When it comes to the printed word, I still prefer the printing to be on paper. You could call me a Luddite; I prefer traditionalist. So, there's nothing I love more than Persephone Books. That's the U.K. publisher who's virtually cornered the market on literature by, about and for women; reprinting a variety of "lost" titles for contemporary readers. Last year I ordered a dozen titles even though the exchange rate was not in my favor.
Persephone introduced me to numerous new authors as well as Frances Hodgson Burnett's works for adult readers. Shortly thereafter, I found an unknown FHB title in a second-hand bookstore while on vacation. Imagine my chagrin when I reached the end of the book and discovered it was continued in a second volume with a different title.
The only way I could finish the book was on-line from Project Gutenberg. It was a less than satisfactory experience because Gutenberg doesn't seem set up to satisfy those who love books. The covers, the layout, the font, the logic that readers take for granted in print is often lacking on-line. Certainly that was the way I felt exploring and reading a book from Gutenberg.
At last that's changing, especially for those of us who can't get enough of Persephone's titles. The British publisher now has a worthy competitor: Girlebooks. Say it again slowly, with the emphasis on the "e" — electronic. Yup, it's "free ebooks by the gals."
The Web site is the work of one woman, Laura McDonald, and her mother, Joyce McDonald. They describe Girlebooks' mission as making "classic and lesser-known works by female writers available to a large audience through the ebook medium. They note they like books by men, but feel that "women's most loved and re-read books are generally books by other women." And they point out the same likely holds true for men. It works for me.
But what really works is the attractiveness of the site and the ebooks themsleves. You can search the site by title, author, or kind of lit (British, American, young adult and new releases). And the titles are wonderful. Many I'm completely unfamiliar with, like "The Female Quixote;" old friends like "Persuasion" and "My Antonia" have perfect cover images. I don't care if it's electronic; I still want an evocative cover. Or the cover that is on my own 1911 print copy of "The Secret Garden."
If my husband can read Thomas Hardy on his iPhone then I am willing to give ebooks a try on my laptop. I have to: Girlebooks hooked me with "The Leavenworth Case" and I'm not about to find a copy anywhere else. It looks to be a quirky mystery story told in the first person. But what is even more interesting is that the author, Anna Katherine Green, was one of the first to include scientific evidence as part of her dramas.
Even more interesting is the fact that the McDonald's discovered this author via an article in Antiques Magazine about the unique Arts-and-Crafts-era furniture designed by Charles Rohlfs with an unknown degree of collaboration by his wife — Anna Green. You can see some of their work in this slide show from Antiques Magazine.
But what hooked me is the discovery that Rohlfs and Green lived in my hometown — Buffalo — in one of my favorite neighborhoods where Rohlfs built them a Craftsman house, now in some disrepair. Thus, on my very first visit to Girlebooks, I discovered an unknown author, got a design and history lesson and a nostalgic link to the hometown of my childhood. And I haven't even started reading yet!
Girlebooks appears to have done the impossible: they've created a catalog of ebooks that will appeal to readers of Persephone's esoteric titles and whose design will keep those of us who love print happy on-line.
All book covers from Girlebooks. Image of the Rohlfs house (above) from the Web site: Buffalo As an Architectural Museum.