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.

A little linguistic magic

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!

The Door

szabo - the door

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.

The World’s Loneliest Library….

The Sanlian seaside library, located in northern China’s Hebei province.


Aesthetic tranquility.


Reading with a view.


The perfect beach reading experience, don’t you think?


Reading is a solitary act, it has been said.


A setting like this would certainly help to amplify that solitariness….


A beacon of light, literally.


Am definitely adding this into my bookish bucket list!
Any one else wants to come along?

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, dear book loving friends! 🙂

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…..

Lovely hardback editions of Roger Deakin. ❤


This one has been on my wishlist for a long time. Finally found a copy at the right price! 🙂
Can you tell that I’m a Francophile, by now? 😀 Very excited about this one.


Another one that I’ve been on the lookout for ever since reading some glowing reviews on this around the blogs some years back. Can’t wait to dive in!


A much subdued stack from the Big Bad Wolf Book sales this time (there are still a few more volumes that are not pictured in this stack, though).


One of the loveliest finds from the sale, for this Van Gogh fan. 🙂


Very intrigued by this one. Has anyone read it?


A graphic novel, with a strong message. Looking forward to this one, too.


The stack that came from another book sale.


This sounds very promising, although Pete Fromm is completely new to me. Love the title.


Another lovely cover that I couldn’t resist. I’ve been meaning to read Bakker’s ‘The Twin’, though.


I’m actually more interested in these two earlier works of Doerr’s than his overhyped ‘All The Light We Cannot See’.


More finds from the same sale.



The most practical and useful book of the lot, I guess! Having been a dog person for most of my entire life, it is only in the last couple of years that cats have featured in, and they seem to be not very subtle in letting me know that I have a lot to learn! :p

Lastly, some bookish treats that I received for Christmas (something that does not happen very often!)

Told you I was a dog person. Isn’t this a beauty?


As with this.


And this. ❤

What about the rest of you? Found any bookish treats under your trees? 🙂


Blessed Christmas

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

John 1:14

Wishing everyone a blessed Christmas, filled with an abundance of love, joy & peace.

God bless.

I have come so that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.

John 10:10

Guess who’s back in town…..

…. no, I don’t mean me. Although, it’s true that I did seem to have disappeared for quite a while too…. :p


Yes, it’s the good ol’ Wolf. Or rather, the Big Bad one.

And so, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll have some serious book-hunting business to attend to for now.

But just like the big ol’ Wolf (or The Terminator, if you rather), I’ll be back.


Am certainly feeding quite well, no worries! 😉

Shelving solutions

Behold, my latest bit of ‘home improvement’! 😀


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! 😉

Just one last bit…..

Here’s just one final bit of sharing from the box sale haul……. mainly some food, art and architecture books.

Adding on to my collection of Penguin Great Food series is Alice Water’s Recipes and Lessons from a Delicious Cooking Revolution.

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 Think looks 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 Menu by 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 Days by 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 beautiful volume of Recipes and Dreams from an Italian Life by Tessa Kiros.

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 art books.


This was definitely the ‘heftiest’ of the lot in the box…. took up so much space. Oh, but what a beauty!

“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.”

Van Gogh is always a welcomed addition to my shelves. Very delighted with these two finds!
The architecture books.
And lastly, a book on tea, and a book on design.

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!