Five Thursdays ago, I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon at this lovely public library at Beitou Park, Taipei. It was a wet and cold day, and plans had to be changed and adjusted in order to accommodate the weather, but for me, it presented just the perfect excuse to seek refuge amongst friends……. books.
If only there was a “Rewind” button that can wind back the hours, and return me to that particular rainy Thursday afternoon…..
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.