll be 49 next month), but despite being raised by an avid reader & feminist, I was completely unaware of Virago Press. I have so much catching up to do!

  4. Laura, for the life of me I can’t remember the first Virago I read. But I can remember the joy of discovering E.H. Young and Winifred Holtby, particularly the latter’s South Riding. I too have a forest of green on my TBR shelves but I don’t feel guilty, I feel well-stocked and prepared for any eventuality of mood or circumstance.

    • Tui, I feel the same sense of comfort at being well-stocked and prepared! And you’ve reminded me I need to read more E.H. Young. I’ve read several of her books but in writing this post I realized The Misses Mallett is one I have yet to read.

  5. Pingback: Virago Reading Week: Round Up #3 « A Few of my Favourite Books

  6. I think The Reef was my first and only VMC so far… I’m hopeless with these sorts of collections even though they seem like something I could really get into. (Still haven’t read a single Persphone.) I’ll enjoy these vicariously for now!

    • Marieke, I’m not a collector either, really, I can’t think of another time I collected anything (except a brief period collecting stamps as a kid!) I regret not collecting VMCs when I lived in the UK. I gather from fellow collectors that they are commonly found in Oxfam and other charity shops. So it’s never too late for you to start … 🙂

  7. One Fine Day and South Riding are at the very top of my Virago to-read list — I keep reading all the rave reviews. Sadly, I’m on a book-buying ban until April (luckily I have plenty of Viragos for the week) but I think these will be the first two I buy or check out from the library. Wish we had more of the lovely green Viragos here in the U.S.!

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