Vintage madness

Gorgeous, aren’t they?

Can one actually complain of having too much of a good thing, when the ‘good thing’ in question happens to be….. books?
Nah, I didn’t think so too. :p And that is why I am still more than thrilled to share these beauties here, even though I had just posted on the last book haul¬†barely (gasp!) two weeks ago!
Dear readers, you don’t mind, do you? ūüôā

Technically, these are¬†actually still¬†considered as¬†being April’s haul since they were picked up on the last day of the month.¬†Really didn’t expect the dear ol’ trusty hypermarket to have such an abundance of riches still, after all that it has already yielded in the past weeks.¬†Henry Green and Marcel Proust? Never would I have imagined bumping into them here!

I was especially elated with the Proust, not just because it is a thing of beauty in itself, but also because it sort of helped to seal my resolve to attempt at collecting the entire six volume in this lovely Vintage Classics edition, after having the first volume in my possession for the past few years.

Volume I and Volume VI.

And so it is with hope (by a long shot, though) that the rest of the volumes would appear in due course.

And as it happened, Volume II turned up exactly one week later!

I know, I know….. I am definitely being spoilt rotten. :p

Three down, three to go. Onward with the quest to find the remaining volumes to complete the set!

It would appear that my personal library is now taking on a different shade….. one that is pre-dominated by those tantalizing bright red Vintage spines.

And that’s not such a bad thing after all, is it? ūüėČ

 

Just looking at these covers are enough to make me happy. ūüôā

Spotted any particular personal favourites amongst these?

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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

 

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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).

 

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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! ūüôā Time to take care of the ‘unfinished business’ this year.

 

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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!

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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!

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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!

 

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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?

 

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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!

 

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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?

 

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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.

 

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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

 

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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.

 

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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!

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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!

 

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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!

 

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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!

 

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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…….

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The Loot (part 1)

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So, the shutters have finally come down on the biggest book sale in the world, and after all the hustling and bustling (and trolley dragging) in the last 10 over days, here is the bounty that was gotten from the many hours of happy book hunting I had.

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The Paper Garden: An¬†Artist Begins Her Life’s Work at 72¬†by Molly Peacock.
This book in itself is an object of beauty.¬†¬†It is a treat¬†just to hold the book and caress¬†its pages¬†while your eyes are being treated to the beautiful illustrations & inspiring story of Mary Delany, the artist who begins her life’s work at the ripe old age of 72, back in the 1770s. Guess there’s still hope for all of us then? :p

Christopher Lloyd’s In My Garden is a¬†compilation of Lloyd’s garden¬†prose collected from¬†his¬†weekly column in the¬†“Country Life” since 1963. Although I am no gardener myself,¬†and do not enjoy any form of physical gardening chores, somehow I seemed to have developed a fascination¬†for reading about¬†them. Strange, I know. Some sort¬†of ‘armchair gardening’ perhaps?

Culinary Pleasures by Nicola Humble¬†“takes a unique look at Britain’s culinary evolution – a journey expressed through the development of its cook books. This remarkably accessible book spans the diverse panorama of British cooking from Mrs. Beeton to nouvelle cuisine concluding with the rise of the celebrity chef and the emergence of cuisine in all its familiar modernity”. Sounds interesting, doesn’t it?

Milan Kundera’s The Curtain: An Essay in Seven Parts¬†is said to be a thought-provoking yet entertaining essay on the art of the novel.¬†As yet, I have not read any of Kundera’s works and though I still feel a little intimidated,¬†this one¬†does seem like a not-too-bad place to start.

Just by reading the title of Umberto Eco’s The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana would have left me thinking that it’s a fantasy or sci-fi book and not something that would interest me. Who would have thought that it’s actually about a “sixtyish rare-book dealer who lives in Milan, has suffered a loss of memory- he can remember the plot of every book he has ever read, every line of poetry, but he no longer knows his own name, doesn’t recognize his wife or his daughters, and remembers nothing about his parents or his childhood. In an effort to retrieve his past, he withdraws to the family home somewhere in the hills between Milan and Turin.There, in the sprawling attic, he searches through boxes of old newspapers, comics, records, photo albums, and adolescent diaries. And so Yambo relives the story of his generation: Mussolini, Catholic education and guilt, Josephine Baker, Flash Gordon, Fred Astaire. His memories run wild, and the life racing before his eyes takes the form of a graphic novel. Yambo struggles through the frames to capture one simple, innocent image: that of his first love.”¬†
Now, I am definitely interested!

Henry James: The Matured Master by Sheldon M. Novick is described as the definitive biography of one of the world’s most gifted but least understood authors. Using hundreds of letters only recently made available and taking a fresh look at primary materials, Novick reveals a man utterly unlike the passive, repressed, and privileged observer painted by other biographers. Henry James is seen anew, as a passionate and engaged man of his times, driven to achieve greatness and fame, drawn to the company of other men, able to write with sensitivity about women as he shared their experiences of love and family responsibility.

The English Lakes: A History¬†by Ian Thompson is a good one for doing some armchair travelling around¬†England’s Lake District.¬†So is The Paris Book: Highlights of A Fascinating City,¬†in which every page is filled with¬†breathtaking images capturing the essence of the city. This is¬†one¬†real treat¬†that is bound to¬†make every Francophile squeal with delight. ūüôā

Carol Drinkwater’s Return To The Olive Farm is part of her series of memoirs¬†recounting her adventures in running an organic farm in Provence, France. I have not read any of her other memoirs yet, though.

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Nurse Matilda by Christianna Brand (illustrated by Edward Ardizzone) was added into the bag simply because I fell in love with the pretty little edition it came in. And having it illustrated by Edward Ardizzone was probably part of the reason why it looked so pretty.

Another little book on travel – IDEO Eyes Open: London, filled with fresh new inspiring images of the city.

The Queen’s Agent: Sir Francis Walsingham and the Rise of Espionage in Elizabethan England¬†by¬†John Cooper is¬†‘…. a story of secret agents, cryptic codes and ingenious plots, set in a turbulent period of England’s history. It is also the story of a man devoted to his queen, sacrificing his every waking hour to save the threatened English state.’ I’m intrigued.

The Real Jane Austen: A Life In Small Things  by Paula Byrne.
I have another one of her biographies on Evelyn Waugh which I have yet to read (as usual) but somehow know that I will regret if I don’t pick this up as well.¬†It was also the one and only copy I managed to come across in the entire sale. So I guess it’s meant to be.

Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde by Franny Moyle.
‘A new trend in biography is to profile the woman behind the man. In the case of the immensely talented and tragically infamous Oscar Wilde, that woman was the beautiful, intelligent, and forward-thinking Constance Lloyd Wilde.’ I have not heard of Constance Lloyd Wilde before, so I thought this¬†would be¬†a good opportunity to read her story. Has anyone¬†here read this yet?

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A White’s Fine Edition of Sherlock Holmes: His Greatest Cases¬†by Arthur Conan Doyle.
The reason for this purchase is mainly because it was ridiculously low priced. Only at RM8 (roughly at USD2.40?), the same price as all those other paperbacks I got from the sale. The acid-free pages also sounded very good, as it is rather hard trying to keep the pages of books from developing those dreaded yellow spots over time, due to the humid climate over here. I wonder if acid-free papers will help with that. I hope it does.

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H.G. Wells in Love: Postscript to An Experiment in Autobiography by H.G. Wells
I am not into futuristic, sci-fi books and so have never felt compelled to¬†read any¬†H.G. Wells so far.¬†‘I was never a great amorist,’ wrote H. G. Wells in his Experiment in Autobiography in 1934, ‘though I have loved several people very deeply.’ This,¬†however, I am very interested to read.

Death and The Virgin: Elizabeth, Dudley and the Mysterious Fate of Amy Robsart by Chris Skidmore.
I got interested in this one because I read a review saying that it reads like an Agatha Christie mystery. Chris Skidmore takes a fresh look at the familiar story of a queen with the stomach of a man, steadfastly refusing to marry for the sake of her realm, and reveals a very different picture: of a vulnerable young woman, in love with her suitor, Robert Dudley.

I have been collecting several of Jan Morris’s books on travel writing, so it only makes sense to add this one to the stacks as well – Coast to Coast: A Journey Across 1950s America.

Next is a slim volume of Monet (Life and Times) by Matthias Arnold, followed by a Vintage Classics edition of Virginia Woolf’s Night and Day. I have so far only read one complete novel of Woolf’s,¬†which is¬†Mrs Dalloway,¬†but have been¬†collecting quite a few of her other novels, essays, letters and diaries. This one¬†is going¬†to¬†feel right¬†at¬†home¬†with the rest of them, no worries.¬†

Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition¬†edited by¬†Hemingway’s grandson, Sean Hemingway,¬†is¬†an edition¬†which claims to¬†‘present the original manuscript as the author prepared it to be published.’ While some are of the opinion that the original version is better than this ‘restored’ edition, the¬†real plus points for getting this¬†restored edition¬†would be¬†the inclusion of new, previously unpublished chapters included after the main text, called “Additional Paris Sketches.”

Some time last year, I had listened to the audiobook of David McCullough’s The Greater Journey: Americans In Paris,¬†and loved it. The story of the adventurous American artists, writers, doctors, politicians, and others who set off for Paris in the years between 1830 and 1900, hungry to learn and to excel in their work,¬†is so skillfully told, and with such vivid details that the Paris¬†of the 19th century, is brought to life within these pages. Many of the details and stories in the book have slipped me by, especially since I had only caught them by ear in the first instance, so acquiring a copy of this seemed like the¬†only sensible thing to do. This is really one highly readable piece of history writing, and I can’t recommend it¬†enough.

And with that, I think I should end the post for this first part of the loot. Too much of a good thing might end up being not so good a thing, although I don’t think¬†this should¬†apply to books. :p

Anyway, what I have just shared here are¬†the¬†books I picked up¬†on the first three trips I¬†made to the sale. I must say that the final two days of the sale were even more fun! So, stay tuned. ūüėČ

The finer points of Florence

 In Paris, you learn wit, in London you learn to crush your social rivals, and in Florence you learn poise.

Virgil Thomson (1896 – 1989)

It is true, isn’t it?
Florence is a city that is full of¬†such beauty and poise, that one can’t help but¬†come away with a better appreciation for the finer points in life.

Be it on a grand scale, in the form of great works of art 

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…. to the ones on a lesser scale, in the ordinary streets and lives

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….. one is bound to be met with that special something, that which probably was what caused Henry James to¬†come up with¬†the following observation.

 Everything about Florence seems to be colored with a mild violet, like diluted wine.

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