Tuesday Teaser: “…. faithful as Lassie”

Where does it all begin? Perhaps here, in Baggot Street, on the first floor of one of Dublin’s best restaurants, on a day in spring. It seems as good a place to start as any. Fintan is sitting at table before the ruins of a good lunch, with crumbs on the tablecloth and empty wine glasses, together with half-empty bottles of mineral water, both still and sparkling. There are two tiny coffee cups on the table, and a crumpled white linen napkin discarded on the place opposite. One might imagine that a disgruntled lover has just flounced off, but Fintan, faithful as Lassie, is not that kind of man.

Deidre Madden, ‘Time Present and Time Past’.

I think the opening lines to this book are definitely getting a place on my list of personal favourites. Just gotta love that ‘faithful as Lassie’ bit, don’t you? :p

And the title is actually taken from T.S. Eliot’s ‘Burnt Norton’, in case you were interested :

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.

This will be my first encounter with Madden’s work, and going by the strength of that opening alone, I think I’m gonna be in pleasant company with this particular Irish maiden.

Any Madden fans here?



“…. what rotten fruit falls down.”

Stumbled upon this magnificent specimen of a tree in the picturesque village of Castle Combe during my trip to the UK, back in the summer of 2010. One of my all time favourite photo shots.

George came to the Grand Hotel anticipating a concentrated examination of the evidence in his case. The conversation has taken several unexpected turns. Now he is feeling somewhat lost. Arthur senses a certain dismay in his new young friend. He feels responsible; he has meant to be encouraging. Enough reflection, then; it is time for action. Also, for anger.

“George, those who have supported you so far—Mr. Yelverton and all the rest—have done sterling work. They have been utterly diligent and correct. If the British state were a rational institution, you would even now be back at your desk in Newhall Street. But it is not. So my plan is not to repeat the work of Mr. Yelverton, to express the same reasonable doubts and make the same reasonable requests. I am going to do something different. I am going to make a great deal of noise. The English—the official English—do not like noise. They think it vulgar; it embarrasses them. But if calm reason has not worked, I shall give them noisy reason. I shall not use the back stairs but the front steps. I shall bang a big drum. I intend to shake more than a few trees, George, and we shall see what rotten fruit falls down.

Julian Barnes, ‘Arthur & George’.


A Tale of Two

Here’s Arthur.

Life. How easily everyone, including himself, said the word. Life must go on, everyone routinely agreed. And yet how few asked what it was, and why it was, and if it was the only life or the mere amphitheatre to something quite different. Arthur was frequently baffled by the complacency with which people went on with . . . with what they insouciantly called their lives, as if both the word and the thing made perfect sense. [….] The demolition of antique faiths had been fundamental to human advancement; but now that those old buildings had been levelled, where was man to find shelter in this blasted landscape?


He has never been a lothario or seducer, and never known how to say those things which are necessary to arrive at the stage beyond the one where he currently stands – not knowing either what the further stage might be, since where he is at the moment appears, in its own way, to be final.


This damn temper of his is not getting any better. He puts it down to being half Irish. The Scottish half of him has the devil of a job keeping the upper hand.

There’s George.

Despite being a child of the Vicarage, despite a lifetime of filial attention to the pulpit of St. Mark’s, George has often felt that he does not understand the Bible. Not all of it, all of the time; indeed, not enough of it, enough of the time. There has always been some leap to be made, from fact to faith, from knowledge to understanding, of which he has proved incapable. This makes him feel a sham. The tenets of the Church of England have increasingly become a distant given. He does not sense them as close truths, or see them working from day to day, from moment to moment. Naturally, he does not tell his parents this.


He rarely feels the lack of what he does not have. The family takes no part in local society, but George cannot imagine what this might involve, let alone what the reason for their unwillingness, or failure, might be. He himself never goes to other boys’ houses, so cannot judge how things are conducted elsewhere. His life is sufficient unto itself. He has no money, but also no need of it, and even less when he learns that its love is the root of all evil. He has no toys, but does not miss them. He lacks the skill and eyesight for games; he has never even jumped a hopscotch grid, while a thrown ball makes him flinch. He is happy to play fraternally with Horace, more gently with Maud, and more gently still with the hens.

Arthur & George.
A book that has been sitting patiently on my TBR shelves for the last decade. I recall how much this Man Booker shortlisted nominee had appealed to me back then in 2005, and how I had really looked forward to reading this tale of how two very different lives that were worlds apart, being brought together by circumstances set off from a gross miscarriage of justice right at the start of the twentieth century. It is described as “a novel about low crime and high spirituality, guilt and innocence, identity, nationality and race; about what we think, what we believe, and what we can prove.”
Also, the Arthur in this story happens to be Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

I am only midway through this 450 pages of sheer literary brilliance. But it is enough to have me already quite decided that it’s a five star read.
And personally, I think it might be a case of a ‘gross miscarriage of justice’ too, that it had not been the Man Booker Prize winner for that year.

Just saying.

Will vs Nature

Evelyn did not know any longer who she was. Perhaps she had never known. Perhaps her identity had always been made up of bits and pieces of other people, her thumbs, her collarbone, her ears, her left-handedness, even the tones of her voice dictated by the random and absolute coupling of genes. Her tastes and her moods had been handed down to her from a great uncle, a second cousin, a father. Not exactly handed down. Everyone was the common property of inheritance. The self was, surely, the will that shaped the arbitrary and meaningless fragments into identity. The will chose. Or was it, too, dictated to by an inherited morality?
“But my particular bones refuse my will.”
Mistaken then. Badly mistaken. The will? Or the nature?
“I don’t know.”
The will bakes bread the nature chokes on. The nature turns the wheel the will breaks on.

Jane Rule, ‘Desert of the Heart’.

Tuesday Teaser: Of conventions & clichés

CONVENTIONS, LIKE CLICHÉS, HAVE a way of surviving their own usefulness. They are then excused or defended as the idioms of living. For everyone, foreign by birth or by nature, convention is a mark of fluency. That is why, for any woman, marriage is the idiom of life. And she does not give it up out of scorn or indifference but only when she is forced to admit that she has never been able to pronounce it properly and has committed continually its grossest grammatical errors. For such a woman marriage remains a foreign tongue, an alien landscape, and, since she cannot become naturalized, she finally chooses voluntary exile.
Evelyn Hall had been married for sixteen years before she admitted to herself that she was such a woman.

[….] It was true that the Mrs., which had been an epithet, would soon be no more than a courtesy; and the ring she had never taken for granted would not, of course, be granted anymore. It was odd that she could not take it off. She had tried before she left the house, first casually at the kitchen sink, then frankly in the bathroom, but soap and water would not ease the ring over a joint thickened those sixteen years into obstacle. It would, she supposed, have to be cut off. It was possible to have the Mrs. cut off, too, but, just as she was not to be married, she was not to be single ever again either. She was to be divorced, a convention that might be as strange to her as the convention of marriage had been.

Jane Rule, ‘Desert of the Heart’ (1964).

Have only just started reading this piece of classic now, although having already watched the film adaptation of it some years ago. It was only after I had come across a blogger’s review (and high praises) for the book much later, that made me want to read the book for myself as well.

And now, even right from the opening pages itself, one can already tell that this is a worthy piece of literary work, regardless of its subject matter.

“I told Mother that she should call you Dr. Hall, Isn’t that your proper title?”
“It doesn’t really matter at all,” Evelyn replied. She was one of the few women she knew who preferred Mrs. to Dr., perhaps because her marriage had been more difficult than her Ph.D. to achieve and maintain.

A writer who can encapsulate an insight like that in such a delightfully succinct manner,  has definitely got my attention.


Back with some boxes….. of books!

There is a gap between a thought and the words to express it. So thinking dangles.

May Sarton, ‘Endgame: A Journal of the Seventy-Ninth Year’

And so too, has this space been left dangling idly, I’m afraid. The lack of posts in the past two months was not so much a reflection of the lack of thoughts or ideas with regards to books and reading (much less a lack of book buying, as you shall see!), but rather it was more to do with the lack of ability to somehow translate all those into words.

As such, I think it would be better to just let the pictures do most of the telling, for now.
It helps that the annual Big Bad Wolf Box Sales has just taken place during the past week or so, and yielded me with quite a happy bounty to share here. 🙂

The Fiction stack.


The Arts & Science stash.


The Memoirs, Travels & Biographies.


The Essays, Ethics & Philosophical.


The Good-to-look-At. 🙂


The ‘Cream of the Crop’. Except for the slight damage to front cover of the slip jacket, the actual volume itself is in pristine condition. And what a beauty it is!

Take a look for yourself…..

And to think that it had only cost me the equivalent of less than one Euro, to own this beauty (as with most of the rest, too).

Just when I thought there wouldn’t be any much more exciting finds towards the end of the 10-day sales, here’s what I got on my final haul…..

Not too bad, right? 😀

Seen anything in those stacks that might have caught your enthusiasm too? 🙂



One rainy Thursday afternoon

Book in hand – Edward Hollis’ ‘The Memory Palace’.

Five Thursdays ago, I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon at this lovely public library at Beitou Park, Taipei. It was a wet and cold day, and plans had to be changed and adjusted in order to accommodate the weather, but for me, it presented just the perfect excuse to seek refuge amongst friends……. books.

The beautiful exterior design of the library.


This eco-friendly piece of architecture was once voted as one of the 10 coolest green buildings in the world, as assessed by an international travel website.


It’s design is supposed to resemble that of a ship.


The interior is just as lovely.


I could spend hours between these aisles.



Found a delightful stack to settle down with.


I’ve only recently discovered Bernd Heinrich’s works. And this one has definitely been added into my wishlist. A real beauty of a book, with charming illustrations thrown in good measure.


Another interesting title to explore further.


If only there was a “Rewind” button that can wind back the hours, and return me to that particular rainy Thursday afternoon…..


“Is it so small a thing….”

The view at Durdle Door, on a foggy day.

IS it so small a thing
To have enjoy’d the sun,
To have lived light in the spring,
To have loved, to have thought, to have done;
To have advanced true friends, and beat down baffling foes;
That we must feign a bliss
Of doubtful future date,
And while we dream on this
Lose all our present state,
And relegate to worlds yet distant our repose?

Matthew Arnold, ‘From the Hymn of Empedocles’.

Came across a reference to this lovely piece from Matthew Arnold yesterday, while reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I’ve had this book sitting on the shelves for so long, and would still probably have not gotten to it if not for the trailer that I saw recently, of the screen adaptation of the book. It looked very promising! I always try to read the book first before watching the film, as far as possible. And so, I finally got the push that was needed to pluck the book from the shelves.

I had also just finished Naomi Alderman’s Disobedience, for the same reason as the above. The upcoming screen adaptation starring Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams, and directed by the recent Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film, Sebastian Lelio, is also looking to be a good one to look forward to. I found the book to be much better than I had expected, and had really appreciated Alderman’s nuanced and thoughtful execution of the story, with its delicate subject matters concerned.

Apart from these, I have not been reading much in the past month or so. Since my last post, I had been taken up with work deadlines, both before and after my trip to Taipei (in which I had pursued some bookish trails and got to spend my birthday among the aisles of books at the only 24 hour bookstore in Taipei, in the wee hours of the morning!) I was looking forward to sharing more on the blog after my return from the trip, but something happened and I was derailed for quite abit after that.

Will still try to get them up here soonish, I hope. But for now, I think I’ll just get back to spending time with the lovely book-loving bunch at Guernsey, I guess.

Chronicles of an easily diverted reader

So, after finishing Valeria Luiselli’s Sidewalks, I was prompted to dig out my Joseph Brodsky, as Luiselli’s rather engaging essay on the account of her attempt to search out Brodsky’s tomb in Venice had reminded me of how I had been wanting to read his essays ever since I came across a copy of Less Than One a couple of years back, at one of the book sales.

But once I opened its pages, the first thing that caught my attention was this quote by Czeslaw Milosz: “And the heart doesn’t die when one thinks it should”.
This again reminded me of how I had loved Milosz’s writing, when I had read some of his essays in his collection To Begin Where I Am, at the start of last year.

And so, back to the shelves I went looking for the other volume of Milosz’s essays which I have in the Penguin Central European Classics edition. This series was one of the more thrilling finds I had chanced upon at one of the previous years’ Big Bad Wolf book sales. I remembered how excited I was when I had picked those four volumes out, despite not having heard of any of the writers’ names before. Somehow my gut feelings told me that I was on to something good. 🙂

I ended up favouring Thomas Bernhard’s Old Masters over the Milosz as my next current read.

This whole little episode has just reminded me again, of how essential and satisfying it is to have a personal library that is curated well enough to cater to one’s whole gamut of interests and inclinations. A library small enough to be housed within the confines of one’s limited four walls, and yet, large enough to allow for the occasional wandering around, that one’s bookish whims and fancies might call for.


“…. bringing back to the heart.”

On rereading:

Rereading begins in the comments written in the margins, the underlined phrases and scribbled footnotes; but especially in the objects left behind between the pages. […] After rooting about in one of the boxes, I finally find Écrire in a pile, between Natalia Ginzburg’s Lessico famigliare and Robert Walser’s The Walk. It’s been many years since I read Marguerite Duras. I’m afraid to reread her in case, this time, she bores me or seems affected. Or worse, in case I remember the person I was when I first read her, and dislike myself in her.


I open the book but don’t read anything. Instead, I find between the pages an Indian railway ticket from my teenage years: Return Ticket. Train No. 6346. Trivandrum Central to Victoria Central Station. One six zero Rupees only, no refunds please. Happy Journey.

Going back to a book is like returning to the cities we believe to be our own, but which, in reality, we’ve forgotten and been forgotten by. In a city—in a book—we vainly revisit passages, looking for nostalgias that no longer belong to us. Impossible to return to a place and find it as you left it—impossible to discover in a book exactly what you first read between its lines. We find, at best, fragments of objects among the debris, incomprehensible marginal notes that we have to decipher to make our own again.

On remembering:

My memories of the two years I lived in India as a teenager are fragmentary, ephemeral, almost trivial. I conserve impossible images. There are faces that I only manage to recall in two dimensions. I visualize myself in the third person, always in the same clothes—a long, scrambled egg–yellow dress, my hair tied back with a white handkerchief—walking along the same street, which, I suspect, is a superimposition of many streets. I know that some memories are a later fabrication: fantasies embroidered during a casual conversation, exaggerations sculpted in the different versions of a paragraph I wrote over and again in my letters home.
I do, however, remember the books I read during the years I lived there and the voracity and devotion with which I underlined certain sections of them—sometimes entire paragraphs were underscored twice, once in pencil and once in ink. I think it was Gertrude Stein who used to say that people become civilized before they turn twenty. I don’t know if I’d become civilized by then—or if I ever shall—but I did become a reader during those years and have never again read a book with the same sense of rapture. My world was shaped by books—not vice versa. A train journey—the chai vendors; the blue plastic seats that made your legs sweat; the impossibly large families picnicking on the floor of the carriages; the immense, beautiful, complex, Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist, Orwell’s essays, Borges’s Ficciones. I used to sit on the steps of one of the open doors at the end of a carriage and light a cigarette, take out a pen and pencil for underlining, and read until my eyes burned.

Remembering, according to etymologists, is “bringing back to the heart.” The heart, however, is merely an absentminded organ that pumps blood. But rereading is not like remembering. It’s more like rewriting ourselves: the subtle alchemy of reinventing our past through the twice-underscored words written by others.

Valeria Luiselli, ‘Sidewalks’.

I suppose one of the main reasons for our wanting to reread a book is because we want to attempt at “bringing back to the heart” that, which at one time had made its presence so keenly felt, and had managed to leave its mark on us during the course of our first reading. It is often with the hope of recapturing that which had once held us captive, that motivates us to return to its pages, I guess.

Is there any book or writer in particular that you find yourself wanting to go back to, time and again? I always have the feeling that I cannot afford to reread, as there are just too many unread books waiting to be dived into, as it is.

I know this is erroneous thinking on my side. I think we all need a little reminder at different points in our lives, of the person we used to be, and of how far we’ve journeyed to arrive at the reader/ person that we are today.