Boxes of delight! (Part 1)

I have been so overwhelmed by the amount of treasures that came home with me from this year’s Big Bad Wolf Box Sale that it has taken me forever to get this post up on the blog, simply because I just didn’t know where to begin in sharing the richness of this loot! 😀

There are so many good finds in there that I am more than excited to show and tell. So, without further ado, here there are:


I found quite a few gems in the nature/ animals section!

I remember having read some good things about the Beatrix Potter biography some time back and was very happy that I also managed to get my hands on a Peter Rabbit box set to bring home with me. As I have never been properly acquainted with Potter and her creations before, they would do well to complement the biography, I think.

Finding a copy of Durrell’s The Corfu Trilogy and The Whispering Land also brought much cheer to the box. 🙂 I recall finding two other of his works at last year’s box sale and they were also in the same edition as the one found this time, so that makes it even better.

I have never heard of The Walker’s Guide to Outdoor Clues & Signs by Tristan Gooley but this winner of the 2015 BBC Countryfile Magazine Country Book of the Year looks very promising indeed.

Kathleen Jamie’s Sightlines: A Conversation with The Natural World. Unlike the Gooley, I’ve heard much about this one and they are mainly good things, so into the box it went, together with Mister Owita’s Guide To Gardening (by Carol Wall), The Urban Bestiary: Encountering The Everyday Wild (by Lyanda Lynn Haupt) and Over Vales and Hills: The Illustrated Poetry of the Natural World.

A beautiful volume containing an anthology of 100 best loved poems with timeless vintage photographs of landscapes and natural scenes.

Another beautiful find was the Natural Histories: Extraordinary Rare Book Selections from the American Museum of Natural History Library.

Natural Histories allows readers a privileged glimpse of these seldom-seen, fully illustrated scientific works. Forty essays from the museum’s top experts in a variety of disciplines enhance each rare tome’s unique qualities and scientific contribution, and three to four illustrations accompany each one. This beautiful book will fascinate natural science and art lovers alike.”


The beauty of natural science revealed.


Just as beautiful without the dust jacket.

As usual, the loot also included a fair few tomes on one of my favourite genres: travel writing.

I was especially happy with the Geert Mak (I actually gave a small squeal of delight, I think!) when I saw the solitary volume among the stacks on the table. In America: Travels with John Steinbeck has been on my wishlist ever since I knew of it. I love Mak’s writing and am currently making slow but steady progress with his In Europe: Travels through the Twentieth Century.

Bill Barich’s Long Way Home: On The Trail of Steinbeck’s America is another take on the same route & subject matter. It will be interesting to see how these two narratives go together in recounting Steinbeck’s travels.

Gary Kamiya’s Cool Gray City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco, “…. is a one-of-a-kind book for a one-of-a-kind city. It’s a love song in 49 chapters to an extraordinary place, taking 49 different sites around the city as points of entry and inspiration-from a seedy intersection in the Tenderloin to the soaring sea cliffs at Lands End. Encompassing the city’s Spanish missionary past, a gold rush, a couple of earthquakes, the Beats, the hippies, and the dot-com boom, this book is at once a rambling walking tour, a natural and human history, and a celebration of place itself-a guide to loving any place more faithfully and fully.”
Next to New York, San Francisco (& Seattle) are the cities I would love most to have the chance to visit in the US, someday. Am expecting good things from this one!

The Other Side of The Tiber: Reflections on Time in Italy by Wallis Wilde-Menozzi.
“Beginning her story with a hitchhiking trip to Rome when she was a student in England, she illuminates a passionate, creative, and vocal people who are often confined to stereotypes. Earthquakes and volcanoes; a hundred-year-old man; Siena as a walled city; Keats in Rome; the refugee camp of Manduria; the Slow Food movement; realism in Caravaggio; the concept of good and evil; Mary the Madonna as a subject―from these varied angles, Wilde-Menozzi traces a society skeptical about competition and tolerant of contradiction. Bringing them together in the present, she suggests the compensations of the Italians’ long view of time.” Another one that sounds rather promising.

Howard Norman’s My Famous Evening: Nova Scotia Sojourns, Diaries and Preoccupations, is a book of “selective memories”, combining stories, folklore, memoir, nature, poetry, and expository prose, in its goal to portray the emotional dimensions of the writer’s experience.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic travelogue, Travels with A Donkey in the Cervennes, was picked mainly for its slim size which is a very handy feature to look out for in a box sale. They make for great gap-fillers (no offense to Mr Stevenson, I hope!) :p

I found an unexpected piece of gem in London: A Literary Anthology, a lovely British Library Publishing edition that features “…… a wide-ranging collection of poems and scenes from novels that stretch from the 15th century to the present day. They range from Daniel Defoe hymning “the greatest, the finest, the richest city in the world” to Rudyard Kipling declaring impatiently, “I am sick of London town;” from William Makepeace Thackeray moving among “the very greatest circles of the London fashion” to Charles Dickens venturing into an “infernal gulf.” Experience London for the first time with Lord Byron’s Don Juan, and James Berry in his Caribbean gear “beginning in the city.” Plunge into the multi-racial whirlpool described in William Wordsworth’s Prelude, Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album, and Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. See the ever-changing city through the eyes of Tobias Smollett, John Galsworthy, and Angela Carter. From well-known texts to others that are less familiar, here is London brought to life through the words of many of the greatest writers in the English language.”
There is much to be savoured from this one, no doubt! 🙂

Two lovely volumes of illustrated histories of the cat and of man’s best friend.

The Spirit of the Dog and The Elegance of the Cat are two lavishly illustrated volumes that is bound to be treasured by dog lovers and cat lovers alike. Beautiful photography by the award-winning photographer Astrid Harrisson makes these two a real pleasure to behold.

And now, on to the fiction stack…..


I get excited just looking at these pretty spines. What pleasures await! 😀

First up, the recent Penguin reprints of William Trevor’s backlist. I just love the black and white photos used on these covers. I find the effect to be so very evocative and appealing. Just like an invitation to step into another world, another time…..



Can’t wait to dive in!

As opposed to the beautiful set of Trevors, the copy of Willa Cather’s The Bohemian Girl that I managed to bring home from the sale, has to be one of the ugliest edition I have ever come across! :p  If it was not Cather’s name that was on the cover, I would never have picked it up. Yes, I am a shallow reader who tends to judge a book by its cover, sorry!

Colette’s The Last of Cheri was another one that was picked for its handy size and purpose.

Rose Macaulay’s The Towers of Trebizond has been on my wishlist for some years now, so spotting it at the sale was a joy. And it was in very pretty edition too. 🙂

Angela Thirkell’s recent VMC reprints are another set of titles that have been on my wishlist in the last couple of years. I just love the cover designs on all their covers! Pomfret Towers is the first one I have managed to get my hands on, and I am sure it won’t be the last.

Also managed to add two lovely editions of Gabriel Garcia Marquez into the box, and I am especially in love with the cover for his One Hundred Years of Solitude. Hope it’s as good as it looks!


Yet another fabulous find, James Joyce’s Dubliners in the Penguin Classics Deluxe edition. Am so glad it was this that turned up, and not Ulysses! :p

Last but not least, the Centennial Edition of Steinbeck’s masterpiece East of Eden. This had to come home with me even if it had meant the disposing of some other books in the box to make room for it, and ignoring the fact that I already have a perfectly fine copy of it in the Penguin Modern Classics edition!

Blame it on those French flaps and deckle-edged pages.

A Fond Farewell….

farewell Sandy

The best place to bury a good dog is in the heart of his master.

Ben Hur Lampman (1886-1954)

And that is where my dear friend and companion of 16 faithful years, now lies.

I did not intend to keep having to be a bearer of bad news, and almost wanted to title this post using one of Kate Atkinson’s earlier novels When Will There Be Good News?, considering the sad turn of events over here lately.

But I just couldn’t let the passing of a dear friend and family member go by without some form of acknowledgement on this much treasured and cherished piece of personal space that I have come to call my own.

I guess I cannot say it any better than the following two kindred spirits who must have known what it is to have loved and lost man’s best friend.

farewell dear friend (4)

farewell dear friend (3)

Farewell, my dear friend.

The week that was a real nightmare …..

sandy poster 2a

…. but ended somewhat like a fairytale, happily enough. 

My aged dog of fifteen years, Sandy, went missing during a heavy thunderstorm last Monday evening. She had escaped from the house by way of an open garbage door (carelessly left opened by the garbage collectors that evening), and it was only much later that night, after getting home from work that I realised she was gone. What followed then was an intensive and exhaustive 5 days search for Sandy. I took time off from work to comb every street, every side lane and back lane, looked under every parked vehicle, walked through playgrounds, searched through school grounds, stopped strangers walking their dogs to ask and push my number into their hands(this, in particular was no easy feat, as I am a rather reserved & shy person by nature), looked into drains and possible bushes, registered Sandy’s profile on Petfinder and other animal welfare & rescue websites, forums etc…. all to seemingly no avail.

Until Saturday morning.
I was on my way to the printers to print more posters when I finally received a call from someone saying that she had seen my posting on Petfinder and thinks that she has Sandy with her. Gosh, I can’t tell you what tremendous relief I felt and the amount of gratitude I had for this kind soul who had not only rescued Sandy from a big drain that Monday night itself after being alerted to it while walking her dog, but had also given the best care and kind treatment to Sandy while she was in her care. She told me that had she not found me, she would have continued fostering Sandy for good. God bless her!

And so, after collecting Sandy back to the house and making a trip to the vet to check on her wounds (minor lacerations on all four legs), things have more or less  settled back to where they were before.

sandy bandaged2

Now, I can finally think of settling down into a good book and getting some much missed reading done.
And only then, can it be said that all is truly well, at last. 😉

How Animals Talk

dog on the internet

DID you ever see two friendly dogs meet when one tried to tell the other of something he had discovered, when they touched noses, stood for a moment in strange, silent parley, then wagged their tails with mutual understanding and hurried off together on a canine junket?
That was the little comedy which first drew my attention to the matter of animal communication, many years ago, and set my feet in the unblazed trail we are now to follow. And a very woodsy trail you shall find it, dim and solitary, with plenty of “blind” spots where one may easily go astray, and without any promise of what waits at the other end of it.
One summer afternoon I was reading by the open window, while my old setter, Don, lay flat on his side in the shade of a syringa-bush. He had scooped out a hollow to suit him, and was enjoying the touch of the cool earth when a fat little terrier, a neighbor’s pet, came running with evident excitement to wake the old dog up. Don half raised his head, recognized his friend Nip and thumped the ground lazily with his tail.
“It’s all right, little dog. You’re always excited over something of no consequence; but don’t bother me this hot day,” he said, in dog-talk, and dropped his head to sleep again.
But Nip was not to be put aside, having something big on his mind. He nudged Don sharply, and the old dog sprang to his feet as if galvanized. For an interval of perhaps five seconds they stood motionless, tense, their noses almost touching; then Don’s plume began to wave.
“Oh, I see!” he said; and Nip’s stubby tail whipped violently, as if to add, “Thank Heaven you do, at last!” The next moment they were away on the jump and disappeared round a corner of the house.

William J. Long, ‘How Animals Talk: And Other Pleasant Studies of Birds & Beasts (1919).

If you’ve ever wondered about what your pets might be excitedly chatting among themselves (or talking behind your back, for that matter! :p), you might find William J. Long’s book on ‘How Animals Talk’ to be of interest. Indeed, if animals could talk (in words, I mean) how interesting it would be to hear what they have to say to us.

I remember when I was a kid, I used to see my dog looking out through the metal grills from the balcony of our third floor flat to the streets below and the fields ahead. I would then go right up next to my dog, squatting down to her level and join her in looking out at the world from her perspective, just to have a better inkling of what might be crossing her doggy mind. It was my way of trying to connect better with her and be her friend, I guess, since she was the only four legged one in the house. 

And I bet it must have been rather frustrating for her to find that most of her barks and whines went uninterpreted, or incorrectly interpreted, by her inept humans (especially with regards to matters such as food, baths and walks!).


The Dog Who Came In From The Cold

Dog from the cold 1a

This was one of those instances where I am made to wonder, why has it taken me so long to finally get acquainted with a writer whose writing is as delightful as this?
And looking at the extensive list of works Alexander McCall Smith has been busy churning out long before I had realised what I was missing, I’m gonna have a lot of catching up to do! But I’m sure this will be one task I won’t be complaining about having to take on.

Because I have truly fallen in love with the quiet, gentle yet quirky sense of humour of McCall Smith.

The Dog Who Came In From The Cold is actually the second book in the Corduroy Mansions series. Though I may have been late in joining the party, I’m glad it didn’t take long for me to warm up to the ensemble of characters within these pages and found myself comfortably drawn into their lives and going-ons.

While the central thread of the story involves the reader following the adventures encountered by William French (a failed Master of Wine, wine merchant) and his Pimlico Terrier (interestingly named, Freddie de la Hay) when they have been recruited by the MI6 to help infiltrate a Russian spy ring (you have to read the book to see how this works), there are a a host of other sub-plots taking place at the same time while the other denizens of Corduroy Mansions tackle issues of their own. 

What I found to be most endearing of all, were the subtle and beautifully observed descriptions on the pysche of the dog, Freddie. Reading them never failed to put a smile on my face. 🙂 

Here are some of my favourites.

An introduction to Freddie’s vocabulary.

William looked at Freddie. “Freddie, old chap,” he said. “I really must do something about getting myself a lady friend. You know how it is, don’t you?”
Freddie looked up at William, listening attentively. He had a very limited vocabulary, a small number of words that he recognised, and he was straining to pick up one of these. Just one. Walk or biscuit would do very well; but now he could make out no such profoundly welcome sounds, and he resigned himself to staring at his master, ready for what was coming next, whatever it was.

A little bit of Freddie’s background & upbringing.

Freddie de la Hay glanced up at his owner. He was aware of the fact that a remark had been addressed to him, but of course he had no idea what it was. He was a well-mannered dog, though, and he wagged his tail in that friendly way dogs have of encouraging their owners. Freddie de la Hay valued William highly, not simply because he was his master, but because he was what the Americans refer to as a pre-owned dog, and as such he had a distant memory of somebody else who had not been as kind as William; who had made him eat carrots and use a seatbelt when he travelled in the car; who had forbidden him to chase cats and squirrels, lecturing him sharply if he set off in the pursuit of either. It had been a world of unfreedom, a world from which all joy and canine exuberance had been excluded, and he did not want to return to that dark and cold place. William was to be valued for that – for rescuing him from bondage, from durance vile.

Freddie’s conspiracy theory.

This, then, was the person who took Freddie de la Hay into her flat in Notting Hill and introduced him to the place where he would be sleeping that night. After which she led him into the kitchen and gave him three large dog biscuits from a newly purchased box of Happy Dog Treats.
Freddie glanced down at the biscuits and then up at Tilly. Why was he here? What was going on? Where was God (William)? Why was the world so large, so strange, so filled with curious scents? (The sort of question that must have been posed by Iris Murdoch’s dog.) There were cats somewhere about, somewhere not far off – he could smell them. Did they have something to do with this devastating alteration that had befallen him?

Freddie being made a conscript.

Sebastian Duck made a gesture of helplessness. “He’s a volunteer,” he said.
It struck Tilly as a callous remark, and she frowned and looked away. Freddie de la Hay was not a volunteer; no dog was. Every single one of them was a conscript, just as most of us were, ultimately, in many aspects of our lives. We were conscripts, she thought, in battles that very few of us actually chose. We worked and worked, often in jobs that we did not really like; we paid taxes, and yet more taxes; we shouldered the burdens of awkward relatives whom we did not choose, who were just there, issued to us at birth; we lived in places because that was simply where we found ourselves. Conscripts.

Freddie de la Hay looked up, first at Tilly and then at Sebastian Duck. More biscuits, he thought.

Freddie has his views.

For Freddie de la Hay it was just another walk, although he felt a bit strange wearing this new, rather heavier-than-usual collar. But it was not for him to argue with the choice of collar or lead: this, he recognised, was the domain of the humans in whose shadow he led his life. He had his views – which were strong enough, and sometimes vocal – on subjects such as biscuits, squirrels or smells, but when it came to the broader parameters of his life, as laid down by humans, Freddie understood that this was simply not his sphere. Had he possessed the words to express it, he would no doubt have said that this was part of the social contract that existed between man and dog, which had been negotiated a long time ago, presumably not long after the first dog had stood outside the early human cave, which was redolent of warmth and charred meat and comfort, and whined to be admitted. That was the moment that sealed the fate of both parties, but particularly of dogs. Man did not ask to join dog, dog asked man, and was therefore the supplicant to whom no concessions needed to be made.

Freddie missed William. Having no real sense of time, he had no idea how long William had been gone from his life. In human terms, it was less than a day; in dog terms, it could have been a month, a year, half a lifetime. He just knew that William was not there and might never be there again. But he did not dwell on what might or might not be; dogs do not see the point, they are concerned only with what is happening now, and with the possibilities of the present moment.

To be fair, it must also be noted that McCall Smith’s tender observations are not just limited to canines. He is equally spot on when it comes to giving one a glimpse of how the human heart works as well.

William’s sense that all was not well in his life, an incipient, nagging doubt, had now become a full-blown conviction. There were many reasons for this, but one of them –possibly the most important one – was simple loneliness. Just as Freddie de la Hay was missing him, so too was he experiencing that sense of incompleteness one feels when a familiar presence is suddenly no longer there. Such feelings can be profound and long-lived, as when we lose a close friend or a member of the family – at that level, we are in the presence of true grief – or they may be less substantial, more transient, as when a shop or coffee bar we have grown to like closes down, or a favourite office colleague is transferred. These may seem little things, but they constitute the anchor-points of our lives and are often more important than we imagine. If we lose enough of these small things, we risk finding ourselves adrift, as William now felt himself to be.

If you have never given Alexander McCall Smith’s works a try, I would strongly urge you to. Waver no more. Pull it out if you have this or any of his other books sitting on your shelves. You will be in for a real treat.

Dog lover or not. 😉