The stories in this collection have the music in them. The rhythm, breath, movement of language, like music, creates emotional situations not dependent on meaning. The meaning is there, but the working of the language itself, separate from its message, allows the brain to make connections that bypass sense. This makes for an experience where there is the satisfaction of meaning but also something deeper, stranger. This deeper stranger place is an antidote to so much of life that is lived on the surface alone. When we read, when we listen to music, when we immerse ourselves in the flow of an opera, we go underneath the surface of life. Like going underwater the noise stops, and we concentrate differently.”
Have just finished the first five pieces in this collection, and so far it’s Ali Smith and Jackie Kay who did not disappoint! And Julie Myerson was a rather pleasant surprise, I must say, since I am new to her work. 🙂
The art of losing isn’t hard to master; so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster,
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster: places, and names, and where it was you meant to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or next-to-last, of three loved houses went. The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster, some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent. I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.
– Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident the art of losing’s not too hard to master though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
Elizabeth Bishop, ‘One Art’
I am not a good poetry reader and usually am only able to appreciate it better when it rhymes. But recently, I came across two particular pieces from two different books that I was reading at the same time (Ali Smith’s Artful & Jeanette Winterson’s memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal), that really spoke volumes to me and made me a much more appreciative reader of the art.
In Winterson’s memoir, poetry is described as the language that is powerful enough to say how it is, when life gets tough. For her, it was T.S Eliot who first gave a voice to her painful teenage years.
“When I read him that day, gales battering me within and without, I didn’t want consolation; I wanted expression. I wanted to find the place where I was hurt, to locate it exactly, and to give it a mouth. Pain is very often a maimed creature without a mouth. Through the agency of the poem that is powerful enough to clarifying feelings into facts, I am no longer dumb, not speechless, not lost. Language is a finding place, not a hiding place.”
Later on though, during another major low point in her life, it was Thomas Hardy’s poetry that came to the rescue.
Why did you give no hint that night That quickly after the morrows dawn, And calmly, as if indifferent quite, You would close your term here, up and be gone Where I could not follow With wing of swallow To gain one glimpse of you ever anon.
Never to bid goodbye, Or lip me the softest call, Or utter a wish for a word, while I Saw morning harden upon the wall, Unmoved, unknowing That your great going Had place that moment, and altered all.
(excerpt from Thomas Hardy’s, The Going)
After reading that piece of brilliance from Hardy, I have definitely found renewed interest and determination in reading more Hardy, both prose and poetry. I may well be a latecomer to the beautiful art of poetry, but I guess it’s better late than never.
And oh, just to share a bit of bookish serendipity, as I was reading the Winterson memoir, Ali Smith did pop by for lunch (in the book, of course!) and offered some helpful advice regarding the affairs of the heart to Winterson. Yeah, that was a nice surprise. 🙂
“Whatever happened to the love letter? Has the written word lost its charm in our digitally obsessed, speed-dating age?”
To answer these, over forty celebrated writers were asked to explore the potency and power of this classic, yet neglected genre: the love letter. And the result is this unique collection of innovative pieces, edited by Joshua Knelman & Rosalind Porter, that reminds us of how enticing words can be, while at the same time giving a glimpse of what love looks like in the 21st century.
I love books that are written in the epistolary form, fiction or otherwise, and when you have such big names as Margaret Atwood, Jeanette Winterson, Audrey Niffenegger, Neil Gaiman, Jan Morris, Ursula K. Le Guin, Lionel Shriver featured together in one volume, I am most definitely sold.
And so, it was with great expectations that I had dived into the book, fully expecting myself to be wooed by the words of people in love. I had expected to be caught up by the passions captured on paper and to experience a fair share of stirrings in the heart. But sadly, it somehow fell short of all my lofty expectations.
That, however, is not to say that I did not enjoy the book, nor that the writings were found to be inferior in any way. In fact, there was quite a generous display of creativity and imagination at work in some of the pieces here. Some were rather bold and edgy, others were laced with darker shades of humour. Maybe I found some of them too dark and edgy for my liking. Few and far were the more conventional ones that offered the kind of warmth and ‘feel good’ vibes that good old fashioned love letters were supposed to evoke, I thought.
My two favourite pieces were the ones by Jeanette Winterson and Audrey Niffenegger. And interestingly, they also happened to be the first and last letters I had picked to read at random.
Winterson’s letter took the form of narration through a series of photographs and postcards, reminding her beloved of their happier times together during their trip to Venice. This was a beautifully evocative piece that managed to capture a strong sense of place and time for the reader. On a more personal note, it had also struck a chord with me as I was reminded of the times when I had been found writing my ‘love letters’ on the back of postcards while being abroad. I have always felt that writing postcards back ‘home’ to that someone special, is one of the most romantic things that one can do. After all, home is where the heart is, isn’t it?
Here is an excerpt from one of the Winterson’s postcards of George Bush with an arrow through his head.
Outside, the world I cannot control is writing a dark fairy tale of white superman heroes and dusky-faced fanatics, comic book grotesques. This is the War on Terror, the battle for all that is fine and good, except that each believes in its own fine and good and will destroy everything else, in its name.
[….] And so, while they tell me that the small and the particular does not matter, and that this is the world stage we are playing on, I want to know where I can call home, if not with you?
I’m doing my best with the big questions, but I have a small one too:
‘Do you love me?’
Audrey Niffenegger’s piece was my other favourite in this collection. The New Orleans flooding in 2005 was the backdrop for this letter, written by a worried and helpless partner who has had no news and no means of communication with her partner for days. Even the letter is just a channel for venting out the frustration and anxiety that the writer is going through, as there is no way for it to be sent out anyway, under the circumstances. But it is within the pages of this unsent letter, that I found one of the most poignant, heartfelt lines.
Do you know how to swim, Sylvie? I never asked you. It’s amazing to me how much I don’t know. After two years you’d think we’d know everything there is about each other. But I guess you never can tell what will be important. Why would it matter if you could swim? We only talk about what we’re reading. We eat and sleep and take baths and put on clothes and take them off again…. [….] and go to classes and all around us the air fills up with words about books.
If New Orleans was flooded with words I would not be afraid for you, Sylvie. I know you can swim in words. But water…. can you swim in water, Sylvie?
There were definitely more than a few pieces that I did like in this collection. It’s just that there were fewer hits than the misses, I guess.
At least, I did have a good start and a good end to what I’d say, was a rather interesting reading experience.
Yes, I am definitely ending the year on a high! Not contented with just a tiny ‘thud’, it has to be a THUD!THUD!…THUD…THUD!THUD!! :p
In case you are wondering, no, these are not what I found under my Christmas tree. The people in my life obviously do not think I am in need of any help in the book buying department, as I hardly ever get any books as gifts anymore. They probably think I am in need of help in the opposite, rather.
As such, left to my own devices, this is the bounty resulting from my six days of book-hunting at the biggest book sale ever to have been held over here in Malaysia. A person of stronger mettle might have been able to exert more restraint and resist such temptations I guess, but clearly, I am not that person. Honestly, I really do get a tingling sensation of thrill and excitement just by looking at them all spread out there. Many a times when I stop to gaze at my shelves and stacks of books, thinking of all the goodness that is lying in wait for me within those pages, I just feel like I am the richest person in the world.
Does anyone here feel the same?
Anyway, without further ado…… here they are, in all their glorious beauty and dazzling splendour!
Isn’t that about the most beautiful cover you’ve ever seen on a book? I just fell in love with this Margaret Drabble’s A Writer’s Britain, the moment I set eyes on it. And the binding and texture of the book feels really good too. As I am a big fan of all things British (well, almost all), this anthology of how different localities and landscape has played a part in the works of various British poets and novelists seem like a perfect blend of both inner and outer beauty. I have not read anything by Drabble as yet, and am looking forward to reading her. Also interesting to be reminded that she is the sister of A.S Byatt with whom she has a lifetime “feud that is beyond repair”.
Doris Lessing is another writer I am looking forward to reading, not so much her novels though, but rather her essays and short stories. And talking about short stories, Julian Barnes’s The Lemon Table and Jeanette Winterson’s anthology of opera-inspired stories by some of the most acclaimed writers of modern fiction in Midsummer Nights look to be very promising too.
I was very excited to come across Four Letter Word, an inspired and unique collection of love letters edited by Joshua Knelman & Rosalind Porter. “Is there any communication more potent than the love letter? Is there any charge greater than seeing those words on paper? The editors of this collection decided to ask some of the most important writers of our time to compose a fictional love letter – breathing new life into a forgotten custom, and affording words themselves the power of seduction that they richly deserve. The result is an iridescent picture of what love looks like in the twenty-first century: a collage of methods and moods. Each letter is radically different from the others, and all but one are published for the first time.” Some of the names included here are Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Lionel Shriver, Jan Morris, Jeanette Winterson, Audrey Niffenegger, to name a few. Delicious!
Speaking of delicious, I manged to get myself a few titles from the Penguin Great Food series, which look really delectable both inside out. I’ve got the ones by Charles Lamb, M.F.K Fischer, Alice B. Toklas and Brillat-Savarin’s Pleasures of The Table. Still on the subject of food, Adam Gopnik’s essays in The Table Comes First is also another much anticipated read. I still want to read his Paris To The Moon (which has been sitting on my shelves for a while now) first though, before getting to The Table. I sometimes see myself like my dog, Sandy, who while having a bone/ treat already in her mouth, still tries to get her paws at another piece. :p
I have always wanted to read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and so was happy to find it at the sale. And having recently started on Alexander McCall Smith’s The Dog Who Came In From The Cold (and liking it), I thought I’d add another one (Friends, Lovers, Chocolate) to the collection. Besides, it was in an edition that I like.
I am no gardener, and have close to zero knowledge about plants and gardening. But in recent years, I seem to have developed a fascination for books on the history and science of it, also memoirs of those working on their gardens and such. Maybe it’s also the influence from reading the blogs of all you garden loving bloggers out there that has brought about this new appreciation. At least I know I recognise the name Anna Pavord from having read about her in The Captive Reader’s blog. The Naming of Names: The Search for Order in the World of Plants certainly looks to be a fascinating read.
Although I have been slowly acquiring various volumes on the Mitford sisters and their works, I have never read any of eldest sister Nancy’s books. Now, having found three of her fictions and one non-fiction (Frederick The Great), I can finally see for myself where her genius lies.
Joseph Brodsky is a name I have never come across before, but definitely not unfamiliar to many of you I suppose, being a Nobel Prize winner for Literature at one time. I like essays, and this one (Less Than One & other selected essays) sounds like pretty good stuff!
I have only read, or rather listened, to Graham Greene’s The End of The Affair and although I enjoyed it, I somehow do not find myself wanting to read any of his other books as their subject matters just don’t quite appeal to me. But a book on Greene’s life in letters, that’s another story altogether.
If you haven’t noticed that I love books on other people’s letters, here’s two more to convince you. Jessica Mitford’s Decca and Lillian Smith’s How Am I To Be Heard?. The Mitford one I am familiar with, but Lillian Smith is new to me. “This compelling volume offers the first full portrait of the life and work of writer Lillian Smith (1897-1966), the foremost southern white liberal of the mid-twentieth century. Smith devoted her life to lifting the veil of southern self-deception about race, class, gender, and sexuality.” Sounds interesting enough to me.
I have not read any Nabokov and have no intention of reading Lolita, his most acclaimed work, but I couldn’t resist this lovely Penguin Modern Classics edition of Pnin. I just love the cover design and the paper quality used in this edition. The story about a Russian professor adapting to the American life and language also seems appealing enough. And I get to say ‘I read Nabokov’ at last (that is, when I have really gotten around to reading it).
Penguin really does have a wide selection of editions and most of them are very pleasing to the eye (and hand, for that matter). I bought both the Chatwin and Auster mainly because they were in the Penguin Deluxe Classics editions. I just love the feel of those French flaps and rough cut pages. Yes, shallow reader that I am.
It was only at this book sale that I first discovered the Penguin’s series of Central European Classics. These are translated works of writers from Central Europe who are completely foreign to me, but all of which appeals to me very much. Titles such as The Elephant, Snows of Yesteryear, Old Masters, Proud to be A Mammal, etc… all look to be very compelling reads.
Another writer whose translated works I am rather excited and looking forward to reading is Mikhail Bulgakov. I managed to get four of his books at this sale and am having a hard time deciding which one to start with. I think I am leaning more towards A Country Doctor’s Notebook, though.
For some non-fiction selection, I was most thrilled to find a copy Lucy Worsley’s If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home, having read Darlene’s wonderful review of it some time back. The Virago Book of The Joy of Shopping is also looking to be a fun read.
For some heavier non-fiction reading, I managed to find The Lost Battles, a historical account of the fierce competition between Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo, each trying to outdo the other during their heydays. Hot stuff.
This next title really caught my attention – Reading by Moonlight: How Books Saved My Life by Brenda Walker. “Packing her bag for hospital after being diagnosed with breast cancer, Brenda wondered which book to put in. As a novelist and professor of literature, her life was built around reading and writing. Books had always been her solace and sustenance, and now choosing the right one was the most important thing she could do for herself.”
I am really interested to know which books she did end up packing into the bag.
If there was one book I did not have to feel guilty for buying, it would be this one. When We Were Young: A Compendium of Childhood compiled and illustrated by John Burningham. This is because proceeds from the sale of this delightful collection of contributions by various personalities such as Michael Palin, Seamus Heaney, Donna Tart and Kofi Annan, goes entirely to UNICEF. So, that’s my good deed for the day, I guess. What a great excuse for buying a book, don’t you agree? 😉
Back to the fiction section, I was particularly thrilled to find a copy of The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West. Having been recently reading (and loving!) her All Passion Spent, I think I’m going to be in for a treat with this one as well. And speaking of treats, I can’t wait to read Ishiguro’s The Remains of The Day.
This was the final batch of goodies I managed to pick up on the last day of the great sale.
I was really happy to see a copy of Catherine Hall’s The Proof of Love among books that were still left for the taking on the last day. I had read her debut novel, Days of Grace earlier this year, and had really loved it. It was one of my favourite reads for 2012. Am highly anticipating this one now, especially after reading quite a few raving reviews of it around the blogosphere.
William Maxwell is another writer I am keen to get acquainted with. Managed to get my hands on two of his books at this sale, So Long See You Tomorrow and The Chateau. I was actually on the lookout for a copy of his correspondence with Sylvia Townsend Warner The Element of Lavishness, but since none was found I guess I’ll just have to settle with his two novels for the time being. Not really complaining though, as you can see I have more than a fair share of books to keep me busy for a long, long time!
I also found a collection of Du Maurier’s short stories, an Elizabeth Bowen and a Beryl Bainbridge. And I’ve finally gotten myself a copy of Lady Audley’s Secret, after having been wanting to read it for awhile now. Then there’s also W. Somerset Maugham’s literary memoir, The Summing Up and Stella Gibbons’s Westwood. I had already picked up Maugham’s essays on Ten Novels & Their Authors earlier during the sale.
And for something completely different and refreshing, I found Michael Pollan’s A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams to be utterly appealing. “A room of one’s own: is there anybody who hasn’t at one time or another wished for such a place, hasn’t turned those soft words over until they’d assumed a habitable shape? …. Inspired by both Thoreau and Mr. Blandings, A Place of My Own not only works to convey the history and meaning of all human building, it also marks the connections between our bodies, our minds, and the natural world.”
And now, to find ‘a place of my own’ where I can sit down to quietly enjoy all these bookish goodness. What bliss!
When my Mother was angry with me, which was often, she said, ‘The Devil led us to the wrong crib.’
The image of Satan taking time off from the Cold War and McCarthyism to visit Manchester in 1960 – purpose of visit : to deceive Mrs Winterson – has a flamboyant theatricality to it. She was a flamboyant depressive; a woman who kept a revolver in the duster drawer, and the bullets in a tin of Pledge. A woman who stayed up all night baking cakes to avoid sleeping in the same bed as my father. A woman with a prolapse, a thyroid condition, an enlarged heart, an ulcerated leg that never healed, and two sets of false teeth – matt for everyday and a pearlised set for ‘best’.
I do not know why she didn’t/ couldn’t have children. I know that she adopted me because she wanted a friend (she had none), and because I was like a flare sent out into the world – a way of saying she was here – a kind of X Marks the Spot.
Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal
There’s really no reason why I should be thinking of starting yet another book when I already have more than enough books going at various stages on the nightstand (and in other nooks and crannies). But doesn’t this teaser sound tempting enough to make one want to read further on? 😉