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.”

BBW highlights 2
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!

🙂

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A Graceful Debut

Be careful what you say. Like everyone else, you will hear things that the enemy mustn’t know. Keep that knowledge to yourself –and don’t give away any clues. Keep smiling.

On the cusp of World War II, this warning resonates with Britain’s fearful population. But to Nora Lynch, these words carry another layer of meaning, one more intimate and shameful. And for more than fifty years, she will keep her lips tightly sealed.

Catherine Hall, Days of Grace .

 When the war breaks out, twelve-year-old Nora is one of thousands of London children evacuated to the safety of the English countryside. Her surrogate family, Reverend Rivers, his wife, and their daughter, Grace, offer Nora affection and a wealth of comforts previously unknown to her. All the initial anger and resentment which she felt towards her mother for sending her away is quickly replaced by a love for her new way of life in rural Kent with the Rivers family. 

 

 “I did not know then that things are often not what they seem. There were dark places in the countryside with only the birds to see what happened in them. The rectory had carpets to sweep bad news under. There was space for secrets. The war wasn’t the only phoney thing that autumn, but I didn’t notice. I was wonderfully happy, happier than I ever thought possible. Each morning I woke up knowing that by the time I went to bed again, I would have learned something new. … It was as if I had been born a second time, into a life that was so thrilling that sometimes I found it hard to breathe.”

 
The story is told in both the compelling voice of the teenage Nora, struggling to keep her secrets and forbidden desires during the war, as well as in the quiet and repressive voice of the elderly Nora, who is slowly succumbing to her terminal illness. Although the chapters alternate between the past and the present with two parallel storylines going on at the same time, the writer has done a remarkable job in weaving both the stories together almost seamlessly. I was hooked from the first page by the voice of the elderly Nora, being made curious to know what was the story behind this old, lonely woman whose only comfort is in books, who seemed to have withdrawn  herself from the world around her and was so weighed down with secrets that are far more painful to bear than the actual physical disease that is eating away at her.

Days of Grace is a beautiful and tender piece of writing on many levels. Reading the book, I was transported to another place, another time, going through the same heartaches and pains as experienced by both the young, and the elderly Nora, in equal measures. 

“I imagined myself in a hospital, being prodded and poked by strangers who would come to know everything about me. I would be there for everyone to see, laid out on a bed as if I were already on a mortuary slab, unable to hide a thing. …. I wanted to shout out for everyone to hear. Don’t you see? I surrendered a long time ago….. I carried on dying all the way through the war, while everyone else was trying so damned hard to stay alive. Now it’s time to finish the job.”

“My reflection made me shrink away in horror. My eyes stared out from hollow sockets, their faded blue the only colour in a face in which skin stretched over bone in a ghastly premonition of a skeleton. My lips were cracked. They collapsed inwards, pressed together, the lips of someone with secrets. A few strands of hair straggled over my scalp like grasses left after a harvest. The disease had made me into something inhuman. My wickedness was on display to whoever cared to look.”

It was heart-wrenching to read pieces like these from the elderly Nora especially when one has already been privy to some of the secrets of her younger self.

“Sometimes it was a relief to be alone. After Spitfire Summer, I had started to feel things that made me afraid. I didn’t tell Grace everything any more. I didn’y want her to know about the dreams I had, troubling dreams that jolted me awake at night. I would make out Grace’s shape under the bedclothes, rising and falling as she breathed, imagining myself drawing back the blanket, then the sheet, lifting her nightdress so that I can see her body’s new curves. I wanted to touch her skin. I wanted to press myself close to her, winding around her like the creeper that covered the front wall of the rectory.
I knew that if I told her I would ruin everything. I followed the rules. I was careful what I said. But the rules didn’t say I couldn’t think about her. I thought about her all the time.”

There are quite a few more finer points and plots to the story which I think is best left to the discovery of the reader. The author had commented in one of her interviews that she was struck by the psychiatrist and scientist Wilhelm Reich’s description of cancer as “a disease following emotional resignation… … a giving up of hope.” And found it to be a fitting description for Nora.

The blurb at the back of my copy of the book describes it as ‘Sarah Waters meets Daphne du Maurier’. I would prefer to give the credit to Catherine Hall in her own right, though, especially considering the fact that this is only her debut novel. She has certainly proven herself to be a writer to look out for. The blurb also says that in this book, Hall has written beautifully about the exquisite pains of unrequited love.

That, I could not agree more. 

If only you knew, I thought. If only you knew how you could make somebody want you. It doesn’t take communion wine and a sunny afternoon by the lake. I want you on rainy days when we’re drinking tea with your mother in the kitchen. I want you in the morning when your eyes are still full of sleep. I want you when you don’t know the answers to your father’s questions on algebra and you’re ashamed of it. But I can’t tell you any of that because I know you don’t want me.

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? 😉