I had always been more violent in my negative than in my positive demands. Thus, in personal relations, I could forgive much neglect more easily than the least degree of what I regarded as interference. […] In the course of life, I could put up with any amount of monotony far more patiently than even the smallest disturbance, bother or bustle. Never at any age did I clamour to be amused; always and at all ages (where I dared) I hotly demanded not to be interrupted. The pessimism, or cowardice, which would prefer non-existence itself to even the mildest unhappiness was thus merely the generalization of all these pusillanimous preferences.
C. S. Lewis, “Surprised by Joy”.
While I have long been an admirer of C.S Lewis’s writing, and the way his brilliant mind is able to articulate thoughts and sentiments that have resonated deeply with me in the past, I was nevertheless taken by surprise upon learning that he and I, both happen to share a very similar temperament in our core personality.
It is the part of me that I have never been able to put into words as clearly, but yet have been keenly aware of its influence and the crucial role that it plays in most of my decision making, resulting in paths taken (or not taken) thus far, in my life. Like Lewis, I have lived life as one who ‘…. was far more eager to escape pain than to achieve happiness’, and have always found it much easier to navigate my way around the things I could bear to live with, rather than in pursuing after things that I could not bear to live without.
This probably also helps to explain why it is that I seem to be clearer about the things that I don’t want, as opposed to the things I do want, in life.
Reading Lewis’s personal account of his early life and the journey that his spiritual quest had taken him, from that of being an atheist to one who was eventually convinced of the truth and reality of the Christian faith, was both a pleasure and privilege. His honest and transparent articulation with regards to matters of the mind, heart and will, leaves one with much to chew upon and digest. I will probably be returning to its pages, in time to come.
Because he really gets me.
No word in my vocabulary expressed deeper hatred than the word Interference. But Christianity placed at the centre what then seemed to me a transcendental Interferer. If its picture were true then no sort of ‘treaty with reality’ could ever be possible. There was no region even in the innermost depth of one’s soul (nay, there least of all) which one could surround with a barbed wire fence and guard with a notice ‘No Admittance’. And that was what I wanted; some area, however small, of which I could say to all other beings, ‘This is my business and mine only.’
I am aware that I still have not taken down that barbed wire fence and notice, even though I have long started on the journey.
I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again… I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is.
― C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons behind one’s lack of restraint when it comes to buying books? :p
At any rate, here are some of the reasons for my recent joy and pleasure. 🙂
Happy reading, dear fellow readers!
Wishing all of you a brand new year ahead, filled with all things wonderful.
What seems to me the highest achievement of art (and the most difficult) is not to make you laugh, or to make you cry, nor to arouse your lust or excite your anger, but to operate like nature – which is to make you dream. Thus all the most beautiful works present this character; their outlook is serene and incomprehensible; as to their method: they are immobile like cliffs, turbulent like the ocean, full of deep, green, murmuring foliages like a forest, sad as the desert, blue as the sky. Homer, Rabelais, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Goethe all seem ruthless to me. They are unfathomable, infinite, many sided. They afford sudden glimpses into abysses – deep down it is dark and vertiginous, and yet a strange sweetness bathes it all! It has the brilliance of light, the smile of the sun, and it is calm! so calm! and powerful like a huge and majestic ox.
Literature enlarges our being by admitting us to experiences not our own. They may be beautiful, terrible, awe-inspiring, exhilarating, pathetic, comic, or merely piquant. Literature gives the entrée to them all. Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realise the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors. We realise it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense, but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me … Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough. I regret that the brutes cannot write books. Very gladly would I learn what face things present to a mouse or a bee, more gladly still would I perceive the olfactory world charged with all the information and emotion it carries for a dog. In reading good literature, I become a thousand men, and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and I am never more myself than when I do.
C. S. Lewis
Ahh, the beauty of the written word, done well!
There is truly no frigate like a book, as how Emily Dickinson puts it.
So…… read any good literature lately, dear readers? 🙂
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.
Barbara Demick’s Besieged: Life Under Fire on a Sarajevo Streetis 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-tzuby 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. 🙂
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 Cats. Definitely 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 Autumnand Robert McCrum’s memoir on recovering after a stroke in My Year Off. Then there’s the lovely copy of Louisa May Alcott’s A Merry Christmas & other Christmas storiesin a beautiful Penguin Christmas Classics edition. This will keep my Trollope’s Christmas at Thompson Hallin 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.
I am generally not a fan of Japanese literature, but I quite like the title of Yukio Mishima’s The Sound of Waves, so into the box it went.
I have yet to read any Zola todate, and so finding his Therese Raquinat 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 Afterand Making an Elephant both seems like good starting points.
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.
“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 Slipstreamfor until I have at least read the first volume of her Cazalet chronicles, which I have been meaning to.
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!
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.
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.”
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.
To love at all is to be vulnerable.
Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.
But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change.
It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.
To love is to be vulnerable.
The American Book Review has come up with a list of 100 Best First Lines from Novels. While there were quite a few of those first lines that I could recognize in the list, it was fun to be acquainted with many more which were unfamiliar to me. Do have a look at it yourself and see if you can spot any of your favourite openings in there as well.
Personally, two particularly memorable first lines that come to mind are :
Have you ever tasted a Whitstable oyster? If you have you will remember it.
Sarah Waters, Tipping The Velvet (1998)
No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.
C.S Lewis, A Grief Observed (1961)
I first read those lines of C.S. Lewis when I was twenty and grieving over the loss of my first dog, whom I have had since I was four. It was my first full blown encounter with grief, and I can still remember thinking upon reading those lines, ‘Here is someone who is really saying it as it is. This is exactly what I feel!’ Those lines managed to help express what I was quietly internalizing. It articulated the process that was taking place in my systems, when I had no way of doing it myself. And that’s why they have stuck by, even seventeen years on.
What about the rest of you? Care to share abit on your own personal favourites?