“…. 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.

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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….

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

 

[source]
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?
🙂

To put in words

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.”

Thornton Wilder, ‘The Bridge of San Luis Rey’.

Boxes of delight! (Part 1)

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 found quite a few gems in the nature/ animals section!

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.

I have never heard of The Walker’s Guide to Outdoor Clues & Signs by Tristan Gooley but this winner of the 2015 BBC Countryfile Magazine Country Book of the Year looks very promising indeed.

Kathleen Jamie’s Sightlines: A Conversation with The Natural World. Unlike the Gooley, I’ve heard much about this one and they are mainly good things, so into the box it went, together with Mister Owita’s Guide To Gardening (by Carol Wall), The Urban Bestiary: Encountering The Everyday Wild (by Lyanda Lynn Haupt) and Over Vales and Hills: The Illustrated Poetry of the Natural World.

A beautiful volume containing an anthology of 100 best loved poems with timeless vintage photographs of landscapes and natural scenes.

Another beautiful find was the Natural Histories: Extraordinary Rare Book Selections from the American Museum of Natural History Library.

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.”

 

The beauty of natural science revealed.

 

Just as beautiful without the dust jacket.

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 Steinbeck has 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.

Bill Barich’s Long Way Home: On The Trail of Steinbeck’s America is another take on the same route & subject matter. It will be interesting to see how these two narratives go together in recounting Steinbeck’s travels.

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 Italy by 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.

Howard Norman’s My Famous Evening: Nova Scotia Sojourns, Diaries and Preoccupations, is a book of “selective memories”, combining stories, folklore, memoir, nature, poetry, and expository prose, in its goal to portray the emotional dimensions of the writer’s experience.

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! 🙂

Two lovely volumes of illustrated histories of the cat and of man’s best friend.

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…..

 

I get excited just looking at these pretty spines. What pleasures await! 😀

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…..

 

 

Can’t wait to dive in!

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.

April’s haul

 

April has been a fairly good month for book hauls. The local hypermarket continues to surprise me with its occasional unexpected offerings. Finding Kate Chopin’s The Awakening on the bargain table was certainly a most welcomed sight, as I was planning to finally get around to reading her masterpiece this year.

Barnes’ Level of Life has been on my wishlist for some time and I have been meaning to watch the film version of Japrisot’s  A Very Long Engagement for an even longer time. Seeing both of these in such beautiful Vintage editions was a real thrill. I just love the colour tones on these two!

 

I have only read a short piece by Dyer before, and am otherwise unfamiliar with his other works and style. I am also unfamiliar with the works of D.H. Lawrence, who happens to be the subject matter in this book, but since this comes packaged in an attractive Canongate edition, complete with French flaps and high praise from Steve Martin (he said it’s the funniest book he has ever read), I thought it might be worth a try.

Chloe Aridjis is a completely new to me writer. But there was something about this book and its female protagonist who chose to work as a museum guard at London’s National Gallery because it can offer her the life she always wanted, ‘one of invisibility and quiet contemplation’, that drew me to pick it up and read. I just finished this last week and found the reading experience to be somewhat similar to that of an Anita Brookner. It did take off quite promisingly, but somehow I didn’t find it finishing as strong.

 

Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet is hailed as an Australian modern classic and I just love this cover. Found this and Felicity Aston’s Call of The White: Taking the World to the South Pole (Eight Women, One Unique Expedition) at a book sale. Both these books look set to take me out of my familiar zones, I think. 🙂

And last but certainly not least, are the two Willa Cathers I found at yet another book sale just last week. The offering at the sale was largely disappointing and coming across these two there (and at rock bottom pricing – both were gotten for roughly the equivalent of a pound only!) was an unexpected surprise. Although they were in less than perfect conditions (you probably can’t tell from the photo), I think I can live with that. 😉

Having loved Cather’s O Pioneers after reading it late last year, I am truly looking forward to more (or rather, all) of her works!

So, has April been just as kind to the rest of you? 🙂

 

“Those dark fruitful hours….”

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.

Any other Lindsay fans here? 🙂

 

Two Solitudes

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…. 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.

Rainer Maria Rilke, ‘Letters to A Young Poet’.

Happy Valentine’s, everyone! 🙂

Unplanned Plans

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.

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A for Ali Smith, one of my favourite writers. I have been collecting a fair few of her works and reading my way through them over the last ten years. Still a couple of unread ones on the shelves, so I guess it’s high time I pick another.

 

b-a
B for Bennett. Arnold Bennett’s masterpiece, ‘The Old Wives’ Tale’ has been sitting on my TBR shelves for long enough. Its time has come, I think.

 

c-a
C for Charlie Connelly. Years ago, I was fascinated with Connelly’s idea for his two travel writing books – ‘And Did Those Feet: Walking Through 2000 Years of British And Irish History’, and ‘Attention All Shipping: A Journey Around The Shipping Forecast’. It’s strange how both these ‘fascinating’ books are still sitting unread on my shelves after all these years. :p

 

d-a
D for Don Quixote. The sheer size of this tome is daunting for sure, but I really do want to have a go at it. Besides, I really love this Harper Perennial edition…. French flaps and deckled edges are my favourite combinations in a book. It also helps that Edith Grossman’s translation is so very readable (from the little that I’ve sampled).

 

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E for E. M. Forster. I had this packed along with me during my trip to Italy three years ago, thinking how good it would be to read this in Florence, where the book is set. Sadly, I ended up with not much reading done, but at least it was great fun setting up this shot with my friend at the hostel we were staying at, in Florence! 🙂 Time to take care of the ‘unfinished business’ this year.

 

f-a
F for Father Brown. G. K. Chesterton’s endearing Father Brown makes for a rather unlikely, but certainly not unlikeable, mystery solving ‘Sherlock’. I love the cover designs and colours of this Penguin Classics set. Am actually in the middle of the red one, The Wisdom of Father Brown, and I can safely say that it’s as good as it looks!

 

g-a
G for Geert Mak. ‘In Europe: Travels through the Twentieth Century’ is one of the books I am quite determined to get read this year. It’s an account about the year long journey Mak took back in 1999, across the European continent in his quest to trace Europe’s twentieth century history, before the world slipped into the twenty-first.

 

h-a
H is for my favourite travel writer, H. V. Morton. Travel writing has always been one of my favourite genres, and not many can do it as good as Morton, I’d say. His writing is evocative of the old world charm and of a bygone era, brought vividly to life for the reader. It’s a pleasure to ‘see’ the world through his lenses.

 

i-a
I is for ‘I Capture The Castle’. I have long heard of the many good things that fellow readers love about this coming of age modern classic, but have somehow still not gotten around to reading it for myself yet. It’s about time I ‘capture this castle’ too!

 

j-a
J is for James. “When a man has neither wife nor mistress and leads a life which is both orderly and prudent, he does not invite the conventional biographical approach. Henry James was such a man. The richness of his life lies in his words and his relationships.” – Miranda Seymour. These lovely Konemann classics should be good enough incentive to finally get me started on some Henry James. Time to get acquainted with the man through his own words, as suggested.

 

k-a
K is for Kate O’Brien. “O’Brien exquisitely evokes the harem atmosphere of (Irish) convent life, the beauty and the silence, the bickering and the cruelties…… If novels can be music, this is a novel with perfect pitch.” ~ Clare Boylan. Having loved Antonia White’s Frost in May (another coming of age novel with a convent school setting) when I read it some years back, I have been meaning to read O’Brien’s ‘The Land of Spices’ for some time now.

 

l-a
L for The Lost Carving: A Journey To The Heart of Making, by master woodcarver, David Esterly. “Awestruck at the sight of a Grinling Gibbons woodcarving masterpiece in a London church, Esterly chose to dedicate his life to the craft – its physical rhythms, intricate beauty, and intellectual demands.” I have been saving this on the TBR shelves, waiting for just the right moment to savour the journey. I think I should wait no more.

 

m-a
M for The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters. Having collected a fair few of the sisters’ (Nancy, Diana, Jessica and Deborah) individual memoirs, biographies, correspondences and writings but without having read any in proper yet, maybe this would be a good place to start getting acquainted with this extraordinary family!

 

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N for Nabokov. I have decided that this will be the year I read my first Nabokov. And it’s gonna be a toss between The Luzhin Defense, and Pnin. Probbaly The Luzhin Defense….. am in the mood for some chess, I think. These Penguin Classics editions are my favourites. Such beauties to hold and behold, don’t you think?

 

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O is for Orlando. Once described as ‘the longest and most charming love letter in literature’, this was Virginia Woolf’s  playfully ingenious tribute to her intimate friend and one-time lover, Vita Sackville-West. This has been biding its time on my TBR shelves for some years now. Thanks to this challenge, some of my sadly neglected books are being brought back to the fore!

 

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P is for Pollan. Michael Pollan’s ‘A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams’ tells the inspiring, insightful, and often hilarious story of Pollan’s quest to realize a room of his own – a small, wooden hut in the forest, ‘a shelter for daydreams’ – built with his own admittedly unhandy hands. It not only explores the history and meaning of all human building, but also demonstrates architecture’s unique power to give our bodies, minds and dreams a home in the world….. Don’t we all need a place like that?

 

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Q is for Q’s Legacy, by Helene Hanff. After reading and loving Hanff’s 84, Charring Cross Road some years back, I immediately went about tracking down her other works too, and was more than happy to net this omnibus of hers which holds four of her other memoirs (as well as Charring Cross Road). Q’s Legacy tells of how a library copy of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch’s series of lectures On The Art of Writing, became the foundation upon which her own writing career took shape. This is a tribute to her mentor whom she had never known except through the printed page.

 

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R for Rainer Maria Rilke. I was thrilled to find these two beautiful hardback Vitalis editions of Rilke’s work at what was once Kafka’s cottage but is now a books and souvenir shop along the Golden Lane in Prague, six years ago. I know I should have brought home a Kafka or two with me instead, but these happened to be in the bargain bin that day….. and I happen to prefer Rilke to Kafka, anyway. :p

 

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S is for Sarton and solitude. “May Sarton’s journal is not only rich in the love of nature, and the love of solitude. It is an honorable confession of the writer’s faults, fears, sadness and disappointments…. This is a beautiful book, wise and warm within its solitude.” ~ Eugenia Thornton. Solitude has always been a subject that is close to my heart. Can’t wait to read this.

 

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T is for A Treasury of Mark Twain. I found this lovely Folio edition in almost pristine condition at a second hand bookshop in Paris five years ago. I’m ashamed to confess that it’s still ‘almost pristine’, sitting patiently on the shelf waiting to be taken out of its slipcase to be read. Will need to rectify that soon!

 

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U is for Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Marriages in Literary London 1910 – 1939. The seven pairs featured in this volume are H.G. & Jane Wells, Vanessa & Clive Campbell, Radclyffe Hall & Una Troubridge, Vera Brittain & George Caitlin, Katherine Mansfield & John Middleton Murry, Ottoline & Phillip Morrell, and Elizabeth von Arnim & John Francis Russell. These couples are said to have triumphantly casted off the inhibitions of the Victorian age while pursuing bohemian ideals of freedom and equality. Time to take a peek at how it’s done back then, I guess.

 

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V is for Van Gogh: The Life, by Steven Naifeh & Gregory White Smith. This doorstopper of a biography may look daunting, but from what I’ve read (the first two chapters), it is highly readable and a very engaging one, too. I just need to try harder to not let the other books distract and detract me from staying on course! Hoping to also get around to reading some of his letters too.

 

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W is for Words In Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. Bishop is one of my favourite poets, and it’s time I start reading one of the many volumes of correspondence I’ve been collecting. Just realized that this photo has another three Ws that can fit the challenge too…… Lucy Worsley’s If Walls Could Talk, Deborah Mitford’s Wait For Me, and a volume of Woolf’s letters. Looks like I’m really spoilt for choice!

 

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X is for Michael Dirda’s Bound To Please: An eXtraordinary One-Volume Literary Education. Yes, I know it’s abit of a cheat but it’s the closest ‘X’ I have on my shelves. :p This lovely collection of essays were responsible for introducing me to many a great writer and their works. Dirda’s enthusiastically persuasive essays made me want to read almost every book that is recommended. A great book to dip into, but a very ‘bad’ one for the TBR shelves!

 

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Y is for Yates. “Richard Yates was acclaimed as one of the most powerful, compassionate and accomplished writers of America’s post-war generation. Whether addressing the smothered desire of suburban housewives, the white-collar despair of office workers or the heartbreak of a single mother with artistic pretensions, Yates ruthlessly examines the hopes and disappointments of ordinary people with empathy and humour.” High praise indeed, but I have to confess that it was mainly the fabulous cover that sold the book to me!

 

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And lastly, Z for Zweig. I have read and loved Stefan Zweig’s short stories and novellas, but have yet to read any of his full length novels in proper. Think I’ll start with this one. “In this haunting yet compassionate reworking of the Cinderella story, Zweig shows us the human cost of the boom and bust of capitalism. The Post Office Girl was completed during the 1930s as Zweig was driven by the Nazis into exile, and was found among his papers after his suicide in 1942.”

 

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…….

🙂