Book Mail!

Look what the postman brought me! ūüėÄ

Belated birthday gifts from a dear book loving friend, who clearly knows what floats my boat. ūüôā

It has been a long while since¬†I last had the pleasure of having the postman drop books into¬†my mailbox. And it’s been even longer since I last received any books¬†as¬†birthday gifts. So¬†naturally, I was more than¬†thrilled to find these lovelies waiting for me at home on two separate occasions in the last two weeks.

 

My first ever volume of a Slightly Foxed edition! ūüôā

Thanks to the big hearted folks over at Slightly Foxed who had a recent huge giveaway on their Instagram account (@foxedquarterly), I am now the proud owner of one of their long-coveted objects of beauty!

John Moore’s Brensham Village, which captures¬†life in the English countryside¬†during the 1930s, sounds like a book that’s¬†just my cup of tea.

ūüôā

 

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Unrepentant

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Behold, the latest batch of beauties to have been added into the fold…..

Although it appears that I have been unrepentant over my reckless book buying habits, and that the staggering figures as revealed from my earlier post on taking stock of my entire library seem to have had no apparent effect on me, I can safely vouch that this is not true (well, not entirely anyway).

While it is true that I will not be able¬†to¬†stop buying books¬†in the foreseeable future (and I don’t intend to, either), it is however, going to be a much more subdued/ restrained¬†affair from now on (so she says…). At any rate, that is the plan. Along with the other plans to read more from my own stacks¬†and¬†to get rid of¬† give away the ones I no longer need/want in my collection. In other words, to be a better curator of my library.

Will just have to see well how things go according to plan, I guess.

And now, onto the books……

These were gotten from another recent book sale that could well give the Big Bad Wolf a run for its money, I would say. Brand new and priced at RM 5 (around USD 1.20) each, it’s easy to see why they were so hard to resist, isn’t it? :p

I recall reading some good stuff about Sun-Mi Hwang’s The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly some time ago, but even if I had known nothing about the book, the sheer beauty of the cover and illustrations in it would have sold it to me. Nina Sankovitch’s Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Celebrating The Joys of Letter Writing was a no-brainer for me, seeing that it’s all about a favourite subject of mine. Dianne Hales’ Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered¬†happens to be¬†a new discovery for me, as I wasn’t aware of the fact that Mona Lisa was a real person and not just a painting! :p

The Paris Review Book: of Heartbreak, Madness, Sex, Love, Betrayal, Outsiders, Intoxication, War, Whimsy, Horrors, God, Death, Dinner, Baseball, … and Everything Else in the World Since 1953 should be an interesting one to dip into…. ¬†“This astoundingly diverse anthology, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Paris Review, is jam-packed with resonant and provocative work from some of our greatest writers, past and present: W.H. Auden, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Jack Kerouac, Elizabeth Bishop, Truman Capote, William Burroughs, Susan Sontag, Joyce Carol Oates, Toni Morrison, Jonathan Franzen, Ian McEwan and Alice Munro, to name just a fraction.”

A Buzz in the Meadow: The Natural History of a French Farm¬†by Dave Goulson, is yet another one that had me sold on its cover alone. Fortunately, what is offered between the covers seems to be just as promising. “Goulson has that rare ability to persuade you to go out into your garden or local park and observe the natural world. The subtle glory that is life in all its forms is there to be discovered. And if we learn to value what we have, perhaps we will find a way to keep it.”

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The Affairs of Others: A Novel by Amy Grace Loyd was picked¬†because I recalled having read something about the book sometime back that had piqued my curiosity then. I thought it was worth¬†a try for the price….

Matthew Dennison’s Behind the Mask: The Life of Vita Sackville-West¬†is said to be “…. the first biography to be written of Vita¬†in thirty years that¬†reveals the whole story and gets behind ‚Äėthe beautiful mask’ of Vita’s public achievements to reveal an often troubled persona which heroically resisted compromise on every level.”

An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler is a meditation on cooking and eating that¬†weaves philosophy and instruction into approachable lessons on feeding ourselves well. I am no cook, let’s get that clear first. But I enjoy reading essays on cooking, just like how I¬†enjoy essays on gardening even though¬†I do not garden (other than the occasional watering of my mum’s plants). Like armchair travelling, these are my versions of ‘armchair cooking’ and ‘armchair gardening’, minus the sweat and dirt, I guess. ūüôā

Sinclair McKay’s Ramble On: The Story of our love for walking Britain¬†seems to fit the bill nicely for some mild armchair travelling.

Michelangelo: A Life in Six Masterpieces¬†by Miles J. Unger, attempts to¬†portray the¬†artist’s life¬†through the story of six of his masterpieces. Sounds like a fascinating read to me. Am looking forward to it.

Judith Flanders’ The Making of Home: The 500-Year Story of How Our Houses Became Our Homes is one that has been on my radar for some time. I have always found the subject matters in her previous books appealing¬†(The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime; Consuming Passions –¬†Leisure and Pleasures in Victorian Britain; ¬†The Victorian House: Domestic Life from Childbirth to Deathbed),¬†so¬†I was quite thrilled to find this at the sales (did I mention it has a¬†lovely cover too?). ¬†

And being the Francophile that I am, I was especially happy to¬†be able to add David Downie’s A Passion for Paris: Romanticism and Romance in the City of Light,¬†into the basket as well.

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Rachel Allen’s Coast: Recipes from Ireland‚Äôs Wild Atlantic Way¬†is a feast for the eyes (and probably stomach, for those who intend to put the recipes to good use) with beautiful shots of the rugged Atlantic coast of Ireland.

Food Heroes: Sixteen Culinary Artisans Preserving Tradition¬†by Georgia Pellegrini looks to be a promising read as well. Filled with colorful anecdotes, photographs, and recipes, this book offers an accessible introduction to the artisanal food movement, and vicarious living for armchair travelers, food lovers, and others who might won¬≠der what it would be like to drop everything and start an olive farm, or who yearn to make and sell their own clotted cream butter. No harm dreaming, eh? ūüôā

The Italians: A Full Length Portrait featuring Their Manners & Morals¬†by Luigi Barzini,¬†examines ‚Äúthe two Italies‚ÄĚ: the one that created and nurtured such luminaries as Dante Alighieri, St. Thomas of Aquino, and Leonardo da Vinci; the other, feeble and prone to catastrophe, backward in political action if not in thought, ‚Äúinvaded, ravaged, sacked, and humiliated in every century.‚ÄĚ

Elergy for Iris by John Bayley, poignantly describes the love affair between the writer and Iris Murdoch (his wife of forty two years) and the dimming of her brilliance due to Alzheimer’s disease. I have yet to read anything by Murdoch although she has long been on my list of to-read. Maybe this will help to move things up abit.

Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction: Work from 1970 to the Present edited by Lex Williford & Michael Martone. This anthology is said to consist of the most highly regarded nonfiction works published since 1970 by fifty contemporary writers including Cheryl Strayed, David Sedaris, Barbara Kingsolver, Annie Dillard, Amy Tan &David Forster Wallace with pieces ranging from memoir to journalism, personal essays to cultural criticism.

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I¬†discovered¬†Lucy Knisley’s graphic novels in this same book sales last year,¬†when I found a copy of her book Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, and¬†have since¬†been on the lookout for more of her works. So to find a copy of her illustrated travel journal French Milk¬†this time round, was rather blissful.

Ken Jennings’ Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks “…… takes readers on a world tour of geogeeks from the London Map Fair to the bowels of the Library of Congress, from the prepubescent geniuses at the National Geographic Bee to the computer programmers at Google Earth. Each chapter delves into a different aspect of map culture: highpointing, geocaching, road atlas rallying, even the ‚Äúunreal estate‚ÄĚ charted on the maps of fiction and fantasy. Jennings also considers the ways in which cartography has shaped our history, suggesting that the impulse to make and read maps is as relevant today as it has ever been.”¬†
I am definitely no maphead, but this has somewhat piqued my interest.

Next comes the four books which I had ordered over the internet some time back and had¬†them sent over to my friend’s place in the UK because I knew she would be making a trip back¬†home this month, and¬†that means¬†I can save on shipping. :p

I am only now¬†reaching the tail end of Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran (after having started¬†on it¬†some months back) but I had already decided early on that I wanted to read more of her books because I really like her writing. And I have to admit that I would not even¬†have attempted Reading Lolita in Tehran if not for a¬†dear friend’s high regards for it. I think I was put off by Lolita, a book that has never appealed to me before. I am glad to report though, that Nafisi’s book is so much more than what I had imagined it to be. I enjoyed the¬†book very much and look forward to her Things I’ve Been Silent About: Memories of a Prodigal Daughter¬†next.

Writing the Garden: A Literary Conversation across Two Centuries by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, may be yet another collection of garden writing, however, “….. it is not simply a collection of extracts, but real discussions and examinations of the personalities who made their mark on how we design, how we plant, and how we think about what is for many one of life’s lasting pleasures. Starting with “Women in the Garden” (Jane Loudon, Frances Garnet Wolseley, and Gertrude Jekyll) and concluding with “Philosophers in the Garden” (Henry David Thoreau, Michael Pollan, and Allen Lacy), this is a book that encompasses the full sweep of the best garden writing in the English language.”

Sea Room: An Island Life in the Hebrides by Adam Nicolson (grandson of Vita Sackville-West) is the account of Nicolson’s¬†love affair with the three tiny islands he had inherited for his 21st birthday (how cool is¬†that!)¬†and describes “…. their strange and colorful history in passionate, keenly precise prose‚ÄĒsharing with us the greatest gift an island bestows on its inhabitants: a deep engagement with the natural world.” Again, it was the cover that got my attention first, one day while I was browsing around the internet. Sadly, I could not locate an affordable copy of the edition¬†that had¬†my desired cover, and had to settle for another.¬†I am thinking though, if I end up loving the book, I might yet continue to pursue the aforementioned elusive expensive cover. :p

Lastly, Richard Mabey’s A Nature Journal.

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I probably don’t need to tell you why I had to have it, right? :p

“There is only one way to read…..

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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‚ÄĒand 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‚ÄĒand 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. ūüėČ

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What One Finds in a Fireball Book Sale…..

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This picture does look rather familiar now, doesn’t it? The the story that follows is just as familiar, I’m afraid. Same old, same old …..
Yes, I have gone a book-hunting again, and came back with no small haul (as usual), I’m afraid. It was the lure of the Big Bad Wolf’s Fireball Book Sale, where every book has been given a further mark down in prices, following the mega year end sale they had back in December. Technically, these were supposed to be the ‘leftovers’ from the previous sale. But in reality, I found many more exciting stuff here that I had not even come across during the December sale. And to find all these at even lower prices…. well, it is just pure bliss! ūüôā

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I have¬†the first volume¬†of Virginia Woolf’s¬†collection of essays in The Common Reader sitting on the shelves for awhile now. So, getting the second volume to keep the first one company was just the natural thing to do, I guess. I also found a¬†biography of hers, Virginia Woolf: Bloomsbury & Beyond by Anthony Curtis and thought, why not? At any rate, it was a nice looking hardback, bountifully illustrated with sepia photographs.

As you can see, I also convenienty found her dear friend Vita Sackville-West’s volume of letters with her husband (Vita’s, that is) Harold Nicolson, as well as a volume of Nicolson’s diaries. I would not have thought of wanting to read his diaries or letters if it were not for those delightful excerpts that I had read on The Captive Reader’s blog sometime back. Getting these at only RM5 (less than a pound) each, makes¬†the find¬†all the more delightful!

France On Two Wheels by Adam Ruck “…. follows¬†the writer¬†through six intricately plotted Gallic cycling routes; from Lake Geneva to the Channel, the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, Vichy to Roanne, Paris to Provence, Roanne to the Atlantic, and Burgundy to Spain. Both a practical companion and a story of exploration and rediscovery, France on Two Wheels offers detailed descriptions of useful routes, stop-off points and watering-holes, along with detours into subjects as varied as wine, Flaubert, windmills, Wodehouse, belfries, battlefields and beer. It is vivid proof that the only way to experience the French countryside is on two wheels.”¬† Sounds good to me.

I also found another book to do with bikes and travelling (pictured in one of¬†the stacks below) Britain By Bike: A Two-Wheeled Odyssey Around Britain¬†by Jane Eastoe. That one is¬†based on a six-part BBC series, Britain by Bike providing all the authoritative information a biker needs, from interesting routes and unusual attractions to great lodgings.¬†Well, that should be quite enough biking now for someone who doesn’t even own a bike. :p

So having gotten off the bikes, I found myself a copy of Caroline Sanderson’s Rambling Fancy: In the Footsteps of Jane Austen. “Following in Jane Austen‚Äôs footsteps, Sanderson tramps the muddy fields around Austen‚Äôs childhood home in rural Hampshire, walks the elegant streets of Bath, and strolls along the breezy promenades of south coast resort. Drawing upon Jane Austen‚Äôs letters as well as her many novels Caroline Sanderson charts her own experiences of the very places from which Jane Austen sought inspiration, reaching some original and fascinating conclusions.”
Hmmm, I wonder what might those be.¬† Anyway, I also managed to¬†find a pretty Penguin English Library edition of Austen’s Mansfield Park and thought it’s high time I read more Austen.

I think it’s also high time that I get down to reading some Orhan Pamuk as well, and was glad to find a copy of his The Naive and Sentimental Novelist. In this fascinating set of essays, based on the talks he delivered at Harvard University as part of the distinguished Norton Lecture series, Pamuk presents a comprehensive and provocative theory of the novel and the experience of reading. Drawing on Friedrich Schiller‚Äôs famous distinction between ‚Äúna√Įve‚ÄĚ writers‚ÄĒthose who write spontaneously‚ÄĒand ‚Äúsentimental‚ÄĚ writers‚ÄĒthose who are reflective and aware‚ÄĒPamuk reveals two unique ways of processing and composing the written word. He takes us through his own literary journey and the beloved novels of his youth to describe the singular experience of reading. Unique, nuanced, and passionate, this book will be beloved by readers and writers alike.”

Another writer whom I’m really looking forward to reading more of, is Wilkie Collins. I¬†loved¬†his No Name and am halfway through listening to The Moonstone. Have yet to read his supposedly best work, The Woman in White (which incidentally, is said to be¬†the partial inspiration for Sarah Water’s Fingersmith, one of my all time favourite reading experiences). So I’m looking forward to read Peter Ackroyd’s¬†take on the man himself, Wilkie Collins.

Next are¬†two books on¬†reading. One is¬†the general history¬†of reading over the ages, while the other, John Tytell’s Reading New York, is a combination of memoir and historical criticism on a more personal note.

BBW FS (2)I have not read anything by Richard Yates before, and all I know of him is that he wrote the book behind the movie, Revolutionary Road. What got my attention here was the the title Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, the book from which some of the stories found in this collection, The Collected Stories of Richard Yates were taken from. I will see what I make of my acquaintance with Mr Yates and report back duly.

I have not heard of Nabokov’s The Luzhin Defense before, but this came in a beautiful Penguin hardback edition which has¬†the kind of fonts, paper texture and binding that I just¬†love, so it was definitely coming home with me. I was glad to know upon further examination that the story is actually about¬†“….. the strange yet oddly endearing chess-playing genius Luzhin. Discovering his prodigious gift in boyhood and rising to the rank of international Grandmaster, Luzhin develops a lyrical passion for chess that renders the real world a phantom. As he confronts the fiery, swift-swooping Italian Grandmaster, Turati, he brings into play his carefully devised defence. Making masterly play of metaphor and imagery, “The Luzhin Defense” is the book that, of his early works, Nabokov felt “contains and diffuses the greatest warmth”. Back in my school days, I used to play chess competitively and was President of the Chess Club. For me, it wasn’t just the game itself that I enjoy. It was also very much the opportunity for long talks and quality time that the game offers me to spend with a friend, or with someone whom I would like to get to know better and wouldn’t mind looking at (discreetly, of course) for a few good hours maybe. ūüėČ

I have read good things about Lucy Wood’s Diving Belles¬†and from the little samplings that I have taken from it so far, I’m already finding myself falling under its charm.

Colette Rossant’s Return to Paris: A Memoir with Recipes¬†looks to¬†be another charming read. “It is 1947 and Paris is recovering from the war. As soon as Colette’s family arrive from Cairo, her mother abandons her yet again. Terribly homesick, Colette finds solace in the kitchen with the cook Georgette, and discovers a love for French food – roasted lamb stuffed with garlic, springtime strawberries bathed in creme fraiche, the first taste of truffle. And it is through food that Colette finds happiness in Paris, skipping school to go to the farmers’ market in Port de Neuilly and dining in Michelin-starred restaurants with her new stepfather. Then at sixteen, she meets a dashing young American – and, despite all opposition from her family, never looks back…”

I found both Michael Holroyd’s¬†A Book of Secrets and Margaret Drabble’s The Pattern in The Carpet: A Personal History with Jigsaws and brought them home with me without realizing that both these writers were married to each other! It was only when I started reading Drabble’s introduction the next day, that I got to know it. Margaret Drabble weaves her own story into a history of games, in particular jigsaws, which have offered her and many others relief from melancholy and depression. Alongside curious facts and discoveries about jigsaw puzzles ‚ÄĒ did you know that the 1929 stock market crash was followed by a boom in puzzle sales? ‚ÄĒ Drabble introduces us to her beloved Auntie Phyl, and describes childhood visits to the house in Long Bennington on the Great North Road, their first trip to London together, the books they read, the jigsaws they completed. She offers penetrating sketches of her parents, her siblings, and her children; she shares her thoughts on the importance of childhood play, on art and writing, on aging and memory. And she does so with her customary intelligence, energy, and wit. This is a memoir like no other.

I think this one is going right to the top of the pile. I used to love doing jigsaws when I was younger and it’s been ages since I last did one. Drabble mentions in her book that The World’s Most Difficult Puzzle is a 340-piece jigsaw based on Jackson Pollock‚Äôs painting Convergence. Personally, the most challenging jigsaw that I have ever come across is one of those reverse perspective puzzles, in which the picture on the box is merely a clue for the puzzle you will be putting together. The image on the box depicts a cartoonish scene of surprise and tumult and the goal is to discover the source of the commotion by figuring out what the characters in the scene are seeing. I had gotten myself one of these in my enthusiasm back then but sadly, after a decade of more now, the pieces are still left sitting in the box, undone. I may yet again attempt it, someday.

I love the cover of Diana Athill’s Instead of a Letter: A Memoir. This classic memoir tells the story of Athill “…… as a young woman, was engaged to an air force pilot‚ÄĒInstead of a Letter tells how he broke off the engagement, married someone else, and, worst of all, died overseas before she could confront or forgive him. Evoking perfectly the picturesque country setting of her youth, this fearless and profoundly honest story of love and modern womanhood marks the beginning of Athill‚Äôs brilliant literary career.”

Being an Anglophile, I was happy to find A.N. Wilson’s The Elizabethans¬†and both Liza Picard’s Elizabeth’s London: Everyday Life in Elizabethan London and Victorian London: The Tale of a City 1840-1870. These books help make history come alive in the lively and engaging way that they were written. Highly readable stuff. Oh, and I also found a lovely hardback copy of England’s Forgotten Past: The Unsung Heroes and Heroines, Valiant Kings, Great Battles and Other Generally Overlooked Episodes in Our Nation’s Glorious History. Seems like a fun one.

BBW FS (3)For a more contemporary take on Great Britain, I got Ian Jack’s The Country Formerly Known as Great Britain. “In this selection from¬†more than 20¬†years of reporting and writing, Ian Jack takes us to a place of which there are now only memories and ruins‚ÄĒthe Great Britain that gave us the Industrial Revolution, a nation that led the world in feats of engineering, a Britain of empire, a place of vital cities, each with their own unique identity, and a country whose residual presence can still be found in the strangest corners of the world.”

I also found two short biographies, one of the great American evangelist D.L Moody, the other is that of F. Scott Fitzgerald in a collection of personal essays and articles written before his fatal heart attack at the age of forty four.

For my dose of armchair gardening, I found Jamaica Kincaid’s My Favourite Plant: Writers and Gardeners on The Plants They Love, E. Buckner Hollingsworth’s garden classic, Flower Chronicles, and Mandy Kirkby’s The Language of Flowers: A Miscellany.

As for my dose of armchair travelling, I found a lovely looking hardback edition of Umbria by Patricia Clough. “When Patricia Clough bought a house in Umbria, she knew that buying her dream home did not mean that one‚Äôs life became a dream. By the end of this book she is sure that ‚Äúif one has basic requirements for being happy, then Umbria provides some of the best surroundings for happiness.‚ÄĚ

In Made In Italy: A Shopper’s Guide to Italy’s Best Artisanal Traditions, Laura Morelli revisits Italy‚Äôs best shops and craftsmen to provide a thorough shopper‚Äôs guide to Italy‚Äôs best local traditions.

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Judith Martin’s No Vulgar Hotel: The Desire and Pursuit of Venice is said by Donna Leon to be one of those books that one must read before coming to Venice.¬†This is the definitive book for managing an incurable passion for a decaying, water-logged village. Whether you already have a raging case of Venetophilia or are among the fifteen million people who yearly put themselves in danger of contracting it, here is where you get your fix of Venetian wit, history, practicality, and enchantment.”¬†I have not been to Venice yet, so maybe I should take up the advice.

Eric Newby’s On The Shores Of The Mediterranean.
As they travel around the sea at the center of Western history, Eric Newby and his wife Wanda visit not only the better-known Mediterranean sights and cities but also venture into places where Westerners are few: Albania under Hoxha, the holy Muslim city of Fez, and a country about to disappear in civil war – the former Yugoslavia. Eric Newby entertains and enlightens as he follows in the footsteps of Cleopatra and St John, and waits for a meeting with Colonel Gaddafi. With his customary flair for description, he is equally at easy pondering King David’s choice of Jerusalem as the site for a capital city or enjoying a meal cooked by one of France’s finest chefs. His acute curiosity and encyclopedic knowledge combine to make absorbing reading, whether he is explaining the workings of a defunct Turkish harem or the contemporary Mafia. From antiquity to the present, Eric Newby’s erudite, engaging tale is not a simple tour but a tour de force.

For the longest time, Miguel De Cervantes’ Don Quixote has always seemed like an intimidating giant to me. But flipping through this Edith Grossman translation of the Spanish masterpiece, I found it to be surprisingly engaging and very readable. It also helped that this Harper Perennial edition comes in the form of one of my favourite combinations for a book – French flaps with rough cut pages. The book, though close to a hefty thousand pages, feels so easy on the hand. So, this is all looking very promising indeed, for my getting acquainted with Mr Cervantes.

Though I have heard of John Mortimer before, I have never read any of his Rumpole stories. But coming across a copy of his Forever Rumpole: The Best of the Rumpole Stories at one of the tables, my interest was suddenly stirred and I found myself enjoying the writing more than I expected. So, what better place to start than with ‘the best of the Rumpole stories’ right?
While still a practicing barrister, Mortimer took up the pen, and the rest is literary history. His stories featuring the cigar-chomping, cheap-wine-tippling Rumpole and his wife, Hilda (aka “She Who Must Be Obeyed”), have justly earned their place in the pantheon of mystery fiction legends, becoming the basis for the very successful television series Rumpole of the Bailey. Bringing fourteen of Rumpole’s most entertaining adventures (seven of which were collected in The Best of Rumpole) together with a fragment of a new story, Forever Rumpole proves beyond a reasonable doubt that Rumpole is never less than delightful.”

You would have probably noticed Van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, sitting on my sidebar for quite some time now. What I had previously was just a copy of the e-book. Finding the physical edition of the book at the sale for only RM8 (slightly less than ¬£1.5) was really quite the catch of the day for me! It is a highly readable biography of the artist’s life and works, generously illustrated with his paintings throughout. I am quite determined to finish reading this 900+ pages door stopper of a book, even if it’s gonna take me forever.

Well, back to the British and their eccentrics. David Mckie’s Bright Particular Stars: A Gallery of Glorious British Eccentrics ….. examines the impact of 26 remarkable British eccentrics on¬†26 unremarkable British locations. From Broadway in the Cotswolds, where the Victorian bibliomaniac Sir Thomas Phillipps nurtured dreams of possessing every book in the world, to Kilwinning in Scotland, where in 1839 the Earl of Eglinton mounted a tournament that was Renaissance in its extravagance and disastrous in its execution, McKie leads us to places transformed, inspired, and sometimes scandalized by the obsessional endeavors of visionary mavericks. [….] But together their fascinating stories illuminate some of the most secret and most extraordinary byways of¬†British¬†history.”

Maybe reading Sir Thomas Phillipps’ story would help put my book buying habits (and yours too, perhaps?) in their proper perspective. ūüôā

Johnson’s Life of London: The People who Made the City that Made the World by Boris Johnson promises to be quite another interesting one too. “Boris narrates the story of his city as a kind of relay race of outsized characters, beginning with the days when “a bunch of pushy Italians” created Londinium. He passes the torch on down through a procession of the famous and infamous, the brilliant and the bizarre – from Hadrian to Shakespeare to Florence Nightingale to the Rolling Stones- illuminating with unforgettable clarity each figure and the era he or she inhabited. He also pauses to shine a light on places and developments that have contributed to the city’s incomparable vibrancy, from the flush toilet to the King James Bible. As wildly entertaining as it is informative, this is an irresistible account of the city and people that in large part shaped the world we know.

CAM00326aEnough of the British for now. Let’s move over to Paris for a change in scenery, shall we?

Ross King’s The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave The World Impressionism.
While the Civil War raged in America, another revolution took shape across the Atlantic, in the studios of Paris: The artists who would make Impressionism the most popular art form in history were showing their first paintings amidst scorn and derision from the French artistic establishment. Indeed, no artistic movement has ever been quite so controversial. The drama of its birth, played out on canvas and against the backdrop of the Franco-Prussian War and the Commune, would at times resemble a battlefield; and as Ross King reveals, it would reorder both history and culture, and resonate around the world.

I have always been interested in the lives of the Impressionists, ever since being introduced to the BBC mini series, The Impressionists, by a dear friend back in 2006. I have a copy of Sue Roe’s The Private Lives of The Impressionists which I am looking forward to reading too. I think that will tie up quite well with the reading of the Ross King one.

Paris: Capital of the World by Patrice Higonnet.
In an original and evocative journey through modern Paris from the mid-eighteenth century to World War II, Patrice Higonnet offers a delightful cultural portrait of a multifaceted, continually changing city. In examining the myths and countermyths of Paris that have been created and re-created over time, Higonnet reveals a magical urban alchemy in which each era absorbs the myths and perceptions of Paris past, adapts them to the cultural imperatives of its own time, and feeds them back into the city, creating a new environment. […] Insightful, informative, and gracefully written, Paris illuminates the intersection of collective and individual imaginations in a perpetually shifting urban dynamic. In describing his Paris of the real and of the imagination, Higonnet sheds brilliant new light on this endlessly intriguing city.

Yes, I do find Paris to be endlessly intriguing, and certainly don’t think there can be too many books on it. Do you?

And for something completely different from all the rest, I had picked Oliver Sacks’s A Leg To Stand On for a very personal reason.
Dr. Oliver Sacks’s books Awakenings, An Anthropologist on Mars and the bestselling The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat have been acclaimed for their extraordinary compassion in the treatment of patients affected with profound disorders.

In A Leg to Stand On, it is Sacks himself who is the patient: an encounter with a bull on a desolate mountain in Norway has left him with a severely damaged leg. But what should be a routine recuperation is actually the beginning of a strange medical journey when he finds that his leg uncannily no longer feels part of his body. Sacks’s brilliant description of his crisis and eventual recovery is not only an illuminating examination of the experience of patienthood and the inner nature of illness and health but also a fascinating exploration of the physical basis of identity.”

A very dear friend of mine, the same one whom I had mentioned was the one who introduced me to The Impressionists, had an accident a little over a year ago. Like Dr Sacks, her journey to recovery has been (and still is) a rather strange one. While it was a leg in Dr Sacks’s case, for her it was an arm that she finds herself being alienated from. And all these has taken a toll on her general state of mental well-being. I am hopeful that what Dr Sacks has to share in his journey would be helpful in shedding more light to understanding some of these anomalies my friend is experiencing, and be of an encouragement to her.

BBW FS (4)Lastly, a few lovely coffee table books on gardens and gardening. And I should really end this seemingly never-ending post, and start spending some time with all these lovelies instead!

Happy reading to you all, too! ūüėČ

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‚ÄĒof Shakespeare, Lawrence, Hopkins, Ovid, Plath, Rilke, and Flaubert‚ÄĒrequires them to reorient their line of vision. Nothing‚ÄĒSmith shows her reader‚ÄĒforces 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‚Äôve 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¬† √† 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‚ÄôConnor, 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 Charri√®re’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 Charri√®re 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! ūüôā

Not feeling so guilty now….

Sep'13 books

Since it has been made quite clear to us that there’s nothing much¬†we can do about our incurable book-buying patterns, I feel less guilty¬†about showing what just came in from the cold. (Yes, I do think that buying books from stock clearance sales¬†is a form of book rescue.)

The Land of Spices – Kate O’Brien
I know nothing about this writer’s work but I was hooked after reading the blurb at the back of the book.
Set within the austere world of an Irish convent, 1941’s Land of Spices matches Helen, a Mother Superior feeling stymied by her monastic existence, with Anna Murphy, a bright young girl on the cusp of experiencing what promises to be a full, happy life. Although their destinies lie along separate paths, the two are pulled toward each other.
I am somehow reminded of Antonia White’s Frost in May, which I loved. This is also a Virago by the way, and the lovely cover photo gave it the final push.

Rebecca and Rowena – W. M. Thackeray
This one I had picked mainly because it was a Hesperus Classics. I just love those lovely French flaps in these pretty editions. Since I have¬†had thoughts of¬†wanting to try and read¬†Thackeray’s Vanity Fair at some point in time but have always been daunted by the sheer bulk of it, I think this short novella would be good place to test the waters between Thackeray’s writing and my taste for it.
A hero is much too valuable a gentleman to be put upon the retired list in the prime and vigour of his youth; and I wish to know what lady among us would like to be put on the shelf, and thought no longer interesting, because she has a family growing up, and is four or five and thirty years of age?
Now, that’s a rather charming sentence to get the ball rolling! And it looks to be rolling in Mr Thackeray’s favour. ūüėČ

A Life Worth Living – Joseph Prince
I’ve always enjoyed and learned much from listening to and reading Pastor Joseph Prince’s sermons and devotionals. His fresh and revelatory ways of bringing the Bible¬†and the message of God’s grace to life has been invaluable to my own growth and walk with God in recent years. If you are looking for something that¬†is liberating, inspiring and empowering, I highly recommend that you give this (as well as¬†his other books and messages which can be found on Youtube) a try!

Mediterranean Summer: A Season of France’s Cote d’Azur and Italy’s Costa Bella¬†– David Shalleck with Erol Munuz
Having just recently returned from a trip to the lovely south Italian coast myself, this¬†book which tells of the adventures¬†of a young chef hired¬†by a super rich Italian couple aboard their yacht ‘Serenity’ one summer, looks simply too delicious to resist. Reading it will probably help¬†to transport me back to those¬†lovely (but sadly all too few!) summer days spent along the Amalfi Coast this past summer.

Who Was The Man Behind The Iron Mask – Hugh Ross Williamson
This seemed like a fun book to dip into for¬†attempted answers to¬†some of the enigmas found in English history. While it may or may not be historically accurate, no harm having a little fun with these “Historical Whodunits”.¬†Here’s a sample of some of the contents:¬†‘The Princes in the Tower’, ‘The Parentage of Queen Elizabeth I’, ‘The Gowrie Conspiracy’, ‘The Poisoning of King James I’, and ‘The Wives of King George IV’.

So, that’s the loot for this round. Anyone familiar with any of them?

Leaning towards Pisa…..

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Pisa bound.
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The main street leading from the train station right up to the Piazza dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles) where the Leaning Tower is (and where everyone is headed to). By the way, it was also on this street that we (unexpectedly) found ourselves the best pizzas to be had from the entire trip!
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Stumbling upon this bookshop while walking along the main street was another unexpected pleasant surprise. Love the green ‘open roof’ concept!
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Doesn’t this give you a kind of ‘park within a bookshop’ feel?
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In case you were wondering what the name of the bookshop is.
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Catching my first glimpse of the famous Leaning Tower.
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The ‘Field of Miracles’.
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The Leaning Tower at dusk.
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The beautiful Baptistery.
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While we didn’t manage to get a room with a view in Pisa, we did however, manage to get a ‘bathroom with a view’ though! :p (yes, this was taken from the bathroom window of the B&B we stayed at)

A taste of Italy

Hello again, everyone! ūüôā

Yes, I’m back from my holidays! Back from the land of pasta and gelato, of Leonardo and Michelangelo …… it’s almost 2 weeks now since I’m back and¬†have been thrown harshly¬†back to reality (ie: work!) Sigh……. Not meaning to sound ungrateful for the wonderful break that I have been blessed with, but as always, there is the ‘post holiday blues’ that one has to contend with after the dust has settled. But I do thank God for having been able to have had a safe and most memorable trip. It has been a rather significant journey on many levels, both for me and my travelling companions.

Thanks also for all the well wishes from all of you! And so, as a note of appreciation, you will all be rewarded with an overload of photos to come! (hahahaha…… now, isn’t that just the perfect excuse for indulging myself?!) ūüėČ

Anyway, remember what I wrote about my ‘reading plans’ while¬† I was to get myself busy with getting a taste of Italy? Well, it was to¬†be able to at least try and read A Room with A View while in Florence. And guess what? I did manage to read the whole of (*drum rolls, please!*)………. three chapters, out of the entire trip! :O
Yes, shameful I know. But that was because I was rather caught up with some other things, like ……

……. trying to survive driving in Italy

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My first experience with driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. Took some real getting use to. Also discovered that Italians aren’t exactly the most patient people on the road. :p

…… making new acquaintances along the way

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I had the most delightful time playing with this little fellow at the lovely farmhouse we were staying in at Tuscany.

…… being¬†captivated by the beauty of the Tuscan landscape

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IMG_8526 (tuscany 2)……. busy sampling the local dishes

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If you ever find yourself in the province of Siena while exploring the Tuscan region, you have to remember to try their local pasta. It’s a kind of thick, hand-rolled pasta (known as “pici”). Simply delicious!

……. giving the Leaning Tower of Pisa a helping hand! :p

IMG_7828 (pisa)…….. popping over to The Vatican City to¬†send my regards to the Pope

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……. climbing up the dome of the St. Peter’s Basillica to get¬†the view from the top

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……. stopping by at the Trevi Fountain (to see if people really do still throw 3 coins into it) :p

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The Trevi Fountain in Rome.
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What we saw instead was a successful marriage proposal by the fountain followed by loud cheers from the crowd, congratulating this happy couple. ūüôā

……. walking through the ruins of Pompeii

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……. visiting the Blue Grotto on the coast of the Isle of Capri

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Choppy waters while lying down flat in a small row-boat to enter into the sea cave, can (& did) cause abit of motion sickness to those that are less hardy (like me).

blue grotto¬†……… taking the chair lift up to the peak of Mount Solaro (highest point¬†of Capri)

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This, unexpectedly, was to become one of my favourite experiences from the trip.
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The view from the top. The quality of my photo here does not do justice to the real thing. It’s so quiet and tranquil up here, almost surreal.

…….. well, back to civilization!

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…….¬† to¬†arts & culture

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A replica of Michelangelo’s David, outside the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.¬†The real one can¬†be¬†found at the Accademia Gallery.
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To get the best views of Florence and the Arno, do make your way up to the Piazza de Michelangelo (Michelangelo’s Square).

……… and gelatos!

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One of the best gelatos around can be found at Shockolat, a gelateria located near the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie (where Leonardo’s The Last Supper is) in Milan.

And although I did not get to read as much of the book in Florence as I had hoped to, I did however get to do this :

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Life imitating art.

¬†And gosh, was it fun!! ūüôā

p/s – there will be more photos to come in the up-coming posts,¬†so if you are not into that sort of thing,¬†don’t say you have not been warned. :p