IS it so small a thing
To have enjoy’d the sun,
To have lived light in the spring,
To have loved, to have thought, to have done;
To have advanced true friends, and beat down baffling foes;
That we must feign a bliss
Of doubtful future date,
And while we dream on this
Lose all our present state,
And relegate to worlds yet distant our repose?
Matthew Arnold, ‘From the Hymn of Empedocles’.
Came across a reference to this lovely piece from Matthew Arnold yesterday, while reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I’ve had this book sitting on the shelves for so long, and would still probably have not gotten to it if not for the trailer that I saw recently, of the screen adaptation of the book. It looked very promising! I always try to read the book first before watching the film, as far as possible. And so, I finally got the push that was needed to pluck the book from the shelves.
I had also just finished Naomi Alderman’s Disobedience, for the same reason as the above. The upcoming screen adaptation starring Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams, and directed by the recent Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film, Sebastian Lelio, is also looking to be a good one to look forward to. I found the book to be much better than I had expected, and had really appreciated Alderman’s nuanced and thoughtful execution of the story, with its delicate subject matters concerned.
Apart from these, I have not been reading much in the past month or so. Since my last post, I had been taken up with work deadlines, both before and after my trip to Taipei (in which I had pursued some bookish trails and got to spend my birthday among the aisles of books at the only 24 hour bookstore in Taipei, in the wee hours of the morning!) I was looking forward to sharing more on the blog after my return from the trip, but something happened and I was derailed for quite abit after that.
Will still try to get them up here soonish, I hope. But for now, I think I’ll just get back to spending time with the lovely book-loving bunch at Guernsey, I guess.
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.
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. 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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
The art of losing isn’t hard to master; so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster,
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster: places, and names, and where it was you meant to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or next-to-last, of three loved houses went. The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster, some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent. I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.
– Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident the art of losing’s not too hard to master though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
Elizabeth Bishop, ‘One Art’
I am not a good poetry reader and usually am only able to appreciate it better when it rhymes. But recently, I came across two particular pieces from two different books that I was reading at the same time (Ali Smith’s Artful & Jeanette Winterson’s memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal), that really spoke volumes to me and made me a much more appreciative reader of the art.
In Winterson’s memoir, poetry is described as the language that is powerful enough to say how it is, when life gets tough. For her, it was T.S Eliot who first gave a voice to her painful teenage years.
“When I read him that day, gales battering me within and without, I didn’t want consolation; I wanted expression. I wanted to find the place where I was hurt, to locate it exactly, and to give it a mouth. Pain is very often a maimed creature without a mouth. Through the agency of the poem that is powerful enough to clarifying feelings into facts, I am no longer dumb, not speechless, not lost. Language is a finding place, not a hiding place.”
Later on though, during another major low point in her life, it was Thomas Hardy’s poetry that came to the rescue.
Why did you give no hint that night That quickly after the morrows dawn, And calmly, as if indifferent quite, You would close your term here, up and be gone Where I could not follow With wing of swallow To gain one glimpse of you ever anon.
Never to bid goodbye, Or lip me the softest call, Or utter a wish for a word, while I Saw morning harden upon the wall, Unmoved, unknowing That your great going Had place that moment, and altered all.
(excerpt from Thomas Hardy’s, The Going)
After reading that piece of brilliance from Hardy, I have definitely found renewed interest and determination in reading more Hardy, both prose and poetry. I may well be a latecomer to the beautiful art of poetry, but I guess it’s better late than never.
And oh, just to share a bit of bookish serendipity, as I was reading the Winterson memoir, Ali Smith did pop by for lunch (in the book, of course!) and offered some helpful advice regarding the affairs of the heart to Winterson. Yeah, that was a nice surprise. 🙂
I have been interested in Elizabeth Bishop’s writings for quite some time now, but strangely it’s her prose and correspondences that I am interested in, rather than her poetry. And I seem to have collected quite a few hefty volumes of her correspondences too, including those between herself and the New Yorker, as well as the ones with fellow poet Robert Lowell which had lasted over a span of 30 years. Much as I was excited when I got hold of my copy of Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence of Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell a couple of years ago, somehow I never got any further than the first ten letters or so. As usual, I have been distracted (and greedy) and the book has been quietly sitting on the TBR shelves till now.
Last evening, I happened to stumble upon this youtube recording by chance, and what a wonderful treat it was to be able to listen to the letters being brought to life through this excellent dramatic presentation by Tony-nominated actors Kate Burton and Michael Cumpsty at one of the readings held at the 92nd Street Y, some time back in May 2010. It was as good as getting front row seats at the actual reading!
And now, I am feeling inspired all over again to quickly blow off the dust from my copy of the book and start enjoying this (long overdue) lovely gem, for all its worth. 🙂
And you were unhappy and sickly
Oh sublime poet of Recanati,
who, cursing Nature and Fates,
searched inside yourself with horror.
Oh never did those parched lips of yours smile,
nor those feverish, sunken eyes,
since… you did not adore the maltagliati,
the egg frittatas and macaroni pie!
But had you loved Macaroni
More than books, which cause black bile,
you would not have suffered harsh illnesses…
And living among corpulent fun-lovers,
you would have lived, ruddy and jolly,
to perhaps ninety or one hundred years.
a poem by Gennaro Quaranta in response to the pessimism of the poet Giacomo Leopardi of Recanati, who mocked the love the Neapolitans had for pasta, in his composition ‘The New Believers’ (1835).
I love pasta, but I am quite sure my love for it can never be more than my love for books!
Seriously, can anyone really prefer pasta to books? Really??
Anyway, I hope that doesn’t mean that all of us book loving people can’t live ‘ruddy and jolly up to ninety or a hundred’ now. 😉
So, while half the blogging community is headed over to Paris in July (a delightful annual event hosted by BookBath & Thyme for Tea, which I had greatly enjoyed last year but sadly will have to give it a miss this year), I will be heading off a little more to the south….. ITALY!
This will be my first time visiting Italy, so naturally I am rather excited and looking forward to having two and a half weeks to enjoy some wine and cheese tasting under the Tuscan sun, to sunbath (and bake!) along the Amalfi coastline, to walk among the ruins of Pompeii, to take in the rich history and culture of Rome, to marvel at the masterpieces preserved at Florence, and basically to just stuff myself with lots of pastas, pizzas & gelatos! 🙂
If you know of anything that is a must-see, or must-do, or must-try, please don’t hesitate to drop in a comment. It would really be much appreciated.
As observed from past experiences, I don’t think I will end up getting much reading done while on the go, so out of the stack above I’ll only be bringing E.M. Forster’s A Room With A View with me (with the intention of reading it in Florence). Since I will also be taking along my ebook reader with me (which by the way, is sufficiently ‘overloaded’ with ebooks), no worries about me having nothing to fall back on, alright? 😉
Things will be rather quiet here for awhile (as if it hasn’t already been), and should my attempts to put up some ‘live’ photo shots while on location fail, then I’ll probably see you all when I get back, all brown and toasted!
A cup of coffee, eggs, and rolls Sustain him on his morning strolls: Unconscious of the passers-by, He trudges on with downcast eye; He wears a queer old hat and coat, Suggestive of a style remote; His manner is preoccupied,— A shambling gait, from side to side. For him the sleek, bright-windowed shop Is all in vain,—he does not stop.
His thoughts are fixed on dusty shelves Where musty volumes hide themselves,— Rare prints of poetry and prose, And quaintly lettered folios,— Perchance a parchment manuscript, In some forgotten corner slipped, Or monk-illumined missal bound In vellum with brass clasps around; These are the pictured things that throng His mind the while he walks along.
A dingy street, a cellar dim, With book-lined walls, suffices him. The dust is white upon his sleeves; He turns the yellow, dog-eared leaves With just the same religious look That priests give to the Holy Book.
He does not heed the stifling air If so he find a treasure there. He knows rare books, like precious wines, Are hidden where the sun ne’er shines; For him delicious flavors dwell In books as in old Muscatel; He finds in features of the type A clew to prove the grape was ripe.
And when he leaves this dismal place, Behold, a smile lights up his face! Upon his cheeks a genial glow,— Within his hand Boccaccio, A first edition worn with age, “Firenze” on the title-page.
Frank Dempster Sherman. From the ‘Century Magazine,’
I love this ballad! Such a lovely depiction of a book-hunter.
And it is just as fitting a description for fellow modern day ‘book-hunters’ of the 21st century too, wouldn’t you agree? 😉