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

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

A Belated Enchantment

Recently I have been¬†‘coerced’ (in a good way, though) to watch the¬†works of the lovely Audrey Hepburn, whom I have only been vaguely acquainted with before this. Yes, I knew¬†she was the¬†actress who¬†made Truman Capote’s novella a¬†Hollywood success, and¬†hers was the¬†face I’ve seen¬†on all the¬†black and white posters¬†of her in her iconic little black dress. And¬†though I was familiar with many of the songs¬†from My Fair Lady, which I had been introduced to during my school days, I just realized that I had no recollection of the film at all. I had even thought that it was Julie Andrews who was in it! :p

Watching My Fair Lady again (or could it actually be for the first time??) was nothing short of a treat. It was pure enjoyment to watch how the transformation of Eliza Doolitle, from¬†a Cockney working class girl to¬†being a ‘lady’, was brought about by the pompous Professor Henry Higgins. I love the wit and humour in their dialogues (the songs were great, too!), and found myself smiling almost throughout the entire 175 minutes of the film. To think that Hepburn was snubbed of an Oscar nomination just because the producer had decided to¬†use a professional singing voice¬†for¬†Eliza’s¬†songs, is a gross injustice to Hepburn, to say the least. Personally, I feel that her performance in the role had certainly surpassed whatever singing talents that were required.

Well, having begun on my belated discovery of this fair lady, I then went on to watch her pair up with Peter O’Toole¬†as they ¬†plot and play together in How To Steal A Million. With Paris as the setting for the story, there was nothing to not love about the film. Comedy, romance, adventure, Paris….. all the ingredients for a delightful piece of work.

 

hepburn - paris always a good idea (bw)Considering the fact that six of her films were set in Paris, I thought that watching an Audrey Hepburn film for Paris in July would be a good idea, too. ūüôā

I just came across this very apt description of Ms Hepburn, which simply says it so much better than what I have been trying to :

“Audrey Hepburn was never a Parisienne, yet she embodies what many of us long for when we visit Paris: elegance and wit, grace and style.”

Three films (I managed to watch yet another one – Two For The Road) and a whole lot of trivia later, I can safely say that I am glad for my friend’s persistent¬†efforts. And as for the¬†wonderful Ms Hepburn herself, I can only say that what my ears have heard before,¬†now my eyes have seen.

 

The Big Bad Wolf Box Sale: Box the First

BBW Box 1a (2016)

So, this is the sale where you pay for the box and get to stuff it with as many books as you wish, as long as the box can be closed and sealed, flat.

I have to say that I was quite impressed with my own packing skills (hahah!) considering the fact that I managed to squeeze all the above, and the ones below (plus a few thick hardcover volumes of food/ healthcare books that my mum wanted that are not in the photo), into one 32.5cm x 46cm x 20cm box.

BBW Box 1 (2016)

The Willa Cather letters was an unexpected (but utterly delightful!) find. A lovely hardback volume, with a beautiful dust jacket. I have to confess that I have yet to read any of her works, but have read so many good things about her that I am determined to get acquainted soon.

The two pretty¬†volumes¬†of Gerald Durrells (A Zoo In My Luggage; The Aye-Aye and I) are the lesser known titles compared to his popular Corfu trilogy,¬†with The Aye-Aye and I¬†being¬†Durrell’s¬†final adventure.

What made me pick¬†out Evan S. Connell’s Mr Bridge was mainly¬†because¬†I had spotted its Penguin Modern Classics spine, and¬†rare is the occasion where I see one and don’t bring¬†it home. Now I guess I’ll probably have to look out for Mrs Bridge, too. :p

Julian Barnes’¬†Through the Window: Seventeen Essays (and¬†one short story)¬†looks rather promising as well. “From the deceptiveness of Penelope Fitzgerald to the directness of Hemingway, from Kipling’s view of France to the French view of Kipling, from the many translations of Madame Bovary to the fabulations of Ford Madox Ford, from the National Treasure Status of George Orwell to the despair of Michel Houellebecq, Julian Barnes considers what fiction is, and what it can do.¬†”

Adding on to my growing pile of ‘armchair gardening’ reads, are Richard Goodman’s French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France¬†and The Roots of My Obsession: Thirty Great Gardeners Reveal Why They Garden. Delicious titles, don’t you think?

Chris West’s fascinating A History of Britain in Thirty Six Postage Stamps¬†sounds like my kind of history book. Although I was never a stamp collector (I was more into coin collecting back then), this looks¬†to be¬†an exquisite volume that holds much appeal. ūüôā

Being the Francophile that I am, I was thrilled to discover Lorant Deutsch’s Metronome: A History of Paris from the Underground Up. “Metronome follows Lor√°nt Deutsch, historian and lifelong Francophile, as he goes on a compelling journey through the ages, treating readers to Paris as they’ve never seen it before. Using twenty-one stops of the subway system as focal points‚Äēone per century‚ÄēDeutsch shows, from the underground up, the unique, often violent, and always striking events that shaped one of the world’s most romanticized city. Readers will find out which streets are hiding incredible historical treasures in plain sight; peer into forgotten nooks and crannies of the City of Lights and learn what used to be there; and discover that, however deeply buried, something always remains.”

If all I had managed to find in the sale was just this one book, I think I would still have felt that the trip was well worth it. Vivian Swift’s Le Road Trip: A Traveler’s Journal of Love and France¬†has been on my wishlist ever since I knew of its publication four years ago. I became a fan of her works after¬†chancing upon her first book When Wanderers Cease To Roam: A Traveler’s¬†Journal of Staying Put, in one of the Big Bad Wolf sales some years ago. Her beautiful¬†illustrations and charming doodlings are a delight to feast upon. Highly recommended!

I was also very happy to bring home the pile of Home and Living coffee table books¬†in the second photo, as these books are usually out of my budget (even during their normal sale), so if ever there was a good time to grab them, it’s during the box sale. And grab them, I did!

All in all, each book in the box had averaged out to just around 1 USD (or less)¬†each. Now, that’s quite a hard bargain to beat, wouldn’t you say? As the sale is still on till the end of this week, I am planning to make another trip or two, and hopefully come back with more goodies to share.¬†Until then…. happy reading, everyone! ūüôā

 

 

Bookish Goodness

Time for some long overdue bookish goodness to be shared on this little neglected blog of mine. While my reading may not have been all that ‘robust’ in the past few months, the book buying certainly seems ‘healthy’ enough. :p

Most of these came from a box sale, where I just had to pay for the box and I get to fill it up as best as I could. The average cost of each book came up to be around USD1 or less. Isn’t that a steal? ūüôā

Am really interested in both the John Updike and Will Gompertz books on art criticism. Before this, I only knew of Updike and his Rabbit books which I never did pay much attention to. This book of essays on art seem far more appealing.

Robert D. Kaplan and Rosemary George are both unfamiliar names to me, but with titles such as these, Mediterranean Winter: The Pleasures of History & Landscape in Tunisia, Sicily, Dalmatia and the Peloponnese and Treading Grapes: Walking Through The Vineyards of Tuscany, I think I wouldn’t mind getting better acquainted with them.

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I love the cover of this one. And in my favourite Penguin Classics edition too! ūüôā

Another highlight from the stack was the McCullers. I was most excited with this find, The Mortgaged Heart. Although I have yet to read any of her works, I think I have heard enough of her high praises to be rightly so in anticipating a really good encounter with this one, a collection of her writings that were mostly written before she was nineteen. The fact that her masterpiece (The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter) was published just a few years later when she was only twenty three says much about the quality that can be expected from her teenage writing, I think. By the way, don’t you just love the cover of this one?

IMG_1750aOne can never have too many books about the love of books and the people who collect them. So, of course these two had to come home with me once they were spotted. I am still on the lookout for Basbanes’ classic, A Gentle Madness (love the title!) but for now, Patience & Fortitude will have to do.

IMG_1748aI never knew Sylvia Plath could draw, did you? Well, apparently she did and did quite well too.

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IMG_1898aI foresee many pleasurable hours ahead with this haul.

ūüôā

 

In The Eyes of An Artist….

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Rodin’s Thinker & Eiffel’s Tower – two masterpieces, side by side. One of my favourite shots taken during my last visit to Paris.

To any artist worthy of the name, all in nature is beautiful, because his eyes, fearlessly accepting all exterior truth, read there, as in an open book, all the inner truth.

Auguste Rodin

One thing leading to another…..

Can’t believe it’s already the end of September. And once again I’ve managed to post nothing till now. This is certainly not the path I wish¬†to see¬†this little blog¬†go down. I do miss¬†spending time¬†here,¬†as well as¬†time spent visiting all your lovely bookish blogs out there. It feels abit like I have just¬†spun myself out of orbit lately.

September¬†had actually started off on a rather promising note. I started going back to the gym consistently (3 or 4 times a week), and was¬†getting back into the audiobooks I had got going earlier. It felt good to¬†have finally¬†managed to get past¬†Hugo’s neverending extensive chapters describing the Battle of Waterloo and get on with the story of poor little Cossete instead,¬†in Les Miserables. I also enjoyed listening further¬†to how Mary Russell was getting on¬†at her first encounter with the enigmatic feminist Margery Childe in¬†A Montrous Regiment of Women. This is my first Mary Russell book and I think it won’t be the last.

Besides these, I¬†also found myself¬†getting rather caught up in¬†Barbara Vine’s¬†atmostpheric tale of murder and mystery with¬†an imposing¬†rural estate as its setting in A Fatal Inversion. William Gaminara’s reading¬†is just perfect¬†in this¬†telling¬†of the tale. Somehow, I am¬†reminded of Donna Tart’s The Secret History, which I happened to have just finished listening to recently. Maybe it’s¬†the tone or theme on youthful passions gone awry, and how¬†one carries on¬†living a life¬†of guilt and regrets that I find similar to The Secret History.

I am not a reader of crime novels usually, but somehow one thing seemed to have led to another, and as a result of having read¬†this post at Books to the Ceiling¬†a few weeks back, I found myself¬†browsing through the shelves at the Crime/ Thriller section¬†while I¬†was¬†at one of the local bookstores recently. A couple of the new¬†Penguin editions (with new translations) of Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret series caught my eye and before long, I decided that I¬†wanted to¬†get better acquainted with Inspector Maigret and spend some time in the some of the seedier¬†parts of Paris¬†(and¬†her neighbouring countries,¬†as well). And so,¬†out of the¬†entire 75 Maigret novels¬†that Simenon had churned out, I¬†think I’m going to start with this one.

Don’t they all look great? Such stylish noir…. ¬†it does make crime look rather inviting, don’t you think?

“The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien was written in the autumn of 1930 and draws on Simenon‚Äôs experiences in Li√®ge years earlier, just before he moved to Paris. At that time, he had been involved with a literary set, comprised of poets and young artists. A member of the group, Joseph Jean Kleine, was found hanging from the doorway of the church of Saint-Pholien during this period, a tragedy that left its mark on Simenon.”

Besides the new Penguin Simenons, there was one other particular book cover that stood out and caught my attention.
Peter May’s Extraordinary People. Any book that has a¬†black and white shot of Paris on its cover will always get my attention.¬†It doesn’t hurt to also find that the book does actually have an interesting storyline to go along with, and its author is one whom I have read good things about.¬†Never mind that¬†those good things I’ve read about Peter May were mainly to do with his award-winning Lewis Trilogy, which strangely,¬†does not hold¬†much of an appeal¬†to me. Not as much as this does, anyway.

Peter May - Extraordinary Ppl

 PARIS

An old mystery
As midnight strikes, a man desperately seeking sanctuary flees into a church. The next day, his sudden disappearance will make him famous throughout France.

A new science
Forensic expert Enzo Macleod takes a wager to solve the seven most notorious French murders using modern technology – and a total disregard for the justice system.

A fresh trail
Deep in the catacombs below the city, he unearths dark clues deliberately set – and as he draws closer to the killer, discovers that he is to be the next victim.

So, is anyone else in the mood for some murder?

ūüėČ

 

Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932

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View from the top of Tour Montparnasse (2007).

Paris
May 14, 1924

Dear parents,

Last night I visited a club in Montparnasse where the men dress as women and the women as men. Papa would have loved it. And Mama’s face would have crinkled in that special smile she has for Papa’s passion for everything French.
The place is called the Chameleon Club. It’s a few steps down from the street. You need a password to get in. The password is: Police! Open up! The customers find it amusing.

Francine Prose, ‘Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932’.

Inspired by the¬†classic Brassai photograph seen in an exhibit,¬†¬†in which¬†two women are sitting at a nightclub table ‚ÄĒ one of them gazing off, wearing an evening gown and a 1930s wave in her hair; the other, in a man’s suit and tie, embracing her in an almost possessive fashion, Francine Prose’s curiousity led her to begin¬†researching deeper into the couple¬†portrayed in¬†the photo.

What she¬†learned later,¬†turned out to be¬†compelling enough¬†to make¬†her¬†want to tell the story of how Violette Morris (the woman in the man’s suit),¬†went from being a French professional athlete and race-car driver, to spying for Germany and working with the Nazis¬†after they had¬†opccupied France. Prose sets out to tell the story of the former athlete turned traitor as the fictionalized Lou Villars from multiple perspectives, in the form of chapters from several books by different authors.¬†I’ve only just gotten hold of a copy of the ebook¬†and am rather curious¬†to see how this will¬†actually work out in the flow of the storytelling. One of the reviews I read said that Prose manages to “… toss them together in a way that is less a biography and more a rich portrait of a difficult age, where the difference between survival and surrender could be nothing more than an image on film.” That sounds promising. From the onset though, the book¬†does¬†look to have enough¬†of all the right ingredients in it to make me anticipate a jolly good read. Anything with Paris as its backdrop can’t possibly go very wrong, can it? ūüėõ

The Montparnasse of the 1920s must have been a very different one from the Montparnasse of today, at least from my own personal encounter with this 14th arrondissement. Or perhaps that has more to do with the fact that my experience of the district had consisted mainly of its beautiful cemetery and the spectacular views from atop the Tour Montparnasse in broad daylight, and did not feature any form of nightclubs or nightlife whatsoever. For all I know, nightlife in Paris might not have changed very much after all.

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Managed to locate this, thanks to a kind gentleman who pointed me in the right direction after seeing me looking lost amongst the graves.
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This reminds me, I really want to read Maupassant’s ‘Une Vie’.
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Is it only me, or does anyone else thinks too that the male figure bears a strong resemblance to Dickens?
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Is it any wonder, in Paris at least, that one can easily prefer to spend time among the dead, than the living?
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The view of the Père Lachaise Cemetery from the top of Tour Montparnasse.

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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 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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