In which I try not to be a spoilsport….

I was surprised to have been the recipient of a fellow blogger’s nomination for the Liebster Award over the last weekend (and have since been squirming in my seat trying to get myself out of the task!) :p

As you would all have probably noticed, I have been steadily and progressively turning into a lazier and lazier blogger by the day, in recent months. I have not been putting up any posts that required much thinking or writing, simply because I don’t seem to find the time and energy to do so lately. And whatever little time and energy that I do seem to have, I always think I should put it to better use, probably for reading rather than for trying to wring out something worthy of a post that probably makes no difference to anyone reading it anyway. Sort of.

That is not to say that I don’t value this blog anymore. I do still love the fact that there is this little space out here that I can call my own. I guess I just need to remind myself of the reason for doing this in the first place. It was meant for pleasure, not duty. I just need to make sure it stays that way. šŸ™‚

And so, back to the Liebster Award thingy, while I was tempted to just decline the nomination and go back into hibernation mode, I really did not relish the idea of being a complete spoilsport, either. So, after the initial struggle of getting into the right frame of mind to take on the task, I decided to (partially) play along. That is, I will participate in the first half of the award, which involves providing 11 facts about myself, and to answering the 11 questions set by Anna, my nominator from ink stains on a reader’s blog (which by the way, is a great place to spend time in, and one I am enjoying very much). However, I’m afraid I won’t be passing on the award to the next 11 nominees, as I do not wish to impose the obligation on anyone. (That is just a nice way of saying that I am actually much too lazy to come up with a set of 11 questions and bloggers to pass them onto!) :p

Anyway, here goes.
The 11 facts about myself:

1. I prefer spending time in the company of books more than with people.

2. Can be considered as an anti-social introvert.

3. Love animals.

4. But am ill at ease with babies and kids.

5. Have a phobia of walking through automatic sliding glass doors (I suffered a nasty concussion once when one of those glass doors closed in on me while I was walking out of a Toy R Us store when I was 7 or 8 yrs old).

6. Cannot stand the smell of perfume or strong fragrances, as they give me headaches and eye sores. Have resorted to holding my breath every time I need to walk through a departmental store where these are found.

7. I feel more comfortable communicating in the written form than in the verbal form, usually.

8. Biggest travel blunder ever : missed getting onto the bus from London to Nottingham 3 TIMES on the same day,Ā duringĀ my first trip abroad with friends. (We ended up taking the bus to Manchester instead, after having missed the last bus for the day. Yes, it was shamefully unbelievable.)

9. Favourite ice cream flavour: green tea.

10. Favourite beverage: avocado milk shake.

11. I am unable to roll my tongue and pronounce the letter ‘R’ with the ‘rrrr…..’. :p

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And here are the answers to Anna’s questions:

1. Name a piece of literature you consider the best youā€™ve read so far?

I don’t know if Sarah Water’s Fingersmith can be considered as the best literature I’ve read so far, but it certainly was one of my best reading experiences. (By the way, have you read this, Anna?)
And although I have yet to finish (listening to) Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, it has already doubtless left me impressed enough to know that its place is among the best (along with my two other favourites: Vita Sackville-West’s All Passion Spent, and Isak Dinesen’s Babette’s Feast.)

2. What are the characteristics of your dream home library?

Spacious yet cosy, evokes a warm yet airy feeling. Filled with all manners of books and bookish mementos that are of interest to me. Must have comfortable seating arrangements. Preferably with windows looking out to the sea or mountains.
Something like this, perhaps?

books with sea view
found this on one of The Captive Reader‘s Library Lust editions and just fell in love with it.

3. What are your favorite places for buying books?

The annual Big Bad Wolf Books Sales held over here in recent years where I have managed to get many a great haul like this, thisĀ and this. There are also a few smaller scale clearance sales held every now and then which makes for some rather enjoyable hunting grounds too. I do enjoy going online to look forĀ specific titles and getting them from online sellers such as Awesome Books and Better World Books, as well.

4. Should philosophy be taught from elementary school?

Since I never studied philosophy myself, I wouldn’t really know the breadth and scope of it to say how much of it should be taught at what age/ stage. However, if philosophy is essentially the art of thinking, then I supposed it wouldn’t really harm anyone to be taught how to think at an earlier age? Maybe they could get started off by reading Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World šŸ™‚

5. What does it mean to be wise? / What is wisdom?

“How can men be wise? The only way to begin is by reverence for God. For growth in wisdom comes from obeying his laws.”
(Psalm 110:10, The Living Bible)

Or to put it in The New Living Translation version:
Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom. All who obey his commandments will grow in wisdom.
(Psalm 110:10)

6. Which literary character feels like a real person to you (as a long known friend, an acquaintance maybe)? Is there any?

Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables, maybe. At least she seems like a good one to have for a ‘bosom buddy’. šŸ˜‰

7. Quote one of the passages (from any book of your choice, of course) you had to stop by to reread, to note down or ponder upon?

These things – the straw, the ivy frond, the spider- had had the house all to themselves for many days. They had paid no rent, yet they had made free with the floor, the window, and the walls, during a light and volatile existence. That was the kind of companionship that Lady Slane wanted; she had had enough of bustle, and of competition, and of on set of ambitions writhing to circumvent another. She wanted to merge with the things that drifted into an empty house, though unlike the spider she would weave no webs. She would be content to stir with the breeze and grow green in the light of the sun, and to drift down the passage of years, until death pushed her gently out and shut the door behind her. She wanted nothing but passivity while these outward things worked their will upon her.

(Vita Sackville-West, All Passion Spent)

8. Best movie based on a book?

I can think of 3 favourites, so let’s make that ‘Best 3 movies based on a book’, shall we?
That will be (in no particular order): Stardust, Forrest Gump & Misery.
Of the three, I have only read (or rather listened to the audiobook for Stardust). I wasn’t even aware that Forrest Gump was based on a book until recently. And I really think I have no need for reading Stephen King’s Misery because I don’t believe it can be better than the movie.

9. What is the thing that fascinates you the most?

The condition of the human heart.
“The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out.”
(Jeremiah 17:9, The Message – Bible)

10. Suppose you live in several houses. Is there a book you would want to have in every one of them?

The Bible, I suppose.
And I guess I will be carrying my tablet with me to each of the different houses I go to. That way, I can at least have my virtual library with me in all the houses. šŸ™‚

11. Would you accept the invitation to the Mad Hatter Tea Party?

No, being the anti-social introvert that I am, I do try to avoid parties at all cost.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Done.
(Phew… that wasn’t so bad after all, I guess!) šŸ˜‰

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A Fresh Start

NY pic

….. Behold, I make all things new.

Revelations 21:5

So, the old has gone and the new has come. Whatever that has been left unsaid, unread, undone in the year just gone by, will just have to be left at that I guess. Thankfully, we can all start anew and afresh with the dawning of each new year.

2013 has been the year where I got acquainted with the brilliant Russian that is Mikhail Bulgakov, and became a fan of the gentle yet profound wit of Alexander McCall Smith’s writing. I am happy to know that there’s an extensive backlist of both the writers’ works still waiting for me to discover and to savour.

One other standout piece of writing that I encountered last year that calls to be mentioned was Babette’s Feast by Isak Dinesen (author ofĀ Out of Africa). This refreshing little gem, while being told in a quiet, unassuming way, left an indelible impression on both the heart and mind. Such brilliant storytelling!

My resolutions with regards to books and reading for this year are simply to be carried away by stories and to read without procrastination the books that are calling out the loudest at each particular moment, so as not to miss the ‘timing’ and the momentum that will help to give me the push to finish the books that I get started.

I also intend to get back into listening to audiobooks, something which I really enjoy doing very much but have fallen out of in recent months. This would also mean that I need to get back to regular workouts at the gym, because that’s where I get to do most of the listening done. So, more workouts = more audiobooks. An ideal way to be killing two birds with one stone. First in line would be picking up where I left off, the Julie Rose translation of Hugo’s Les Miserables read by George Guidall, which is a rather excellent combination, I must say. I’m hoping to finish the book before watching the movie proper.

IMG_0826aMeantime, these are some of the books that I have got going and was thinking to spend time with this month. But even as I write this post, I think I am begining toĀ  hear the low rumbling of a different set calling out altogether ……. oh well.

Anyway, happy reading to all of you!
I hope you have all gotten off to a very good start to the new reading year. šŸ™‚

What April left behind …….

IMG_7417aApril came and went, but not without first leaving behind a stack of newly acquired books in its wake. As usual, my efficiency in buying books far exceeds my efficiency in reading books. And as a result, more books have been added to the already towering TBRs in this past month. If you are interested to take a peek at them, here’s a bit more on what hasĀ managed to sneakĀ its way onto the stacks.

Let’s start with the latest batch bought just over the weekend at a books clearance sales. I managed to bring home the above stack for only around RM15 (that’s about 5 USD). Except for the Isak Dinesen, the rest were new and unfamiliar writers to me. But what a lovely surprise to realize what potential gems these might be!

Toru Dutt – The Diary of Mademoiselle D’ArversĀ (translated by N. Kamala)
This is the work of the first Indian writer to have ever written a novel in French (the original version of this book). Dutt was also acknowledged to be the first Indian woman writer to have written a novel in English (Bianca or The Young Spanish Maiden). And all this accomplished in just the span of the 21 years of her short life! As much I am interested in the book, which is set in the second half of the nineteenth century France and described as ‘a novel of possibilities and limitations; of love, marriage and domesticity, and the heartaches and joys of growing up‘, I am just as interested to learn more about this talented young woman (she was a translator and poet as well) whom E.J. Thompson wrote about as “…. one of the most astonishing women that ever lived, a woman whose place is with Sappho and Emily Bronte.”

Ugo Foscolo – Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis
‘For most passengers who travel on the London Underground from Heathrow to Victoria Station, Turnham Green is only one of a number of stops on the way. But for the classically educated Italian that name immediately evokes the powerful memory and prophetic verse of one of our greatest poets. This was Ugo Foscolo, who died there, alone and completely forgotten, after harrowing torments, on the 10th September 1827, at the age of forty-nine.’
This introduction was enough to ensure that the book was coming home with me. Of course it didn’t hurt to have it come in the form of a lovely Hesperus edition, as well.

Isak Dinesen – Anecdotes on Destiny
‘These five rich, witty and magical stories from the author of Out of Africa include one of her most well-known tales, ‘Babette’s Feast’, which was made into the classic film. It tells the story of a French cook working in a puritanical Norwegian community, who treats her employers to the decadent feast of a lifetime.’
Sounds delicious, no? šŸ˜‰

Lindy Woodhead – War Paint: Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein – Their Lives, their Times, their Rivalry.
The title of this one got my attention as I had initially thought this was the book of the same name that has been getting good reviews around the blogs recently (the one about women artists during the war). Anyway, clearly this is not the one, but this ‘war of the cosmetic industry’ between these two women who ‘wrote their names in lipstick across the world’ sounds pretty good too!

Lewis Grassic Gibbon – Sunset Song
Never heard of this one before, but this first in a trilogy (A Scots Quair) is said to be loved all over the world by readers since its first publication in 1932, and regularly voted as the favourite Scottish book of all time in its home nation. Now if that doesn’t seal the deal for you, maybe the story of ‘young Chris Guthrie who comes of age in the harsh landscape of northern Scotland, torn between her passion for the land, her duty to her family and her love of books, until the First World War begins and the landscape around her changes dramatically’, will. An introduction by my favourite Ali Smith was an added bonus. šŸ™‚

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And this was the stack that arrived sometime earlier in theĀ month. I think I will have to put the ‘blame’ for this stack on VickiĀ at bibliolathas for suggesting that I might like Shari Benstock’s Women of the Left Bank and Liane de Pougy’s My Blue Notebooks at the end of her glowing review of Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood. So, in order to make good of the flat rate shipping fee, of course IĀ had to bulk up the order and grab a few others as well, don’t I? (I think this is an excellent excuse for justifying some ‘guilt-free’ book buying activities!) :p

I have been keeping an eye out for Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art for some time now, ever since reading Michael Dirda’s excellent review and most convincing recommendation of the book in his volume of essays in Bound to Please, which in itselfĀ givesĀ much pleasure. I recommend it highly, but would have to leave a note of warning as well, that reading the book would highly likely push your TBR stacks to dangerous levels, if they are not already so (where mine are!).

Although I have only read one of Sylvia Townsend Warner’s short stories so far, I liked it more than enough to make me want to read more, if not all of her other stories. Am more than thrilledĀ to findĀ this collectionĀ arriving in a lovely hardcover editionĀ and in great condition. Can’t wait to dip into it.

Lucinda Holdforth’s True Pleasures: A Memoir of Women in ParisĀ looks very promising as well, as the title suggests. I first got to know of this book from a review on Alex in Leeds, and have been looking forward to getting hold of it ever since. And guess what? This particular used copy came with the added surprise that it’s actually a signed copy with a short message from the writer to theĀ original owner of the book. Now if only I was called Brenda, that would have been perfect…..

After reading so many wonderful reviews of Ann Bridge’s Illyrian Spring in the past one year, I finally caved in and plonked down the money for a brand new copy of the book while making good of a 10% discount voucher from The Book Depository. I can’t seem to resist these small temptations that booksellers use as baits. They seem to know that all we need is just a little nudge in the right direction and off we go tumbling down…..

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If the above stack was mainly Vicki’s ‘fault’, then this stack here would have to be credited to Eva of A Striped Armchair. It was after reading her review of Emily Carr’s Hundreds and Thousands: The Journals of an Artist that piqued my interest in her works. I had never heard of her up till then. And upon further ‘googling’ on the internet, I felt convinced that I needed to start reading and collecting her works. Maybe learning the fact that she has an old caravan named The Elephant and that she goes camping in the woods every year with just her dogs, rat and monkey for company, has something to do with it. Anyway, I’ll justĀ get myself acquainted first with Ms. CarrĀ through this journal of hers as well as her Growing Pains: An Autobiography andĀ Opposite Contraries: The Unknown Journals of Emily Carr and Other Writings.

AsĀ explained earlier with regards to maximizing the benefits on collective shipping (although in this case, it’s more for theĀ bookseller’sĀ savings rather than for me since it’s free worldwide shipping), to make up the bulk for this order I decided to alsoĀ drop into the basketĀ M.F.K Fisher’s The Measure of her PowersĀ and a three-in-one volume of her collected journals, correspondence andĀ short stories,Ā From the Journals of M.F.K. Fisher. I really love journalsĀ and correspondences, can you tell? šŸ™‚

Another writer whose journals and correspondences I have beenĀ (andĀ still am) in the process of collecting, is Janet Flanner. I first came across Flanner’s Paris Journals when I found a copy of it while browsing at theĀ Borders bookstore one day, when itĀ first opened here inĀ Malaysia back in 2005. I didn’t bring the book home with me that day, but her name stayed with me all these years (although inĀ the more dormant regions of my brain) and was suddenly revived back during my trip to Paris last September. I found her books in a few of the bookshops over there and would have loved to bring them home with me, butĀ I wasn’t ready to pay the 20 EurosĀ per book then (or now).Ā And so, ever sinceĀ coming home from the trip I have been hunting down the more affordable copies of her books over the internet. I am hoping that Genet: A Biography of Janet FlannerĀ by Brenda Wineapple would make aĀ great companion reading to her journals and correspondences.

The Anita Brookner was bought from a local book sales event and was just thrown into stackĀ for presentation purposes (for this post). I have only read one Brookner (The Bay of Angels, which I had liked) so far, but have been slowly snapping upĀ whichever available copies of her books whenever I come across them at the variousĀ sales. HerĀ rendering of “…. the stoic, muted lives of lonely people” appeals to me much. Maybe this is because IĀ have always considered myself to be something of a loner. But that is not to say that I do not enjoy being alone (more time for reading!). And looking at theĀ rather patheticĀ amount of reading I seem to be able to get done lately,Ā I am clearly not getting enough time alone! :p

Anyway, I do think there is a difference between being alone and being lonely.

Okay, back to the books. Anyone here familiar with any of the above loot in particular? If so, I would love to hear what your thoughts are.
And if some of them areĀ as new to you as they are to me, I hope your interest would have been somewhat piqued after reading this. šŸ˜‰

Happy reading, everyone!