On Writing

Writing is saying to no one and to everyone the things it is not possible to say to someone. Or rather, writing is saying to the no one who may eventually be the reader those things one has no someone to whom to say them. Matters that are so subtle, so personal, so obscure, that I ordinarily can’t imagine saying them to the people to whom I’m closest. Every once in a while I try to say them aloud and finds that what turns to mush in my mouth or falls short of their ears can be written down for total strangers. Said to total strangers in the silence of writing that is recuperated and heard in the solitude of reading.

Is it the shared solitude of writing, is it that separately we all reside in a place deeper than society, even a society of two? Is it that the tongue fails where the fingers succeed, in telling truths so lengthy and nuanced that they are almost impossible aloud?

Rebecca Solnit, ‘The Faraway Nearby’

O Willa!

willa cather - pioneers

What a discovery this has been, reading my first Willa Cather novel! Yes, I know I have yet to come across a bad review of this masterpiece of hers and everyone has had only good things to say about her works, so I was prepared to be encountered with some really good writing. What I wasn’t prepared for though, was how much I loved it. To be honest, I have never been drawn towards literature that are based on the American frontier as its setting. In fact, to say that I have a natural aversion to it would probably be more accurate.

Encountering Alexandra Bergson as the novel’s protagonist was rather like a breath of fresh air that washed over all my preconceived impressions/ prejudices against frontier stories. She wasn’t what I was expecting to find in the book. A young lady with the intelligence, resilience and farsightedness that can easily outmatch any of the men that were struggling along the same frontier. I was impressed with her brand of  ‘contemplative stoicism’ (I came across this description somewhere and really liked it) that carried her through the entire journey. I definitely would have had much less patience than she had in dealing with those two infuriating brothers of hers, who had the cheek to lay claim on her share of property and interfere with her pursuit of happiness, when all they had ever contributed were just incessant pessimism and mindless brute force (that were not even always helpful) at working the land.

Thankfully for Alexandra, there’s still Emil, the youngest in the Bergson family, who is a far more endearing character to have around. In fact, it was little Emil who had first won my affections right from the first page where we see him as a five year old child in an oversized coat and in tears, pleading for someone to help rescue his kitten from a telegraph pole. Shortly after, there was another scene that further endeared little Emil to me, when his sister was relating the story of a cow with an injured horn and it was said that “Emil had been watching his sister, his face reflecting the sufferings of the cow. ‘And then it didn’t hurt her anymore?’ he asked.” How could anyone not love a kid like that?🙂

An adorable boy who grew up to be a promising young man with everything going for him, and the liberty to pursue his dreams, far beyond the constraints of the frontier. It was a luxury that the rest of his siblings had not been able to enjoy. And it was exactly the kind of future that Alexandra had hoped for and worked towards securing for her youngest brother in all those years following their father’s demise. Emil had the world as his oyster, so to speak. But instead, he found himself locked in a prison of his own making, when he lost his heart to the one person he could not have.

I can’t pray to have the things I want, … and I won’t pray not to have them…

The simplicity and honesty in these words will resonate deep and long in the hearts and minds of every person who has ever known what it is like to want that which you know you should not be wanting, and yet being unable unwilling to yield the will to that which you know you should….

Am definitely looking forward to finding my way through the rest of Cather’s works.

 

Taking Stock

Early this month, I had a sudden urge to find out exactly how many books I have in my possession. I’ve long wanted to have some sort of a catalogue or database for keeping track of all the books I’ve come to acquire, but had always been put off by the thought of how much effort it would require to do so. And so the books kept piling, and the task kept looking ever more daunting. I used to have a very clear idea of what books I have and where they are located, but lately it has come to a point where things have started to get fuzzy. I didn’t like the fact that I was slowly losing touch with my books. I wanted to know exactly what are on my shelves, which ones are under my bed in storage, and where the rest are taking refuge in, at all the different nooks and corners around the house. I wanted to be in touch with each of them again, especially the ones that have been out of sight, out of mind. And so, I was finally nudged out of my inertia and set about doing something about it.

I started to build my ‘virtual shelves’ over at Goodreads.

Things got off to a slow start initially, as I fiddled around to see how things worked over there. I had a bit of trouble getting Goodreads to reflect my shelves the way I wanted them to. The default settings were somehow not very helpful in doing that. I think this is mainly due to the fact that Goodreads was designed primarily to serve as a platform for readers to share what they are reading or have read, rather than as a place for organizing one’s personal library, in the way that maybe LibraryThing is. But since I have already registered an account (inactive until now, though) with Goodreads a couple of years back, and also because it’s free (unlike LibraryThing), I stuck on.

After abit more of tinkering about, I finally got the shelves into place and I think it will suffice for now. I have to admit though, it was rather fun to play around with all the sorting and adding of books onto those virtual shelves, once I got the hang of it. And it feels good to be able to see them all gathered together at one place. To be able to survey my entire library, at a glance.

Such clear visibility has certainly helped to put things into clearer perspectives. I now know that I own a total of 953 books (shocking!), out of which I’ve only read 79 of them (shameful…). Even after taking out the 30 odd ones that are coffee table/ photography books, and the 45 of which I’ve started reading at some point but had been left unfinished at various stages, that still leaves me with roughly 800 books waiting to be read! Okay, maybe we can remove another 15 or 20 of those that I no longer think I will ever want to read…. that’s still about 780 unread books sitting on my shelves. What a sobering thought. And I have not even mentioned about the ones lurking in the wishlist and the ‘want to read but not owned’ shelves yet…..

Definitely not a very comforting ‘revelation’.

But as it happens, I just read a beautiful piece by Anthony Doerr and was once again reminded of what it is that I can take comfort in.

For my first seventy-two hours on that island it rained every minute. On my third night—I hadn’t seen another human being in two days—a storm came in and my tent started thrashing about as if large men had ahold of each corner and were trying to shred it. Sheep were groaning nearby, and my sleeping bag was flooding, and I wanted to go home.

I leaned into the little shuddering tent vestibule and got my stove lit. I started boiling noodles. I carefully cut open my can of tomato sauce, anticipating spaghetti. I dipped my finger in. It was ketchup.
I almost started crying. Instead I switched on my flashlight and opened The Story and Its Writer. For no reason I could articulate, I began with “Walker Brothers Cowboy,” by Alice Munro.

By the second paragraph the tent had disappeared. The storm had disappeared. I had disappeared. I had become a little girl, my father was a salesman for Walker Brothers, and we were driving through the Canadian night, little bottles in crates clinking softly in the backseat.

Next I flipped to Italo Calvino’s “The Distance of the Moon.” Now I was clambering up a ladder onto the moon. The last page left me smiling and awed and misty: “I imagine I can see her, her or something of her, but only her, in a hundred, a thousand different vistas, she who makes the Moon the Moon. . . . ”

Then I lost myself in the menacing, half-drunk suburbia of Raymond Carver. Then Isak Dinesen’s “The Blue Jar.” The line “When I am dead you will cut out my heart and lay it in the blue jar” is still underlined—underlined by a younger, wetter, braver version of me—as I sit here in Idaho with the book almost twenty years later, warm and dry, no ketchup in sight. I press my nose to the page: I smell paper, mud, memory.

[…..] For seven months I carried The Story and Its Writer through New Zealand. I hiked my way from the tip of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island and Nadine Gordimer came with me; Flannery O’Connor came with me; Tim O’Brien came with me. On a sheep farm in Timaru, John Steinbeck whispered, “The high grey-flannel fog of winter closed off the Salinas Valley from the sky and from all the rest of the world.” In a hostel in Queens-town, Joyce whispered, “His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe.” In a climber’s hut beneath the summit of Mount Tongariro, John Cheever whispered, “Is forgetfulness some part of the mysteriousness of life?”

[…..] What I have learned and relearned all my life, what I learned growing up in a house overspilling with books, what The Story and Its Writer taught me, what I relearned last night reading Harry Potter to my five-year-old sons, is that if you are willing to let yourself go, to fall into the dazzle of well-made sentences, each strung lightly one after the next—“Upon the half decayed veranda of a small frame house that stood near the edge of a ravine near the town of Winesburg, Ohio, a fat little old man walked nervously up and down.” – if you live with stories, you will never be alone.

The Story And Its Writer – Anthony Doerr
~
taken from ‘Bound To Last: 30 Writers on Their Most Cherished Book’, edited by Sean Manning

Now, I am thrilled to know what awaits me.
🙂

A Belated Enchantment

Recently I have been ‘coerced’ (in a good way, though) to watch the works of the lovely Audrey Hepburn, whom I have only been vaguely acquainted with before this. Yes, I knew she was the actress who made Truman Capote’s novella a Hollywood success, and hers was the face I’ve seen on all the black and white posters of her in her iconic little black dress. And though I was familiar with many of the songs from My Fair Lady, which I had been introduced to during my school days, I just realized that I had no recollection of the film at all. I had even thought that it was Julie Andrews who was in it! :p

Watching My Fair Lady again (or could it actually be for the first time??) was nothing short of a treat. It was pure enjoyment to watch how the transformation of Eliza Doolitle, from a Cockney working class girl to being a ‘lady’, was brought about by the pompous Professor Henry Higgins. I love the wit and humour in their dialogues (the songs were great, too!), and found myself smiling almost throughout the entire 175 minutes of the film. To think that Hepburn was snubbed of an Oscar nomination just because the producer had decided to use a professional singing voice for Eliza’s songs, is a gross injustice to Hepburn, to say the least. Personally, I feel that her performance in the role had certainly surpassed whatever singing talents that were required.

Well, having begun on my belated discovery of this fair lady, I then went on to watch her pair up with Peter O’Toole as they  plot and play together in How To Steal A Million. With Paris as the setting for the story, there was nothing to not love about the film. Comedy, romance, adventure, Paris….. all the ingredients for a delightful piece of work.

 

hepburn - paris always a good idea (bw)Considering the fact that six of her films were set in Paris, I thought that watching an Audrey Hepburn film for Paris in July would be a good idea, too.🙂

I just came across this very apt description of Ms Hepburn, which simply says it so much better than what I have been trying to :

“Audrey Hepburn was never a Parisienne, yet she embodies what many of us long for when we visit Paris: elegance and wit, grace and style.”

Three films (I managed to watch yet another one – Two For The Road) and a whole lot of trivia later, I can safely say that I am glad for my friend’s persistent efforts. And as for the wonderful Ms Hepburn herself, I can only say that what my ears have heard before, now my eyes have seen.

 

My first Maigret

simenon - maigret1a

I have finally started on my first Inspector Maigret novel, after hearing and reading all the good things about this famous creation of Georges Simenon’s. So far (at the halfway point, that is), I am happy to report that it is living up to expectations.🙂

Simenon has been described as the most economical of writers, following closely the advice given by Colette to “Be simple. Never try for literary effect. Leave out every word or syllable you can.”  Although the writing is often economical and taut, it is however, not without its literary flair. The wonderful feel for places and people that Simenon has is one of the reasons for the Maigret novels’ appeal. It is said that Simenon’s empathy, and his insight into how people behave when they approach the breaking point, is what lifts his work high above the common run of crime fiction.

I think I am rather inclined to agree with that, after coming across the excerpts below in the first half of Pietr the Latvian:

Inside every wrong-doer and crook there lives a human being. In addition, of course, there is an opponent in the game, and it’s the player that the police are inclined to see. [….] Some crime or offense is committed. The match starts on the basis of more or less objective facts. It’s a problem of one or more unknowns that a rational mind tries to solve.
Maigret works like any other policeman. […] But what he sought, what he waited and watched out for, was the crack in the wall. In other words, the instant when the human being comes out from behind the opponent.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It’s a long way from Gare Saint-Lazare to Hotel de Ville, there’s a whole city centre to get through. Between six and seven in the evening, pedestrians flood the pavements in ocean waves, and traffic pulses along the streets like blood pumping down an artery. [….] He reached the ghetto of Paris, that’s to say, the area around Rue de Rosiers, in the Marais. He sidled past shop fronts with signs in Yiddish, kosher butchers and window displays of matzot. At one corner, giving on to a passageway so dark and deep it looked like a tunnel, a woman tried to take him by the arm, but let go without his saying a word. Presumably he had made a strong impression on her.

Seeing that this is just the first of all his 75 Maigret novels, one can certainly look forward to taking one’s time in getting better acquainted with the Inspector, I guess.

I don’t think I could have made a better choice than to have started off with this, for this year’s Paris in July.

Oh, and if you are interested to go on a trail of Maigret’s Paris one of these days, do check this out.🙂

 

 

 

Box The Third

BBW Box 3a

So, here goes my third (and final, phew!) box from the box sales. Once again, there are quite a number of finds in here that I am pretty excited about.🙂

First up, Holloway by Robert Macfarlane, Stanley Donwood & Dan Richards.
Holloway – a hollow way, a sunken path. A route that centuries of foot-fall, hoof-hit, wheel-roll and rain-run have harrowed deep down into bedrock. In July 2005, Robert Macfarlane and Roger Deakin – author of Wildwood – travelled to explore the holloways of South Dorset’s sandstone. They found their way into a landscape of shadows, spectres & great strangeness. Six years later, after Roger Deakin’s early death, Robert Macfarlane returned to the holloway with the artist Stanley Donwood and writer Dan Richards. The book is about those journeys and that landscape. Moving in the spaces between social history, psychogeography and travel writing, Holloway is a beautiful and haunted work of art.

I still have two of Macfarlane’s works on my shelves unread. Maybe I should start with this slim volume to get me warmed up to his writing.

The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit.
I have already mentioned how thrilled I was with this find in an earlier post, and will continue to share whatever interesting bits I come across as I read along.

Maiden’s Trip: A Wartime Adventure on the Grand Union Canal by Emma Smith is a classic memoir of the writer’s growth to maturity with her two teenage friends as they joined the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company as boaters when Britain was at war. This will keep the other volume of her biography As Green As Grass: Growing Up Before, During & After The Second World War, in good company before I get to them.

The Mystery Guest: An Account by Gregoire Bouillier is “… a true story of how a bottle of Bordeaux, a nonconsensual work of conceptual art, and a seemingly innocuous comment at a dinner party enabled one man to unravel the mystery of his being dumped, to explore how literature shapes and gives meaning to our lives, to let go of his heartbreak and his dependence on turtlenecks, and to — in the most unexpected of ways — fall in love again.”
I was a bit intrigued when I read the blurb on the book, plus it was a slim volume so it didn’t take much effort to just slip it into the box.

Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste by Luke Barr (who happens to be the great nephew of M.F. K. Fisher), tells of a singular historic moment. “In the winter of that year, more or less coincidentally, the iconic culinary figures James Beard, M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, Richard Olney, Simone Beck, and Judith Jones found themselves together in the South of France. They cooked and ate, talked and argued, about the future of food in America, the meaning of taste, and the limits of snobbery. Without quite realizing it, they were shaping today’s tastes and culture, the way we eat now.” 
I foresee spending some rather delectable hours in this, and in Judith Jones’ The Tenth Muse: My Life In Food.
“Living in Paris after World War II, Jones broke free of bland American food and reveled in everyday French culinary delights. On returning to the States she published Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The rest is publishing and gastronomic history. [….] The Tenth Muse is an absolutely charming memoir by a woman who was present at the creation of the American food revolution and played a pivotal role in shaping it.”

doris drucker

Doris Drucker’s catchy title Invent Radium or I’ll Pull Your Hair: A Memoir caught my eye and upon closer inspection, confirmed it’s place in the box. “Rothschilds and radium were the horizons of Doris’s childhood. Born in Germany in the early twentieth century, she came of age in an upper-middle-class family that struggled to maintain its bourgeois respectability between the two World Wars. Doris Drucker (she met her husband Peter—of management fame—in the 1930s) has penned a lively and charming memoir that brings to life the Germany of her childhood. Rather than focusing on the rise of Hitler, Drucker weaves history into her story of the day-to-day life of a relatively apolitical family.” I am looking forward to this.🙂

I seem to have been collecting quite a few of Simon Garfield’s works lately, the latest being this, To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing, which was found at the sale. As this happens to be a subject that has always been close to my heart, adding it into the box was a no-brainer. The lovely dust jacket that came with it was a bonus, I must say.

I was also quite thrilled to find Jennifer Kloester’s Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Bestseller among the stacks. Never mind the fact that I have actually not read any Georgette Heyer so far. Anticipation is half the fun, don’t you think?😉

American Eden: From Monticello to Central Park to Our Backyards: What Our Gardens Tell Us About Who We Are is yet another one which seems to hold much promise.

I have never heard of Phillip Lopate before but his collection of essays in Portrait Inside My Head: Essays is described as a collection that “….. weaves together the colorful threads of a life well lived and brings us on an invigorating and thoughtful journey through memory, culture, parenthood, the trials of marriage both young and old, and an extraordinary look at New York’s storied past and present.”
I think I’ll like that.

niall williams - history of rain I have been curious about Niall Williams’ History of the Rain for some time now but had never really planned to get a copy of it (especially not a hardcover) until I saw it in this particular edition. The cover sort of sold it to me. But I am really interested in the contents too, after reading this: “We are our stories. We tell them to stay alive or keep alive those who only live now in the telling. That’s how it seems to me, being alive for a little while, the teller and the told.” So says Ruthie Swain. The bedridden daughter of a dead poet, home from college after a collapse (Something Amiss, the doctors say), she is trying to find her father through stories–and through generations of family history in County Clare (the Swains have the written stories, from salmon-fishing journals to poems, and the maternal MacCarrolls have the oral) and through her own writing (with its Superabundance of Style). Ruthie turns also to the books her father left behind, his library transposed to her bedroom and stacked on the floor, which she pledges to work her way through while she’s still living.

 

BBW Box 3bManaged to find yet another rather good spread of travel, photography & cookbooks to add into the box. Interestingly, one of the books, Mariel’s Kitchen, is actually written by Ernest Hemingway’s granddaughter, Mariel.

I am particularly excited about Annie Leibovitz’s Pilgrimage, which took her to “…..places that she could explore with no agenda. She wasn’t on assignment. She chose the subjects simply because they meant something to her. The first place was Emily Dickinson’s house in Amherst, Massachusetts, which Leibovitz visited with a small digital camera. A few months later, she went with her three young children to Niagara Falls. “That’s when I started making lists,” she says. She added the houses of Virginia Woolf and Charles Darwin in the English countryside and Sigmund Freud’s final home, in London, but most of the places on the lists were American. The work became more ambitious as Leibovitz discovered that she wanted to photograph objects as well as rooms and landscapes. She began to use more sophisticated cameras and a tripod and to travel with an assistant, but the project remained personal.” The site of Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond also made it into the list. That should be interesting.

BBW Box 3c Another lovely volume that combines both beautiful photography with good writing is Catie Marron’s City Parks: Public Places, Private Thoughts.

City Parks captures the spirit and beauty of eighteen of the world’s most-loved city parks. Zadie Smith, Ian Frazier, Candice Bergen, Colm Tóibín, Nicole Krauss, Jan Morris, and a dozen other remarkable contributors reflect on a particular park that holds special meaning for them. Andrew Sean Greer eloquently paints a portrait of first love in the Presidio; André Aciman muses on time’s fleeting nature and the changing face of New York viewed from the High Line; Pico Iyer explores hidden places and privacy in Kyoto; Jonathan Alter takes readers from the 1968 race riots to Obama’s 2008 victory speech in Chicago’s Grant Park; Simon Winchester invites us along on his adventures in the Maidan; and Bill Clinton writes of his affection for Dumbarton Oaks.

I just love the idea behind this project. Public places, private thoughts.

Still on photography, Giselle Freund’s Photographs & Memoirs offers a sort of photographic diary of the 20th century,  “….. with more than 200 photographs spanning five decades and put together by the artist shortly before her death features, among others, Freund’s coverage of the last pre-Nazi May Day rally in Frankfurt in 1932 and of the 1935 international writers conference in Paris; intimate early color portraits of Walter Benjamin, James Joyce, Sartre, Marcel Duchamp, Simone de Beauvoir, and many others.”

ROYGBIVROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color by Jude Stewart is one book you probably have not heard of before but likely to find ‘exceedingly surprising’.🙂

Color is all around us every day. We use it to interpret the world―red means stop, blue means water, orange means construction. But it is also written into our metaphors, of speech and thought alike: yellow means cowardice; green means envy―unless you’re in Germany, where yellow means envy, and you can be “beat up green and yellow.”

Jude Stewart, a design expert and writer, digs into this rich subject with gusto. What color is the universe? We might say it’s black, but astrophysicists think it might be turquoise. Unless it’s beige. To read about color from Jude Stewart is to unlock a whole different way of looking at the world around us―and bringing it all vividly to life.

Perhaps Stewart’s book will also help me to better appreciate the explosive use of colours that the renowned textile artist Kaffe Fasset is known for,  in his Dreaming in Color: An Autobiography.

🙂

Box The Second

BBW Box 2b (2016)a

Here we go again…. un-boxing the bounty from  my second trip to the box sales, which turned out to be no less fruitful than the first, but a lot more relaxed as it happened to be on a weekday.

First up, three more additions to my ‘armchair gardening’ reads.  I was most thrilled to find Anna Pavord’s The Curious Gardener after having read some good things about it. Though I have yet to read her other book that’s sitting on the shelves (The Naming of Names), something tells me that she’s my cup of tea and I won’t regret collecting her works.
Our Lives In Gardens by Joe Eck & Wayne Winterrowd is new to me but I love the title and what it suggests, and the same goes for Clyde Phillip Wachsberger’s Into The Garden With Charles: A Memoir.

The Mark Kulansky and A Card From Angela Carter were picked mainly due of their convenient size for filling up the odd spaces in the box, but it’s fair to say that they do seem to have something interesting to offer between those slim covers too.

The Irene Nemirovsky biography by French biographers Philipponnat and Lienhardt looks likely to be another promising read. “This book elegantly balances her life and the work, painting a portrait (if at some distance) of a spirited young asthmatic writer, daughter, wife, and mother.” I wonder if I should read Suite Francaise first before starting on this.

I was glad to be able to finally get my hands on The Joy of Eating: The Virago Book of Food, after finding a copy of The Joy of Shopping at the sales some years ago. “Beatrix Potter wove one of her most malicious tales around the roly-poly pudding. Colette counted the nuts she would pick before falling asleep in the French countryside. Dorothy Wordsworth noted her pie-making sessions in her diary and Anne Frank observed the eating habits of her companions in hiding. Food is a constant in our lives, and it has always been a basic ingredient of women’s writing—in household books, cookbooks, diaries, letters, and fiction. In this anthology concentrating on international food writing by women, indulge your appetite with such diverse writers as Edwidge Danticat, Barbara Pym, and J. K. Rowling.” Sounds fun!

Next, is a beautiful hardback copy of Marilynne Robinson’s Lila. I seem to be collecting Robinson’s work based on the strength of the good reviews I’ve read but have not actually read any of it for myself yet. Should really rectify that soon.

Witold Rybczynski’s City Life is completely unfamiliar to me but I am curious to find out more after reading the blurb. “Witold Rybczynski looks at what we want from cities, how they have evolved, and what accounts for their unique identities. In this vivid description of everything from the early colonial settlements to the advent of the skyscraper to the changes wrought by the automobile, the telephone, the airplane, and telecommuting, Rybczynski reveals how our urban spaces have been shaped by the landscapes and lifestyles of the New World.”

Thoreau is another writer I really want to get acquainted with. A person who can find such contentment and pleasure in solitude and quietness holds great appeal for me, and so finding a copy of the Penguin Nature Library edition of his Cape Cod was a much welcomed sight.

The slim volume of Trollope’s biography by Graham Handley was yet another good choice for acting as a box filler.

Blessings for the Evening by Susie Larson makes for a great gift book. It’s filled with pages of beautiful photography of landscape, nature and animals combined with encouraging Biblical scriptures meant to be read as one prepares to wind down and retire for the night, reflecting on the day gone by with thankfulness.

The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink edited by Kevin Young.
Poetry is said to feed the soul, each poem a delicious morsel. When read aloud, the best poems provide a particular joy for the mouth. Poems about food make these satisfactions explicit and complete.” Some of the poets whose works can be found in this collection are Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Frost, Seamus Heaney, Adrienne Rich, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Plath and W.B Yeats, among a host of others.

BBW Box 2a (2016)

Next comes the pile of architecture, food and design coffee table books. Finding Peter May’s beautifully photographed Hebrides, was a real bonus. The breathtaking landscapes that serve as the background to his Lewis Trilogy are a real visual treat.

A Table in The Tarn: Living, Eating and Cooking in Rural France by Orlando Murrin, a former journalist and cook who gave up his life in London to open a gourmet bed and breakfast with his partner in southwestern France. The premise for this has certainly whet my appetite for more.

And I had no idea that stone could be so interesting a subject until I came across Dan Snow’s Listening to Stone and In the Company of Stone: The Art of the Stone Wall. It’s an ancient skill–building with only what the earth provides. No mortar, no nails, nothing to hold his creations together except gravity, an invisible glue he can sense in the stones’ “conversations” of squeaks and rumbles. 

BBW Box 2c (2016)

In a voice as expressive as Annie Dillard’s and as informed as John McPhee’s, Snow demonstrates astonishing range as he touches on such subjects as geology, philosophy, and community. We learn that stone’s grace comes from its unique characteristics—its capacity to give, its surprising fluidity, its ability to demand respect, and its role as a steadying force in nature. In these fast-paced times, Snow’s life’s work offers an antidote: the luxury of patience, the bounty and quietude of nature, the satisfaction of sweat. “I work with stone,” he ultimately tells us, “because stone is so much work.”

The luxury of patience……. hmmm, I think we could definitely use some of that too when it comes to dealing with our never-ending, ever-growing stacks of unread books! :p

 

What’s Your Story?

stories 1a

What’s your story?
It’s all in the telling. Stories are compasses and architecture; we navigate by them, we build our sanctuaries and our prison out of them, and to be without a story is to be lost in the vastness of a world that spreads in all directions like arctic tundra or sea ice. To love someone is to put yourself in their place, we say, which is to put yourself in their story, or figure out how to tell yourself their story.

Which means that a place is a story, and stories are geography, and empathy is first of all an act of imagination, a storyteller’s art, and then a way of traveling from here to there. What is it like to be the old man silenced by a stroke, the young man facing the executioner, the woman walking across the border, the child on the roller coaster, the person you’ve only read about, or the one next to you in bed?

We tell ourselves stories in order to live, or to justify taking lives, even our own, by violence or by numbness and the failure to live; tell ourselves stories that save us and stories that are the quicksand in which we thrash and the well in which we drown, stories of justification, of accursedness, of luck and star-crossed love, or versions clad in the cynicism that is at times a very elegant garment. Sometimes the story collapses, and it demands that we recognize we’ve been lost, or terrible, or ridiculous, or just stuck; sometimes change arrives like an ambulance or a supply drop. Not a few stories are sinking ships, and many of us go down with these ships even when the lifeboats are bobbing all around us.

Rebecca Solnit, ‘The Faraway Nearby’.

Those were the opening lines of this book that had got me in hook, line, and sinker.

“In this exquisitely written book, Rebecca Solnit explores the ways we make our lives out of stories, and how we are connected by empathy, by narrative, by imagination. In the course of unpacking some of her own stories—of her mother and her decline from memory loss, of a trip to Iceland, of an illness — Solnit revisits fairytales and entertains other stories: about arctic explorers, Che Guevara among the leper colonies, and Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein, about warmth and coldness, pain and kindness, decay and transformation, making art and making self. Woven together, these stories create a map which charts the boundaries and territories of storytelling, reframing who each of us is and how we might tell our story.”

I think it has just succeeded in making that improbable leap to land itself right on top of all my stacks of TBR (both physical and digital).  And that’s no small feat. Am so very thrilled to have stumbled upon the sole copy of this book at the Big Bad Box Sale over the weekend.

(Yes, there have been subsequent trips to the box sale, and yes, you will get to see them soon!)😉

 


The Big Bad Wolf Box Sale: Box the First

BBW Box 1a (2016)

So, this is the sale where you pay for the box and get to stuff it with as many books as you wish, as long as the box can be closed and sealed, flat.

I have to say that I was quite impressed with my own packing skills (hahah!) considering the fact that I managed to squeeze all the above, and the ones below (plus a few thick hardcover volumes of food/ healthcare books that my mum wanted that are not in the photo), into one 32.5cm x 46cm x 20cm box.

BBW Box 1 (2016)

The Willa Cather letters was an unexpected (but utterly delightful!) find. A lovely hardback volume, with a beautiful dust jacket. I have to confess that I have yet to read any of her works, but have read so many good things about her that I am determined to get acquainted soon.

The two pretty volumes of Gerald Durrells (A Zoo In My Luggage; The Aye-Aye and I) are the lesser known titles compared to his popular Corfu trilogy, with The Aye-Aye and I being Durrell’s final adventure.

What made me pick out Evan S. Connell’s Mr Bridge was mainly because I had spotted its Penguin Modern Classics spine, and rare is the occasion where I see one and don’t bring it home. Now I guess I’ll probably have to look out for Mrs Bridge, too. :p

Julian Barnes’ Through the Window: Seventeen Essays (and one short story) looks rather promising as well. “From the deceptiveness of Penelope Fitzgerald to the directness of Hemingway, from Kipling’s view of France to the French view of Kipling, from the many translations of Madame Bovary to the fabulations of Ford Madox Ford, from the National Treasure Status of George Orwell to the despair of Michel Houellebecq, Julian Barnes considers what fiction is, and what it can do. ”

Adding on to my growing pile of ‘armchair gardening’ reads, are Richard Goodman’s French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France and The Roots of My Obsession: Thirty Great Gardeners Reveal Why They Garden. Delicious titles, don’t you think?

Chris West’s fascinating A History of Britain in Thirty Six Postage Stamps sounds like my kind of history book. Although I was never a stamp collector (I was more into coin collecting back then), this looks to be an exquisite volume that holds much appeal.🙂

Being the Francophile that I am, I was thrilled to discover Lorant Deutsch’s Metronome: A History of Paris from the Underground Up. “Metronome follows Loránt Deutsch, historian and lifelong Francophile, as he goes on a compelling journey through the ages, treating readers to Paris as they’ve never seen it before. Using twenty-one stops of the subway system as focal points―one per century―Deutsch shows, from the underground up, the unique, often violent, and always striking events that shaped one of the world’s most romanticized city. Readers will find out which streets are hiding incredible historical treasures in plain sight; peer into forgotten nooks and crannies of the City of Lights and learn what used to be there; and discover that, however deeply buried, something always remains.”

If all I had managed to find in the sale was just this one book, I think I would still have felt that the trip was well worth it. Vivian Swift’s Le Road Trip: A Traveler’s Journal of Love and France has been on my wishlist ever since I knew of its publication four years ago. I became a fan of her works after chancing upon her first book When Wanderers Cease To Roam: A Traveler’s Journal of Staying Put, in one of the Big Bad Wolf sales some years ago. Her beautiful illustrations and charming doodlings are a delight to feast upon. Highly recommended!

I was also very happy to bring home the pile of Home and Living coffee table books in the second photo, as these books are usually out of my budget (even during their normal sale), so if ever there was a good time to grab them, it’s during the box sale. And grab them, I did!

All in all, each book in the box had averaged out to just around 1 USD (or less) each. Now, that’s quite a hard bargain to beat, wouldn’t you say? As the sale is still on till the end of this week, I am planning to make another trip or two, and hopefully come back with more goodies to share. Until then…. happy reading, everyone!🙂

 

 

The Loveliness of The Long Distance Runner

long distance runner BW
source

Isnt’t that quite a lovely title for a story? An English love story, for that matter. And it was one of the twenty eight original works by masters of the craft (ie: Elizabeth Bowen, Katherine Mansfield, W. Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene, Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf – to name a few) that has been picked and edited by John Sutherland in The Oxford Book of English Love Stories. Plenty of gems to dive into, covering a whole spectrum on the timeless subject of love, and I’m sure it won’t be difficult to find a story that can just fit the mood (and ardour) of the moment.😉

I had picked the lovely title above as the first story to dip into, mainly because the words had spoken to my imagination and had conjured up a rather promising picture of what the story might be (well, turns out it wasn’t what I had imagined, but I loved it nonetheless!). I was also curious (and surprised) to learn that this piece was by Sara Maitland, whom I have so far only been able to associate her name with non-fiction works. Will definitely look out for her works of fiction too, from now on.

My lover has the most beautiful body in the world. Because she runs. I fell in love with her because she had the most beautiful body I had ever seen. What, when it comes down to it, is the difference between my devouring of her as a sex-object and her competitive running? Anyway, she says that she does not run competitively. Anyway, I say that I do not any longer love her just because she has the most beautiful body.