There is only one way to read, which is to browse in libraries and bookshops, picking up books that attract you, reading only those, dropping them when they bore you, skipping the parts that drag—and never, never reading anything because you feel you ought, or because it is part of a trend or a movement. Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty—and vice versa. Don’t read a book out of its right time for you.
Doris Lessing, ‘Intro to The Golden Notebook’
This sounds pretty much like how I seem to be going about my reading lately. Picking up whatever catches my attention and fancy for the moment and dropping them for whatever else that may come along that seem like a better fit for the mood. Hence, I never seem to be able to finish the books that get started and have nothing much to show for my reading. But then again, why do I feel like I need to have something to show for anyway? It really is a rather personal thing after all, this whole business of reading, isn’t it? So yeah, I think I’m just gonna go along with Doris Lessing’s “… only way to read…” (for now, at least).
By the way, the snapshot above was taken at the Villa Rufolo, Ravello, a charming little town situated above the Amalfi Coast. The little guy was looking kinda bored, when we first saw him sitting there between the columns, staring into space. So, we thought he might like to have something to read instead. 😉
I was thrilled to find a copy of Raymond Carver’s collection of short stories Will You Please Be Quiet, Please as I have been really curious to try out his writing, ever since havong read a particularly convincing piece of review on one of his collections on a blog some time ago. And so having gotten my hands on it, I wasted no time in diving straight in, but only to find myself feeling somewhat disappointed with what I found. Maybe this being his first collection of stories, one could say that I should still give him another try, and maybe I will. But as it is, I am already struggling to finish the remaining stories in here. I don’t doubt that Carver is a good writer, it’s just that I didn’t quite like the taste I’m left with at the end of each story.
Doris Lessing is another writer whose short stories I have been wanting to sample. And from what I’ve managed to glean to so far, I think there’s a possibility that we just might get along much better. Anyway, here’s hoping for a more rewarding journey To Room Nineteen.
Next up, two biographies of two formidable & accomplished women, both of whom I am unfamiliar with but am highly interested to learn more about now. Charlotte Mew and Her Friends by Penelope Fitzgerald is said to be an “…. unexpectedly gripping portrait of Bloomsbury’s saddest poet”. The poet whom Thomas Hardy had once declared being ‘far and away the best living woman poet’ of the twentieth century, has a tragic tale to tell. “To all appearances, she was a dutiful daughter living at home with a monster of an old mother. The proprieties had to be observed and no one must know that the Mews had no money, that two siblings were insane and that Charlotte was a secret lesbian, living a life of self-inflicted frustration. Despite literary success and a passionate, enchanting personality, eventually the conflicts within her drove her to despair, and she killed herself by swallowing household disinfectant.”
Would anyone here be familiar with her poetry, by any chance?
Norah Lindsay: The Life And Art of a Garden Designerby Allyson Hayward, is the other formidable personality I am curious to be acquainted with. This lovely coffee table book tells the story of famous English garden designer, Norah Lindsay’s life and work, who interestingly just began her career at the age of 51 after finding herself with “no husband, no money, no home…..” as she wrote a friend. Her commissions ranged from the gardens of quiet English manor houses to the grand estates of the country house set, to royal gardens in Italy, France and Yugoslavia. She gardened in different soils and varied climates across all of England and throughout Europe. All this time she managed to give the impression that she remained ‘a social butterfly, a gadfly’. The truth is that although she dined at the tables of the rich, the next day she would be up at dawn to work with their gardeners.” I am really interested to read about this esteemed gardener whose circle of upper-class friends included the likes of Winston Churchill, the Prince of Wales and Edith Wharton. The book also comes with a fair amount of photographs of the prized gardens. This had to be the bargain of the day (or year!) considering the price I paid for it!
I was also very pleased at finding a good few books on travel writing (one of my favourite genres) at the sale. Two Patrick Leigh Fermor ‘A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods & the Water’, a Paul Theroux ‘The Tao of Travel’, W.G Sebald’s ‘The Rings of Saturn’, Robert Byron’s classic The Road to Oxiana and an anthology of travel stories in Escape: Stories of Getting Away. The anthology is made up of contributions from a rather impressive list of writers such as Winston Churchill, Elizabeth Parsons, Vladimir Nabokov, Issac Bashevis Singer, John Updike, Michael Chabon, Jamaica Kincaid, D.H. Lawrence, Sylvia Townsend Warner and a few others. ‘Who doesn’t dream of escape, whether to defy the strictures of a conventional or restricted life, to outrun the fates, to pursue an extraordinary goal, or, most inevitably, to distance oneself from the suffering, loss, and pain that unavoidably bear down on our lives. Now Escape is the first collection to bring together a wide array of the very finest stories about this universal impulse.’
I think there’s gonna be some really good stuff in there.
I also got myself a copy of Favourite Sherlock Holmes Stories handpicked by the author himself (Conan Doyle) and Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales which somehow appealed very much to me in that particular edition I found it in. Skimming through the pages, I realised just how little I had managed to retain of all those fairy tales I vaguely remember reading. It’s time for a refresher, I think.
I had been on the lookout for D.E Stevenson’s Mrs Tim of the Regiment for quite a long time now, and was naturally delighted to find a solitary copy among the stacks on that day. Jane Gleeson-White is new to me, but her Classics: Books for Life, both look and sound good to me and so it found its way home with me as well. And lastly, Orhan Pamuk’s Other Colours. Pamuk hasbeen on my ‘intend to read’ list for some time now, and this collection of essays (and a story) sounds as good as any place to start with.
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!