Happy New Year, to come…..

First book haul of the year in early March that went missing in transit and never arrived till replacements were despatched in October. Good things come to those that wait, though….and these were well worth waiting for.
Next book haul happened in May when I found these beauties at the hypermarket (after a long dry spell of having found nothing exciting on their bargain tables).

And so, believe it or not, I managed to arrive at December with only 6 books bought for the year. Have not seen the likes of this in the past decade or so.

Somehow, I’ve actually been rather contented with just enjoying the offering I had on my own shelves this past eleven months (well, that as well as those on my Scribd account – I so love Scribd, by the way!)

Of course one particularly bad Wolf saw it as rather ‘unbefitting’ of a self professed book hoarder to end the year with anything less than a bang (or thud!) and so, a Fire Sale was started and thus bad begins. :p

Haul from 1st trip to the sale.

Bounty from 2nd trip to the sale.

This was not found to be in the best of shapes externally (the internal contents were intact, though) but even if it was in tatters I would still have brought it home, I think.
Final haul from the sale (and for the year).

Not a bad way to ring out the year, I suppose. Yes, there is much to be thankful for.

Personally, I was hit unexpectedly by some bleak and discouraging news during a recent medical follow up just the week before Christmas, and it had put a damper on my spirits. But God has been faithful and good, and while not everything is completely out of the woods yet, I can thankfully at this moment say, it is well with my soul.

Wishing all of you a blessed new year, and may you find much hope and light in the days to come! God bless….

“You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.” Psalm 18:28

The end of a journey.

I have often had the feeling that, despite our common heritage and our present-day contracts, Europe as it was in spring 1914 exhibited a greater cultural unity than it does today, more than ninety years later. Then, a worker in Warsaw led more or less the same life as a worker in Brussels, and the same went for a teacher in Berlin or in Prague, a shopkeeper in Budapest or in Amsterdam.

Our common disaster can be summarised briefly. Around 1900 there was a tree and an apple, and everyone ate of it. At the heart of Europe lay a young, unstable nation that did not recognise its own destructive potential. Two hellish wars followed, and we all experienced them in our own way. After that, for the East, began four deadly decades, while for Western Europe the gates opened onto a paradise of mopeds, electric mixers, cars and televisions. Close to the end of the century, the Wall fell, but for millions of Eastern Europeans hard times arrived again, the years of humiliated men, frightened women and broken families. At the same time, the West was celebrating the boom of the 1990s, without realising what their Central and Eastern European kin were suffering. Immigrants from other cultures came and went, closed societies were broken open, there arose a new set of dynamics with new tensions. In short, we still have a great deal to tell each other and a great deal to explain, and all that has yet to begin.

Geert Mak, ‘In Europe’.

Took me a little more than a decade to finally get through a century. But what a privilege it was to have been able to travel along, with Geert Mak leading the way. 

And I had long since gone on to acquire all his other works, even while I had yet to complete my journey with this tome, simply because I find his tone and style to be so readable and enjoyable, despite the heavy subject.

This was also actually one of the first few books I had bought from my very first trip to the Big Bad Wolf Books Sale, right at the very beginning, in their early days. Spotting this volume among the random titles on the table back then, was for me, an early indication as to the quality of this newcomer to the book sale scene. 

And sure enough, they didn’t disappoint. 🙂

Neither did Mak.  

This is a highly recommended piece of work, worthy of its weight, in every sense of the word.  

The Sense of an Ending….

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I had long planned to write about trains. I suppose in a way I have already done so, at least in part. If there is something distinctive about my version of contemporary European history in “Postwar”, it is – I believe- the subliminal emphasis on space: a sense of regions, distances, differences, and contrasts within the limited frame of one small subcontinent. I think I came to that sense of space by staring aimlessly out of train windows and inspecting rather more closely the contrasting sights and sounds of the stations where I alighted. My Europe is measured in train time. 

Perhaps the most dispiriting consequences of my present disease – more depressing even than its practical, daily manifestations – is the awareness that I shall never again ride the rails. This knowledge weighs on me like a leaden blanket, pressing me ever deeper into that gloom-laden sense of an ending that marks the truly terminal disease: the understanding that some things will never be. This absence is more than just the loss of a pleasure, the deprivation of freedom, much less the exclusion of new experiences. Remembering Rilke, it constitutes the very loss of myself – or at least, that better part of myself that most readily found contentment and peace. No more Waterloo, no more rural country halts, no more solitude: no more becoming, just interminable being. 

Tony Judt, ‘The Memory Chalet‘.

Just wanted to share a little glimpse of what I have been reading lately.  

Found the above excerpt to be one of the most moving descriptions I’ve come across with regards to one’s sense of coming to terms with the ‘end’. 

Of Masks, and Mothers.

Masks conceal, but they can also slip, and each slip brings a new surprise. Clearly, there has always been something unknown behind the facade, but when we do catch a glimpse of that other, hidden face, it is often very different from what we assumed or hoped for, or feared. […] having been granted a chance glimpse of what was once hidden, we are surprised, and altered, by finding that what we see is a far cry from what we had imagined. At such times, it’s not just that a secret has been laid open to view, it’s that our way of seeing changes, opening onto a wholly other world, familiar in some ways, vitally different in others.

It was during our holiday in Ostend that I first saw past the mask my mother kept for me. Of course, I knew her life was full of disappointments, but until then I hadn’t quite recognised that I was one of them.

~~~~~~~~~~~

A fortnight before she died, I went into her room and found her lying very still, her eyes closed, the July sunlight spilling from the window onto her dressing table. She seemed impossibly remote, wonderfully other, the way those we love sometimes seem when dreaming – and I entertained the brief fantasy that, if I could talk to her as she lay in that suspended state, I could make her see that I’d never have been happy with what she thought of as happiness.

That fantasy melted away, however, as I gazed at her face: serene, for the moment, unburdened, but just one more in a series of masks. Until then, I had assumed that all our masks were intended to conceal, and that what they concealed was the real self, a fixed entity who suffered pain and shame, a self that needed to be kept hidden, if only for its own protection or, in the case of my mother’s dismay, to protect others. If I had paid more attention back then, however, I might have understood that, of all our many life masks, none of them, not even the most fleeting or beatific, is any more true or false than any of the others.

John Burnside, ‘Sons and Mothers’.

Well, this had hit unexpectedly, a little too close to home.

My first encounter with Burnside, and I must say, something definitely did catch fire. 

This poignant piece is one of the collection of essays found in Treasure Palaces: Great Writers Visit Great Museums, in case you were interested.

“…. keep going come what may.”

Well, today I am no longer in those surroundings, yet they say that what is known as the soul never dies but lives on for ever, continuing to seek for ever and again.

So, instead of giving in to despair I chose active melancholy, in so far as I was capable of activity, in other words I chose the kind of melancholy that hopes, that strives and seeks, in preference to the melancholy that despairs numbly and in distress.

~~~~~~

Now for the past 5 years or so, I have been more or less without permanent employment, wandering from pillar to post. You will say, ever since such and such a time you have been going downhill, you have been feeble, you have done nothing. Is that entirely true?

What is true is that I have at times earned my own crust, and at other times a friend has given it to me out of the goodness of his heart. I have lived whatever way I could, for better or worse, taking things just as they came. It is true that I have forfeited the trust of various people, it is true that my financial affairs are in a sorry state, it is true that my future looks bleak, it is true that I might have done better, it is true that I have wasted time when it comes to earning a living, it is true that my studies are in a fairly lamentable and appalling state, and that my needs are greater, infinitely greater than my resources. But does that mean going downhill and doing nothing?

[….] I am lost. That is how I look at it – keep going, keep going come what may.

The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

Vincent’s words never fail to move me.

Perhaps even more so, than his art.

Of miscalculated charms & wrathful skirts….

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“Silly little thing!” he said coaxingly, endearingly, putting forth all his power to charm. He perceived at once that he had miscalculated the effects of his action. Her alarm changed swiftly to angry offence. She drew back with a haughty gesture, as if he had intended actually to touch her. Did he suppose, because she chanced to be walking with him, that he had the right to address her familiarly, to tease her, to call her ‘silly little thing’ and to put his face against hers? She resented his freedom with quick and passionate indignation.

She showed him her proud back and nodding head and wrathful skirts; and hurried off without a word, almost running. As for him, he was so startled by the unexpected phenomena that he did nothing for a moment—merely stood looking and feeling foolish.

[….] “I’ll thank you not to follow me, Mr. Scales.” She paused, and scorched him with her displeasure.

Arnold Bennet, “The Old Wives’ Tale”.

wrathful skirts.

Love it! 😆

“….. doors of delight set open.”

AS ONE OLDSTER TO ANOTHER

Well, yes the old bones ache. There were easier

Beds thirty years back. Sleep, then importunate,

Now with reserve doles out her favours;

Food disagrees; there are draughts in houses.

Headlong, the down night train rushes on with us,

Screams through the stations…how many more? Is it

Time soon to think of taking down one’s

Case from the rack? Are we nearly there now?

Yet neither loss of friends, nor an emptying

Future, nor England tamed and the ruin of

Long-builded hopes thus far have taught my

Obstinate heart a sedate deportment.

Still beauty calls as once in the mazes of

Boyhood. The bird-like soul quivers. Into her

Flash darts of unfulfill’d desire and

Pierce with a bright, unabated anguish.

Armed thus with anguish, joy met us even in

Youth—who forgets? This side of the terminus,

Then, now, and always, thus, and only

Thus, were the doors of delight set open.

From Poems by C. S. Lewis

Much loved in March (…. and rather loathed in April!)

This post was supposed to be up in the first week of April. But as with most things that were supposed to have been and and yet not be, here we are. 

March had provided for me quite an unexpected amount of stirring encounters with both books and films. 

The books:

Cassandra ATW
First 5 star read of the year for me. Didn’t expect to love it as much as I did, but love it I did!

She sighed, and after a while she said rather easily: ‘You mean you’ll be burned up if I get married.’ First tactlessness, then callousness. Nine months in New York had not increased my sister’s sensitivity. There was no way to answer. I lay there in all the heat and wondered what it is that gets lovely simple things so knotted and gnarled up. What makes mistletoe move in on a tree and take over, what made the wild cells move in on Jane Edwards; why do weeds flourish and flowers give up? Why does papa have to prefer drinking alone on a ranch to the entrenched inanities of the university world? Where is there to go? Or barring that, where can you hide?

Stars (Emma D)
A second 5 star experience with this one. Donoghue’s brilliant storytelling pulled me right smack into the 1918 flu pandemic situation in Dublin, which feels uncannily relatable to the pandemic situation of today, a century forward. Didn’t realize that the word “influenza” came from the Latin, to mean “the influence of the stars”. What a dreamy connotation to such a grim state of reality.

On the landing yesterday’s poster hooked my attention ‘Would they be dead if they’d stayed in bed?’ I had an impulse to rip it down, but that probably constituted conduct unbecoming to a nurse, as well as treason. ‘Yes, they’d be bloody dead,’ I ranted silently. ‘Dead in their beds or at the kitchen table eating their onion a day. Dead on the tram, falling down in the street, whenever the bone-man happened to catch up with them. Blame the germs, the unburied corpses, the dust of war, the circulation of wind and weather, but Lord God Almighty, blame the stars, just don’t blame the dead, because none of them wished this on themselves.”

And the government’s advice to the public seems not to have changed very much in over a hundred years. :p

PUBLIC IS URGED TO STAY OUT OF PUBLIC PLACES SUCH AS CAFÉS, THEATRES, CINEMAS, AND PUBLIC HOUSES. SEE ONLY THOSE PERSONS ONE NEEDS TO SEE. REFRAIN FROM SHAKING HANDS, LAUGHING, OR CHATTING CLOSELY TOGETHER. IF ONE MUST KISS, DO SO THROUGH A HANDKERCHIEF. SPRINKLE SULPHUR IN THE SHOES.

IF IN DOUBT, DON’T STIR OUT.

🙂

As from films (or rather, one film in particular):

World
This exceeded all expectations and came away with full marks on all fronts. Has one of the best closing scenes I’ve come across in a while, and the haunting music score lingers on…. long after the credits rolls.

“I can’t imagine what more we could do for one another, with our constraints.
“You can’t?”
“I can’t.”
“Well then… it’s a good thing we remember that our imaginations can always be cultivated.”

I almost wanted to end the post on that beautiful note, but just realized that I haven’t mentioned about what I have “rather loathed” in April.

Well, maybe ‘loathed’ is a stronger word than what Henry James’ Wings of the Dove deserved. It was more like an annoying, neverending frustration, trying to get through the book. After the first couple of chapters, I had to resort to listening to the audiobook for the rest of it, letting it play on like some background music.

Admittedly, there were some sparkling lines in there somewhere (and Juliet Stevenson was a pleasure to listen to, as always), but then my patience was just too much tested overall in the whole Jamesian experience.

Safe to say, it won’t be anytime soon before I decide to pull out another one of his books (and I do have quite a few waiting in the stacks, I’m afraid.) :p

Any Henry James fans out here? 🙂

On Providence, and the necessity of aunts.

Have finally gotten around to reading this, and am loving it so far.

The person who undertook the main portion of the vigils was a certain Aunt Maria—whom the girls knew to be not a real aunt, not a powerful, effective aunt like Aunt Harriet of Axe—but a poor second cousin of John Baines; one of those necessitous, pitiful relatives who so often make life difficult for a great family in a small town. The existence of Aunt Maria, after being rather a “trial” to the Baineses, had for twelve years past developed into something absolutely “providential” for them. (It is to be remembered that in those days Providence was still busying himself with everybody’s affairs, and foreseeing the future in the most extraordinary manner. Thus, having foreseen that John Baines would have a “stroke” and need a faithful, tireless nurse, he had begun fifty years in advance by creating Aunt Maria, and had kept her carefully in misfortune’s way, so that at the proper moment she would be ready to cope with the stroke.)

Arnold Bennett, ‘The Old Wives’ Tale’.

An Update of Random Bits.

February.

My favourite month of the year, for the simple reason that it has my birthday in it.

Not that anything particularly exciting ever happens though. :p

I have been wanting to put something up in this space ever since the last post, but never seem to have enough substance or content, nor the inspiration to make up for a post-worthy piece.

So I thought I will just go ahead and share some of the random bits (bookish and otherwise) that might (or might not) be of interest to anyone visiting these pages. 

This post was supposed to be up last Friday, as I didn’t want the month to go by without leaving some footprint here. But then one of my cats went missing and I was derailed for a bit. 

I am happy to report that all is (almost) well now (hence the appearance of this post), and my cat is safely back, recovering from its wounds after being found on Saturday night, bloodied and traumatized – aftermath from a vicious catfight. 

Speaking of cats, here’s a useful tip I came across on Instagram recently, which might be of interest to some:

 

Random bits on reading.

Some of the books I’ve got going, of which some do not seem to be going anywhere at all. :p

 

And here are some of the ones that have been most recently added to the never-ending list of want-to-reads. I will not attempt to share the list that I have also managed to amass in Scribd. 

 

  • I read a really funny short story by W. Somerset Maugham titled ‘The Luncheon’ and am encouraged to want to read more.
  • I also read some Saki and am reminded of his deliciously wicked wit.
  • Read the first essay in Julian Barnes’ “The Pedant in the Kitchen” and hope to continue soon.
  • Finishing up Ali Smith’s “Public Library & other stories”, and am reminded again of what it was that made me fell for her all those years ago when I first read her slim Pocket Penguin edition of “Ali Smith’s Supersonic 70s”. 

 

Hope to finally finish this Geert Mak soon. At least the marker has moved down progressively in the past weeks.

 

Random bits on listening.

  • One reason I am so in love with Scribd is because of their huge selection of audiobooks.
  • Managed to finish Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders and Barbara Pym’s Jane & Prudence in the last month.
  • Currently making my way through Rachel Cusk’s essays in Coventry and Sinead Gleeson’s anthology of Irish Women Writers in The Long Gaze Back.
  • Most impressive recent discovery is Norah Hoult. Loved her piece in the Irish anthology – ‘When Miss Cole Made the Tea’. Makes me want to track down everything by her now.

Book Arrivals.

Book gifts that were meant for two Christmases and two birthdays. Well, better late than never! :p

 

Some bookmarks came along as well. 🙂

 

Part of the above book parcel, though it was left out from the group photo.

 

This photo does not do the actual physical book justice. It truly is a beauty in the flesh. Texture of the pages and the font are a joy to hold and behold.

 

As with this one too, which was recently pulled out from my stacks. I think it will go very well together with the Italian shorts.

 

Last (but definitely not least!) book gift that just came in last week. Love the cover. In fact, I love all the covers in these VMC editions. Must really start to READ my first Thirkell soon! :p

 

Birthday Cake.

Had this for my birthday, and it was yummy! The description had everything I love – coffee, cheese, chocolate, jelly, biscuit…. The rum was a little too strong in the jelly bits though, and I might have had my first hangover from eating cake! :p

 

Last random bit.

I now weigh exactly the same as my age.