Picking up where we left off…..

This really is a literal picking of things up from where they were since my last post on the Big Bad Wolf Box Sale haul. As you can see, the books are still sitting quietly in the box, as pictured (there are two other boxes as well that are not shown), three months down the road from when they were first brought home.  It really is high time to get things moving….

 

I managed to haul back quite an interesting selection and variety of non-fiction titles from the box sale this year.

Cezanne: A Life by Alex Danchev.
Victor Hugo by Graham Robb.
I have been a fan of Robb’s subject matters and style of writing for some years now, and this looks like another gem to be added to the stack.

Now All Roads Lead To France: The Last Years of Edward Thomas by Matthew Hollis.
Another one that I’m quite looking forward to reading, especially having just recently learnt of the story of his close friendship with Robert Frost, whose words in ‘The Road Not Taken’ became the deciding factor for Thomas to enlist in the army, which sadly led to fatal consequences.

Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation and GPS Technology by Caroline Paul (illustrated by Wendy MacNaughton). This looks like a delightful volume, accompanied by some lovely illustrations.

Michelangelo’s Mountain: The Quest for Perfection in the Marble Quarries by Eric Scigliano.
As I’m currently reading (and enjoying) Jonathan Jones’ The Lost Battles: Leonardo, Michelangelo and the Artistic Duel That Defined the Renaissance, I think this will make for some great further reading once I’m done with the Jones.

The Horologicon: A Day’s Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language by Mark Forsyth.
“The Horologicon (or book of hours) contains the most extraordinary words in the English language, arranged according to what hour of the day you might need them….”. I wonder what those words could possibly be.

A couple of C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed and Miracles

Mohsin Hamid seems to be getting quite abit of attention lately, with his Exit West being shortlisted in the Man Booker prize. Just realized that I had brought back one of his works from the sale too, Discontent and Its Civilizations: Dispatches from Lahore, New York and London.

Barbara Demick’s Besieged: Life Under Fire on a Sarajevo Street is another piece of journalistic ‘dispatch’ that I am very interested to be given an insight to. I have been impressed with Demick’s writing (even from the little that I’ve read) ever since coming across her reporting on the lives of ordinary people in North Korea in Nothing To Envy. This looks to be just as good.

 

The Scientists: A Family Romance by Marco Roth is the memoir of a “….. precocious only child of a doctor and a classical musician, whose world had revolved around house concerts, a private library of literary classics, and discussions of the latest advances in medicine―and one that ended when Marco’s father started to suffer the worst effects of the AIDS virus that had infected him in the early 1980s. [….] it’s a book that grapples with a troubled intellectual and emotional inheritance―the ways in which we learn from our parents, and then learn to see them separately from ourselves.”

Herta Müller’s The Land of Green Plums I’ve heard of this one for some time and was happy to find it at the sale. Has anyone here read it?

The Myth of Wu Tao-tzu by Sven Lindqvist is a meditation on art and its relationship with life. Inspired by the myth of the Chinese artist who was said to have walked right into his own piece of art and disappeared behind its painted gates, Lindqvist takes us on a fascinating journey through his moral awakening as a young man, and his grappling with profound questions of aesthetics.

Estimating Emerson: An Anthology of Criticism from Carlyle to Cavell by David LaRocca.
“Estimating Emerson is the most comprehensive collection yet assembled of the finest minds writing on one of America’s finest minds. It serves as both a resource for easily accessing the abundant and profound commentary on Emerson’s work and as a compendium of exceptional prose to inspire further thought about his contribution to our thinking.” I think I may have struck gold with this find.  🙂

As with this, London: A Literary Anthology.

Also found a couple of fun coffee table books on London, on interior decorating, and a most practical one titled, You Need More Sleep: Advice from CatsDefinitely sound advice to listen to from the ‘experts’ on the subject, I’d say. :p (hahaha….)

 

Enough of non-fiction for now, let’s get back to some good old fashioned story telling, shall we? To start off, there’s the two lovely editions of Picador Classic that I am very happy to have picked up. Barbara Pym’s Quartet in Autumn and Robert McCrum’s memoir on recovering after a stroke in My Year OffThen there’s the lovely copy of Louisa May Alcott’s A Merry Christmas & other Christmas stories in a beautiful Penguin Christmas Classics edition. This will keep my Trollope’s Christmas at Thompson Hall in good company. 🙂

Next up are the Penguin Modern Classics editions, another favourite of mine! Managed to find Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger, which is one book that has long been on my to-read list, and so naturally I am very happy about the find. Although I am not one who is much into reading plays, finding J. B. Priestley’s much acclaimed An Inspector Calls and other Plays was still nothing short of thrilling. I loved that it came in this edition.

The same can also be said for the two Inspector Maigret that I found, The Flemish House and Night at the Crossroads.

 

Don’t they look just so alluring?

 

Three slim volumes by three writers who are known for their ‘minimalist’ style of writing.

Patrick Modiano’s Ring Roads (book 3 of the Occupation Trilogy).
Raymond Carver’s Cathedral.
Cees Nooteboom’s Rituals.

I am generally not a fan of Japanese literature, but I quite like the title of Yukio Mishima’s The Sound of Wavesso into the box it went.

I have yet to read any Zola todate, and so finding his Therese Raquin at the sale seemed to be an added incentive to try him soon.

The same goes for Graham Swift, whom I have also yet to read. Earlier this year, I came across a fair few good reviews on his Mothering Sunday, which sort of triggered my interest in checking him out. It’s a timely thing that I found two of his works at the sale. Ever After and Making an Elephant both seems like good starting points.

So, seen anything you like here?

🙂

 

 

 

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April Acquisitions

Towards the end of March, I received an email from one of my favourite online booksellers for new and used books saying that they have not ‘heard’ from me for a while and that they missed me. They also included a discount voucher code for 20% off any purchase of their used books. And so, with an offer like that, coupled with the fact that though I have not been buying, I certainly have been picking and piling up for myself quite a good load of books into the basket/ wishlist. It works as a kind of therapy for the withdrawal symptoms that come when I seem to have not been buying any books for a substantial period of time, although in this case it was barely more than a month (strange, but it sure did feel much longer than that). What can I say, I kinda ‘missed them’ too. :p

With the exception of the first five books at the top of the pile, the rest are used copies, including the two standing hardcovers which I am particularly excited about. 

Writers and Their Houses: Essays by Modern Writers – A Guide to the Writers’ Houses of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland edited by Kate Marsh.
This collection features a wide range of contemporary writers, discussing the homes, lives and work of their predecessors, looking at the environments where some of the finest works of British literature were produced. The essay writers include John Fowles, Jeanette Winterson, Margaret Drabble, P.D. James, Seamus Heaney, Malcom Bradbury, A.N. Wilson, Penelope Fitzgerald, Ian McEwan, Claire Tomalin, Peter Porter and Jenny Uglow. The reader is taken on a detailed tour through the work and homes of writers such as William Shakespeare, Beatrix Potter, James Joyce and Jane Austen. From lively social circles to places of retreat, the homes described here reveal unexpected facts about their occupant’s taste, habits and eccentricities.

Doesn’t that sound delicious? I am really looking forward to reading these essays and poring over the photographs in there (unfortunately though, the photos are all in black and white). This book will complement my copy of ‘A Reader’s Guide to Writers’ Britain’ by Sally Varlow very nicely, I think. 🙂

A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel.
Another compilation of interlinked essays on the history of reading. Manguel’s set of essays ‘…. explains not only the ability of the Bible and the classics to speak to successive generations, but also clarifies the deeply personal appeal of any favorite book: It says what we need it to say, what we wish we could say for or about ourselves. Manguel’s urbane, unpretentious tone recalls that of a friend eager to share his knowledge and enthusiasm. His book, digressive, witty, surprising, is a pleasure.’ Can’t wait to have the pleasure of dipping into this one! 

A closer look at the paperbacks.

I absolutely love the cover of Paris In Mind (edited by Jennifer Lee). Next to being a major Anglophile, I have to admit I am a lover of all things Parisian, too. The city holds no end of fascination and appeal to me. “Paris is a moveable feast,” Ernest Hemingway famously wrote, and in this captivating anthology, American writers share their pleasures, obsessions, and quibbles with the great city and its denizens. Mark Twain celebrates the unbridled energy of the Can-Can. Sylvia Beach recalls the excitement of opening Shakespeare & Company on the Rue Dupuytren. David Sedaris praises Parisians for keeping quiet at the movies.”
Among the writers from which these excerpts, essays, letters and journals are taken from are James Baldwin, Sylvia Beach, Saul Bellow, T. S. Eliot, M.F.K. Fisher, Janet Flanner, Benjamin Franklin, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Jefferson, Anaïs Nin, David Sedaris, Gertrude Stein, Mark Twain, Edith Wharton & E. B. White.

Summer Will Show by Sylvia Townsend Warner.
Written with the French Revolution of 1848 as the backdrop, this is the story of how a young Englishwoman from an aristocratic family finds her way to Paris and ends up forming the unlikeliest of relationships with her husband’s mistress. Bold and unconventional in its ideas, this novel is described as “at once an adventure story, a love story, and a novel of ideas, Summer Will Show is a brilliant reimagining of the possibilities of historical fiction.”

The classics.

Isn’t this another lovely cover? I fell in love with the cover of this latest Vintage edition of Anthony Trollope’s The Warden and felt that I must have it. I think this is just the perfect starting point for me to discover the charming world of Trollope’s Barsetshire chronicles. This is yet another significant Victorian novelist whom I managed to miss out on during my younger days. I intend to rectify that this year, and am thrilled to know that this is just the begining of a whole new series waiting to be savoured.

Wordsworth Classics have recently been re-issuing a combination of Virginia Woolf’s works in very affordable editions. I got my pre-ordered copy of The Years & Between The Acts from The Book Depository for only USD2.36, which I think is a steal! And it has quite a lovely piece of artwork for its cover too, aptly named The Bookworm. 🙂  

Virago Classics and my first Thirkell.

I have to say that I much prefer this VMC cover of Lettice Cooper’s The New House as compared to the plain (though elegant) grey cover of the Persephone edition.  Another writer whose works I have been looking forward to get acquainted with is Rose Macaulay. I remember reading a good review of Crewe Train some time back on one of the blogs, and has since been very interested to read it. After reading all the rave reviews for Angela Thirkell’s books on Claire’s blog, I just couldn’t resist adding The Brandons into the basket. Interestingly, it is also one of her series of novels that is set in Trollope’s Barsetshire. Guess I can look forward to spending quite abit of time with the some rather memorable characters from Barsetshire this year. 😉  

Having recently discovered Barbara Pym as one of my new favourite writers, I grabbed hold of two more of her goodies. Civil To Strangers and A Vey Private Eye : An Autobiography in Letters And Diaries. The former consists of a collection of materials that were unpublished during Pym’s lifetime, while the latter is as the title suggests, an autobiography in the form of Pym’s letters and diaries, two of my favourite formats in writing, by the way. 

Last pile of goodies in this stack is Elizabeth Bowen’s To The North, Catherine Hall’s debut novel Days of Grace (whch I am already midway through, and am enjoying it very much) and Katie Roiphe’s Uncommon Arrangements :Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles 1919-1939.

Love the vintage black and white cover of Bowen’s To The North and can’t wait to read it after all the glowing reviews from so many fellow bloggers out there.

Uncommon Arrangement, also promises to be an interesting read. Said to be : “Drawn in part from the private memoirs, personal correspondence, and long-forgotten journals of the British literary community from 1910 to the Second World War, here are seven “marriages à la mode”—each rising to the challenge of intimate relations in more or less creative ways. Jane Wells, the wife of H.G., remained his rock, despite his decade-long relationship with Rebecca West (among others). Katherine Mansfield had an irresponsible, childlike romance with her husband, John Middleton Murry, that collapsed under the strain of real-life problems. Vera Brittain and George Gordon Catlin spent years in a “semidetached” marriage (he in America, she in England). Vanessa Bell maintained a complicated harmony with the painter Duncan Grant, whom she loved, and her husband, Clive. And her sister Virginia Woolf, herself no stranger to marital particularities, sustained a brilliant running commentary on the most intimate details of those around her.”

So, there you have it. My indulgences for the past month all laid bare here.
Has any one of these caught your eye (or attention) too, in particular? 😉

Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym

Some tame gazelle, or some gentle dove;
Something to love, oh! something to love.

Thomas Haynes Bayly

This book was to become my initiation into the warm & witty world of Barbara Pym, whose endearing characters consists of ageing spinsters, young innocent curates, elderly bishops & deacons, gossipy villagers, etc. Her characters are unassuming people leading unremarkable lives, and Pym is the chronicler of these quiet lives.

Most people would consider Excellent Women to be Pym’s best work, and I am looking forward to finding that out for myself. But I am really glad to have started with Some Tame Gazelle, her first novel written when she was only 22, after obtaining her degree in English Literature from Oxford. Interestingly, this story was actually a projection of how Pym imagines herself and her elder sister, Hilary, would be as ‘spinsters of fiftyish.’

Another reason for me picking this as my first Pym was also because it was Thomas at My Porch‘s favourite Pym, and this book was actually a prize I had won from his blog during the Virago Modern Classics reading Week last year. Besides, I do find the story of how two middle-aged sisters go about their lives as ‘spinsters’ in a village parish, rather appealing.  

Harriet and Belinda, the two said sisters, are together and yet alone in journeying through their lives in the village parish. Harriet, the more flamboyant sister, likes nothing better than fussing over new curates, while being secured in the knowledge of possessing the long-standing unrequited love of an Italian count, who never fails to ask for her hand in marriage on a regular basis. Belinda, on the other hand, is more circumspect and cares little for fashion. Unlike her sister who is the object of an unrequited love, Belinda is the one who has been harbouring an unrequited love for the Archdeacon for the past thirty years.

What I love about the book is how observant Pym is in portraying her characters, especially Belinda’s, so well and with such sensitivity and nuance, that you can’t help but feel how real and human these beings are. And how much we can see of ourselves being reflected from those pages. As how Anne Tyler puts it, Pym ‘reminds us of the heartbreaking silliness of everyday life’.

She noticed how splendidly the aubretias had done; they were spreading so much that they would soon have to be divided. Belinda remembered when she had put them in as little cuttings. They had had a particularly hard winter that year, so that she had been afraid the frost would kill them. But they had all lived and flourished. How wonderful it was, when one came to think of it, what a lot of hardships plants could stand!
And people too. Here Belinda realised how well her own heart, broken at twenty five, had mended with the passing of the years. Perhaps the slave had grown to love its chains, or whatever it was that the dear Earl of Rochester had said on that subject. Belinda was sure that our greater English poets had written much about unhappy lovers not dying of grief, although it was of course more  romantic when they did. But there was always hope springing eternal in the human breast, which kept one alive, often unhappily….

It is rather interesting to also note how characters in books and movies somehow always tend to find themselves pining for those they can’t have, while attracting the affections of those they won’t have. Guess a fair bit of this happens in real life too.

Belinda had been forced to mention the fact that the chrysanthemums he had sent her were still lasting very well. She almost wished that they might die, and noticed with relief when she got home that some of the foliage was tinged with brown. Suddenly she took them out of their vase and, although it was dark, went out with them to the dustbin. They were dead really and one did not like to feel that flowers from the wrong person might be everlasting.

It is gems like these that has completely won me over to Pym’s writing. And I fully agree with what Mavis Cheek has to say, that “….. Pym makes me smile, laugh out loud, consider my own foibles and fantasies, and above all, suffer real regret when I reach the final page. Of how many authors can you honestly say that?”

Yes, how many, indeed.