It’s spring again, and a bit of news that feels cheering in today’s disordered world reaches us via an unsolicited email from ‘the world’s leading market intelligence agency’. It seems that the number of Brits who bought a print book was up last year from 51 per cent in 2018 to 56 per cent. The main reason people gave was that they prefer physical books to reading on devices. E-books certainly have their uses, but there are very particular experiences attached to the reading of a physical book, particularly a second-hand one – its look, its feel, its smell, its history as evidenced by the clues left on it and in it by previous owners. Every physical book, like a person, tells a story of its own in a way no digital book can, however convenient.
We had a fascinating discussion on this subject with Chris Saunders, Managing Director of Henry Sotheran, the world’s oldest antiquarian bookshop, in our October podcast (No. 12). For anyone who hasn’t yet caught up with that episode, it’s well worth a listen. And if you feel you would probably enjoy podcasts but don’t quite know how to get started, do get in touch with Hattie, Jess or Anna on the office number to see if they can help.
This season’s Slightly Foxed Edition takes us back to another disordered era in our history, that of the Second World War as experienced by a very unsnobbish and unconventional aristocrat, Hermione, Countess of Ranfurly. When her husband Dan was called up in 1939 and news came that he was permitted to take a servant with him – in this case their portly and characterful cook-butler Whitaker – but not his newly married wife, Hermione decided to defy regulations. With a Colt revolver hidden inside her girdle, she took ship to Egypt 6 in search of her husband, vowing never to return until she and Dan were reunited. Likeable and capable, she was soon working for SOE in Cairo, and later as right-hand woman to General ‘Jumbo’ Wilson. The diary she kept during those years was eventually published as To War with Whitaker (see p.13). It’s a sparkling, very human and often very funny behind-the-scenes account of the war and its personalities, and a touching love story.
This spring, to chime with the reissue of Rosemary Sutcliff’s brilliant Roman novels in our Cubs series, we’re bringing her own memoir, Blue Remembered Hills, back into print again in a Plain Foxed Edition. This was the very first book we published when we started the SFEs in 2008, and we’ve always felt a particular affection for it. It is the story of a child who grew up physically disabled by a severe form of juvenile arthritis, and who through will and imagination became a respected painter of miniatures and then a hugely successful children’s author. It’s a book full of the joy of living, a moving story of finding a vocation, which is as vivid and absorbing as any of Sutcliff’s children’s books.
Finally, on p.25 you’ll find a piece by T. M. Delaney, the winner of the 2019 SF Writers’ Competition – more evidence of the writing talent that we know lurks among our readers. And congratulations to Anthony Flack, the winner of our eleventh annual crossword competition, who receives a free annual subscription. For those of you still chewing your pencils, the answers are on p.96.