I sometimes hold it half a sin To put in words the grief I feel; For words, like Nature, half reveal And half conceal the Soul within.
But, for the unquiet heart and brain, A use in measured language lies; The sad mechanic exercise, Like dull narcotics, numbing pain.
In words, like weeds, I’ll wrap me o’er, Like coarsest clothes against the cold: But that large grief which these enfold Is given in outline and no more.
Alfred Tennyson, ‘In Memoriam’.
“For words, like Nature, half reveal and half conceal the soul within”.
I came across this line of Tennyson’s in the preface of a book I was flipping through last night, and it struck a chord in me.
I have been struggling to come up with a post for the past one over month simply because I did not have the words.
July had been an unexpectedly trying month for me, filled with a fair share of loss, grief and stress. Although it had to do with the animals in my life, and not the humans, it was by no means any less easy to bear. I was robbed of my peace and joy for the most part of it, and all plans for taking part in one of my favourite annual blogging events, the Paris in July, were sadly not to be. Plans for sharing the rest of my haul from the box sale were also not possible. Even reading was at times, a struggle. Nothing seemed to appeal at first. And then, it was as if the pendulum had swung to the other extreme end, and everything seemed to appeal and I was eager to read as much as I possibly could.
Having had no words of my own to offer, it was as though I had to stuff myself with the words of others in order to assuage the unrest that was within. I read with an intensity that was quite unlike my usual slow and laid back approach. I got many a book started but not all were able to hold my interest and mood right till the end. Three in particular, did. And one stood out, especially. That book was Thornton Wilder’s exceptionally brilliant Pulitzer Prize winner, The Bridge of San Luis Rey.
On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below.
‘Why did this happen to those five?’ If there were any plan in the universe at all, if there were any pattern in a human life, surely it could be discovered mysteriously latent in those lives so suddenly cut off. Either we live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan. And on that instant Brother Juniper made the resolve to inquire into the secret lives of those five persons, that moment falling through the air, and to surmise the reason of their taking off.
The things that happen to us or those around us, are they (in the words of Wilder) “…. perhaps an accident?”, or are they “….perhaps an intention?” That was the premise of the book. But Wilder does not pretend to have the answers to those questions. “The business of literature is not to answer questions, but to state them fairly”, he once said.
That was exactly what he did with book.
And that is how it is with life too, I guess.
We don’t always need to have all the answers….. in order for it to go on.
He was the awkwardest speaker in the world apart from the lore of the sea, but there are times when it requires a high courage to speak the banal. He could not be sure the figure on the floor was listening, but he said, “We do what we can. We push on, Esteban, as best we can. It isn’t for long, you know. Time keeps going by. You’ll be surprised at the way time passes.”
I have been so overwhelmed by the amount of treasures that came home with me from this year’s Big Bad Wolf Box Sale that it has taken me forever to get this post up on the blog, simply because I just didn’t know where to begin in sharing the richness of this loot! 😀
There are so many good finds in there that I am more than excited to show and tell. So, without further ado, here there are:
I remember having read some good things about the Beatrix Potter biography some time back and was very happy that I also managed to get my hands on a Peter Rabbit box set to bring home with me. As I have never been properly acquainted with Potter and her creations before, they would do well to complement the biography, I think.
Finding a copy of Durrell’s The Corfu Trilogy and The Whispering Land also brought much cheer to the box. 🙂 I recall finding two other of his works at last year’s box sale and they were also in the same edition as the one found this time, so that makes it even better.
“Natural Histories allows readers a privileged glimpse of these seldom-seen, fully illustrated scientific works.Forty essays from the museum’s top experts in a variety of disciplines enhance each rare tome’s unique qualities and scientific contribution, and three to four illustrations accompany each one. This beautiful book will fascinate natural science and art lovers alike.”
As usual, the loot also included a fair few tomes on one of my favourite genres: travel writing.
I was especially happy with the Geert Mak (I actually gave a small squeal of delight, I think!) when I saw the solitary volume among the stacks on the table. In America: Travels with John Steinbeckhas been on my wishlist ever since I knew of it. I love Mak’s writing and am currently making slow but steady progress with his In Europe: Travels through the Twentieth Century.
Gary Kamiya’s Cool Gray City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco, “…. is a one-of-a-kind book for a one-of-a-kind city. It’s a love song in 49 chapters to an extraordinary place, taking 49 different sites around the city as points of entry and inspiration-from a seedy intersection in the Tenderloin to the soaring sea cliffs at Lands End. Encompassing the city’s Spanish missionary past, a gold rush, a couple of earthquakes, the Beats, the hippies, and the dot-com boom, this book is at once a rambling walking tour, a natural and human history, and a celebration of place itself-a guide to loving any place more faithfully and fully.”
Next to New York, San Francisco (& Seattle) are the cities I would love most to have the chance to visit in the US, someday. Am expecting good things from this one!
The Other Side of The Tiber: Reflections on Time in Italyby Wallis Wilde-Menozzi. “Beginning her story with a hitchhiking trip to Rome when she was a student in England, she illuminates a passionate, creative, and vocal people who are often confined to stereotypes. Earthquakes and volcanoes; a hundred-year-old man; Siena as a walled city; Keats in Rome; the refugee camp of Manduria; the Slow Food movement; realism in Caravaggio; the concept of good and evil; Mary the Madonna as a subject―from these varied angles, Wilde-Menozzi traces a society skeptical about competition and tolerant of contradiction. Bringing them together in the present, she suggests the compensations of the Italians’ long view of time.” Another one that sounds rather promising.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic travelogue, Travels with A Donkey in the Cervennes, was picked mainly for its slim size which is a very handy feature to look out for in a box sale. They make for great gap-fillers (no offense to Mr Stevenson, I hope!) :p
I found an unexpected piece of gem in London: A Literary Anthology, a lovely British Library Publishing edition that features “…… a wide-ranging collection of poems and scenes from novels that stretch from the 15th century to the present day. They range from Daniel Defoe hymning “the greatest, the finest, the richest city in the world” to Rudyard Kipling declaring impatiently, “I am sick of London town;” from William Makepeace Thackeray moving among “the very greatest circles of the London fashion” to Charles Dickens venturing into an “infernal gulf.” Experience London for the first time with Lord Byron’s Don Juan, and James Berry in his Caribbean gear “beginning in the city.” Plunge into the multi-racial whirlpool described in William Wordsworth’s Prelude, Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album, and Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. See the ever-changing city through the eyes of Tobias Smollett, John Galsworthy, and Angela Carter. From well-known texts to others that are less familiar, here is London brought to life through the words of many of the greatest writers in the English language.”
There is much to be savoured from this one, no doubt! 🙂
The Spirit of the Dog and The Elegance of the Cat are two lavishly illustrated volumes that is bound to be treasured by dog lovers and cat lovers alike. Beautiful photography by the award-winning photographer Astrid Harrisson makes these two a real pleasure to behold.
And now, on to the fiction stack…..
First up, the recent Penguin reprints of William Trevor’s backlist. I just love the black and white photos used on these covers. I find the effect to be so very evocative and appealing. Just like an invitation to step into another world, another time…..
As opposed to the beautiful set of Trevors, the copy of Willa Cather’s The Bohemian Girl that I managed to bring home from the sale, has to be one of the ugliest edition I have ever come across! :p If it was not Cather’s name that was on the cover, I would never have picked it up. Yes, I am a shallow reader who tends to judge a book by its cover, sorry!
Colette’s The Last of Cheri was another one that was picked for its handy size and purpose.
Rose Macaulay’s The Towers of Trebizond has been on my wishlist for some years now, so spotting it at the sale was a joy. And it was in very pretty edition too. 🙂
Angela Thirkell’s recent VMC reprints are another set of titles that have been on my wishlist in the last couple of years. I just love the cover designs on all their covers! Pomfret Towers is the first one I have managed to get my hands on, and I am sure it won’t be the last.
Also managed to add two lovely editions of Gabriel Garcia Marquez into the box, and I am especially in love with the cover for his One Hundred Years of Solitude. Hope it’s as good as it looks!
Yet another fabulous find, James Joyce’s Dubliners in the Penguin Classics Deluxe edition. Am so glad it was this that turned up, and not Ulysses! :p
Last but not least, the Centennial Edition of Steinbeck’s masterpiece East of Eden. This had to come home with me even if it had meant the disposing of some other books in the box to make room for it, and ignoring the fact that I already have a perfectly fine copy of it in the Penguin Modern Classics edition!
Blame it on those French flaps and deckle-edged pages.
Although we are necessarily concerned, in a chronicle of events, with physical action by the light of day, history suggests that the human spirit wanders farthest in the silent hours between midnight and dawn. Those dark fruitful hours, seldom recorded, whose secret flowerings breed peace and war, loves and hates, the crowning or uncrowning of heads.”
Joan Lindsay, ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’.
Just finished this book over the weekend, and I am happy to report that it was one stellar bit of storytelling that Lindsay managed to pull off! I really enjoyed her style of writing (beautiful prose too, as can be seen from the quote) and sense of humour which comes off surprisingly well in a book that is supposedly inclined towards the darker side of things.
If only Lindsay had written more books than just the handful (listed on Wikipedia), I would gladly seek them all out and explore further. As it is, I think I will probably just check out the film adaption of the book for a start.
It has been a long while since I last had the pleasure of having the postman drop books into my mailbox. And it’s been even longer since I last received any books as birthday gifts. So naturally, I was more than thrilled to find these lovelies waiting for me at home on two separate occasions in the last two weeks.
Thanks to the big hearted folks over at Slightly Foxed who had a recent huge giveaway on their Instagram account (@foxedquarterly), I am now the proud owner of one of their long-coveted objects of beauty!
John Moore’s Brensham Village, which captures life in the English countryside during the 1930s, sounds like a book that’s just my cup of tea.
…. one day, there will be girls and women whose name will no longer just signify the opposite of the male but something in their own right, something which does not make one think of any supplement or limit but only of life and existence: the female human being.
This step forward [….] will transform the experience of love, which is now full of error, alter it root and branch, reshape it into a relation between two human beings and on longer between man and woman.
And this more human form of love [….] will resemble the one we are struggling and toiling to prepare the way for, the love that consists in two solitudes protecting, defining and welcoming one another.
I had started the year without any specific reading plans or lists because I knew I was not a good one for keeping to pre-planned plans when it comes to reading. I prefer to do my reading at whim.
So, I thought it was probably futile to have one and was not quite inspired to make any.
But then something changed.
And now, I think I do have one, and it’s one that I am quite excited about and feeling rather determined (or hopeful!) to see it through.
What happened was this.
I started an Instagram account sometime in December, after discovering the delights in being able to feast my eyes on a regular dose of book porn, through the various bookstagrammers’ feed out there. I was actually amazed to find that there are so many talented book lovers (cum photographers) out there who can effortlessly make books look so desirable as objects.
Creating the account was intended to mainly facilitate my ease of accessing to these feeds on a regular basis.
But when the new year started out on an unexpectedly rough note for me, I soon found myself in desperate need for a diversion of sorts.
As it happens, there was a book challenge hosted by some bookstagrammers that was taking place for the month, called the #AtoZbookchallenge, whereby one is to post a photo a day for each of the alphabets, relating to either book titles or themes or authors that goes with the particular alphabet each day.
Preferably, it should be books that are already on one’s existing physical TBR shelves.
I thought that sounded diverting enough.
And that’s how my unplanned reading plans came to be.
Here’s the A to Z of it.
Not sure how long it will take for me to complete this A to Z reading list, being the slow reader that I am. What I do know is that right now, I’m feeling pretty enthusiastic about it, and that’s a good start!
Let’s just hope that I won’t be stuck at ‘D’ for a long, long time…….
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
Dr. Jerome Groopman’s The Anatomy of Hope: How People Prevail in the Face of Illness, may not be the kind of book with a title that will grab your attention and make you reach out for it from the shelves, but I am glad I did. Not only did I find it to be insightful and informative, but it was also much more readable than I had imagined (no thanks to the title) and did make for a most engaging read. I was really taken in by the sincere humility and honesty in which Dr. Groopman’s voice came across on the subject matter.
I learned much, and found the writing to be really helpful.
Personally, the past few years have been a rather exhaustive struggle for me in trying to help someone dear in my life, see hope. Dr. Groopman’s insights and observations have no doubt given me now a better understanding on the matter, and armed me with better tools to approach the subject, moving forward.
I thought about this, how our minds naturally jump to picture the negative outcome and stall there. It is because the mind is frozen by fear, and fear overwhelms hope.
Hope can arrive only when you recognize that there are real options and that you have genuine choices. Hope can flourish only when you believe that what you can do can make a difference, that your actions can bring a future different from the present.
To have hope, then, is to acquire belief in your ability to have some control over your circumstances. You are no longer entirely at the mercy of forces outside yourself.
To hope under the most extreme circumstances is an act of defiance that [….] permits a person to live his life on his own terms. It is part of the human spirit to endure and give a miracle a chance to happen….
I’ve come to believe that the way the body talks to the brain powerfully shapes our sense of hope or despair. [….]
Hope, then, is constructed not just from rational deliberation, from the conscious weighing of information; it arises as an amalgam of thought and feeling, the feelings created in part by neural input from the organs and tissues.
The question of hope became more than just a subject of study for Dr. Groopman when a ruptured lumbar disc, sustained while he was training for the 1979 Boston Marathon, found the doctor himself becoming the patient. It was to be the start of a long and debilitating journey, of living life with pain as a constant companion, for the next nineteen years. After nearly having given up all hope of recovery, Dr. Groopman was finally referred to the ‘right’ doctor.
“What do I mean that you are worshiping the volcano god of pain?” he asked. “You interpret pain as a red flag, a warning that you are doing damage to your body. So you sacrifice things that you love, activities that give your life joy, to be kept free from pain. You say to the volcano god: ‘I will give up walking long distances if you keep me out of pain. I will give up lifting my children if you keep me out of pain. I will give up travel, because long trips stress my spine. Just keep me from pain.’
“But this god is never fully satisfied with any offering: It is appeased for only a short while. So the more you sacrifice, the more it demands, until your life contracts, as it has, into a very narrow space. I believe you can be freed from your pain. I believe you can rebuild yourself and do much, much more. [….] You think what I am saying is complete bullshit. You’ve lived all these years without any real hope, and it’s hard to open that door and glimpse a different kind of life.
[….] It’s your choice: to try or not to try. You can walk out of my office now and believe everything you’ve believed for the past nineteen years, and live the way you have. Or you can test me. And I’ll tell you now, I’m right.”
I am glad to let you know that those words were indeed put to the test, and finally he was able to recover back the ‘life’ that he had lost in those nineteen long years of chronic pain.
Dr. Groopman also managed to draw a very clear picture of the Body-Mind and Mind-Body Connection, with regards to hope.
This is the vicious cycle. When we feel pain from our physical debility, that pain amplifies our sense of hopelessness; the less hopeful we feel, the fewer endorphins and enkephalins and the more CCK (a chemical that blocks endorphins) we release. The more pain we experience due to these neurochemicals, the less able we are to feel hope.
To break the cycle is the key. It can be broken by the first spark of hope: Hope sets off a chain reaction. Hope tempers pains, and as we sense less pain, that feeling of hope expands, which further reduces pain. As pain subsides, a significant obstacle to enduring a harsh but necessary therapy is removed.
He goes on further to say that even by simply being able to alleviate a patient’s fatigue, which is a common unremitting symptom for many, by just a little, can have major impact on a patient’s sense of hope.
Without hope, nothing could begin; hope offered a real chance to reach a better end. Hope helps us overcome hurdles that we otherwise could not scale, and it moves us forward to a place where healing can occur.
….. no one is beyond the capacity to hope.
And the book closes with these parting thoughts:
….. we are just beginning to appreciate hope’s reach and have not defined its limits. I see hope as the very heart of healing. For those who have hope, it may help some to live longer, and it will help all to live better.
You can’t make someone read. Just like you can’t make them fall in love, or dream.
This is Daniel Pennac’s passionate defense of reading for pleasure, and one in which I have decided to take refuge in right at the onset of this new reading year. I find his reminder to readers of their rights to read anything, anywhere, at any time, as long as they are enjoying themselves, to be rather timely in helping me decide to stop reading Emma (in fact, I had already stopped a couple of weeks ago) and to put it back onto the shelves (without feeling guilty) until I find it calling again. My initial plans to read it in conjunction with its 200th anniversary seems to have hit a snag and instead of struggling to overcome it, I have opted to exercise my “right to not finish a book”. For now, at least. I certainly want to come back to it someday, just not now.
I got this copy from the recent book sales, but it was somehow misplaced and I didn’t even realize it was missing when I shared the photos of the book hauls in my previous year end post until it re-surfaced again sometime last week. Just when I was debating on what to do with Emma. A bookish godsend, I guess. 🙂
I had the most enjoyable time in the company of Tessa Hainsworth’s memoir, recounting her first year as a village post-mistress in Cornwall after she had traded in her high-powered job as marketing manager at The Body Shop in London in search of a more balanced and fulfilling life with her young family.
The story of her transformation from outsider to ‘posh postie’ in her new community in the Cornish seaside village of Treverny, is filled with many heartwarming, amusing, inspiring and poignant moments. Cornwall has always had a special place in my heart ever since my first encounter with it five years ago. I loved the rugged yet idyllic atmosphere that Cornwall manages to evoke so effortlessly. Reading this memoir was the ideal way to be given a snapshot of life up close and personal, in one of my favourite corners in the world.
Firmly back in the present, I stop at the hamlet down from Eleanor Gibland’s cottage. It is a cluster of six granite and slate houses on a slope overlooking the sea and I park the van where Susie had parked when she was showing me the route, in a rough lay-by at the edge of the narrow track up to the houses. Then I grab my satchel ready to set out, but first I had to sort out the dog biscuits, as this is deep canine country. Susie had given me a list of each dog’s requirements.
The first two houses have either sheepdogs or mutts that will eat anything, the third one with a yellow door has a cat and no dog, but the last three are tricky. There is the border terrier that will only eat the green biscuits and an odd poodle/ bearded collie cross that likes only the bone-shaped yellow ones. As for that last house at the edge of the cluster, there is a black German shepherd dog that will eat anything you throw into the enclosed garden, including posties if you are not careful.
I am looking forward to continue reading on to follow Hainsworth’s further adventures in her second volume Seagulls in the Attic.