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 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.
It has been a long while since I last had the pleasure of having the postman drop books into my mailbox. And it’s been even longer since I last received any books as birthday gifts. So naturally, I was more than thrilled to find these lovelies waiting for me at home on two separate occasions in the last two weeks.
Thanks to the big hearted folks over at Slightly Foxed who had a recent huge giveaway on their Instagram account (@foxedquarterly), I am now the proud owner of one of their long-coveted objects of beauty!
John Moore’s Brensham Village, which captures life in the English countryside during the 1930s, sounds like a book that’s just my cup of tea.
Have just set sail on a cruise liner for a short trip to the neighbouring Thai islands.
Am really looking forward to some quality reading time in the coming days. I have an Alexander McCall Smith for company. 🙂
See you all around soon!
Looking at my sidebar, it would seem as if all I had manage to read ever since this blog started was just Barbara Pym’s Some Tame Gazelle and Wodehouse’s Something Fresh. And it also looks as if I have been dipping into Sylvia Townsend Warner’s letters and diaries for what seems like forever now. Both the allusions are not entirely true. Truth is, I have been reading from a number of different books simultaneously (problem with having a short attention span and being easily distracted by books calling for attention from every direction!) and none seems to be getting me any closer to the last page (not yet, anyway), thus the lack of progress in books being added to the sidebar. Also, I have actually not been dipping into Warner’s diaries and letters for past one over month now. Will need to rectify that soon.
So, what then have I been burying my nose into for the month of March? It is these.
The Collected Stories of Elizabeth Bowen
I have been trying to establish a sort of ‘Bedtime with Bowen’ of my own since March, by reading her collection of short stories just before going to bed at night. I figured this might help me to be more ‘disciplined’ in my reading and get me through the 700+ pages of short stories in the not too distant future (hopefully!). I have started chronologically with her First Stories (those written before the 1920s) but I think I might want to start mixing it up a bit by maybe reading a story in each of the different classified periods (The Twenties, The Thirties, The War Years & The Post-War Stories) in an alternating order. Like I said, I have a short attention span, so maybe this can help keep things ‘fresh’ and not so predictable.
No Nameby Wilkie Collins
I started the book in December last year but as usual had somehow allowed it to be set aside in order to make room for the other books and stuff that have taken my fancy in between that time and now. I finally went back to pick it up where I had left, and am slowly trying to gain back the momentum for this (also 700+ pages) chunkster. This is my first Wilkie Collins that I am reading proper, although I have had a sampling of his other works here and there before along the way. I chose to start with No Name instead of his supposedly best work, The Woman in White, thinking that I would like to save the best for last. But going by what I have enjoyed reading in this book so far, I won’t be very much surprised if I find this to be his best, at least by my preference. If not, then it can only mean that I am really going to be in for a treat with The Woman In White. Incidentally, this book had one of the best openings to a book I have ever come across. Maybe I have not read all that many books in my lifetime for the statement to really carry much weight, but I can’t think of very many other books that had manage to make me feel so drawn into anticipating the unfolding of the story just by reading the opening scene.
A Far Cry From Kensingtonby Muriel Spark
I started this over the last weekend in preparation for the Muriel Spark Reading Week. This is my second Spark, the first being The Girls of Slender Means which I read last year. I think I am enjoying A Far Cry more, mainly due to the narrator’s voice which I find I can relate to better. Since April is already here, I better step up the gear and read this up in time for the Reading Week!
Draculaby Bram Stoker
This was one book I never thought I would ever read. I am not a fan of the horror and supernatural genre, and have always steered clear of those. If it was not for a fellow blogger’s power of persuasion in convincing me into giving this a try based on the fact that this book is written in the form of journals and letters (which are one of my favourite forms in writing), I would not have picked this up. And once I did, I must say that I was rather surprised at how engaging a read the book is. I am still averse to horror stories, and I see this as being one of the rare and few exceptions where I will find myself picking up a book in this genre.
Apart from reading, I have also been listening to quite a few audiobooks while driving, walking the dog and at the gym. As with my reading, I also need to have a variety of audiobooks which are on-going simultaneously, depending on what I am in the mood for. I seem to have hit a deep rut with Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery forwhich I had had such high hopes for. Somehow, I just quite lost it in there. And instead of crying over spilt milk, have decided to move on to more promising (or so I hope) stuff. I am making steady progress with Judith Flander’s The Invention of Murder: How The Victorians Revelled In Death & Detection And Created Modern Crime. It is chock-full of interesting cases and includes information on the circumstances upon which Scotland Yard came about at a time when murder stories are sensationalized, as well as how some of the infamous cases and characters formed the basis for some of Dickens’ and Wilkie Collin’s works in Bleak House,Our Mutual Friend and The Woman In White. Interesting as the book may be, it can be a bit tedious at times to listen to all the details involved in the cases and a lil’ tiring to digest all the information provided.
I guess the highlight of the many hours of my listening pleasure in March would have to be Kafka’s Metamorphosis. It is just a short book, slightly over 2 hours of narration but the impact of the story lasts much, much longer. This is the second of Kafka’s works that I have encountered so far, and while I didn’t really quite get the point in The Hunger Artist when I read it, Metamorphosis has probably set me back on the right path to begin appreciating Kafka’s genius better. Although I think I still probably have not gotten quite down to the deeper and bigger issues he may be alluding to in the story, even the little that I could glean from just the surface is reason enough to say it is truly a worthy read.
And so, that was how my month had March-ed by….. 😉
How did yours go?
I wonder how many of us have ever secretly (or not so secretly) harboured dreams of writing a book AND having it published someday. Personally, I have no such illusions about myself ever being a writer because I know I am not. But I do admire those who do nurture such aspirations and allow their dreams to drive them into putting things in action.
I recently had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of one such dreamer who may be on the brink of seeing the dream realised. She is a young American teacher/ writer who had wanted a fresh start in life and decided to pack up and leave New York for Spain. Her book, A Beautiful Mess, which she is currently trying to get published through a company called pubslush.com, is a compilation of comedic yet sentimental personal essays. It’s rather unique because in order to publish, she needs to find 1000 people to pre-order the book in x number of days. Should the goal be met, the book gets published and for every book sold, a book is donated to a charity helping promote literacy in third world countries.
I have enjoyed reading the first chapter of the book, which is included in the link below, and thought maybe some of you dear readers might too.
Came across this very interesting post that was put up in conjunction with Valentine’s Day. It has beautifully illustrated maps with names such as ‘The Open Country of Woman’s Heart’, ‘The Fortified Country of Man’s Heart’ and even a ‘Geographical Guide To Man’s Heart with Obstacles & Entrances’! If you are wondering what that is, do take a look for yourself. 🙂
Once upon a time there lived a sea lion who had lost the sea. He lived in a country known as the barren lands. High on a plateau, far from any coast, it was a place so dry and dusty that it could only be called a desert. A kind of coarse grass grew in patches here and there, and a few trees were scattered across the horizon. But mostly, it was dust. And sometimes wind, which together makes one very thirsty. Of course, it must seem strange to you that such a beautiful creature should wind up in a desert at all. He was, mind you, a sea lion. But things like this do happen.
How the sea lion came to the barren lands, no one could remember. It all seemed so very long ago. So long in fact, it appeared as though he had always been there. Not that he belonged in such an arid place. How could that be? He was after all, a sea lion. But as you know, once you have lived so long in a certain spot, no matter how odd, you come to think of it as home.
John Eldredge, Desire
How very true. But like the sea lion, I think I am slowly awakening to the thirst that has been building up inside for a long, long while.
Therefore, in this brand new year, I have resolved to wake up to my senses. To dare to welcome fresh new beginings. And to kick start things, I have finally started this blog. This will serve as a platform whereby I can come, to indulge in two of the things I am most passionate about – Books & Travel. Books, more so. 😉
I am not a fast reader, and neither am I good at articulating my thoughts to form wordy/worthy reviews. There are enough bloggers out there who are doing an excellent job in that department. But I do love books, truly. And in all its forms. Especially the aesthetic aspects of it. I love to see the visual display of books in all their splendour. This, being also one of the primary reasons for having this blog, will be featuring quite abit around here. And in the possibly likely event that this blog will only have just an audience of one (myself), it would not matter. Because it would have served me well, by just being that special corner for me to come to, to unwind and find comfort and pleasure in the company of good books. Having said that though, I hope this will in no way deter anyone from wishing to drop by with the occasional comment or two, because you are most certainly welcome to do so. 🙂