The Loot (part 2) & A Proper Farewell to 2013

IMG_0778aIt has been fun checking out on what bookish goodness other bloggers have been getting under their Christmas trees this year. And as usual, I got none under mine. Yeah, it’s kinda DIY over here for me, when it comes to books. :p

Hope everyone is spending many happy book-filled hours at their own corner of the world. And as promised, here are the rest of the loot (a.k.a “my Christmas presents to myself”!).

I just love this cover for Ali Smith’s Artful. Isn’t it so very ‘artfully’ done?
Artful is a book about the things art can do, the things art is full of, and the quicksilver nature of all artfulness. It glances off artists and writers from Michelangelo through Dickens, then all the way past postmodernity, exploring every form, from ancient cave painting to 1960s cinema musicals…..  it also reminds readers of how great literature—of Shakespeare, Lawrence, Hopkins, Ovid, Plath, Rilke, and Flaubert—requires them to reorient their line of vision. Nothing—Smith shows her reader—forces such reorientation more than violating conventional boundaries, often in dangerous ways. These most unlecture-like of lectures deliver the thrill of perilous border crossings. 

I was happy to come across a copy of Dodie Smith’s The New Moon with The Old, and although I have yet to read my copy of I Capture The Castle, I am anticipating good things from this one.

Mark Twain once said of Jane Austen, “Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.” And then there’s George Bernard Shaw on the Bard: “With the single exception of Homer, there is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I can despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare.”  This is just a taste of some of the ‘literary invective’ found compiled in Gary Dexter’s Poison Pens. Here’s one by Samuel Butler on Thomas Carlyle which I find particularly amusing, “Yes it was very good of God to let Carlyle and Mrs. Carlyle marry one another and so make only two people miserable instead of four.” :p

On The Origin of Tepees: Why Some Ideas Spread While Others Go Extinct by Jonnie Hughes, sounded really interesting and fun, so into the bag it went.

Italo Calvino’s Why Read The Classics? is a ‘posthumous collection of thirty-six literary essays that will make any fortunate reader view the old classics in a dazzling new light.’
I love to read essays, and if it happens to be on the subject of books and reading, then all the better!

The Language Wars: A History of Proper English by Henry Hitchings.
“The English language is a battlefield. Since the age of Shakespeare, arguments over correct usage have been bitter; often they’ve had more to do with morality, politics, and the values of the age than with language itself. Peopled with intriguing characters such as Jonathan Swift, Lewis Carroll, and Lenny Bruce, The Language Wars is essential reading for anyone interested in the contemporary state of the English language, its contested history, and its future.” Sounds interesting, doesn’t it?

A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor.
I have been aware of this book, and had in fact listened to part of it in audiobook, some time back. The premise of the book, which ‘aimed to tell the history of humanity through the stories of one hundred objects made, used, venerated, or discarded by man’, sounded very intriguing, and since I couldn’t make it to the exhibit at the British Museum where these 100 objects were shown, getting the book would be the next best thing, I guess.

I have been collecting Claire Tomalin’s books over the past few years, being convinced that I would love them (even though I have yet to read one in proper!). So naturally, this copy of her take on Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life had to come home with me.

The British Abroad: The Grand Tour in the Eighteenth Century by Jeremy Black “….. considers not only the standard destinations of France and Italy but also the Low Countries, Germany, Switzerland and the Balkans. The modes of transport are described in detail, along with the range of accommodation, the food and drink, the pleasures and hazards of travel, ranging from sex and sensibility to debt and dysentery, as well as the effects of the French Revolution on the British tourist. Included are extensive quotes from 18th-century tourist correspondence, particularly hitherto uncited manuscript collections, to build up a vivid and frequently amusing picture of travel experience of British aristocrats on the Continent.” Another good one for doing some armchair travelling  à la 18th Century style.

David St John Thomas’s Remote Britain: Landscape, People and Books “…. relishes the ever-changing landscapes of Britain and the people who grow out of them.” It is described as a thinking traveller’s tour of some of Britain’s most out-of-the-way places. I have his earlier volume of Journey Through Britain: Landscape, People and Books, which sounded just as promising as this one, sitting on the shelves waiting to be dipped into. I do intend to get to it, sooner than later.

IMG_0782cThe Maker of Heavenly Trousers by Daniele Vare.
Isn’t that the most heavenly title, ever? I had no idea such a lovely book existed. I have never heard of the writer before, and to find such an exquisite title in the form of a Penguin Modern Classics edition (one of my all time favourite editions), was truly icing on the cake.  So what’s the story about? ‘A foreign bachelor living in Peking’s Chinese quarter finds himself guardian to the young daughter of an Italian railway worker……. Set against the mysterious and turbulent backdrop of Peking with its disparate inhabitants in the early twentieth century, “The Maker of Heavenly Trousers” is a charming, and at times tragic, story of love and family.’

Elaine Showalter’s A Jury of Her Peers: Celebrating American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx is ‘an unprecedented literary landmark: the first comprehensive history of American women writers from 1650 to the present.’ Among the 250 women writers included here are Harriet Beecher Stowe, Dorothy Parker, Flannery O’Connor, Toni Morrison and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Susan Glaspell.

What Caesar Did for My Salad: Not To Mention The Earl’s Sandwich, Pavlova’s Meringue and Other Curious Stories Behind Our Favourite Food by Albert Jack.
… Albert Jack tells the strange tales behind our favourite dishes and drinks and where they come from (not to mention their unusual creators). This book is bursting with fascinating insights, characters and enough stories to entertain a hundred dinner parties.” This should be a fun one!

Nancy Mitford’s Voltaire in Love is an account of the passionate love affair between two brilliant intellects, Voltaire and the physicist Emilie du Chatelet. Their affair is said to be a meeting of both hearts and minds, bringing scandal to the French aristocracy and provoking revolutions both political and scientific with their groundbreaking work in literature, philosophy and physics.

I had been coveting John Baxter’s The Most Beautiful Walk In The World: A Pedestrian In Paris ever since its publication a couple of years ago. Finding the one and only copy of this at the sale was therefore, pure bliss.

IMG_0794bI just love the cover of this Abacus 40th Anniversary Edition of Jane Gardam’s Old Filth. I have also read many good things about Jane Gardam and have been wanting to get to this one for some time. Am really looking forward to reading ‘the book that made the stiff upper lip tremble‘.

Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times by Lucy Lethbridge is a “…. compassionate and discerning exploration of the complex relationship between the server, the served, and the world they lived in, Servants opens a window onto British society from the Edwardian period to the present.” Might be a good one to dip into when Downton Abbey withdrawal symptom sets in.

I was able to also pick up two lovely Penguin English Library Editions of Trollope’s Barsetshire series (Doctor Thorne & The Last Chronicle of Barset) and one copy of  George Gissing’s New Grub Street. I have only read The Warden so far, and would like to continue reading the rest in the series in the right order, eventually, so picking the two Trollopes was the natural thing to do. As for Gissing, I still want to read his The Odd Women first before getting to this one.

Next are the two Penguin Classics I found, Isabelle de Charrière’s The Nobleman and Other Romances and Dickens’ Great Expectations (yes, I am ashamed to admit that I have yet to read this great classic till now). The de Charrière is considered to be “the only available English translation of writings by an Enlightenment-era Dutch aristocrat, writer, composer-and woman.” And her writing is described as ‘not unlike Jane Austen’. That should be quite something to look forward to. Has anyone read her? 

One of my last and most unexpected find from the sale turned out to be Lara Feigel’s The Love Charm of Bombs: Restless Lives in The Second World War. To see why this was such an exciting find, do take a look at Jane’s excellent review of it.

IMG_0783aI also couldn’t resist to splurge, that is if paying RM40 or the equivalent of USD12 for both the lovely coffee table books above – Culinaria Italy and Small Towns and Villages of The World, can even be considered a splurge and not a rather wise investment, *cough*!  The Culinaria Italy is actually much much more than a coffee table book, being generously and profusely illustrated with spectacular photography and abundantly peppered with authentic recipes. This is definitely a treat for both the mind and the palate. And the eyes too, I must say.

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The cover photo on this one had me at ‘hello’. Not just because it is a lovely piece of photography in itself, but more so because it is a scene that I could recognise and relate to. I knew this place.

Alberobello. It was the last stop from my recent trip to Italy this summer just past.

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In case you were wondering how the inside of one of these ‘houses’ (known as ‘trulo’) looks like…..
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It’s really quite cosy, actually.

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Looks like this post is turning into quite a visual feast, after all the bookish talk. Well, since we are at it (and hopefully no one is complaining), I might as well share with you some of my favourite book covers from the entire loot too.

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Did I mention that I really love this cover of Ali Smith’s Artful? I have actually started reading it, and am glad to say that I’m loving what’s between the covers just as much, if not more.

 

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Aren’t these lovely, too?

And with that, I think I had better wrap up this post. But not without first wishing all you a very Happy New Year!

I know I have been quite rubbish at keeping up with this blog for most parts of this year, and my reading has also been plagued with a somewhat stuck-in-a-rut kind of feeling. It has been a very trying year for me in many personal aspects, and I have exhausted much energy in the process of learning to let go of something that has been an important part of my life for the past seven years or so, but has now taken on a different form.

And so, it has been a year of learning, of persevering, of adapting to, and of growing up. I do want to look forward to the new year with renewed hope and refreshed aspirations, though.  

Here’s to 2014 …… may it be our best year yet! 🙂

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Friday Feature : The Scent of A Book

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As often as I survey my bookshelves I am reminded of Lamb’s ‘ragged veterans’. Not that all my volumes came from the second-hand stalls; many of them, were neat enough in new covers, some were even stately in fragrant bindings, when they passed into my hands. But so often have I removed, so rough has been the treatment of my little library at each change of place, and to tell the truth, so little care have I given to its well-being at normal times (for in all practical matters I am idle and inept), that even the comeliest of my books show the results of unfair usage. More than one has been foully injured by a great nail driven into a packing case – this but the extreme instance of the wrongs they have undergone. Now that I have leisure and peace of mind, I find myself growing more careful – an illustration of the great truth that virtue is made easy by circumstance. But I confess that, so long as a volume holds together, I am not much troubled as to its outer appearance.

I know men who say they had as lief read any book in a library copy as in one from their own shelf. To me that is unintelligible. For one thing, I know every book of mine by its scent, and I have but to put my nose between the pages to be reminded of all sorts of things. My Gibbon, for example, my well-bound eight volume Milman edition, which I have read and read and read again for more than thirty years – never do I open it but the scent of the noble page restores to me all the exultant happiness of that moment when I received it as a prize. Or my Shakespeare, the Great Cambridge Shakespeare – it has an odour which carries me yet further  back in life; for these volumes belonged to my father, and before I was old enough to read them with understanding, it was often permitted me, as a treat, to take down one of them from the bookcase, and reverently to turn the leaves. The volumes smell exactly as they did in that old time, and what a strange tenderness comes upon me when I hold one of them in my hand.

George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1903).

I think Gissing wrote beautifully of how the scent of a book can evoke such strong feelings that one canbe easily transported back to the good old days gone by, but unfortunately, I don’t think I will ever have the pleasure of sharing his sentiments on this, personally.

I am one who is terribly sensitive to smells. And I mean that in a bad way. I get headaches and my eye hurts whenever I have to walk past the perfume counters at departmental stores, or any shops selling scented products for that matter. I usually have to just hold my breath and breathe through my mouth at such instances. I will opt for fragrant free products wherever possible. I can’t even stand the air fresheners that most people tend to put in their cars. Fortunately though, I have not suffered from the smell of books, so far. Maybe that’s because I don’t bury my nose between the pages enough, to notice their scent.

How about the rest of you? How sensitive are you to the way your books smell? Would any of you, by any chance, ever buy a book for the sake of its smell, perhaps? 🙂

And he became a connoisseur of paper-smells. He told Beharry, ‘You know, I could smell a book and tell how old it is.’ He always held that the book with the best smell was the Harrap’s French and English dictionary, a book he had bought, as he told Beharry, simply for the sake of its smell.

V.S Naipaul, The Mystic Masseur (1957).

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 :

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  • 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 :

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  • 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.