MY FATHER ONCE ASKED ME IF I KNEW WHERE YONDER WAS. I said I thought yonder was another word for there. He smiled and said, “No, yonder is between here and there.” This little story has stayed with me for years as an example of linguistic magic: It identified a new space—a middle region that was neither here nor there—a place that simply didn’t exist for me until it was given a name. During my father’s brief explanation of the meaning of yonder, and every time I’ve thought of it since, a landscape appears in my mind: I am standing at the crest of a small hill looking down into an open valley where there is a single tree, and beyond it lies the horizon defined by a series of low mountains or hills. This dull but serviceable image returns when I think of yonder, one of those wonderful words I later discovered linguists call “shifters” — words distinct from others because they are animated by the speaker and move accordingly.
In linguistic terms this means that you can never really find yourself yonder. Once you arrive at yonder tree, it becomes here and recedes forever into that imaginary horizon. Words that wobble attract me. The fact that here and there slide and slip depending on where I am is somehow poignant, revealing both the tenuous relation between words and things and the miraculous flexibility of language.
Siri Hustvedt, ‘A Plea For Eros: Essays’.
Something new I learned today.
“Shifters” – what an interesting concept!
It’s only barely three weeks into the new year, and I think I may well have just encountered my book of the year.
Yes, this one.
Magda Szabo’s brilliant piece of storytelling – The Door.
In less than 200 pages, Szabo has managed to plunge me so deeply into the hearts and minds of her two main protagonists that upon finishing the book, I was left with such an overwhelming sense of heaviness and exhaustion, that it was as if I too, had just lived through what they did.
Although I suppose the fact that animals had featured largely in the story was one of the main reasons for the affinity, I know it was certainly much more than that too.
It’s a story that tells of the dynamics and the evolution in the relationship between the narrator, a writer by profession, and her stoic but fiercely loyal and selfless housekeeper, Emerence, over the course of some twenty over years.
Two wildly different individuals forming a complex yet intense bond, leading to eventual traumatic consequences.
The writer, being one who relies on the written word as a form of refuge, and uses them to construct as well as comprehend her reality:
I only know what I have to do on paper. In real life, I have difficulty finding the right words.
Emerence, who has no regards (and even a little contempt) for the written word, who believes that action speaks louder than words, and that true value can only come from solid physical labour.
Emerence was a generous person, open-handed and essentially good. She refused to believe in God but she honoured Him with her actions. She was capable of sacrifice. Things I had to attend to consciously she did instinctively. It made no difference that she wasn’t aware of it – her goodness was innate, mine was the result of upbringing.
It’s also a story that tells about how one’s affections can often fail to be conveyed and expressed in ways that can be understood or reciprocated by the other.
Of how often one’s best intentions and hopes can fail to translate well into the precise words and actions required to bring about the desired results and outcomes.
Of how easily love and affection, when clumsily executed by flawed individuals, can bring about the greatest hurt and damage imaginable.
Of how, despite one’s best efforts, one can still fail to honour one’s word and live up to the expectations from loyalties once pledged.
And of how then, does one live with the echoes of regrets reverberating long into the days, when all is said and done.
I know now, what I didn’t then, that affection can’t always be expressed in calm, orderly, articulate ways; and that one cannot prescribe the form it should take for anyone else.
I am reminded of another passage from Thornton Wilder:
Now he discovered that secret from which one never quite recovers, that even in the most perfect love one person loves less profoundly than the other. There may be two equally good, equally gifted, equally beautiful, but there may never be two that love one another equally well.
Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey
The ‘door’ inferred to in the title goes beyond just the physical front door that Emerence had kept closed to the outside world for most of her life. It also refers to the door to her heart, which she tries so hard to keep shut too, in order to protect herself from the hurt and suffering that comes from the pain of losing what she loved.
In her own words :
You should never love anyone, or any animal, that much.
This reminds me of a similar quote which I love, from C. S. Lewis’ The Four Loves, with regards to choosing or not, to put one’s heart on the line for anyone or anything.
Reading this ‘miracle of a book’, as a dear friend puts it, will hurt.
Especially if you have ever known what it is like to have loved and cared for an animal unconditionally.
Yes, I’ve told you animals play a large role in this story.
Don’t you see? You’re all I’ve got left. You, and my animals.
And that was how Szabo managed to find her way right into my very core, and tugged really hard.
I thought I would have been able to put up a year end post before the new year commenced, but I failed once again, just as I have failed at so many other points in time in the year gone by, with regards to maintaining this blog. I’m sorry that even my New Year greetings are four days late, but please do know that I sincerely wish all of you the very best in all things to come for the year ahead!
I know I have been remiss and neglected this little space here badly, while I was busy tinkering away over at a new platform – Instagram. I found myself rather enjoying the instant gratification that came from all the bookish visuals treats offered there, and the convenience and ease at sharing my bookish pursuits through snapshots that are accompanied by just a brief text. While it has been fun (it still is!), and new friends have been met and made (and hopefully, to be kept), it isn’t the same as this. It isn’t ‘home’.
This is. This little corner of the blogosphere here, is still that one special place which I feel is well and truly mine to call ‘home’. Coming here is akin to coming back to my first love.
And so, although I am not a good one for making (and keeping to) plans, you have my word here that I have every intention to keep this space going! (btw, WordPress reminded me that today happens to be the 6th year since the day A Reader’s Footprints began).
Anyway, before we start the year off proper, here’s a quick peek at the new stacks that have mushroomed over the last month…..
Lastly, some bookish treats that I received for Christmas (something that does not happen very often!)
What about the rest of you? Found any bookish treats under your trees? 🙂
This is definitely what I would call ‘a moveable feast’, wouldn’t you agree?
My mum is only too glad that she doesn’t have to trip over my box of books anymore. :p
And I am more than happy to be able to still have them close by so that I can gaze at them whenever I want. Which happens to be very often, because I just find that the simple act of gazing at my books can be so, so therapeutic. Anyone here feels the same way too? 🙂
Things were clearly getting a little out of hand around here, as you can see…..
Although I did try to straighten things up a bit with some minor tweak to the stacks, it was obvious that something more had to be done.
No thanks to all the influx of new acquisitions from the hypermarket in recent months.
Not that I’m complaining, though….. how could I, when there’s such beauty to be had?!
And so the ‘red spines’ kept gaining ground……
A special shout out to these beauties in particular…….
Yes, I’m afraid I do tend to judge a book by it’s cover.
I wonder if Sontag has anything critical to say about that, amongst others …..
And oh, just to update on my progress in completing the Proust collection, only one more to go and we’re done! 😉
Julian Barnes’ The Pedant in the Kitchen was a nice surprise as I was not aware that he has written a collection of essays on food and cooking, prior to coming across this copy.
Julian Baggini’s The Virtues of the Table: How to Eat and Thinklooks to be another promising one, combining philosophy with food, with questions such as these: “Should we, like Kant, ‘dare to know’ cheese? Should we take media advice on salt with a pinch of salt? And can food be more virtuous, more inherently good, than art?” Food for thought, indeed!
Philosophy aside, we now have a linguist who attempts to address a different set of questions altogether, on the subject of food and linguistics in The Language of Food – A Linguist Reads the Menuby Dan Jurafsky.
“Why do we eat toast for breakfast, and then toast to good health at dinner? What does the turkey we eat on Thanksgiving have to do with the country on the eastern Mediterranean? Can you figure out how much your dinner will cost by counting the words on the menu?” Yeah, I think I’d like to know the answer to that one! 😀
Life Is Meals: A Food Lover’s Book of Daysby James and Kay Salter.
Although I have never read anything by James Salter before, my impression of his works is definitely not one that is associated with food writing.
A celebration of Nora Ephron’s works in The Most of Nora Ephron.
I have not read any of her works before, but Sleepless in Seattle is one of my favourite movies (for which Ephron was a nominee for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards), so I’m rather looking forward to reading her.
“The Grands Ateliers de France is an elite association devoted to promoting excellence and craftsmanship. Founded in 1993, it now brings together sixty-eight artisans and ateliers, representing more than ninety different craft disciplines.These accomplished men and women are acknowledged to have mastered all aspects of their chosen field, producing one-of-a-kind works or limited editions of the very highest quality. […]Engravers and printmakers, cabinetmakers and upholsterers, weavers and jewelers are just some of the people whose working lives are showcased here, from bookbinder Jacky Vignon to harpsichord-maker Reinhard von Nagel, form the elegant laquerwork of Catherine Nicolas to the couture umbrellas and parasols of Michel Heurtault.”
Now, this would seem like a fitting end to the box haul….. settling down into a quiet nook in the place we call home, with a good book and a cup of tea!
This really is a literal picking of things up from where they were since my last post on the Big Bad Wolf Box Sale haul. As you can see, the books are still sitting quietly in the box, as pictured (there are two other boxes as well that are not shown), three months down the road from when they were first brought home. It really is high time to get things moving….
I managed to haul back quite an interesting selection and variety of non-fiction titles from the box sale this year.
Cezanne: A Life by Alex Danchev. Victor Hugo by Graham Robb. I have been a fan of Robb’s subject matters and style of writing for some years now, and this looks like another gem to be added to the stack.
Now All Roads Lead To France: The Last Years of Edward Thomas by Matthew Hollis.
Another one that I’m quite looking forward to reading, especially having just recently learnt of the story of his close friendship with Robert Frost, whose words in ‘The Road Not Taken’ became the deciding factor for Thomas to enlist in the army, which sadly led to fatal consequences.
Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation and GPS Technology by Caroline Paul (illustrated by Wendy MacNaughton). This looks like a delightful volume, accompanied by some lovely illustrations.
Barbara Demick’s Besieged: Life Under Fire on a Sarajevo Streetis another piece of journalistic ‘dispatch’ that I am very interested to be given an insight to. I have been impressed with Demick’s writing (even from the little that I’ve read) ever since coming across her reporting on the lives of ordinary people in North Korea in Nothing To Envy. This looks to be just as good.
The Scientists: A Family Romance by Marco Roth is the memoir of a “….. precocious only child of a doctor and a classical musician, whose world had revolved around house concerts, a private library of literary classics, and discussions of the latest advances in medicine―and one that ended when Marco’s father started to suffer the worst effects of the AIDS virus that had infected him in the early 1980s. [….] it’s a book that grapples with a troubled intellectual and emotional inheritance―the ways in which we learn from our parents, and then learn to see them separately from ourselves.”
Herta Müller’s The Land of Green Plums . I’ve heard of this one for some time and was happy to find it at the sale. Has anyone here read it?
The Myth of Wu Tao-tzuby Sven Lindqvist is a meditation on art and its relationship with life. Inspired by the myth of the Chinese artist who was said to have walked right into his own piece of art and disappeared behind its painted gates, Lindqvist takes us on a fascinating journey through his moral awakening as a young man, and his grappling with profound questions of aesthetics.
Estimating Emerson: An Anthology of Criticism from Carlyle to Cavell by David LaRocca. “Estimating Emerson is the most comprehensive collection yet assembled of the finest minds writing on one of America’s finest minds. It serves as both a resource for easily accessing the abundant and profound commentary on Emerson’s work and as a compendium of exceptional prose to inspire further thought about his contribution to our thinking.” I think I may have struck gold with this find. 🙂
Also found a couple of fun coffee table books on London, on interior decorating, and a most practical one titled, You Need More Sleep: Advice from Cats. Definitely sound advice to listen to from the ‘experts’ on the subject, I’d say. :p (hahaha….)
Enough of non-fiction for now, let’s get back to some good old fashioned story telling, shall we? To start off, there’s the two lovely editions of Picador Classic that I am very happy to have picked up. Barbara Pym’s Quartet in Autumnand Robert McCrum’s memoir on recovering after a stroke in My Year Off. Then there’s the lovely copy of Louisa May Alcott’s A Merry Christmas & other Christmas storiesin a beautiful Penguin Christmas Classics edition. This will keep my Trollope’s Christmas at Thompson Hallin good company. 🙂
Next up are the Penguin Modern Classics editions, another favourite of mine! Managed to find Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger, which is one book that has long been on my to-read list, and so naturally I am very happy about the find. Although I am not one who is much into reading plays, finding J. B. Priestley’s much acclaimed An Inspector Calls and other Plays was still nothing short of thrilling. I loved that it came in this edition.
I am generally not a fan of Japanese literature, but I quite like the title of Yukio Mishima’s The Sound of Waves, so into the box it went.
I have yet to read any Zola todate, and so finding his Therese Raquinat the sale seemed to be an added incentive to try him soon.
The same goes for Graham Swift, whom I have also yet to read. Earlier this year, I came across a fair few good reviews on his Mothering Sunday, which sort of triggered my interest in checking him out. It’s a timely thing that I found two of his works at the sale. Ever Afterand Making an Elephant both seems like good starting points.
I sometimes hold it half a sin To put in words the grief I feel; For words, like Nature, half reveal And half conceal the Soul within.
But, for the unquiet heart and brain, A use in measured language lies; The sad mechanic exercise, Like dull narcotics, numbing pain.
In words, like weeds, I’ll wrap me o’er, Like coarsest clothes against the cold: But that large grief which these enfold Is given in outline and no more.
Alfred Tennyson, ‘In Memoriam’.
“For words, like Nature, half reveal and half conceal the soul within”.
I came across this line of Tennyson’s in the preface of a book I was flipping through last night, and it struck a chord in me.
I have been struggling to come up with a post for the past one over month simply because I did not have the words.
July had been an unexpectedly trying month for me, filled with a fair share of loss, grief and stress. Although it had to do with the animals in my life, and not the humans, it was by no means any less easy to bear. I was robbed of my peace and joy for the most part of it, and all plans for taking part in one of my favourite annual blogging events, the Paris in July, were sadly not to be. Plans for sharing the rest of my haul from the box sale were also not possible. Even reading was at times, a struggle. Nothing seemed to appeal at first. And then, it was as if the pendulum had swung to the other extreme end, and everything seemed to appeal and I was eager to read as much as I possibly could.
Having had no words of my own to offer, it was as though I had to stuff myself with the words of others in order to assuage the unrest that was within. I read with an intensity that was quite unlike my usual slow and laid back approach. I got many a book started but not all were able to hold my interest and mood right till the end. Three in particular, did. And one stood out, especially. That book was Thornton Wilder’s exceptionally brilliant Pulitzer Prize winner, The Bridge of San Luis Rey.
On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below.
‘Why did this happen to those five?’ If there were any plan in the universe at all, if there were any pattern in a human life, surely it could be discovered mysteriously latent in those lives so suddenly cut off. Either we live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan. And on that instant Brother Juniper made the resolve to inquire into the secret lives of those five persons, that moment falling through the air, and to surmise the reason of their taking off.
The things that happen to us or those around us, are they (in the words of Wilder) “…. perhaps an accident?”, or are they “….perhaps an intention?” That was the premise of the book. But Wilder does not pretend to have the answers to those questions. “The business of literature is not to answer questions, but to state them fairly”, he once said.
That was exactly what he did with book.
And that is how it is with life too, I guess.
We don’t always need to have all the answers….. in order for it to go on.
He was the awkwardest speaker in the world apart from the lore of the sea, but there are times when it requires a high courage to speak the banal. He could not be sure the figure on the floor was listening, but he said, “We do what we can. We push on, Esteban, as best we can. It isn’t for long, you know. Time keeps going by. You’ll be surprised at the way time passes.”