Unplanned Plans

I had started the year without any specific reading plans or lists because I knew I was not a good one for keeping to pre-planned plans when it comes to reading. I prefer to do my reading at whim.
So, I thought it was probably futile to have one and was not quite inspired to make any.
But then something changed.
And now, I think I do have one, and it’s one that I am quite excited about and feeling rather determined (or hopeful!) to see it through.

What happened was this.
I started an Instagram account sometime in December, after discovering the delights in being able to feast my eyes on a regular dose of book porn, through the various bookstagrammers’ feed out there. I was actually amazed to find that there are so many talented book lovers (cum photographers) out there who can effortlessly make books look so desirable as objects.
Creating the account was intended to mainly facilitate my ease of accessing to these feeds on a regular basis.
But when the new year started out on an unexpectedly rough note for me, I soon found myself in desperate need for a diversion of sorts.
As it happens, there was a book challenge hosted by some bookstagrammers that was taking place for the month, called the #AtoZbookchallenge, whereby one is to post a photo a day for each of the alphabets, relating to either book titles or themes or authors that goes with the particular alphabet each day.
Preferably, it should be books that are already on one’s existing physical TBR shelves.

I thought that sounded diverting enough.

And that’s how my unplanned reading plans came to be.
Here’s the A to Z of it.

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A¬†for Ali Smith, one of my favourite writers. I have been collecting a fair few of her works and reading my way through them over the last ten years. Still a couple of unread ones on the shelves, so I guess it’s high time I pick another.

 

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B for Bennett. Arnold Bennett’s masterpiece, ‘The Old Wives’ Tale’ has been sitting on my TBR shelves for long enough. Its time has come, I think.

 

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C for Charlie Connelly. Years ago, I was fascinated with Connelly’s idea for his two travel writing books – ‘And Did Those Feet: Walking Through 2000 Years of British And Irish History’, and ‘Attention All Shipping: A Journey Around The Shipping Forecast’. It’s strange how both these ‘fascinating’ books are still sitting unread on my shelves after all these years. :p

 

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D for Don Quixote. The sheer size of this tome is daunting for sure, but I really do want to have a go at it. Besides, I really love this Harper Perennial edition…. French flaps and deckled edges are my favourite combinations in a book. It also helps that Edith Grossman’s translation is so very readable (from the little that I’ve sampled).

 

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E for E. M. Forster. I had this packed along with me during my trip to Italy three years ago, thinking how good it would be to read this in Florence, where the book is set. Sadly, I ended up with not much reading done, but at least it was great fun setting up this shot with my friend at the hostel we were staying at, in Florence! ūüôā Time to take care of the ‘unfinished business’ this year.

 

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F for Father Brown. G. K. Chesterton’s endearing Father Brown makes for a rather unlikely, but certainly not unlikeable, mystery solving ‘Sherlock’. I love the cover designs and colours of this Penguin Classics set. Am actually in the middle of the red one, The Wisdom of Father Brown, and I can safely say that it’s as good as it looks!

 

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G for Geert Mak. ‘In Europe: Travels through the Twentieth Century’ is one of the books I am quite determined to get read this year. It’s an account about the year long journey Mak took back in 1999, across the European continent in his quest to trace Europe’s twentieth century history, before the world slipped into the twenty-first.

 

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H is for my favourite travel writer, H. V. Morton. Travel writing has always been one of my favourite genres, and not many can do it as good as Morton, I’d say. His writing is evocative of the old world charm and of a bygone era, brought vividly to life for the reader. It’s a pleasure to ‘see’ the world through his lenses.

 

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I is for ‘I Capture The Castle’. I have long heard of the many good things that fellow readers love about this coming of age modern classic, but have somehow still not gotten around to reading it for myself yet. It’s about time I ‘capture this castle’ too!

 

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J is for James. “When a man has neither wife nor mistress and leads a life which is both orderly and prudent, he does not invite the conventional biographical approach. Henry James was such a man. The richness of his life lies in his words and his relationships.” – Miranda Seymour. These lovely Konemann classics should be good enough incentive to finally get me started on some Henry James. Time to get acquainted with the man through his own words, as suggested.

 

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K is for Kate O’Brien. “O’Brien exquisitely evokes the harem atmosphere of (Irish) convent life, the beauty and the silence, the bickering and the cruelties…… If novels can be music, this is a novel with perfect pitch.” ~ Clare Boylan. Having loved Antonia White’s Frost in May (another coming of age novel with a convent school setting) when I read it some years back, I have been meaning to read O’Brien’s ‘The Land of Spices’ for some time now.

 

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L for The Lost Carving: A Journey To The Heart of Making, by master woodcarver, David Esterly. “Awestruck at the sight of a Grinling Gibbons woodcarving masterpiece in a London church, Esterly chose to dedicate his life to the craft – its physical rhythms, intricate beauty, and intellectual demands.” I have been saving this on the TBR shelves, waiting for just the right moment to savour the journey. I think I should wait no more.

 

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M for The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters. Having collected a fair few of the sisters’ (Nancy, Diana, Jessica and Deborah) individual memoirs, biographies, correspondences and writings but without having read any in proper yet, maybe this would be a good place to start getting acquainted with this extraordinary family!

 

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N for Nabokov. I have decided that this will be the year I read my first Nabokov. And it’s gonna be a toss between The Luzhin Defense, and Pnin. Probbaly The Luzhin Defense….. am in the mood for some chess, I think. These Penguin Classics editions are my favourites. Such beauties to hold and behold, don’t you think?

 

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O is for Orlando. Once described as ‘the longest and most charming love letter in literature’, this was Virginia Woolf’s¬† playfully ingenious tribute to her intimate friend and one-time lover, Vita Sackville-West. This has been biding its time on my TBR shelves for some years now. Thanks to this challenge, some of my sadly neglected books are being brought back to the fore!

 

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P is for Pollan. Michael Pollan’s ‘A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams’ tells the inspiring, insightful, and often hilarious story of Pollan’s quest to realize a room of his own – a small, wooden hut in the forest, ‘a shelter for daydreams’ – built with his own admittedly unhandy hands. It not only explores the history and meaning of all human building, but also demonstrates architecture’s unique power to give our bodies, minds and dreams a home in the world….. Don’t we all need a place like that?

 

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Q is for Q’s Legacy, by Helene Hanff. After reading and loving Hanff’s 84, Charring Cross Road some years back, I immediately went about tracking down her other works too, and was more than happy to net this omnibus of hers which holds four of her other memoirs (as well as Charring Cross Road). Q’s Legacy tells of how a library copy of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch’s series of lectures On The Art of Writing, became the foundation upon which her own writing career took shape. This is a tribute to her mentor whom she had never known except through the printed page.

 

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R for Rainer Maria Rilke. I was thrilled to find these two beautiful hardback Vitalis editions of Rilke’s work at what was once Kafka’s cottage but is now a books and souvenir shop along the Golden Lane in Prague, six years ago. I know I should have brought home a Kafka or two with me instead, but these happened to be in the bargain bin that day….. and I happen to prefer Rilke to Kafka, anyway. :p

 

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S is for Sarton and solitude. “May Sarton’s journal is not only rich in the love of nature, and the love of solitude. It is an honorable confession of the writer’s faults, fears, sadness and disappointments…. This is a beautiful book, wise and warm within its solitude.” ~ Eugenia Thornton. Solitude has always been a subject that is close to my heart. Can’t wait to read this.

 

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T is for A Treasury of Mark Twain. I found this lovely Folio edition in almost pristine condition at a second hand bookshop in Paris five years ago. I’m ashamed to confess that it’s still ‘almost pristine’, sitting patiently on the shelf waiting to be taken out of its slipcase to be read. Will need to rectify that soon!

 

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U is for Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Marriages in Literary London 1910 – 1939. The seven pairs featured in this volume are H.G. & Jane Wells, Vanessa & Clive Campbell, Radclyffe Hall & Una Troubridge, Vera Brittain & George Caitlin, Katherine Mansfield & John Middleton Murry, Ottoline & Phillip Morrell, and Elizabeth von Arnim & John Francis Russell. These couples are said to have triumphantly casted off the inhibitions of the Victorian age while pursuing bohemian ideals of freedom and equality. Time to take a peek at how it’s done back then, I guess.

 

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V is for Van Gogh: The Life, by Steven Naifeh & Gregory White Smith. This doorstopper of a biography may look daunting, but from what I’ve read (the first two chapters), it is highly readable and a very engaging one, too. I just need to try harder to not let the other books distract and detract me from staying on course! Hoping to also get around to reading some of his letters too.

 

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W is for Words In Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. Bishop is one of my favourite poets, and it’s time I start reading one of the many volumes of correspondence I’ve been collecting. Just realized that this photo has another three Ws that can fit the challenge too…… Lucy Worsley’s If Walls Could Talk, Deborah Mitford’s Wait For Me, and a volume of Woolf’s letters. Looks like I’m really spoilt for choice!

 

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X is for Michael Dirda’s Bound To Please: An eXtraordinary One-Volume Literary Education. Yes, I know it’s abit of a cheat but it’s the closest ‘X’ I have on my shelves. :p This lovely collection of essays were responsible for introducing me to many a great writer and their works. Dirda’s enthusiastically persuasive essays made me want to read almost every book that is recommended. A great book to dip into, but a very ‘bad’ one for the TBR shelves!

 

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Y is for Yates. “Richard Yates was acclaimed as one of the most powerful, compassionate and accomplished writers of America’s post-war generation. Whether addressing the smothered desire of suburban housewives, the white-collar despair of office workers or the heartbreak of a single mother with artistic pretensions, Yates ruthlessly examines the hopes and disappointments of ordinary people with empathy and humour.” High praise indeed, but I have to confess that it was mainly the fabulous cover that sold the book to me!

 

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And lastly, Z for Zweig. I have read and loved Stefan Zweig’s short stories and novellas, but have yet to read any of his full length novels in proper. Think I’ll start with this one. “In this haunting yet compassionate reworking of the Cinderella story, Zweig shows us the human cost of the boom and bust of capitalism. The Post Office Girl was completed during the 1930s as Zweig was driven by the Nazis into exile, and was found among his papers after his suicide in 1942.”

 

Not sure how long it will take for me to complete this A to Z reading list, being the slow reader that I am. What I do know is that right now, I’m feeling pretty enthusiastic about it, and that’s a good start!
Let’s just hope that I won’t be stuck at ‘D’ for a long, long time…….

ūüôā

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

Amsterdam, for the booklover….

Book-hunting and bookshop browsing is always one of the most ‘looked forward to’ highlights for all my travels. As such, I had noted down some of the bookshops that I wanted to look out for (based on the suggestions gleaned from various sources), before setting off for my recent trip to the Netherlands and Paris. Special thanks to the helpful recommendations from Bundleofbooks¬†for pointing me in the right direction.

Antiquariaat POLK – had the most friendly owner/person manning the shop. The bookshop is actually the one below ground level (notice the stairs going down?). Sorry for the rather misleading snapshot.

This little gem of a bookshop had some real treats hidden down those stairs! If not for having read about this bookshop on Bundleofbooks’ blog, I would surely have missed out on this one. And that means I would not have found my two copies of Monica Dickens (Mariana, One Pair of Hands) and Christopher Isherwood’s memoir Christopher and His Kind¬†for 2 Euro each. Two other titles which caught my eye but had to be left behind due to luggage constraint issues (as both were in bulky hardcover tomes) were a volume of Isak Dinesen’s Letters From Africa and Boswell’s London Journal.¬†Like I said, who would have thought that a hidden little nook like this could have such treasures within?

And then there are those that had looked so promising as you enter but in the end, you find yourself coming out empty handed.

A lovely looking bookshop with an attractive shopfront, but sadly the books were mostly in a language I couldn’t read.
This would have been an interesting fair to attend.
The largest used bookstore in Amsterdam.¬†Each floor stocks tomes in various languages, across all genres, and covering many subjects. There’s also a large antiquarian book section in one of the floors.

The antiquarian books section.
There are some really interesting bookish decorative pieces that can be admired amongst the antiquarian tomes on display.
Do excuse the poor quality of this shot. But I think you can still catch a vague glimpse of the two adorable decorative items in there.
The arts and graphics section.
The literary section had quite a lot to offer as well (and these were all in English, too).
And this is part of the children’s books section. I never realised that the Dutch had such an attractive and appealing offering for their young ones. The book covers were all so lovely and delightful to look at!

As abundant though, as the offering was to be found here, somehow I didn’t manage to come away with anything. The ones I had spotted and really wanted (ie: Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art: Letters¬† and¬†a couple of other literary biographies/ diaries) were either too bulky or too costly for my limited constraints. Sigh….

However, all is not lost, as I soon found my way to this :

I think that’s about as pretty as bookshops come by, don’t you agree? Somehow, having a bicycle in the picture always makes it look so much better!
A closer look at the bookshop on the left, the Straat Antiquaren.

When I entered the Straat Antiquaren, all I could see were shelves of books in languages that I wasn’t familiar with. As I made my way around the shop, skimming through the foreign titles on the rows of shelves thinking it’ll probably be another round of fruitless browsing, I came to the last row that was facing the walls on the right side of the shop. And voila! I found myself staring at shelves that were packed and stacked with English literature! How thrilling it felt. Although I came away with just two books (Katherine Mansfield: Letters & Journals, and ¬†D.E. Stevenson’s Miss Buncle’s Book), it was not for the lack of choice but rather due to ¬†budget and luggage contraints, as mentioned earlier. Otherwise, I would definitely have taken home with me the complete set of Virginia Woolf’s volumes of letters that were in almost pristine condition…..

Still, I have to say that I am pretty satisfied with the bounty from this trip, which had actually exceeded my expectations, as believe or not, I really wasn’t planning on buying that many books. Just a couple to serve as mementos for this trip, I had thought, would have been good enough. Really.

But I ended up with all these instead.

Books, glorious books!
These includes the bounty from Paris as well (the ones lying horizontal). I am especially happy with the Folio Society copy of Dicken’s London, which I got from a little bookshop that had everything going at half price. It was beside a bakery where my mum and I had stopped for an ice-cream and cranberry pie. Am also very happy with the second volume of Virginia Woolf’s diary which I found most unexpectedly in a branch of the De Slegte bookshop in Rotterdam. I hadn’t even known they had a branch there.

And oh, I think there’s just a couple more which are not in the picture. But no worries, we’ll come to that when we get to Paris.

Soon. ūüėČ