Christmas came early…..

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I have been busy, can you tell? And it’s definitely not all related to bookish bliss, unfortunately. How I wish it was, though! Trips to the annual year end Big Bad Wolf Book Sale provided the much needed respite in between the on-going mini crisis at work (brought on after my hard disk crashed sometime towards the end of November). Many months of data were lost as a result of that and to cut a long story short, much time and effort had to be put in to recover what was lost. Time that would otherwise have been well spent reading or bonding with my new books.

Anyway, enough with the gloom, let’s move on to the happier stuff, shall we?
Finding these lovelies to bring home were indeed the little sparks of joy that helped made these dreary days more bearable. Just looking at them is at times therapeutic enough, I find.

Especially if it’s something as beautiful to behold as Jane Mount’s My Ideal Bookshelf. It’s always fun to read about other book lovers’ choice of favourite books and why they matter to them the way they do. And it’s even better when these essays are accompanied by a visual display of beautifully illustrated book spines.

I found a fair few books on travelling (both the conventional and unconventional kind), ranging from those who attempt to travel on foot (in this day and age!) across Europe to Rome in Harry Bucknall’s Like A Tramp, Like A Pilgrim, to those who decide to take “a train journey to the soul of Britain” – Matthew Engel’s Eleven Minutes Late. Then there are those who would cycle all the way home to England from Siberia – Rob Lilwall’s Cycling Home from Siberia: 30,000 miles, 3 years, 1 bicycle, while another’s  yearning for adventure would inspire him to take flight with flocks of snow geese, journeying through thousands of miles to arrive at the Arctic tundra – William Fiennes’ The Snow Geese.

For a more historical flavour of travels in the days gone by, there’s Edmondo de Amicis’ classic Memories of London and Stephen Inwood’s Historic London: An Explorer’s Companion.

I was also able to bring home some really interesting memoirs/ biographies that I’m very excited about. Top off the list is Noreen Riols’ The Secret Ministry of Ag. & Fish: My Life in Churchill’s School for Spies.

It was 1943, just before her eighteenth birthday, Noreen received her call-up papers, and was faced with either working in a munitions factory or joining the Wrens. A typically fashion-conscious young woman, even in wartime, Noreen opted for the Wrens – they had better hats. But when one of her interviewers realized she spoke fluent French, she was directed to a government building on Baker Street. It was SOE headquarters, where she was immediately recruited into F-Section, led by Colonel Maurice Buckmaster. From then until the end of the war, Noreen worked with Buckmaster and her fellow operatives to support the French Resistance fighting for the Allied cause. Sworn to secrecy, Noreen told no one that she spent her days meeting agents returning from behind enemy lines, acting as a decoy, passing on messages in tea rooms and picking up codes in crossword puzzles.”

This reminded me of the film The Imitation Game, which I really loved.

Derek Tangye’s first volume of his Minack Chronicles, A Gull on the Roof: Tales from a Cornish Flower Farm has been on my wishlist ever since I knew of it, probably five or six years ago after my first visit to Cornwall, a place I have been longing to go back to ever since. So, until I get to do that, I will just have to ‘revisit’ Cornwall by living vicariously through Tangye’s tales.

I will probably save Elizabeth Jane Howard’s memoir Slipstream for until I have at least read the first volume of her Cazalet chronicles, which I have been meaning to.

A few others that also caught my fancy:

The Jamie Oliver Effect: The Man, the Food, the Revolution by Gilli Smith
In The Dark Room: A Journey in Memory by Brian Dillon
Underneath the Lemon Tree: A Memoir of Depression and Recovery by Mark Rice-Oxley
The Book of My Lives by Aleksandar Hemon

And for something really unusual and one of a kind, Philip Connors’ Fire Season.
For nearly a decade, Philip Connors has spent half of each year in a small room at the top of a tower, on top of a mountain, alone in millions of acres of remote American wilderness. His job: to look for wildfires.
Capturing the wonder and grandeur of this most unusual job and place, Fire Season evokes both the eerie pleasure of solitude and the majesty, might and beauty of untamed fire at its wildest.”

How enticing does that sound!

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Patricia Hampl’s Blue Arabesque: A Search for the Sublime – a memoir with an artistic slant.

Dominique Browning’s Slow Love: How I Lost My Job, Put on My Pajamas, and Found Happiness – I have a copy of her other book, Around the House and In The Garden which I kept meaning to get around to but still have not.

Sara Midda’s A Bowl of Olives “….. is a work of pure enchantment, celebrating food of the seasons, of family, of travel and memory.”
This is a gem to be savoured, no doubt. I was thrilled to chance upon this, having loved her art in In and Out of the Garden, which is just pure delight.

Luisa Weiss’s My Berlin Kitchen: A Love Story (with Recipes) and Daniel Duane’s How To Cook Like A Man: A Memoir of Cookbook Obsession are two deliciously promising memoirs that I also found at the sale.

I loved the cover of the George Orwell (Keep The Apidistra Flying) so it had to come home with me.

And for something more serious, but very readable (I sampled the prologue), The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance That Changed the World by Greg King.

I was also very happy with the two C. S. Lewis that I found – The Great Divorce and Surprised By Joy: The Shape of My Early Life. Another interesting discovery was Marcia Moston’s Call of A Coward: The God of Moses and the Middle-Class Housewife. “Moses never wanted to be a leader. Jonah ran away from his missions call. And when Marcia Moston’s husband came home with a call to foreign missions, she was sure God had the wrong number. His call conflicted with her own dreams, demanded credentials she didn’t have, and required courage she couldn’t seem to find. She promised to follow where God led, but she never thought the road would lead to a Mayan village on a Guatemalan mountainside.”

 

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Erwin Raphael McManus’ The Artisan Soul: Crafting Your Life into a Work of Art.
“McManus demonstrates that we all carry within us the essence of an artist. We all need to create—to be a part of a process that brings to the worldt something beautiful, good, and true—in order to allow our souls to come to life. It’s not only the quality of the ingredients we use to build our lives that matters, but the care we bring to the process itself. Just as with baking artisan bread, it’s a process that’s crafted over time. And God is the master artisan of our lives.” This should be good too!

Essay collections are another favourite of mine, and I was glad to have managed to pick these up.

Jonathan Raban’s Driving Home: An American Journey
Richard Rodriguez’s Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography
V.S. Naipaul’s Literary Occasions: Essays

A few more interesting finds :

Tessa Cunningham’s Take Me Home (memoir of a daughter taking care of her 95 year old father).
Joyce Cary’s A House of Children (an autobiographical novel about childhood).
Colm Toibin’s Homage To Barcelona (travel writing by a fine novelist).

And oh, there’s also a Virago Modern Classic that came in the form of Rumer Godden’s Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy (what a lovely title!).

 

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Speaking of lovely titles, Michelle Theall’s Teaching The Cat To Sit and Alexandra Fuller’s Cocktail Hour Under The Tree of Forgetfulness definitely got my attention with theirs. These two, together with Charles Timoney’s Pardon My French, Fenton Johnson’s Geography of The Heart, Edmund White’s Fanny: A Fiction, Liza Picard’s Elizabeth’s London: Everyday Life in Elizabethan London and Edith Holden’s The Country Diary of An Edwardian Lady, were found in another two different book sales, besides the Big Bad Wolf.

Well, where books and book sales are concerned, the more the merrier I’d say!
So…… seen anything here that you fancy so far? 🙂

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I didn’t try this….. I was only hungry for the books!

Traversing a different landscape….

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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’….

The season for apparitions and fantasies…..

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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?

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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!

Can you tell that I’m seriously smitten?

🙂

 

The Heart Asks Pleasure First

Part One: Life

IX

The heart asks pleasure first
And then, excuse from pain-
And then, those little anodynes
That deaden suffering;

And then, to go to sleep;
And then, if it should be
The will of its Inquisitor,
The liberty to die.

Emily Dickinson, The Complete Poems.

I was directed to this little piece of gem yesterday, and was struck by how much the poet has managed to pack into these eight simple lines. And this is speaking as one who is usually only able to appreciate poetry when it rhymes. This was certainly one of those rare exceptions.

I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that the composer Michael Nyman, had actually taken the first line of this poem for the title of his standout music score in the film The Piano. I recall having  been captivated by the raw, haunting notes of the score when I had watched the film many years ago. I have always had a thing for film scores and tend to pay particular notice to the soundtracks of what I watch, so having found this connection between the two (Dickinson’s lines and Nyman’s music) was quite a treat, I would say.  🙂

Unrepentant

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Behold, the latest batch of beauties to have been added into the fold…..

Although it appears that I have been unrepentant over my reckless book buying habits, and that the staggering figures as revealed from my earlier post on taking stock of my entire library seem to have had no apparent effect on me, I can safely vouch that this is not true (well, not entirely anyway).

While it is true that I will not be able to stop buying books in the foreseeable future (and I don’t intend to, either), it is however, going to be a much more subdued/ restrained affair from now on (so she says…). At any rate, that is the plan. Along with the other plans to read more from my own stacks and to get rid of  give away the ones I no longer need/want in my collection. In other words, to be a better curator of my library.

Will just have to see well how things go according to plan, I guess.

And now, onto the books……

These were gotten from another recent book sale that could well give the Big Bad Wolf a run for its money, I would say. Brand new and priced at RM 5 (around USD 1.20) each, it’s easy to see why they were so hard to resist, isn’t it? :p

I recall reading some good stuff about Sun-Mi Hwang’s The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly some time ago, but even if I had known nothing about the book, the sheer beauty of the cover and illustrations in it would have sold it to me. Nina Sankovitch’s Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Celebrating The Joys of Letter Writing was a no-brainer for me, seeing that it’s all about a favourite subject of mine. Dianne Hales’ Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered happens to be a new discovery for me, as I wasn’t aware of the fact that Mona Lisa was a real person and not just a painting! :p

The Paris Review Book: of Heartbreak, Madness, Sex, Love, Betrayal, Outsiders, Intoxication, War, Whimsy, Horrors, God, Death, Dinner, Baseball, … and Everything Else in the World Since 1953 should be an interesting one to dip into….  “This astoundingly diverse anthology, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Paris Review, is jam-packed with resonant and provocative work from some of our greatest writers, past and present: W.H. Auden, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Jack Kerouac, Elizabeth Bishop, Truman Capote, William Burroughs, Susan Sontag, Joyce Carol Oates, Toni Morrison, Jonathan Franzen, Ian McEwan and Alice Munro, to name just a fraction.”

A Buzz in the Meadow: The Natural History of a French Farm by Dave Goulson, is yet another one that had me sold on its cover alone. Fortunately, what is offered between the covers seems to be just as promising. “Goulson has that rare ability to persuade you to go out into your garden or local park and observe the natural world. The subtle glory that is life in all its forms is there to be discovered. And if we learn to value what we have, perhaps we will find a way to keep it.”

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The Affairs of Others: A Novel by Amy Grace Loyd was picked because I recalled having read something about the book sometime back that had piqued my curiosity then. I thought it was worth a try for the price….

Matthew Dennison’s Behind the Mask: The Life of Vita Sackville-West is said to be “…. the first biography to be written of Vita in thirty years that reveals the whole story and gets behind ‘the beautiful mask’ of Vita’s public achievements to reveal an often troubled persona which heroically resisted compromise on every level.”

An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler is a meditation on cooking and eating that weaves philosophy and instruction into approachable lessons on feeding ourselves well. I am no cook, let’s get that clear first. But I enjoy reading essays on cooking, just like how I enjoy essays on gardening even though I do not garden (other than the occasional watering of my mum’s plants). Like armchair travelling, these are my versions of ‘armchair cooking’ and ‘armchair gardening’, minus the sweat and dirt, I guess. 🙂

Sinclair McKay’s Ramble On: The Story of our love for walking Britain seems to fit the bill nicely for some mild armchair travelling.

Michelangelo: A Life in Six Masterpieces by Miles J. Unger, attempts to portray the artist’s life through the story of six of his masterpieces. Sounds like a fascinating read to me. Am looking forward to it.

Judith Flanders’ The Making of Home: The 500-Year Story of How Our Houses Became Our Homes is one that has been on my radar for some time. I have always found the subject matters in her previous books appealing (The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime; Consuming Passions – Leisure and Pleasures in Victorian Britain;  The Victorian House: Domestic Life from Childbirth to Deathbed), so I was quite thrilled to find this at the sales (did I mention it has a lovely cover too?).  

And being the Francophile that I am, I was especially happy to be able to add David Downie’s A Passion for Paris: Romanticism and Romance in the City of Lightinto the basket as well.

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Rachel Allen’s Coast: Recipes from Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way is a feast for the eyes (and probably stomach, for those who intend to put the recipes to good use) with beautiful shots of the rugged Atlantic coast of Ireland.

Food Heroes: Sixteen Culinary Artisans Preserving Tradition by Georgia Pellegrini looks to be a promising read as well. Filled with colorful anecdotes, photographs, and recipes, this book offers an accessible introduction to the artisanal food movement, and vicarious living for armchair travelers, food lovers, and others who might won­der what it would be like to drop everything and start an olive farm, or who yearn to make and sell their own clotted cream butter. No harm dreaming, eh? 🙂

The Italians: A Full Length Portrait featuring Their Manners & Morals by Luigi Barzini, examines “the two Italies”: the one that created and nurtured such luminaries as Dante Alighieri, St. Thomas of Aquino, and Leonardo da Vinci; the other, feeble and prone to catastrophe, backward in political action if not in thought, “invaded, ravaged, sacked, and humiliated in every century.

Elergy for Iris by John Bayley, poignantly describes the love affair between the writer and Iris Murdoch (his wife of forty two years) and the dimming of her brilliance due to Alzheimer’s disease. I have yet to read anything by Murdoch although she has long been on my list of to-read. Maybe this will help to move things up abit.

Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction: Work from 1970 to the Present edited by Lex Williford & Michael Martone. This anthology is said to consist of the most highly regarded nonfiction works published since 1970 by fifty contemporary writers including Cheryl Strayed, David Sedaris, Barbara Kingsolver, Annie Dillard, Amy Tan &David Forster Wallace with pieces ranging from memoir to journalism, personal essays to cultural criticism.

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I discovered Lucy Knisley’s graphic novels in this same book sales last year, when I found a copy of her book Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, and have since been on the lookout for more of her works. So to find a copy of her illustrated travel journal French Milk this time round, was rather blissful.

Ken Jennings’ Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks “…… takes readers on a world tour of geogeeks from the London Map Fair to the bowels of the Library of Congress, from the prepubescent geniuses at the National Geographic Bee to the computer programmers at Google Earth. Each chapter delves into a different aspect of map culture: highpointing, geocaching, road atlas rallying, even the “unreal estate” charted on the maps of fiction and fantasy. Jennings also considers the ways in which cartography has shaped our history, suggesting that the impulse to make and read maps is as relevant today as it has ever been.” 
I am definitely no maphead, but this has somewhat piqued my interest.

Next comes the four books which I had ordered over the internet some time back and had them sent over to my friend’s place in the UK because I knew she would be making a trip back home this month, and that means I can save on shipping. :p

I am only now reaching the tail end of Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran (after having started on it some months back) but I had already decided early on that I wanted to read more of her books because I really like her writing. And I have to admit that I would not even have attempted Reading Lolita in Tehran if not for a dear friend’s high regards for it. I think I was put off by Lolita, a book that has never appealed to me before. I am glad to report though, that Nafisi’s book is so much more than what I had imagined it to be. I enjoyed the book very much and look forward to her Things I’ve Been Silent About: Memories of a Prodigal Daughter next.

Writing the Garden: A Literary Conversation across Two Centuries by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, may be yet another collection of garden writing, however, “….. it is not simply a collection of extracts, but real discussions and examinations of the personalities who made their mark on how we design, how we plant, and how we think about what is for many one of life’s lasting pleasures. Starting with “Women in the Garden” (Jane Loudon, Frances Garnet Wolseley, and Gertrude Jekyll) and concluding with “Philosophers in the Garden” (Henry David Thoreau, Michael Pollan, and Allen Lacy), this is a book that encompasses the full sweep of the best garden writing in the English language.”

Sea Room: An Island Life in the Hebrides by Adam Nicolson (grandson of Vita Sackville-West) is the account of Nicolson’s love affair with the three tiny islands he had inherited for his 21st birthday (how cool is that!) and describes “…. their strange and colorful history in passionate, keenly precise prose—sharing with us the greatest gift an island bestows on its inhabitants: a deep engagement with the natural world.” Again, it was the cover that got my attention first, one day while I was browsing around the internet. Sadly, I could not locate an affordable copy of the edition that had my desired cover, and had to settle for another. I am thinking though, if I end up loving the book, I might yet continue to pursue the aforementioned elusive expensive cover. :p

Lastly, Richard Mabey’s A Nature Journal.

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I probably don’t need to tell you why I had to have it, right? :p

On Writing

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?

Rebecca Solnit, ‘The Faraway Nearby’

O Willa!

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What a discovery this has been, reading my first Willa Cather novel! Yes, I know I have yet to come across a bad review of this masterpiece of hers and everyone has had only good things to say about her works, so I was prepared to be encountered with some really good writing. What I wasn’t prepared for though, was how much I loved it. To be honest, I have never been drawn towards literature that are based on the American frontier as its setting. In fact, to say that I have a natural aversion to it would probably be more accurate.

Encountering Alexandra Bergson as the novel’s protagonist was rather like a breath of fresh air that washed over all my preconceived impressions/ prejudices against frontier stories. She wasn’t what I was expecting to find in the book. A young lady with the intelligence, resilience and farsightedness that can easily outmatch any of the men that were struggling along the same frontier. I was impressed with her brand of  ‘contemplative stoicism’ (I came across this description somewhere and really liked it) that carried her through the entire journey. I definitely would have had much less patience than she had in dealing with those two infuriating brothers of hers, who had the cheek to lay claim on her share of property and interfere with her pursuit of happiness, when all they had ever contributed were just incessant pessimism and mindless brute force (that were not even always helpful) at working the land.

Thankfully for Alexandra, there’s still Emil, the youngest in the Bergson family, who is a far more endearing character to have around. In fact, it was little Emil who had first won my affections right from the first page where we see him as a five year old child in an oversized coat and in tears, pleading for someone to help rescue his kitten from a telegraph pole. Shortly after, there was another scene that further endeared little Emil to me, when his sister was relating the story of a cow with an injured horn and it was said that “Emil had been watching his sister, his face reflecting the sufferings of the cow. ‘And then it didn’t hurt her anymore?’ he asked.” How could anyone not love a kid like that? 🙂

An adorable boy who grew up to be a promising young man with everything going for him, and the liberty to pursue his dreams, far beyond the constraints of the frontier. It was a luxury that the rest of his siblings had not been able to enjoy. And it was exactly the kind of future that Alexandra had hoped for and worked towards securing for her youngest brother in all those years following their father’s demise. Emil had the world as his oyster, so to speak. But instead, he found himself locked in a prison of his own making, when he lost his heart to the one person he could not have.

I can’t pray to have the things I want, … and I won’t pray not to have them…

The simplicity and honesty in these words will resonate deep and long in the hearts and minds of every person who has ever known what it is like to want that which you know you should not be wanting, and yet being unable unwilling to yield the will to that which you know you should….

Am definitely looking forward to finding my way through the rest of Cather’s works.

 

Taking Stock

Early this month, I had a sudden urge to find out exactly how many books I have in my possession. I’ve long wanted to have some sort of a catalogue or database for keeping track of all the books I’ve come to acquire, but had always been put off by the thought of how much effort it would require to do so. And so the books kept piling, and the task kept looking ever more daunting. I used to have a very clear idea of what books I have and where they are located, but lately it has come to a point where things have started to get fuzzy. I didn’t like the fact that I was slowly losing touch with my books. I wanted to know exactly what are on my shelves, which ones are under my bed in storage, and where the rest are taking refuge in, at all the different nooks and corners around the house. I wanted to be in touch with each of them again, especially the ones that have been out of sight, out of mind. And so, I was finally nudged out of my inertia and set about doing something about it.

I started to build my ‘virtual shelves’ over at Goodreads.

Things got off to a slow start initially, as I fiddled around to see how things worked over there. I had a bit of trouble getting Goodreads to reflect my shelves the way I wanted them to. The default settings were somehow not very helpful in doing that. I think this is mainly due to the fact that Goodreads was designed primarily to serve as a platform for readers to share what they are reading or have read, rather than as a place for organizing one’s personal library, in the way that maybe LibraryThing is. But since I have already registered an account (inactive until now, though) with Goodreads a couple of years back, and also because it’s free (unlike LibraryThing), I stuck on.

After abit more of tinkering about, I finally got the shelves into place and I think it will suffice for now. I have to admit though, it was rather fun to play around with all the sorting and adding of books onto those virtual shelves, once I got the hang of it. And it feels good to be able to see them all gathered together at one place. To be able to survey my entire library, at a glance.

Such clear visibility has certainly helped to put things into clearer perspectives. I now know that I own a total of 953 books (shocking!), out of which I’ve only read 79 of them (shameful…). Even after taking out the 30 odd ones that are coffee table/ photography books, and the 45 of which I’ve started reading at some point but had been left unfinished at various stages, that still leaves me with roughly 800 books waiting to be read! Okay, maybe we can remove another 15 or 20 of those that I no longer think I will ever want to read…. that’s still about 780 unread books sitting on my shelves. What a sobering thought. And I have not even mentioned about the ones lurking in the wishlist and the ‘want to read but not owned’ shelves yet…..

Definitely not a very comforting ‘revelation’.

But as it happens, I just read a beautiful piece by Anthony Doerr and was once again reminded of what it is that I can take comfort in.

For my first seventy-two hours on that island it rained every minute. On my third night—I hadn’t seen another human being in two days—a storm came in and my tent started thrashing about as if large men had ahold of each corner and were trying to shred it. Sheep were groaning nearby, and my sleeping bag was flooding, and I wanted to go home.

I leaned into the little shuddering tent vestibule and got my stove lit. I started boiling noodles. I carefully cut open my can of tomato sauce, anticipating spaghetti. I dipped my finger in. It was ketchup.
I almost started crying. Instead I switched on my flashlight and opened The Story and Its Writer. For no reason I could articulate, I began with “Walker Brothers Cowboy,” by Alice Munro.

By the second paragraph the tent had disappeared. The storm had disappeared. I had disappeared. I had become a little girl, my father was a salesman for Walker Brothers, and we were driving through the Canadian night, little bottles in crates clinking softly in the backseat.

Next I flipped to Italo Calvino’s “The Distance of the Moon.” Now I was clambering up a ladder onto the moon. The last page left me smiling and awed and misty: “I imagine I can see her, her or something of her, but only her, in a hundred, a thousand different vistas, she who makes the Moon the Moon. . . . ”

Then I lost myself in the menacing, half-drunk suburbia of Raymond Carver. Then Isak Dinesen’s “The Blue Jar.” The line “When I am dead you will cut out my heart and lay it in the blue jar” is still underlined—underlined by a younger, wetter, braver version of me—as I sit here in Idaho with the book almost twenty years later, warm and dry, no ketchup in sight. I press my nose to the page: I smell paper, mud, memory.

[…..] For seven months I carried The Story and Its Writer through New Zealand. I hiked my way from the tip of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island and Nadine Gordimer came with me; Flannery O’Connor came with me; Tim O’Brien came with me. On a sheep farm in Timaru, John Steinbeck whispered, “The high grey-flannel fog of winter closed off the Salinas Valley from the sky and from all the rest of the world.” In a hostel in Queens-town, Joyce whispered, “His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe.” In a climber’s hut beneath the summit of Mount Tongariro, John Cheever whispered, “Is forgetfulness some part of the mysteriousness of life?”

[…..] What I have learned and relearned all my life, what I learned growing up in a house overspilling with books, what The Story and Its Writer taught me, what I relearned last night reading Harry Potter to my five-year-old sons, is that if you are willing to let yourself go, to fall into the dazzle of well-made sentences, each strung lightly one after the next—“Upon the half decayed veranda of a small frame house that stood near the edge of a ravine near the town of Winesburg, Ohio, a fat little old man walked nervously up and down.” – if you live with stories, you will never be alone.

The Story And Its Writer – Anthony Doerr
~
taken from ‘Bound To Last: 30 Writers on Their Most Cherished Book’, edited by Sean Manning

Now, I am thrilled to know what awaits me.
🙂

A Belated Enchantment

Recently I have been ‘coerced’ (in a good way, though) to watch the works of the lovely Audrey Hepburn, whom I have only been vaguely acquainted with before this. Yes, I knew she was the actress who made Truman Capote’s novella a Hollywood success, and hers was the face I’ve seen on all the black and white posters of her in her iconic little black dress. And though I was familiar with many of the songs from My Fair Lady, which I had been introduced to during my school days, I just realized that I had no recollection of the film at all. I had even thought that it was Julie Andrews who was in it! :p

Watching My Fair Lady again (or could it actually be for the first time??) was nothing short of a treat. It was pure enjoyment to watch how the transformation of Eliza Doolitle, from a Cockney working class girl to being a ‘lady’, was brought about by the pompous Professor Henry Higgins. I love the wit and humour in their dialogues (the songs were great, too!), and found myself smiling almost throughout the entire 175 minutes of the film. To think that Hepburn was snubbed of an Oscar nomination just because the producer had decided to use a professional singing voice for Eliza’s songs, is a gross injustice to Hepburn, to say the least. Personally, I feel that her performance in the role had certainly surpassed whatever singing talents that were required.

Well, having begun on my belated discovery of this fair lady, I then went on to watch her pair up with Peter O’Toole as they  plot and play together in How To Steal A Million. With Paris as the setting for the story, there was nothing to not love about the film. Comedy, romance, adventure, Paris….. all the ingredients for a delightful piece of work.

 

hepburn - paris always a good idea (bw)Considering the fact that six of her films were set in Paris, I thought that watching an Audrey Hepburn film for Paris in July would be a good idea, too. 🙂

I just came across this very apt description of Ms Hepburn, which simply says it so much better than what I have been trying to :

“Audrey Hepburn was never a Parisienne, yet she embodies what many of us long for when we visit Paris: elegance and wit, grace and style.”

Three films (I managed to watch yet another one – Two For The Road) and a whole lot of trivia later, I can safely say that I am glad for my friend’s persistent efforts. And as for the wonderful Ms Hepburn herself, I can only say that what my ears have heard before, now my eyes have seen.

 

My first Maigret

simenon - maigret1a

I have finally started on my first Inspector Maigret novel, after hearing and reading all the good things about this famous creation of Georges Simenon’s. So far (at the halfway point, that is), I am happy to report that it is living up to expectations. 🙂

Simenon has been described as the most economical of writers, following closely the advice given by Colette to “Be simple. Never try for literary effect. Leave out every word or syllable you can.”  Although the writing is often economical and taut, it is however, not without its literary flair. The wonderful feel for places and people that Simenon has is one of the reasons for the Maigret novels’ appeal. It is said that Simenon’s empathy, and his insight into how people behave when they approach the breaking point, is what lifts his work high above the common run of crime fiction.

I think I am rather inclined to agree with that, after coming across the excerpts below in the first half of Pietr the Latvian:

Inside every wrong-doer and crook there lives a human being. In addition, of course, there is an opponent in the game, and it’s the player that the police are inclined to see. [….] Some crime or offense is committed. The match starts on the basis of more or less objective facts. It’s a problem of one or more unknowns that a rational mind tries to solve.
Maigret works like any other policeman. […] But what he sought, what he waited and watched out for, was the crack in the wall. In other words, the instant when the human being comes out from behind the opponent.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It’s a long way from Gare Saint-Lazare to Hotel de Ville, there’s a whole city centre to get through. Between six and seven in the evening, pedestrians flood the pavements in ocean waves, and traffic pulses along the streets like blood pumping down an artery. [….] He reached the ghetto of Paris, that’s to say, the area around Rue de Rosiers, in the Marais. He sidled past shop fronts with signs in Yiddish, kosher butchers and window displays of matzot. At one corner, giving on to a passageway so dark and deep it looked like a tunnel, a woman tried to take him by the arm, but let go without his saying a word. Presumably he had made a strong impression on her.

Seeing that this is just the first of all his 75 Maigret novels, one can certainly look forward to taking one’s time in getting better acquainted with the Inspector, I guess.

I don’t think I could have made a better choice than to have started off with this, for this year’s Paris in July.

Oh, and if you are interested to go on a trail of Maigret’s Paris one of these days, do check this out. 🙂