Two Solitudes

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…. one day, there will be girls and women whose name will no longer just signify the opposite of the male but something in their own right, something which does not make one think of any supplement or limit but only of life and existence: the female human being.

This step forward [….] will transform the experience of love, which is now full of error, alter it root and branch, reshape it into a relation between two human beings and on longer between man and woman.
And this more human form of love [….] will resemble the one we are struggling and toiling to prepare the way for, the love that consists in two solitudes protecting, defining and welcoming one another.

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

Happy Valentine’s, everyone! ūüôā

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Unplanned Plans

I had started the year without any specific reading plans or lists because I knew I was not a good one for keeping to pre-planned plans when it comes to reading. I prefer to do my reading at whim.
So, I thought it was probably futile to have one and was not quite inspired to make any.
But then something changed.
And now, I think I do have one, and it’s one that I am quite excited about and feeling rather determined (or hopeful!) to see it through.

What happened was this.
I started an Instagram account sometime in December, after discovering the delights in being able to feast my eyes on a regular dose of book porn, through the various bookstagrammers’ feed out there. I was actually amazed to find that there are so many talented book lovers (cum photographers) out there who can effortlessly make books look so desirable as objects.
Creating the account was intended to mainly facilitate my ease of accessing to these feeds on a regular basis.
But when the new year started out on an unexpectedly rough note for me, I soon found myself in desperate need for a diversion of sorts.
As it happens, there was a book challenge hosted by some bookstagrammers that was taking place for the month, called the #AtoZbookchallenge, whereby one is to post a photo a day for each of the alphabets, relating to either book titles or themes or authors that goes with the particular alphabet each day.
Preferably, it should be books that are already on one’s existing physical TBR shelves.

I thought that sounded diverting enough.

And that’s how my unplanned reading plans came to be.
Here’s the A to Z of it.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Not sure how long it will take for me to complete this A to Z reading list, being the slow reader that I am. What I do know is that right now, I’m feeling pretty enthusiastic about it, and that’s a good start!
Let’s just hope that I won’t be stuck at ‘D’ for a long, long time…….

ūüôā

To Begin, Again….

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I am here. Those three words contain all that can be said – you begin with those and you return to them. Here means on this earth, on this continent and no other, in this city and no other, in this epoch I call mine, this century, this year. I was given no other place, no other time…..

CzesŇāaw MiŇāosz , ‘To Begin Where I Am’.

Today marks the 5th year since A Reader’s Footprints came into being.
I had not plan for a post to mark this day initially, but something in CzesŇāaw MiŇāosz’s words, which I happened to have been reading today, prompted me to.
I am here.
Yes, five years on, I am still here. And why wouldn’t I be? This is my ‘happy place-to-go-to’. This is my fortress built of books and of book loving friends, in which I take refuge in. From all that makes me feel helpless and vulnerable on the outside. From all that tends to rob me of my peace and joy.
Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote in The Secret Garden that “Where you tend a rose, a thistle cannot grow.”
That is how I want this space to be.
A garden where no thistles can grow to choke out that which nourishes.
MiŇāosz seemed to have found just the right words in helping me see clearer the direction in which I would like for this blog to take in the year(s) to come.

On writing:

I have written on various subjects, and not, for the most part, as I would have wished. But I am always aware that what I want is impossible to achieve. I would need the ability to communicate my full amazement at “being here” in one unattainable sentence which would simultaneously transmit the smell and texture of my skin, everything stored in my memory, and all I now assent to, dissent from. However, in pursuing the impossible, I did learn something. Each of us is so ashamed of his own helplessness and ignorance that he considers it appropriate to communicate only what he thinks others will understand. There are however, times when somehow we slowly divest ourselves of that shame and begin to speak openly about all the things we do not understand.

On that note, I will try to not let that ‘shame of my helplessness and ignorance’ deter me from my attempts to communicate on the things that matter to me, regardless of the level of understanding/ skill required. (Am I making sense here?)
For instance, I know that I suck at writing reviews, and that is why I usually avoid doing so. Why have my flaws exposed for all to see, right? But if the book or the reading experience had really meant something to me, I guess I will still try to communicate that over here, flawed as it may be.

On reading:

I have read many books, but to place all those volumes on top of one another and stand on them would not add a cubit to my stature. Their learned terms are of little use when I attempt to seize naked experience, which eludes all accepted ideas. To borrow their language can be helpful in many ways, but it also leads imperceptibly into a self-contained labyrinth, leaving us in alien corridors which allow no exit. And so I must offer resistance, check every moment to be sure I am not departing from what I have actually experienced on my own, what I myself have touched. I cannot invent a new language and I use the one I was first taught, but I can distinguish, I hope, between what is mine and what is merely fashionable. I cannot expel from memory the books I have read, their contending theories and philosophies, but I am free to be suspicious and to ask na√Įve questions instead of joining the chorus which affirms and denies.

I will try to keep myself being ‘free to be suspicious and to ask naive questions instead of joining the chorus which affirms and denies’. That will also mean that my reading choices will be those that are really suited to me, what I really want to read, and not ‘what is merely fashionable’. By that, I don’t mean that all worthy recommendations from fellow readers will just be disregarded, of course. Discretion will be the key word.

Let’s see how well these ‘aspirations’ get to be translated over here in the days to come.
Anyway, I look forward to a good year filled with good books and some great reading.
And I wish the same for all of you, too.
Happy New Year!

ūüôā

Post Christmas reading

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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…..

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Not quite the same thing as a Dutch tulip garden blown to the stars, I suppose, but still a pleasant enough sight at one of the malls.

What about the rest of you?
Read anything good lately? ūüôā

May Your Christmas Be Merry & Bright

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The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death, Light has dawned.

Matthew 4:16 (New King James Version)

It started when God said, ‚ÄúLight up the darkness!‚ÄĚ and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful.

2 Corinthians 4:6 (The Message)

Blessed Christmas, to one and all!
May His love, joy and peace be with you and yours.
God bless….

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‚ÄĒto be a part of a process that brings to the worldt something beautiful, good, and true‚ÄĒin 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? ūüôā

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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? ūüôā

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?

ūüôā

 

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.¬† ūüôā

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 ‚Äėthe 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. ūüôā

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 Light,¬†into the basket as well.

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Rachel Allen’s Coast: Recipes from Ireland‚Äôs 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 won¬≠der 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? ūüôā

The Italians: A Full Length Portrait featuring Their Manners & Morals¬†by Luigi Barzini,¬†examines ‚Äúthe two Italies‚ÄĚ: 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, ‚Äúinvaded, ravaged, sacked, and humiliated in every century.‚ÄĚ

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 ‚Äúunreal estate‚ÄĚ 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‚ÄĒsharing 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