It’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?
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).
When 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. 🙂
And 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. 😉
Look what I found while waiting to board the train home after a short trip back to my mum’s hometown over the weekend! Of all places, there happened to be a small offering of books for sale going at bargain prices, right in the centre of the busy central station. What a pleasant surprise! 🙂
I never knew that Daphne du Maurier wrote this pictorial memoir which was completed just shortly before her death in 1989. I was aware though, of her other book ‘Vanishing Cornwall’ which also paid tribute to the beauty of the place that had played a major part in shaping her, both as a writer and a person.
Personally, I consider Cornwall to be my favourite corner of the UK, too. There’s just something very special about the rugged landscape and the raw beauty of the place. It is without doubt, a corner of the world I would love to be able to return to again and again, if ever I am so blessed with the opportunity to do so.
I can’t wait to get started on the book and be carried away to ‘Enchanted Cornwall’! 😉
Yes, 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!
Isn’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!
Speaking 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.
Although 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.
If 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.
For 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.
This 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.”
And now, to find ‘a place of my own’ where I can sit down to quietly enjoy all these bookish goodness. What bliss!