A bookish interlude….

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Thought I’d take a break from my Italian photos indulgence streak and share something more bookish instead. Besides, I am really excited about this latest stash of bookish goodness that has just joined the stacks and just can’t wait to talk about them! 🙂 And just for the record…. I didn’t buy any books from my trip this time (how did that happen?!), so all these books here can probably be considered as quite, quite necessary in being part of the remedy for my ‘post holiday blues’. (There’s just no shortage of excuses for a book buying addict, is there?) :p

Anyway, my excitement for these books have more than overridden any guilt I may have for yet adding more to the numbers of TBR on my shelves and floors. So, here goes :

Memoirs of A Dutiful Daughter by Simone de Beauvoir.
I have not read anything by de Beauvoir before and only knew that she was the author of an important book (The Second Sex) and that she was married to Jean-Paul Sartre. And I can’t even recall right now what it was that actually triggered my attention to this autobiography of hers, but having taken a look at it (by the way, I just love the black and white portrait on the cover, don’t you?) I am really looking forward to getting acquainted with this feisty French feminist.

Skylark by Dezso Kosztolanyi
I have read many good things about this one and have been keeping a lookout for it ever since.
“This alternately hilarious and melancholy classic of Hungarian literature plumbs the psyches of a husband and wife burdened with a homely daughter.”  After sending off their “… unintelligent, unimaginative, unattractive, unmarried and overbearing” daughter to some relatives for a week, the parents get to rekindle their joy in living by eating out at restaurants, reconnecting with old friends, attending the theater etc. etc. “Then, Skylark is back. Is there a world beyond the daily grind and life’s creeping disappointments? Kosztolányi’s crystalline prose, perfect comic timing, and profound human sympathy conjure up a tantalizing beauty that lies on the far side of the irredeemably ordinary. To that extent, Skylark is nothing less than a magical book.”

William by E.H. Young
This has also been sitting on my wishlist for a long time now. Again, it was through the number of good reviews I had come across around the blogs that made me keep an eye out for this. So I’m rather glad to have gotten a copy of this at last, and in one of those lovely green VMC covers (almost pristine, too!).

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And over here, three different books but with similar themes running through them – loneliness, solitude and grief. Books dealing with such themes have always had a special place in my heart. Somehow, I find myself rather drawn to such writings. Probably that has something to do with the fact that I have always considered myself a sort of loner by nature. So it kinda makes sense to want to read about how other loners (not necessarily by choice) deal with the same issues, I guess. I suppose that also helps to explain why I think I can appreciate Anita Brookner’s works, depressing as they may be. :p

The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne by Brian Moore
It was the title that first caught my attention. I thought it was very unusual to see the words ‘lonely’ and ‘passion’ put together. I knew nothing about the author (although he was shortlisted three times for the Booker Prize), but the storyline did appeal much to me.
“Judith Hearne is an unmarried woman of a certain age who has come down in society. She has few skills and is full of the prejudices and pieties of her genteel Belfast upbringing. But Judith has a secret life. And she is just one heartbreak away from revealing it to the world.” There’s something about unmarried women of a certain age that makes for some rather interesting reading, don’t you think? Okay, maybe it’s just me who’s the pervert here.

The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton
This is one that I am sure many of you are familiar with. I see quite a number of rave reviews about it on a good number of blogs around, and it is enough to convince me that this is a book I want to read. Reading this, helped too:”Recounting an epic battle of wills in the claustrophobic confines of the boarding house, Patrick Hamilton’s The Slaves of Solitude, with a delightfully improbable heroine, is one of the finest and funniest books ever written about the trials of a lonely heart.”
Besides, I rarely pass up on a book with ‘solitude’ in its title. Yeah, so now you know what’s the sure-fire way to sell me a book. 😉

Staying on Alone: Letters by Alice B. Toklas
“Gertrude died this afternoon. I am writing. Dearest love, Alice.”
That is the first letter collected in this volume of letters covering the two decades that Alice Toklas had lived on after the death of her lifelong companion, Gertrude Stein. It has been said that, if letter writing is a lost art, then this volume of letters is a measure of what has been lost. “On tissue thin paper in tiny, often undecipherable hand, Alice Toklas described her daily life in Paris in absorbing detail. Here are shrewd, witty observations on some of the most interesting artists, musicians, and writers of the twentieth century: Thornton Wilder, Carl Van Vechten, Edith Sitwell, Anita Loos, Cecil Beaton, Janet Flanner, Bennett Cerf, among others. There are stories about Picasso, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Cocteau, and Sartre – all revealing a sharp eye that was as much a part of Alice as her devotion to Gertrude and her passion for recipes and gardening.”
Having just finished reading her short collection of essays “Murder In the Kitchen” , which I had rather enjoyed, I am looking forward to reading more of Toklas’ writing. I quite like her unassuming dry wit and humour which comes through in her straightforward style of writing (as can be seen from the letter above). I have also started reading her memoir “What is Remembered” and it is interesting to read her account of the great San Francisco fire after the 1906 earthquake, as well as her first meetings and walks together with Gertrude Stein in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. I have yet to re-attempt reading any of Stein’s works after having been completely stumped by a short story of hers relating to some cows or something. :p

IMG_0758aMoving on…. The Very Rich Hours of Adrienne Monnier“.
If the name Adrienne Monnier doesn’t seem to ring any bells, maybe it would help if I were to mention Sylvia Beach as well? Monnier’s bookstore and lending library in the Rue de l’Odeon in 1920s Paris, was the inspiration and model for Beach to start her own English & American literature bookstore, the Shakespeare & Company, in Paris.  “Adrienne Monnier had the modest goal of wanting to share her love of literature with the public. It was the first free-lending library in France, which enabled Monnier to reach people from all walks of life and turn them into readers. The small bookshop-library invited readers to browse through books spilling from the shelves propped against the walls, sit in one of the antique chairs scattered around a large wooden table, and study the many photographs and drawings that hung high and low.”

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And in the words of a reviewer of this volume of essays, letters & reviews: “Through the writings, one gets to know Adrienne Monnier and her friends. She is a gourmand, a bookseller, a denizen of Paris, an art lover, a theatre-goer, and a friend. She will provide you with a view of Paris between the World Wars unlike any other.”
I am really looking forward to dipping into this one! I think it truly promises some very “rich hours” of reading, indeed. 😉

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I had never heard of the term ‘miniaturist history’ before coming across Gillian Tindall’s works. And it was the cover of her The House by the Thames …. and the people who lived there” that made me pull out the book from the bargain shelves at a local bookstore a couple of years ago. Much later, I picked up another book “The Fields Beneath” because its contents interested me much, without realizing that it was by the same writer. At that time, Tindall’s name had yet to register in me (since I had not read the first book which I had bought mainly for its lovely cover). When I finally made the connection later and realised that this is the kind of genre (miniaturist history) which Tindall is a master of, it was then that I began to actively seek out her books. Never mind the fact that I still have yet to read any of the ones I already owned. Somehow, that has never stopped me from being sure that I have to collect everything else written by a particular writer because I am sure that when I finally get down to reading them, I am bound to love it! Am I the only one who feels this way? 🙂

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And so, the latest addition to join the collection is “The Man Who Drew London“. Isn’t that another one lovely cover?
“The seventeenth-century London Wenceslaus Hollar knew is now largely destroyed or buried. Yet its populous river, its timbered streets, fashionable ladies, old St Paul’s, the devestation of the Fire, the palace of Whitehall and the meadows of Islington live on for us in his etchings. Drawing on numerous sources, Gillian Tindall creates a montage of Hollar’s life and times and of the illustrious lives that touched his. It is a carefully researched factual account, but she has also employed her novelist’s skill to form an intricate whole – a life’s texture which is also an absorbing and occasionally tragic story.”

So, the question now is…. which Tindall should I ‘kindle’ first? 😉
Suggestions, anyone?

Anyway, this has been fun!
Talking about books is always fun. I really hope there was at least something from the stack that has managed to pique your interest too, in some way or another.
I like the fun to be mutual. 🙂 

And now if you don’t mind, it’ll be back to those Italian photos again…….

A mishmash of recent readings

IMG_7423aIt’s been quite a while since I last finished a whole proper book, the last one being Miss Timmins’ School for Girls by Nayana Currimbhoy, which I did enjoy for the most parts of it (the boarding school setting, the coming of age tale, a murder mystery). I was just a bit let down with the last quarter of the book, especially with the character development of the main narrator of the story. Anyway, although it does look like I have nothing much to show for (in terms of completed books), I have however, been enjoying a very satisfying time dipping into a number of different (yet related in some ways) books at the same time.

I was really excited to dip into Women on the Left Bank and wasted no time diving into it. But I didn’t get very far into the first chapter before I was diverted to check out a Janet Flanner’s essay on Alice B. Toklas entitled Memory Is All, thanks to the thoughtful supply of notes included by the author in Women on the Left Bank. Flanner’s essay was a delight to read. It beautifully captured the poignancy of Toklas’s later existence after the death of Gertrude Stein, her companion for 38 years. It also has a mention about Toklas’s memoir What Is Remembered (which by the way, had just conveniently arrived in the mail during the week), so of course I had to take a look at that too, didn’t I?

IMG_7429 I really do find the subject of Paris and the lives of the many women who decided to make the city a place where they re-define themselves and carve out the kind of lives and possibilities that they seek and long for, to be endlessly fascinating. And I am finding Lucinda Holdforth’s True Pleasures to be indeed, very pleasurable reading. I am very much looking forward to continue exploring Paris with Holdforth, as she takes me along the footsteps of Colette, Nancy Mitford, Edith Wharton, Marie Antoinette and Coco Channel (to name a few).  

IMG_7425When I did finally manage to tear myself away from Paris and her women, I made a hop over to Italy. And who better to take me there than my favourite traveller, H. V. Morton. On the smattering of knowledge I’ve managed to glean from Morton’s A Traveller in Italy thus far,  some of the more interesting facts include: that the Milanese walks twice as fast as the Romans and can tell a story or a piece of scandal without stopping or blocking the pavement; that Milan and Venice were well noted for their hairwashes, bleaches and dye during the Renaissance; and that a Scottish village exists in the Alps, north of Lake Maggiore where the men were found to be still wearing kilts up till the early 1900s. By the way, this was also a recent new arrival to the stacks, and I just love the shade of green that it’s in! Such a lovely used copy (almost pristine) and in a hard to find edition, too. Am so happy with this find. 🙂

 IMG_7430And while I am still making my way through Italy, I also managed to pop my head into Elena Kostioukovitch’s Why Italians Love To Talk About Food and got myself better acquainted with the Tuscan landscape, its food and also its people. This is quite a lovely volume to dip into, if you are interested to learn more about the Italians and their food culture (with a bit of history as background), as it is attractively organized according to region and colourfully designed with illustrations, maps, menus and glossaries. There is also an interesting foreword by Umberto Eco, for whom Kostioukovitch is better known as the writer’s Russian translator.

Weaving in between my time spent with the women in Paris, and those spent on the Italians and their food, I did also manage to read a rather creepy short story by Daphne du Maurier, Don’t Look Now. It was my first taste of du Maurier’s short stories. I usually avoid horror stories at all cost, but I was curious to see what kind of horror du Maurier’s kind is so I decided to give it a try. I have only read Rebecca (which I had quite liked) prior to this, and I do have another collection of her short stories The Breaking Point, as well as a couple of her memoirs. I can’t say that I liked the nature of the story in Don’t Look Now (the ghost of a dead child following a couple’s visit to Venice) very much, but I did find the writing and the pace rather engaging. And since I have not been totally spooked out yet, I think I might just give her next creepy story another go. Let’s hope I don’t regret it. :p

Enough about me and my meandering kind of reading. What about you? What good stuff have you all been burying your noses into lately?
Do share. 😉

Ending the year with a bang (or rather, a loud THUD!)

BBW all (BW 2a) pYes, I am definitely ending the year on a high! Not contented with just a tiny ‘thud’, it has to be a THUD!THUD!…THUD…THUD!THUD!! :p

In case you are wondering, no, these are not what I found under my Christmas tree. The people in my life obviously do not think I am in need of any help in the book buying department, as I hardly ever get any books as gifts anymore. They probably think I am in need of help in the opposite, rather.

As such, left to my own devices, this is the bounty resulting from my six days of book-hunting at the biggest book sale ever to have been held over here in Malaysia. A person of stronger mettle might have been able to exert more restraint and resist such temptations I guess, but clearly, I am not that person. Honestly, I really do get a tingling sensation of thrill and excitement just by looking at them all spread out there. Many a times when I stop to gaze at my shelves and stacks of books, thinking of all the goodness that is lying in wait for me within those pages, I just feel like I am the richest person in the world.

Does anyone here feel the same?

Anyway, without further ado…… here they are, in all their glorious beauty and dazzling splendour!

BBW 1Isn’t that about the most beautiful cover you’ve ever seen on a book? I just fell in love with this Margaret Drabble’s A Writer’s Britain, the moment I set eyes on it. And the binding and texture of the book feels really good too. As I am a big fan of all things British (well, almost all), this anthology of how different localities and landscape has played a part in the works of various British poets and novelists seem like a perfect blend of both inner and outer beauty. I have not read anything by Drabble as yet, and am looking forward to reading her. Also interesting to be reminded that she is the sister of A.S Byatt with whom she has a lifetime “feud that is beyond repair”.

Doris Lessing is another writer I am looking forward to reading, not so much her novels though, but rather her essays and short stories. And talking about short stories, Julian Barnes’s The Lemon Table and Jeanette Winterson’s anthology of opera-inspired stories by some of the most acclaimed writers of modern fiction in Midsummer Nights look to be very promising too.

I was very excited to come across Four Letter Word, an inspired and unique collection of love letters edited by Joshua Knelman & Rosalind Porter. “Is there any communication more potent than the love letter? Is there any charge greater than seeing those words on paper? The editors of this collection decided to ask some of the most important writers of our time to compose a fictional love letter – breathing new life into a forgotten custom, and affording words themselves the power of seduction that they richly deserve. The result is an iridescent picture of what love looks like in the twenty-first century: a collage of methods and moods. Each letter is radically different from the others, and all but one are published for the first time.” Some of the names included here are Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Lionel Shriver, Jan Morris, Jeanette Winterson, Audrey Niffenegger, to name a few. Delicious!

BBW 2Speaking of delicious, I manged to get myself a few titles from the Penguin Great Food series, which look really delectable both inside out. I’ve got the ones by Charles Lamb, M.F.K Fischer, Alice B. Toklas and Brillat-Savarin’s Pleasures of The Table. Still on the subject of food, Adam Gopnik’s essays in The Table Comes First is also another much anticipated read. I still want to read his Paris To The Moon (which has been sitting on my shelves for a while now) first though, before getting to The Table.  I sometimes see myself like my dog, Sandy, who while having a bone/ treat already in her mouth, still tries to get her paws at another piece. :p

I have always wanted to read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and so was happy to find it at the sale. And having recently started on Alexander McCall Smith’s The Dog Who Came In From The Cold (and liking it), I thought I’d add another one (Friends, Lovers, Chocolate) to the collection. Besides, it was in an edition that I like.

I am no gardener, and have close to zero knowledge about plants and gardening. But in recent years, I seem to have developed a fascination for books on the history and science of it, also memoirs of those working on their gardens and such. Maybe it’s also the influence from reading the blogs of all you garden loving bloggers out there that has brought about this new appreciation. At least I know I recognise the name Anna Pavord from having read about her in The Captive Reader’s blog. The Naming of Names: The Search for Order in the World of Plants certainly looks to be a fascinating read.

BBW 3aAlthough I have been slowly acquiring various volumes on the Mitford sisters and their works, I have never read any of eldest sister Nancy’s books. Now, having found three of her fictions and one non-fiction (Frederick The Great), I can finally see for myself where her genius lies.

Joseph Brodsky is a name I have never come across before, but definitely not unfamiliar to many of you I suppose, being a Nobel Prize winner for Literature at one time. I like essays, and this one (Less Than One & other selected essays) sounds like pretty good stuff!

I have only read, or rather listened, to Graham Greene’s The End of The Affair and although I enjoyed it, I somehow do not find myself wanting to read any of his other books as their subject matters just don’t quite appeal to me. But a book on Greene’s life in letters, that’s another story altogether.

BBW 3bIf you haven’t noticed that I love books on other people’s letters, here’s two more to convince you. Jessica Mitford’s Decca and Lillian Smith’s How Am I To Be Heard?. The Mitford one I am familiar with, but Lillian Smith is new to me. “This compelling volume offers the first full portrait of the life and work of writer Lillian Smith (1897-1966), the foremost southern white liberal of the mid-twentieth century. Smith devoted her life to lifting the veil of southern self-deception about race, class, gender, and sexuality.” Sounds interesting enough to me.

I have not read any Nabokov and have no intention of reading Lolita, his most acclaimed work, but I couldn’t resist this lovely Penguin Modern Classics edition of Pnin. I just love the cover design and the paper quality used in this edition. The story about a Russian professor adapting to the American life and language also seems appealing enough. And I get to say ‘I read Nabokov’ at last (that is, when I have really gotten around to reading it).

Penguin really does have a wide selection of editions and most of them are very pleasing to the eye (and hand, for that matter). I bought both the Chatwin and Auster mainly because they were in the Penguin Deluxe Classics editions. I just love the feel of those French flaps and rough cut pages. Yes, shallow reader that I am.

It was only at this book sale that I first discovered the Penguin’s series of Central European Classics. These are translated works of writers from Central Europe who are completely foreign to me, but all of which appeals to me very much. Titles such as The Elephant, Snows of Yesteryear, Old Masters, Proud to be A Mammal, etc… all look to be very compelling reads.

Another writer whose translated works I am rather excited and looking forward to reading is Mikhail Bulgakov. I managed to get four of his books at this sale and am having a hard time deciding which one to start with. I think I am leaning more towards A Country Doctor’s Notebook, though.

BBW 5For some non-fiction selection, I was most thrilled to find a copy Lucy Worsley’s If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home, having read Darlene’s wonderful review of it some time back. The Virago Book of The Joy of Shopping is also looking to be a fun read.

For some heavier non-fiction reading, I managed to find The Lost Battles, a historical account of the fierce competition between Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo, each trying to outdo the other during their heydays. Hot stuff.

This next title really caught my attention – Reading by Moonlight: How Books Saved My Life by Brenda Walker.
“Packing her bag for hospital after being diagnosed with breast cancer, Brenda wondered which book to put in.  As a novelist and professor of literature, her life was built around reading and writing.  Books had always been her solace and sustenance, and now choosing the right one was the most important thing she could do for herself.
I am really interested to know which books she did end up packing into the bag.

If there was one book I did not have to feel guilty for buying, it would be this one.  When We Were Young: A Compendium of Childhood compiled and illustrated by John Burningham. This is because proceeds from the sale of this delightful collection of contributions by various personalities such as Michael Palin, Seamus Heaney, Donna Tart and Kofi Annan, goes entirely to UNICEF. So, that’s my good deed for the day, I guess. What a great excuse for buying a book, don’t you agree? 😉

Back to the fiction section, I was particularly thrilled to find a copy of The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West. Having been recently reading (and loving!) her All Passion Spent, I think I’m going to be in for a treat with this one as well. And speaking of treats, I can’t wait to read Ishiguro’s The Remains of The Day.

BBW 6This was the final batch of goodies I managed to pick up on the last day of the great sale.

I was really happy to see a copy of Catherine Hall’s The Proof of Love among books that were still left for the taking on the last day. I had read her debut novel, Days of Grace earlier this year, and had really loved it. It was one of my favourite reads for 2012. Am highly anticipating this one now, especially after reading quite a few raving reviews of it around the blogosphere.

William Maxwell is another writer I am keen to get acquainted with. Managed to get my hands on two of his books at this sale, So Long See You Tomorrow and The Chateau. I was actually on the lookout for a copy of his correspondence with Sylvia Townsend Warner The Element of Lavishness, but since none was found I guess I’ll just have to settle with his two novels for the time being. Not really complaining though, as you can see I have more than a fair share of books to keep me busy for a long, long time!

I also found a collection of Du Maurier’s short stories, an Elizabeth Bowen and  a Beryl Bainbridge. And I’ve finally gotten myself a copy of Lady Audley’s Secret, after having been wanting to read it for awhile now.  Then there’s also W. Somerset Maugham’s literary memoir, The Summing Up and Stella Gibbons’s Westwood.  I had already picked up Maugham’s essays on Ten Novels & Their Authors earlier during the sale.

And for something completely different and refreshing, I found Michael Pollan’s A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams to be utterly appealing. “A room of one’s own: is there anybody who hasn’t at one time or another wished for such a place, hasn’t turned those soft words over until they’d assumed a habitable shape? …. Inspired by both Thoreau and Mr. Blandings, A Place of My Own not only works to convey the history and meaning of all human building, it also marks the connections between our bodies, our minds, and the natural world.”

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A few of my favourite cover designs. These are the crème de la crème in terms of their aesthetic beauty.

BBW allAnd now, to find ‘a place of my own’ where I can sit down to quietly enjoy all these bookish goodness. What bliss!

🙂