Unplanned Plans

I had started the year without any specific reading plans or lists because I knew I was not a good one for keeping to pre-planned plans when it comes to reading. I prefer to do my reading at whim.
So, I thought it was probably futile to have one and was not quite inspired to make any.
But then something changed.
And now, I think I do have one, and it’s one that I am quite excited about and feeling rather determined (or hopeful!) to see it through.

What happened was this.
I started an Instagram account sometime in December, after discovering the delights in being able to feast my eyes on a regular dose of book porn, through the various bookstagrammers’ feed out there. I was actually amazed to find that there are so many talented book lovers (cum photographers) out there who can effortlessly make books look so desirable as objects.
Creating the account was intended to mainly facilitate my ease of accessing to these feeds on a regular basis.
But when the new year started out on an unexpectedly rough note for me, I soon found myself in desperate need for a diversion of sorts.
As it happens, there was a book challenge hosted by some bookstagrammers that was taking place for the month, called the #AtoZbookchallenge, whereby one is to post a photo a day for each of the alphabets, relating to either book titles or themes or authors that goes with the particular alphabet each day.
Preferably, it should be books that are already on one’s existing physical TBR shelves.

I thought that sounded diverting enough.

And that’s how my unplanned reading plans came to be.
Here’s the A to Z of it.

A for Ali Smith, one of my favourite writers. I have been collecting a fair few of her works and reading my way through them over the last ten years. Still a couple of unread ones on the shelves, so I guess it’s high time I pick another.
B for Bennett. Arnold Bennett’s masterpiece, ‘The Old Wives’ Tale’ has been sitting on my TBR shelves for long enough. Its time has come, I think.
C for Charlie Connelly. Years ago, I was fascinated with Connelly’s idea for his two travel writing books – ‘And Did Those Feet: Walking Through 2000 Years of British And Irish History’, and ‘Attention All Shipping: A Journey Around The Shipping Forecast’. It’s strange how both these ‘fascinating’ books are still sitting unread on my shelves after all these years. :p
D for Don Quixote. The sheer size of this tome is daunting for sure, but I really do want to have a go at it. Besides, I really love this Harper Perennial edition…. French flaps and deckled edges are my favourite combinations in a book. It also helps that Edith Grossman’s translation is so very readable (from the little that I’ve sampled).
E for E. M. Forster. I had this packed along with me during my trip to Italy three years ago, thinking how good it would be to read this in Florence, where the book is set. Sadly, I ended up with not much reading done, but at least it was great fun setting up this shot with my friend at the hostel we were staying at, in Florence! 🙂 Time to take care of the ‘unfinished business’ this year.
F for Father Brown. G. K. Chesterton’s endearing Father Brown makes for a rather unlikely, but certainly not unlikeable, mystery solving ‘Sherlock’. I love the cover designs and colours of this Penguin Classics set. Am actually in the middle of the red one, The Wisdom of Father Brown, and I can safely say that it’s as good as it looks!
G for Geert Mak. ‘In Europe: Travels through the Twentieth Century’ is one of the books I am quite determined to get read this year. It’s an account about the year long journey Mak took back in 1999, across the European continent in his quest to trace Europe’s twentieth century history, before the world slipped into the twenty-first.
H is for my favourite travel writer, H. V. Morton. Travel writing has always been one of my favourite genres, and not many can do it as good as Morton, I’d say. His writing is evocative of the old world charm and of a bygone era, brought vividly to life for the reader. It’s a pleasure to ‘see’ the world through his lenses.
I is for ‘I Capture The Castle’. I have long heard of the many good things that fellow readers love about this coming of age modern classic, but have somehow still not gotten around to reading it for myself yet. It’s about time I ‘capture this castle’ too!
J is for James. “When a man has neither wife nor mistress and leads a life which is both orderly and prudent, he does not invite the conventional biographical approach. Henry James was such a man. The richness of his life lies in his words and his relationships.” – Miranda Seymour. These lovely Konemann classics should be good enough incentive to finally get me started on some Henry James. Time to get acquainted with the man through his own words, as suggested.
K is for Kate O’Brien. “O’Brien exquisitely evokes the harem atmosphere of (Irish) convent life, the beauty and the silence, the bickering and the cruelties…… If novels can be music, this is a novel with perfect pitch.” ~ Clare Boylan. Having loved Antonia White’s Frost in May (another coming of age novel with a convent school setting) when I read it some years back, I have been meaning to read O’Brien’s ‘The Land of Spices’ for some time now.
L for The Lost Carving: A Journey To The Heart of Making, by master woodcarver, David Esterly. “Awestruck at the sight of a Grinling Gibbons woodcarving masterpiece in a London church, Esterly chose to dedicate his life to the craft – its physical rhythms, intricate beauty, and intellectual demands.” I have been saving this on the TBR shelves, waiting for just the right moment to savour the journey. I think I should wait no more.
M for The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters. Having collected a fair few of the sisters’ (Nancy, Diana, Jessica and Deborah) individual memoirs, biographies, correspondences and writings but without having read any in proper yet, maybe this would be a good place to start getting acquainted with this extraordinary family!
N for Nabokov. I have decided that this will be the year I read my first Nabokov. And it’s gonna be a toss between The Luzhin Defense, and Pnin. Probbaly The Luzhin Defense….. am in the mood for some chess, I think. These Penguin Classics editions are my favourites. Such beauties to hold and behold, don’t you think?
O is for Orlando. Once described as ‘the longest and most charming love letter in literature’, this was Virginia Woolf’s  playfully ingenious tribute to her intimate friend and one-time lover, Vita Sackville-West. This has been biding its time on my TBR shelves for some years now. Thanks to this challenge, some of my sadly neglected books are being brought back to the fore!
P is for Pollan. Michael Pollan’s ‘A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams’ tells the inspiring, insightful, and often hilarious story of Pollan’s quest to realize a room of his own – a small, wooden hut in the forest, ‘a shelter for daydreams’ – built with his own admittedly unhandy hands. It not only explores the history and meaning of all human building, but also demonstrates architecture’s unique power to give our bodies, minds and dreams a home in the world….. Don’t we all need a place like that?
Q is for Q’s Legacy, by Helene Hanff. After reading and loving Hanff’s 84, Charring Cross Road some years back, I immediately went about tracking down her other works too, and was more than happy to net this omnibus of hers which holds four of her other memoirs (as well as Charring Cross Road). Q’s Legacy tells of how a library copy of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch’s series of lectures On The Art of Writing, became the foundation upon which her own writing career took shape. This is a tribute to her mentor whom she had never known except through the printed page.
R for Rainer Maria Rilke. I was thrilled to find these two beautiful hardback Vitalis editions of Rilke’s work at what was once Kafka’s cottage but is now a books and souvenir shop along the Golden Lane in Prague, six years ago. I know I should have brought home a Kafka or two with me instead, but these happened to be in the bargain bin that day….. and I happen to prefer Rilke to Kafka, anyway. :p
S is for Sarton and solitude. “May Sarton’s journal is not only rich in the love of nature, and the love of solitude. It is an honorable confession of the writer’s faults, fears, sadness and disappointments…. This is a beautiful book, wise and warm within its solitude.” ~ Eugenia Thornton. Solitude has always been a subject that is close to my heart. Can’t wait to read this.
T is for A Treasury of Mark Twain. I found this lovely Folio edition in almost pristine condition at a second hand bookshop in Paris five years ago. I’m ashamed to confess that it’s still ‘almost pristine’, sitting patiently on the shelf waiting to be taken out of its slipcase to be read. Will need to rectify that soon!
U is for Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Marriages in Literary London 1910 – 1939. The seven pairs featured in this volume are H.G. & Jane Wells, Vanessa & Clive Campbell, Radclyffe Hall & Una Troubridge, Vera Brittain & George Caitlin, Katherine Mansfield & John Middleton Murry, Ottoline & Phillip Morrell, and Elizabeth von Arnim & John Francis Russell. These couples are said to have triumphantly casted off the inhibitions of the Victorian age while pursuing bohemian ideals of freedom and equality. Time to take a peek at how it’s done back then, I guess.
V is for Van Gogh: The Life, by Steven Naifeh & Gregory White Smith. This doorstopper of a biography may look daunting, but from what I’ve read (the first two chapters), it is highly readable and a very engaging one, too. I just need to try harder to not let the other books distract and detract me from staying on course! Hoping to also get around to reading some of his letters too.
W is for Words In Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. Bishop is one of my favourite poets, and it’s time I start reading one of the many volumes of correspondence I’ve been collecting. Just realized that this photo has another three Ws that can fit the challenge too…… Lucy Worsley’s If Walls Could Talk, Deborah Mitford’s Wait For Me, and a volume of Woolf’s letters. Looks like I’m really spoilt for choice!
X is for Michael Dirda’s Bound To Please: An eXtraordinary One-Volume Literary Education. Yes, I know it’s abit of a cheat but it’s the closest ‘X’ I have on my shelves. :p This lovely collection of essays were responsible for introducing me to many a great writer and their works. Dirda’s enthusiastically persuasive essays made me want to read almost every book that is recommended. A great book to dip into, but a very ‘bad’ one for the TBR shelves!
Y is for Yates. “Richard Yates was acclaimed as one of the most powerful, compassionate and accomplished writers of America’s post-war generation. Whether addressing the smothered desire of suburban housewives, the white-collar despair of office workers or the heartbreak of a single mother with artistic pretensions, Yates ruthlessly examines the hopes and disappointments of ordinary people with empathy and humour.” High praise indeed, but I have to confess that it was mainly the fabulous cover that sold the book to me!
And lastly, Z for Zweig. I have read and loved Stefan Zweig’s short stories and novellas, but have yet to read any of his full length novels in proper. Think I’ll start with this one. “In this haunting yet compassionate reworking of the Cinderella story, Zweig shows us the human cost of the boom and bust of capitalism. The Post Office Girl was completed during the 1930s as Zweig was driven by the Nazis into exile, and was found among his papers after his suicide in 1942.”

Not sure how long it will take for me to complete this A to Z reading list, being the slow reader that I am. What I do know is that right now, I’m feeling pretty enthusiastic about it, and that’s a good start!
Let’s just hope that I won’t be stuck at ‘D’ for a long, long time…….


Post Christmas reading


The consulting-rooms of Dr Orion Hood, the eminent criminologist and specialist in certain moral disorders, lay along the sea-front at Scarborough, in a series of very large and well-lighted french windows, which showed the North Sea like one endless outer wall of blue-green marble. In such a place the sea had something of the monotony of a blue-green dado: for the chambers themselves were ruled throughout by a terrible tidiness not unlike the terrible tidiness of the sea. It must not be supposed that Dr Hood’s apartments excluded luxury, or even poetry. These things were there, in their place; but one felt that they were never allowed out of their place.
Poetry was there: the left-hand corner of the room was lined with as complete a set of English classics as the right hand could show of English and foreign physiologists. But if one took a volume of Chaucer or Shelley from that rank, its absence irritated the mind like a gap in a man’s front teeth. One could not say the books were never read; probably they were, but there was a sense of their being chained to their places, like the Bibles in the old churches. Dr Hood treated his private book-shelf as if it were a public library.

‘The Absence of Mr Glass’ (taken from G. K. Chesterton’s The Wisdom of Father Brown).

While I have not been able to get much reading done during these past few weeks, what with all the busyness of the season and at work, thankfully the little that I have read has been good. I discovered that Chesterton’s dear old Father Brown makes for an excellent choice for company during such times. The vividly descriptive writing, peppered with Chesterton’s trademark wit and humour, is working very well to serve as the perfect comfort read for me at the moment.

And yet, however high they went, the desert still blossomed like the rose. The fields were burnished in sun and wind with the colour of kingfisher and parrot and humming-bird, the hues of a hundred flowering flowers. There are no lovelier meadows and woodlands than the English, no nobler crests or chasms than those of Snowdon and Glencoe. But Ethel Harrogate had never before seen the southern parks tilted on the splintered northern peaks; the gorge of Glencoe laden with the fruits of Kent. There was nothing here of that chill and desolation that in Britain one associates with high and wild scenery. It was rather like a mosaic palace, rent with earthquakes; or like a Dutch tulip garden blown to the stars with dynamite.

‘The Paradise of Thieves’ (taken from G. K. Chesterton’s The Wisdom of Father Brown).

…. like a Dutch tulip garden blown to the stars with dynamite.
How beautiful is that! I just love the picture that is painted here by these words…..

Not quite the same thing as a Dutch tulip garden blown to the stars, I suppose, but still a pleasant enough sight at one of the malls.

What about the rest of you?
Read anything good lately? 🙂

The Many Colours of Father Brown

father brown 1G.K. Chesterton has been described as one who can write alot faster than what most of us can read, and has published so many books that his posthumous reputation is almost impossible to sort out.

He would have been famous for just his Father Brown stories. He would have been famous for just his novels The Napoleon of Notting Hill and The Man Who Was Thursday. He would have been famous just as a literary critic…. Above all, he would have been famous just for his journalism; the thing he is least well-known for now.

Clive James, Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time

As it turns out to be, it was the very thing that he is least well-known for now that had actually brought me to discover the wit and intellect of this prolific writer. I have not read much of his works, but the few essays that I have had the pleasure of reading were enough to convince me as to the depth and breadth that Chesterton’s writing has to offer.

I have yet to be properly introduced to his dear old Father Brown, so finding a complete set of these stories in such lovely Penguin editions at the recent book sales was really quite a thrill. 🙂

Father Brown, one of the most quirkily genial and lovable characters to emerge from English detective fiction, first made his appearance in The Innocence of Father Brown in 1911. That first collection of stories established G.K. Chesterton’s kindly cleric in the front rank of eccentric sleuths. This complete collection contains all the favourite Father Brown stories, showing a quiet wit and compassion that has endeared him to many, whilst solving his mysteries by a mixture of imagination and a sympathetic worldliness in a totally believable manner.

father brown 4a
Aren’t these covers simply delightful? They look so inviting…..

Having also just recently finished Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, I am again reminded of just how fun and comforting reading these good old fashioned crime/mystery fiction can be. Which is why I was equally thrilled to find a copy of Edmund Crispin’s The Case of The Gilded Fly at the same sale. I have read quite a few good things about another of his Gervase Fen myteries, The Moving Toyshop which incidentally, has been named by P.D. James as one of the best five mysteries of all time. Pretty high praise, I would say. So, I am really looking forward to getting myself acquainted with this Professor Gervase Fen, a scholar who would much rather go about solving crimes than expound on the English Literature. 🙂

edmund crispin 1a

A cover like that alone would have sold me the book.


An Angel in Florence

angel in florence - BW

Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.

G. K. Chesterton, “Orthodoxy” (1908).

Came across this delightful quote by G. K. Chesterton today, and suddenly thought of the above snap shot I had taken at the Palazzo della Signoria in Florence during my trip to the beautiful city last summer.

I think they go rather well together, don’t you?

Friday Feature: On The Ideal Reader

 Ideal Reader BW1


The ideal reader is the writer just before the words come together on the page.
The ideal reader exists in the moment that precedes the moment of creation.
The ideal reader does not reconstruct a story: he recreates it.
The ideal reader does not follow a story: he partakes of it.
A famous children’s book programme on the BBC always started with the host asking: “Are you sitting comfortably? Then we shall begin.” The ideal reader is also the ideal sitter.
Depictions of St Jerome show him poised over his translation of the Bible, listening to the word of God. The ideal reader must learn how to listen.

The ideal reader is the translator. He is able to dissect the text, peel back the skin, slice down to the marrow, follow each artery and each vein and then set on its feet a whole new sentient being. The ideal reader is not a taxidermist.
For the ideal reader all devices are familiar.
For the ideal reader all jokes are new.

“One must be an inventor to read well.” Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The ideal reader has an unlimited capacity for oblivion. He can dismiss from his memory the knowledge that Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde are one and the same person, that Julien Sorel will have his head cut off, that the name of the murderer of Roger Ackroyd is So-and-so.
The ideal reader has no interest in the writings of Brett Easton Ellis.
The ideal reader knows what the writer only intuits.
The ideal reader subverts the text. The ideal reader does not take the writer’s word for granted.
The ideal reader is a cumulative reader: every time he reads a book he adds a new layer of memory to the narrative.
Every ideal reader is an associative reader. He reads as if all books were the work of one ageless and prolific author.
The ideal reader cannot put his knowledge into words.
Upon closing his book, the ideal reader feels that, had he not read it, the world would be poorer.

The ideal reader has a wicked sense of humour.
The ideal reader never counts his books.
The ideal reader is both generous and greedy.
The ideal reader reads all literature as if it were anonymous.
The ideal reader enjoys using a dictionary.
The ideal reader judges a book by its cover.
Reading a book from centuries ago, the ideal reader feels immortal.

Paolo and Francesca were not ideal readers, since they confess to Dante that after their first kiss, they read no more. Ideal readers would
have kissed and then read on. One love does not exclude the other.
The ideal reader doesn’t know he is the ideal reader until he has reached the end of the book.

The ideal reader shares the ethics of Don Quixote, the longing of Madame Bovary, the lust of the Wife of Bath, the adventurous spirit of Ulysses, the mettle of Holden Caufield, at least for the space of the story.
The ideal reader treads the beaten path. “A good reader, major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader.” Vladimir Nabokov.
The ideal reader is polytheistic.
The ideal reader holds, for a book, the promise of resurrection.
Robinson Crusoe is not an ideal reader. He reads the Bible to find answers. An ideal reader reads to find questions.
Every book, good or bad, has its ideal reader.
For the ideal reader, every book reads, to a certain degree, as his own autobiography.
The ideal reader has no precise nationality.

Sometimes, a writer must wait several centuries to find his ideal reader. It took Blake one hundred and fifty years to find Northrop Frye.
Stendhal’s ideal reader: “I write for barely a hundred readers, for unhappy, amiable, charming beings, never moral or hypocritical, whom I would like to please; I know barely one or two.”

The ideal reader has known unhappiness.
Ideal readers change with age. The fourteen-year-old ideal reader of Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems is no longer its ideal reader at thirty.
Experience tarnishes certain readings.
Pinochet, who banned Don Quixote because he thought it advocated civil disobedience, was that book’s ideal reader.

The ideal reader never exhausts the book’s geography.
The ideal reader must be willing, not only to suspend disbelief, but to embrace a new faith.
The ideal reader never thinks: “If only…”
Writing on the margins is a sign of the ideal reader.
The ideal reader proselytizes.
The ideal reader is guiltlessly whimsical.
The ideal reader is capable of falling in love with one of the book’s characters.
The ideal reader is not concerned with anachronism, documentary truth, historical accuracy, topographical exactness. The ideal reader is not an archeologist.
The ideal reader is a ruthless enforcer of the rules and regulations that each book creates for itself.

“There are three kinds of readers: one, who enjoys without judging; a third, who judges without enjoying; another in the middle, who judges while enjoying and enjoys while judging. The last class truly reproduces a work of art anew; its members are not numerous.”
Goethe, in a letter to Johann Friedrich Rochlitz.

The readers who committed suicide after reading Werther were not ideal but merely sentimental readers.
Ideal readers are seldom sentimental.
The ideal reader wishes both to get to the end of the book and to know that the book will never end.
The ideal reader is never impatient.
The ideal reader is not concerned with genres.
The ideal reader is (or appears to be) more intelligent than the writer; the ideal reader does not hold this against him.

There comes a time when every reader considers himself to be the ideal reader.
Good intentions are not enough to produce an ideal reader.

The Marquis de Sade: “I only write for those capable of understanding me, and these will read me with no danger.”
The Marquis de Sade is wrong: the ideal reader is always in danger.

The ideal reader is a novel’s main character.
Paul ValĂ©ry: “A literary ideal: finally to know not to fill the page with anything except ‘the reader’.”

The ideal reader is someone the writer would not mind spending an evening with, over a glass of wine.
An ideal reader should not be confused with a virtual reader.
A writer is never his own ideal reader.

Literature depends, not on ideal readers, but merely on good enough readers.


The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective.

– G.K. Chesterton

Well, an ideal reader I certainly am not (and probably am off the mark by quite a long mile, too!). And while I have not made any proper reading resolutions for this new year, somehow I feel really good about it. The new reading year, that is. 

Something tells me, this might be my best year yet (books and reading-wise)! I have so many good books sitting on the shelves that I can’t wait to sink my teeth into. I can feel my reading momentum slowly picking up, at last. It feels good.

And oh, I think I’ll just settle for being the ‘good enough reader’……. for now. 😉