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.
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? 🙂
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.
…. 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…….
The consulting-rooms of Dr Orion Hood, the eminent criminologist and specialist in certain moral disorders, lay along the sea-front at Scarborough, in a series of very large and well-lighted french windows, which showed the North Sea like one endless outer wall of blue-green marble. In such a place the sea had something of the monotony of a blue-green dado: for the chambers themselves were ruled throughout by a terrible tidiness not unlike the terrible tidiness of the sea. It must not be supposed that Dr Hood’s apartments excluded luxury, or even poetry. These things were there, in their place; but one felt that they were never allowed out of their place.
Poetry was there: the left-hand corner of the room was lined with as complete a set of English classics as the right hand could show of English and foreign physiologists. But if one took a volume of Chaucer or Shelley from that rank, its absence irritated the mind like a gap in a man’s front teeth. One could not say the books were never read; probably they were, but there was a sense of their being chained to their places, like the Bibles in the old churches. Dr Hood treated his private book-shelf as if it were a public library.
‘The Absence of Mr Glass’ (taken from G. K. Chesterton’s The Wisdom of Father Brown).
While I have not been able to get much reading done during these past few weeks, what with all the busyness of the season and at work, thankfully the little that I have read has been good. I discovered that Chesterton’s dear old Father Brown makes for an excellent choice for company during such times. The vividly descriptive writing, peppered with Chesterton’s trademark wit and humour, is working very well to serve as the perfect comfort read for me at the moment.
And yet, however high they went, the desert still blossomed like the rose. The fields were burnished in sun and wind with the colour of kingfisher and parrot and humming-bird, the hues of a hundred flowering flowers. There are no lovelier meadows and woodlands than the English, no nobler crests or chasms than those of Snowdon and Glencoe. But Ethel Harrogate had never before seen the southern parks tilted on the splintered northern peaks; the gorge of Glencoe laden with the fruits of Kent. There was nothing here of that chill and desolation that in Britain one associates with high and wild scenery. It was rather like a mosaic palace, rent with earthquakes; or like a Dutch tulip garden blown to the stars with dynamite.
‘The Paradise of Thieves’ (taken from G. K. Chesterton’s The Wisdom of Father Brown).
…. like a Dutch tulip garden blown to the stars with dynamite.
How beautiful is that! I just love the picture that is painted here by these words…..
What about the rest of you?
Read anything good lately? 🙂
I read, I lived in others’ lives through books and letters, I wrote, often to friends about my own life and the life around me, I slept, I stretched, I thought about the past and future, I made meals from strange ingredients available at the grim cavelike market I thought of as the troll den, I went walking out in the awakening landscape where the crying birds and shaggy, friendly horses seemed like the society to which I had been admitted. It was peaceful but strange.
Reading is also travelling, the eyes running along the length of an idea, which can be folded up into the compressed space of a book and unfolded within your imagination and your understanding.
Rebecca Solnit, ‘The Faraway Nearby’.
Been ‘travelling’ anywhere interesting, lately? 🙂
Me – I’m still with Solnit, adapting to the strange and extreme weather conditions in Iceland, with no proper sense of day or night, where ‘spectacular sunsets melted into sunrises, because the sun never went entirely away’….
But this is the season for apparitions and fantasies, and I indulge myself in the possibility of a merlin. I remember childhood bird-watching always seeming to be just like this – full of romantic hopefulness and astonishment at the crossing of paths with wanderers from another country.
Richard Mabey, ‘A Nature Journal’.
October seemed to have left me in a dry and weary state, with a major bulk of the month being taken up with meeting deadlines at work, while having to deal with recurring water supply disruptions to the home, and finishing off unexpectedly with some rather unwelcomed dental woes.
Reading has been sporadic, with whatever leftover energy that remained. Having said that though, I must make mention of how much I have been enjoying Margaret Drabble’s delightfully charming book, ‘The Seven Sisters’. I am endlessly entertained by the witty and insightful writing that Drabble displays in bringing her characters to life, in this tale of seven unlikely (but not rather unlikeable, except for one) ladies who are well past their prime, embarking together on a Virgil inspired Mediterranean journey.
Am hoping that November would be a much more conducive month for doing some serious catching up on my reading, before the year ends….
By the way, am I the only one here who has just been made aware of the existence of these gorgeous, book-lust inducing, Anita Brookner reprints?
I happened to stumble upon this thrilling discovery while taking a brief stroll at a local bookstore over the weekend. How brilliant it is of Penguin to decide on the use of these evocative black and white covers for their new Brookner reprints. The tone is just so aptly suited to the kind of moods and themes that often run through Brookner’s works. What a perfect match!
Writing is saying to no one and to everyone the things it is not possible to say to someone. Or rather, writing is saying to the no one who may eventually be the reader those things one has no someone to whom to say them. Matters that are so subtle, so personal, so obscure, that I ordinarily can’t imagine saying them to the people to whom I’m closest. Every once in a while I try to say them aloud and finds that what turns to mush in my mouth or falls short of their ears can be written down for total strangers. Said to total strangers in the silence of writing that is recuperated and heard in the solitude of reading.
Is it the shared solitude of writing, is it that separately we all reside in a place deeper than society, even a society of two? Is it that the tongue fails where the fingers succeed, in telling truths so lengthy and nuanced that they are almost impossible aloud?