Happy New Year!

NY2015cHappy New Year, everyone!

The old has gone, and the new has come.  As usual, I didn’t managed to read quite as many books as I had wanted to, but bought a good deal more books than I had planned for, in the past year. And as always, I will still strive to do the reverse this year, with hopefully better results.

Nevertheless, I was thrilled to have made acquaintance with a few writers that were new to me in 2014.  It was a pleasure to have discovered the writings of William Maxwell, Primo Levi, Javier Marias and Patrick Modiano. I will definitely be looking out for more of these writers’ works in the days ahead. The anticipation alone is exciting enough in itself. 🙂

The stack pictured above is the possible reading choices that I am likely to start the year off with. These are the ones that seem to be calling out to me at the moment. Am especially looking forward to the Ishiguro and the Nichols.

The Remains of The Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.
Down The Garden Path by Beverley Nichols.
A Little History of British Gardening by Jenny Uglow.
Bleak House by Charles Dickens.

What about the rest of you? Which would be the first book you reach out for to mark this new reading year?

Whichever your choice might be, I wish you all a happy reading year, filled with all the bookish goodness that one can possibly find! 🙂

Have been trying to remedy my bout of flu with some good old fashioned murder mystery and mushroom soup. By the way, I just love the cover of this Agatha Christie. I must confess, I bought the book solely on the strength of its cover, really.


Amsterdam, for the booklover….

Book-hunting and bookshop browsing is always one of the most ‘looked forward to’ highlights for all my travels. As such, I had noted down some of the bookshops that I wanted to look out for (based on the suggestions gleaned from various sources), before setting off for my recent trip to the Netherlands and Paris. Special thanks to the helpful recommendations from Bundleofbooks for pointing me in the right direction.

Antiquariaat POLK – had the most friendly owner/person manning the shop. The bookshop is actually the one below ground level (notice the stairs going down?). Sorry for the rather misleading snapshot.

This little gem of a bookshop had some real treats hidden down those stairs! If not for having read about this bookshop on Bundleofbooks’ blog, I would surely have missed out on this one. And that means I would not have found my two copies of Monica Dickens (Mariana, One Pair of Hands) and Christopher Isherwood’s memoir Christopher and His Kind for 2 Euro each. Two other titles which caught my eye but had to be left behind due to luggage constraint issues (as both were in bulky hardcover tomes) were a volume of Isak Dinesen’s Letters From Africa and Boswell’s London Journal. Like I said, who would have thought that a hidden little nook like this could have such treasures within?

And then there are those that had looked so promising as you enter but in the end, you find yourself coming out empty handed.

A lovely looking bookshop with an attractive shopfront, but sadly the books were mostly in a language I couldn’t read.
This would have been an interesting fair to attend.
The largest used bookstore in Amsterdam. Each floor stocks tomes in various languages, across all genres, and covering many subjects. There’s also a large antiquarian book section in one of the floors.

The antiquarian books section.
There are some really interesting bookish decorative pieces that can be admired amongst the antiquarian tomes on display.
Do excuse the poor quality of this shot. But I think you can still catch a vague glimpse of the two adorable decorative items in there.
The arts and graphics section.
The literary section had quite a lot to offer as well (and these were all in English, too).
And this is part of the children’s books section. I never realised that the Dutch had such an attractive and appealing offering for their young ones. The book covers were all so lovely and delightful to look at!

As abundant though, as the offering was to be found here, somehow I didn’t manage to come away with anything. The ones I had spotted and really wanted (ie: Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art: Letters  and a couple of other literary biographies/ diaries) were either too bulky or too costly for my limited constraints. Sigh….

However, all is not lost, as I soon found my way to this :

I think that’s about as pretty as bookshops come by, don’t you agree? Somehow, having a bicycle in the picture always makes it look so much better!
A closer look at the bookshop on the left, the Straat Antiquaren.

When I entered the Straat Antiquaren, all I could see were shelves of books in languages that I wasn’t familiar with. As I made my way around the shop, skimming through the foreign titles on the rows of shelves thinking it’ll probably be another round of fruitless browsing, I came to the last row that was facing the walls on the right side of the shop. And voila! I found myself staring at shelves that were packed and stacked with English literature! How thrilling it felt. Although I came away with just two books (Katherine Mansfield: Letters & Journals, and  D.E. Stevenson’s Miss Buncle’s Book), it was not for the lack of choice but rather due to  budget and luggage contraints, as mentioned earlier. Otherwise, I would definitely have taken home with me the complete set of Virginia Woolf’s volumes of letters that were in almost pristine condition…..

Still, I have to say that I am pretty satisfied with the bounty from this trip, which had actually exceeded my expectations, as believe or not, I really wasn’t planning on buying that many books. Just a couple to serve as mementos for this trip, I had thought, would have been good enough. Really.

But I ended up with all these instead.

Books, glorious books!
These includes the bounty from Paris as well (the ones lying horizontal). I am especially happy with the Folio Society copy of Dicken’s London, which I got from a little bookshop that had everything going at half price. It was beside a bakery where my mum and I had stopped for an ice-cream and cranberry pie. Am also very happy with the second volume of Virginia Woolf’s diary which I found most unexpectedly in a branch of the De Slegte bookshop in Rotterdam. I hadn’t even known they had a branch there.

And oh, I think there’s just a couple more which are not in the picture. But no worries, we’ll come to that when we get to Paris.

Soon. 😉

Friday Feature : Van Gogh, the Reader (2)

Van Gogh’s Still Life with Books {source}

It is with the reading of books the same as with looking at pictures; one must, without doubt, without hesitations, with assurance, admire what is beautiful.

Vincent van Gogh, The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

Van Gogh’s Still Life with Open Bible {source}

Let me stop there, but my God, how beautiful Shakespeare is! Who else is as mysterious as he? His language and style can indeed be compared to an artist’s brush, quivering with fever and emotion. But one must learn to read, just as one must learn to see and learn to live.

Vincent van Gogh, The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

Van Gogh’s Still Life with Three Books {source}

I have been re-reading Dicken’s Christmas Books these days. There are things on them so profound that one must read them over and over; there are tremendously close connections with Carlyle.

Vincent van Gogh, The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

But you see, there are many things which one must believe and love. There is something of Rembrandt in Shakespeare, and of Correggio in Michelet, and of Delacroix in Victor Hugo, and then there is something of Rembrandt in the Gospel, or something of the Gospel in Rembrandt, as you like it – it comes to the same, if only one understands the thing in the right way, without misinterpreting it and assuming the equivalence of the comparisons, which do not pretend to lessen the merits of the original personalities.

If now you can forgive a man for making a thorough study of pictures, admit also that the love of books is as sacred as the love of Rembrandt, and I even think the two complete each other.

Vincent van Gogh, The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

Reading the letters that Vincent wrote to his brother Theo, one gets to see a clearer picture of the man behind the art, the mind behind the driving force that moved the hand to produce such strokes of genius.

In his own words, Van Gogh was an artist who wanted to “…. paint what I feel, and feel what I paint.” No one could truly see his paintings without knowing his story.

“As my work is,” he declared, “so am I.”

What am I in the eyes of most people — a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then — even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart.

Vincent van Gogh, The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

Paris in Pictures (#1)

view from the Sacré Coeur basilica at Montmartre.

What an immense impression Paris made upon me. It is the most extraordinary place in the world!

Charles Dickens

love the view and the feeling of having Paris spread out like a feast at your feet.

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.

Ernest Hemingway

New acquisitions in February

Just when I thought I could give myself a pat on the back for not having bought any more books to burden the shelves since the start of this new year, look what happens when the slightest temptation comes along! This time, it came in the form of an irresistibly good books clearance sale. Then again, how often does a books clearance sale not seem irresistible to a book lover? 🙂

Found these almost pristine copies of Penguin Classics going for the amount equivalent to less than a pound each, in my local currency (RM). I love these editions of the Penguin Classics. The whole package – from the lovely covers to the colour and texture of the paper used, and right down to the choice of fonts, all of it just appeals to me. I am especially thrilled with the Charlotte Bronte’s Tales of Angria find, not just because I think the cover is absolutely beautiful but also because it is completely new to me. I have never heard of this one before, and by the looks of it, it seems quite a promising read. “Written from the viewpoint of the cynical, gossipy Charles Townshend, they offer an ironic portrait of the intrigues, scandals and passions of an aristocratic beau monde. With their varied cast of characters, they provide a fascinating glimpse into the mind and creative processes of the young writer who was to become one of the world’s great novelists.”  Sounds good, no?

The rest of the penguins are :
Charles Dickens – The Mystery Of Edwin Drood
Jane Austen – Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sandition
Michel De Montaigne – Essays
Virginia Woolf – Orlando
Anita Brookner – Leaving Home

Claire Tomalin – Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self
Have been collecting Tomalin’s biographies of Hardy, Austen and Wollstonecraft, so here’s one more to add to the collection.

Charles Glass – Americans in Paris (Life & Death under Nazi Occupation 1940 – 1944)
This is also new to me. At first I got confused and thought this was the same as the one by David McCullough (The Greater Journey : Americans in Paris) which I have the audiobook waiting to be heard. Then I realised it wasn’t the same and when I read the following blurb on the back cover, I knew I wanted the book.

” When the German Army occupied Paris in June 1940, a large American community awaited them. They had chosen to stay in the city, against the American Embassy’s advice, and those who remained were an eccentric, original and disparate group. Among them were millionaire Charles Bedaux, who had hosted the Duke of Windsor’s wedding in 1937; Countess Longworth de Chambrun, desperate to keep the American Library open; Dr Summer Jackson, the American Hospital’s chief surgeon; and Sylvia Beach, owner of the famous bookshop Shakespeare & Co. As citizens of a neutral nation, the Americans believed they had little to fear. They were wrong.”

Anything that has Paris and bookshops (especially THE famous Shakespeare and Co.) in it, has got my attention. Much looking forward to reading this. 

Are there any among you who is familiar with the Könemann classics editions? I only came to discover these lovely hardcover blue cloth binding complete with beautiful dust jacket editions sometime last year. And I just fell in love with them. The whole presentation of these little editions just adds much to the authenticity of the ‘classics feel’ to the books, I feel. And it feels so good to hold a copy of these in your hands. The size is just right. For me, anyway.

I have never read any Henry James before, but ever since acquiring a biography of his towards the end of last year, A Ring of Conspirators : Henry James and his Literary Circle by Miranda Seymour, my interest has been piqued. And so, a little Henry James colllection is slowly taking shape, starting with these :

The Wings of The Dove
The Ambassadors
The Aspern Papers & Other Stories
and one fun looking Thackeray – The Book of Snobs.

These were the ones which I first came across last year, under their Travel Classics series. Lovely, don’t you agree? Much as I love the new and contemporary editions of classic reprints, I have to say that these are just quite something else entirely.

And I guess this year being the 200th Anniversary, is as good a time as it gets to dip into abit more Dickens. This edition of David Copperfield in two volumes complete with a slip case, was also bought together with the Travel Classics series last year. Such a beauty. 🙂 

But first, I need to finish plodding through A Tale of Two Cities (as per the ‘sort of’ Plan).

Well now, that’s quite a haul for a start in just barely two months into the year, as compared to my rate of reading, which is shamefully slow to say the least. My only excuse for this batch of new acquisitions in February would be that I consider them to be a little (or not so little, maybe) birthday treat for myself while I turn a year older (and probably no wiser, though). :p

The Plan (or something like that….)

Looking at how my TBR pile is getting way out of control, I think it’s time I come up with a plan of some sort. I have never really had the habit of making lists of books that I plan to read, but I feel that it might be a good idea to do so now. It will  probably help me to have some kind of a structure whereby manageable “reading goals” can be better met, I think. So this year, here’s to giving it a try!

First In First Out or Last In First Out?

If it’s gonna be FIFO, then I should be well reading these few oldest occupants on the shelf :

  • The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer
  • The Accidental by Ali Smith
  • Stiff by Mary Roach
  • The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain De Botton
  • Fresh-Air Fiend by Paul Theroux
  • My Sergei : A Love Story by Ekaterina Gordeeva

But if it’s LIFO (and you know how it is with current fascinations, you just can’t wait to dive into them), then this would be the stack to tackle :

  • Violet to Vita : The Letters of Violet  Trefussis to Vita Sackville West
  • The Secret Self : Short Stories by Women
  • In Tearing Haste : Letters Between Deborah Devonshire & Patrick Leigh Fermor
  • The Odd Women by George Gissing
  • All Passion Spent by V. Sackville West
  • Wish Her Safe At Home by Stephan Benatar
  • The Reader by Ali Smith
  • On Borrowed Wings by Chandra Prasad (bought on account of Danielle’s high praises)

And while I am deciding between the two, here’s also the ‘already-planned-to-read’ stack :

  • Life Mask by Emma Donoghue
  • The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
  • The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh
  • a couple from the Bronte sisters’ collection
  • The Hound of The Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Then there’s also the ‘already-started-and-stopped-but-need -to-get-back-to’ pile :

  • The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton
  • Three Weeks With My Brother by Nicholas Sparks & Micah Sparks
  • Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  • In Europe by Geert Mak
  • Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  • Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides by James Boswell


There are also a few tomes which I plan (& hope) to be dipping into regularly :


  • Elizabeth Bishop and The New Yorker
  • Words In Air : The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop & Robert Lowell
  • Classics For Pleasure by Michael Dirda
  • Bound to Please by Michael Dirda
  • Seeing Further : The Story of Science & The Royal Society edited by Bill Bryson
  • The Collected Stories of Elizabeth Bowen

And last but not least, the stack of gems I am most looking forward to reading :


  • The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue
  • Prague Tales by Jan Neruda (already started)
  • Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker (highly recommended by Stuck in A Book’s Simon)
  • The Odd Women by George Gissing
  • The Diaries of Sylvia Townsend Warner (already started)
  • I’ll Stand By You : Letters by Sylvia Townsend Warner & Valentine Ackland
  • In Tearing Haste : Letters Between Deborah Devonshire & Patrick Leigh Fermor
  • Wait For Me by Deborah Devonshire

Just realised there’s two of them (The Odd Women & In Tearing Haste) which had appeared in one of the earlier stacks too. Guess this makes them definite must-reads, no? 😉

So there you have it, that’s the plan ……for now.