The Heart Asks Pleasure First

Part One: Life


The heart asks pleasure first
And then, excuse from pain-
And then, those little anodynes
That deaden suffering;

And then, to go to sleep;
And then, if it should be
The will of its Inquisitor,
The liberty to die.

Emily Dickinson, The Complete Poems.

I was directed to this little piece of gem yesterday, and was struck by how much the poet has managed to pack into these eight simple lines. And this is speaking as one who is usually only able to appreciate poetry when it rhymes. This was certainly one of those rare exceptions.

I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that the composer Michael Nyman, had actually taken the first line of this poem for the title of his standout music score in the film The Piano. I recall having  been captivated by the raw, haunting notes of the score when I had watched the film many years ago. I have always had a thing for film scores and tend to pay particular notice to the soundtracks of what I watch, so having found this connection between the two (Dickinson’s lines and Nyman’s music) was quite a treat, I would say. 🙂



Behold, the latest batch of beauties to have been added into the fold…..

Although it appears that I have been unrepentant over my reckless book buying habits, and that the staggering figures as revealed from my earlier post on taking stock of my entire library seem to have had no apparent effect on me, I can safely vouch that this is not true (well, not entirely anyway).

While it is true that I will not be able to stop buying books in the foreseeable future (and I don’t intend to, either), it is however, going to be a much more subdued/ restrained affair from now on (so she says…). At any rate, that is the plan. Along with the other plans to read more from my own stacks and to get rid of  give away the ones I no longer need/want in my collection. In other words, to be a better curator of my library.

Will just have to see well how things go according to plan, I guess.

And now, onto the books……

These were gotten from another recent book sale that could well give the Big Bad Wolf a run for its money, I would say. Brand new and priced at RM 5 (around USD 1.20) each, it’s easy to see why they were so hard to resist, isn’t it? :p

I recall reading some good stuff about Sun-Mi Hwang’s The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly some time ago, but even if I had known nothing about the book, the sheer beauty of the cover and illustrations in it would have sold it to me. Nina Sankovitch’s Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Celebrating The Joys of Letter Writing was a no-brainer for me, seeing that it’s all about a favourite subject of mine. Dianne Hales’ Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered happens to be a new discovery for me, as I wasn’t aware of the fact that Mona Lisa was a real person and not just a painting! :p

The Paris Review Book: of Heartbreak, Madness, Sex, Love, Betrayal, Outsiders, Intoxication, War, Whimsy, Horrors, God, Death, Dinner, Baseball, … and Everything Else in the World Since 1953 should be an interesting one to dip into….  “This astoundingly diverse anthology, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Paris Review, is jam-packed with resonant and provocative work from some of our greatest writers, past and present: W.H. Auden, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Jack Kerouac, Elizabeth Bishop, Truman Capote, William Burroughs, Susan Sontag, Joyce Carol Oates, Toni Morrison, Jonathan Franzen, Ian McEwan and Alice Munro, to name just a fraction.”

A Buzz in the Meadow: The Natural History of a French Farm by Dave Goulson, is yet another one that had me sold on its cover alone. Fortunately, what is offered between the covers seems to be just as promising. “Goulson has that rare ability to persuade you to go out into your garden or local park and observe the natural world. The subtle glory that is life in all its forms is there to be discovered. And if we learn to value what we have, perhaps we will find a way to keep it.”


The Affairs of Others: A Novel by Amy Grace Loyd was picked because I recalled having read something about the book sometime back that had piqued my curiosity then. I thought it was worth a try for the price….

Matthew Dennison’s Behind the Mask: The Life of Vita Sackville-West is said to be “…. the first biography to be written of Vita in thirty years that reveals the whole story and gets behind ‘the beautiful mask’ of Vita’s public achievements to reveal an often troubled persona which heroically resisted compromise on every level.”

An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler is a meditation on cooking and eating that weaves philosophy and instruction into approachable lessons on feeding ourselves well. I am no cook, let’s get that clear first. But I enjoy reading essays on cooking, just like how I enjoy essays on gardening even though I do not garden (other than the occasional watering of my mum’s plants). Like armchair travelling, these are my versions of ‘armchair cooking’ and ‘armchair gardening’, minus the sweat and dirt, I guess.🙂

Sinclair McKay’s Ramble On: The Story of our love for walking Britain seems to fit the bill nicely for some mild armchair travelling.

Michelangelo: A Life in Six Masterpieces by Miles J. Unger, attempts to portray the artist’s life through the story of six of his masterpieces. Sounds like a fascinating read to me. Am looking forward to it.

Judith Flanders’ The Making of Home: The 500-Year Story of How Our Houses Became Our Homes is one that has been on my radar for some time. I have always found the subject matters in her previous books appealing (The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime; Consuming Passions – Leisure and Pleasures in Victorian Britain;  The Victorian House: Domestic Life from Childbirth to Deathbed), so I was quite thrilled to find this at the sales (did I mention it has a lovely cover too?).  

And being the Francophile that I am, I was especially happy to be able to add David Downie’s A Passion for Paris: Romanticism and Romance in the City of Lightinto the basket as well.


Rachel Allen’s Coast: Recipes from Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way is a feast for the eyes (and probably stomach, for those who intend to put the recipes to good use) with beautiful shots of the rugged Atlantic coast of Ireland.

Food Heroes: Sixteen Culinary Artisans Preserving Tradition by Georgia Pellegrini looks to be a promising read as well. Filled with colorful anecdotes, photographs, and recipes, this book offers an accessible introduction to the artisanal food movement, and vicarious living for armchair travelers, food lovers, and others who might won­der what it would be like to drop everything and start an olive farm, or who yearn to make and sell their own clotted cream butter. No harm dreaming, eh?🙂

The Italians: A Full Length Portrait featuring Their Manners & Morals by Luigi Barzini, examines “the two Italies”: the one that created and nurtured such luminaries as Dante Alighieri, St. Thomas of Aquino, and Leonardo da Vinci; the other, feeble and prone to catastrophe, backward in political action if not in thought, “invaded, ravaged, sacked, and humiliated in every century.

Elergy for Iris by John Bayley, poignantly describes the love affair between the writer and Iris Murdoch (his wife of forty two years) and the dimming of her brilliance due to Alzheimer’s disease. I have yet to read anything by Murdoch although she has long been on my list of to-read. Maybe this will help to move things up abit.

Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction: Work from 1970 to the Present edited by Lex Williford & Michael Martone. This anthology is said to consist of the most highly regarded nonfiction works published since 1970 by fifty contemporary writers including Cheryl Strayed, David Sedaris, Barbara Kingsolver, Annie Dillard, Amy Tan &David Forster Wallace with pieces ranging from memoir to journalism, personal essays to cultural criticism.


I discovered Lucy Knisley’s graphic novels in this same book sales last year, when I found a copy of her book Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, and have since been on the lookout for more of her works. So to find a copy of her illustrated travel journal French Milk this time round, was rather blissful.

Ken Jennings’ Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks “…… takes readers on a world tour of geogeeks from the London Map Fair to the bowels of the Library of Congress, from the prepubescent geniuses at the National Geographic Bee to the computer programmers at Google Earth. Each chapter delves into a different aspect of map culture: highpointing, geocaching, road atlas rallying, even the “unreal estate” charted on the maps of fiction and fantasy. Jennings also considers the ways in which cartography has shaped our history, suggesting that the impulse to make and read maps is as relevant today as it has ever been.” 
I am definitely no maphead, but this has somewhat piqued my interest.

Next comes the four books which I had ordered over the internet some time back and had them sent over to my friend’s place in the UK because I knew she would be making a trip back home this month, and that means I can save on shipping. :p

I am only now reaching the tail end of Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran (after having started on it some months back) but I had already decided early on that I wanted to read more of her books because I really like her writing. And I have to admit that I would not even have attempted Reading Lolita in Tehran if not for a dear friend’s high regards for it. I think I was put off by Lolita, a book that has never appealed to me before. I am glad to report though, that Nafisi’s book is so much more than what I had imagined it to be. I enjoyed the book very much and look forward to her Things I’ve Been Silent About: Memories of a Prodigal Daughter next.

Writing the Garden: A Literary Conversation across Two Centuries by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, may be yet another collection of garden writing, however, “….. it is not simply a collection of extracts, but real discussions and examinations of the personalities who made their mark on how we design, how we plant, and how we think about what is for many one of life’s lasting pleasures. Starting with “Women in the Garden” (Jane Loudon, Frances Garnet Wolseley, and Gertrude Jekyll) and concluding with “Philosophers in the Garden” (Henry David Thoreau, Michael Pollan, and Allen Lacy), this is a book that encompasses the full sweep of the best garden writing in the English language.”

Sea Room: An Island Life in the Hebrides by Adam Nicolson (grandson of Vita Sackville-West) is the account of Nicolson’s love affair with the three tiny islands he had inherited for his 21st birthday (how cool is that!) and describes “…. their strange and colorful history in passionate, keenly precise prose—sharing with us the greatest gift an island bestows on its inhabitants: a deep engagement with the natural world.” Again, it was the cover that got my attention first, one day while I was browsing around the internet. Sadly, I could not locate an affordable copy of the edition that had my desired cover, and had to settle for another. I am thinking though, if I end up loving the book, I might yet continue to pursue the aforementioned elusive expensive cover. :p

Lastly, Richard Mabey’s A Nature Journal.


I probably don’t need to tell you why I had to have it, right? :p

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!)😉