There are experiences of landscape that will always resist articulation, and of which words offer only a remote echo – or to which silence is by far the best response. Nature does not name itself. Granite does not self-identify as igneous. Light has no grammar. Language is always late for its subject. Sometimes on the top of a mountain I just say, ‘Wow’.
“If you cannot read all your books, at any rate handle, or as it were, fondle them – peer into them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on the shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that if you do not know what is in them, you at least know where they are. Let them be your friends; let them at any rate be your acquaintances. If they cannot enter the circle of your life, do not deny them at least a nod of recognition.”
Winston Churchill, ‘Painting as a Pastime’.
If those are not the words of a true kindred spirit, I don’t know what is. 🙂
It will not come as a surprise to anyone here to hear me say that I have long since come to the realization that the books I have acquired todate (& it’s still an ongoing thing) already far exceeds what I could possibly read in my lifetime. My only consolation is that, the pleasure that I get to derive from them are not just limited to the reading of them. It gives me tremendous joy and comfort just knowing that they are there waiting for me, for the right time.
At any rate, one of my intentions for this new reading year, is to endeavor to put Mr. Churchill’s wise words to practice. And to make it more fun (& random) I thought I’d use my Goodreads account to sort and select a random batch of titles in my TBR stacks for me to seek out and explore each week. I don’t mean that I’ll be reading these selections in proper (although I may very well do so too, if I find one that’s too good to be put down!), but rather just to do as Mr. Churchill suggests, to give them the recognition they deserve. This will hopefully help me get back in touch with some of the neglected titles that might have fallen ‘out of sight, out of mind’ along the way….
And so, as it happens, I’ll be starting off with these six here (within the box):
So, here goes my third (and final, phew!) box from the box sales. Once again, there are quite a number of finds in here that I am pretty excited about. 🙂
First up, Hollowayby Robert Macfarlane, Stanley Donwood & Dan Richards. Holloway – a hollow way, a sunken path. A route that centuries of foot-fall, hoof-hit, wheel-roll and rain-run have harrowed deep down into bedrock. In July 2005, Robert Macfarlane and Roger Deakin – author of Wildwood – travelled to explore the holloways of South Dorset’s sandstone. They found their way into a landscape of shadows, spectres & great strangeness. Six years later, after Roger Deakin’s early death, Robert Macfarlane returned to the holloway with the artist Stanley Donwood and writer Dan Richards. The book is about those journeys and that landscape. Moving in the spaces between social history, psychogeography and travel writing, Holloway is a beautiful and haunted work of art.
I still have two of Macfarlane’s works on my shelves unread. Maybe I should start with this slim volume to get me warmed up to his writing.
The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit.
I have already mentioned how thrilled I was with this find in an earlier post, and will continue to share whatever interesting bits I come across as I read along.
The Mystery Guest: An Account by Gregoire Bouillier is “… a true story of how a bottle of Bordeaux, a nonconsensual work of conceptual art, and a seemingly innocuous comment at a dinner party enabled one man to unravel the mystery of his being dumped, to explore how literature shapes and gives meaning to our lives, to let go of his heartbreak and his dependence on turtlenecks, and to — in the most unexpected of ways — fall in love again.”
I was a bit intrigued when I read the blurb on the book, plus it was a slim volume so it didn’t take much effort to just slip it into the box.
Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste by Luke Barr (who happens to be the great nephew of M.F. K. Fisher), tells of a singular historic moment. “In the winter of that year, more or less coincidentally, the iconic culinary figures James Beard, M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, Richard Olney, Simone Beck, and Judith Jones found themselves together in the South of France. They cooked and ate, talked and argued, about the future of food in America, the meaning of taste, and the limits of snobbery. Without quite realizing it, they were shaping today’s tastes and culture, the way we eat now.”
I foresee spending some rather delectable hours in this, and in Judith Jones’ The Tenth Muse: My Life In Food. “Living in Paris after World War II, Jones broke free of bland American food and reveled in everyday French culinary delights. On returning to the States she published Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The rest is publishing and gastronomic history. [….] The Tenth Muse is an absolutely charming memoir by a woman who was present at the creation of the American food revolution and played a pivotal role in shaping it.”
Doris Drucker’s catchy title Invent Radium or I’ll Pull Your Hair: A Memoir caught my eye and upon closer inspection, confirmed it’s place in the box. “Rothschilds and radium were the horizons of Doris’s childhood. Born in Germany in the early twentieth century, she came of age in an upper-middle-class family that struggled to maintain its bourgeois respectability between the two World Wars. Doris Drucker (she met her husband Peter—of management fame—in the 1930s) has penned a lively and charming memoir that brings to life the Germany of her childhood. Rather than focusing on the rise of Hitler, Drucker weaves history into her story of the day-to-day life of a relatively apolitical family.” I am looking forward to this. 🙂
I seem to have been collecting quite a few of Simon Garfield’s works lately, the latest being this, To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing, which was found at the sale. As this happens to be a subject that has always been close to my heart, adding it into the box was a no-brainer. The lovely dust jacket that came with it was a bonus, I must say.
I was also quite thrilled to find Jennifer Kloester’s Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Bestseller among the stacks. Never mind the fact that I have actually not read any Georgette Heyer so far. Anticipation is half the fun, don’t you think? 😉
I have never heard of Phillip Lopate before but his collection of essays in Portrait Inside My Head: Essays is described as a collection that “….. weaves together the colorful threads of a life well lived and brings us on an invigorating and thoughtful journey through memory, culture, parenthood, the trials of marriage both young and old, and an extraordinary look at New York’s storied past and present.”
I think I’ll like that.
I have been curious about Niall Williams’ History of the Rain for some time now but had never really planned to get a copy of it (especially not a hardcover) until I saw it in this particular edition. The cover sort of sold it to me. But I am really interested in the contents too, after reading this: “We are our stories. We tell them to stay alive or keep alive those who only live now in the telling. That’s how it seems to me, being alive for a little while, the teller and the told.” So says Ruthie Swain. The bedridden daughter of a dead poet, home from college after a collapse (Something Amiss, the doctors say), she is trying to find her father through stories–and through generations of family history in County Clare (the Swains have the written stories, from salmon-fishing journals to poems, and the maternal MacCarrolls have the oral) and through her own writing (with its Superabundance of Style). Ruthie turns also to the books her father left behind, his library transposed to her bedroom and stacked on the floor, which she pledges to work her way through while she’s still living.
Managed to find yet another rather good spread of travel, photography & cookbooks to add into the box. Interestingly, one of the books, Mariel’s Kitchen, is actually written by Ernest Hemingway’s granddaughter, Mariel.
I am particularly excited about Annie Leibovitz’s Pilgrimage, which took her to “…..places that she could explore with no agenda. She wasn’t on assignment. She chose the subjects simply because they meant something to her. The first place was Emily Dickinson’s house in Amherst, Massachusetts, which Leibovitz visited with a small digital camera. A few months later, she went with her three young children to Niagara Falls. “That’s when I started making lists,” she says. She added the houses of Virginia Woolf and Charles Darwin in the English countryside and Sigmund Freud’s final home, in London, but most of the places on the lists were American. The work became more ambitious as Leibovitz discovered that she wanted to photograph objects as well as rooms and landscapes. She began to use more sophisticated cameras and a tripod and to travel with an assistant, but the project remained personal.” The site of Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond also made it into the list. That should be interesting.
City Parks captures the spirit and beauty of eighteen of the world’s most-loved city parks. Zadie Smith, Ian Frazier, Candice Bergen, Colm Tóibín, Nicole Krauss, Jan Morris, and a dozen other remarkable contributors reflect on a particular park that holds special meaning for them. Andrew Sean Greer eloquently paints a portrait of first love in the Presidio; André Aciman muses on time’s fleeting nature and the changing face of New York viewed from the High Line; Pico Iyer explores hidden places and privacy in Kyoto; Jonathan Alter takes readers from the 1968 race riots to Obama’s 2008 victory speech in Chicago’s Grant Park; Simon Winchester invites us along on his adventures in the Maidan; and Bill Clinton writes of his affection for Dumbarton Oaks.
I just love the idea behind this project. Public places, private thoughts.
Still on photography, Giselle Freund’s Photographs & Memoirs offers a sort of photographic diary of the 20th century, “….. with more than 200 photographs spanning five decades and put together by the artist shortly before her death features, among others, Freund’s coverage of the last pre-Nazi May Day rally in Frankfurt in 1932 and of the 1935 international writers conference in Paris; intimate early color portraits of Walter Benjamin, James Joyce, Sartre, Marcel Duchamp, Simone de Beauvoir, and many others.”
Color is all around us every day. We use it to interpret the world―red means stop, blue means water, orange means construction. But it is also written into our metaphors, of speech and thought alike: yellow means cowardice; green means envy―unless you’re in Germany, where yellow means envy, and you can be “beat up green and yellow.”
Jude Stewart, a design expert and writer, digs into this rich subject with gusto. What color is the universe? We might say it’s black, but astrophysicists think it might be turquoise. Unless it’s beige. To read about color from Jude Stewart is to unlock a whole different way of looking at the world around us―and bringing it all vividly to life.
Perhaps Stewart’s book will also help me to better appreciate the explosive use of colours that the renowned textile artist Kaffe Fasset is known for, in his Dreaming in Color: An Autobiography.
When it comes to books, it will only be a ‘more and more’ and never ‘none’ scenario for me, I guess. As with previous years, I wish I had read more and bought less. But as it has been said that anticipation is half the pleasure, I suppose then there’s really no reason or need to feel much regret (or remorse) over this past reading year.
These final book hauls came from two different book sales that took place earlier this month. As compared to previous years, I must say that this time I have shown much more restraint and exercised better control over the buying. See, just one photo to fit it all in. (hah!)
I was more than delighted to find the lovely Penguin Christmas Classics edition of Anthony Trollope’s Christmas at Thompson Hall & Other Christmas Stories. This collection makes for the perfect Christmas reading, while being the thing of beauty that it is, to hold and behold.
Another equally satisfying find from the sale came in the form of a Penguin Threads edition of Jane Austen’s Emma. I was hoping to be able to get a copy of it in time to read in conjunction with its 200th anniversary celebrations. So, this came at just the right time, and in the exact edition of my choice too! Couldn’t be happier.
A Month in The Countryby J. L Carr has long been on my wishlish. I have read many good things about this book and am highly anticipating it.
The Secret Lives of People in Loveby Simon Van Booy.
This is a volume of 24 short stories, including those from an earlier collection titled Love Begins in Winter.“Set in a range of locations, from Cornwall, Wales, and New York to Paris and Rome, these stark and beautiful stories are a perfect synthesis of intensity and atmosphere. Love, loss, isolation and the power of memory are Van Booy’s themes, and in spare, economical prose he writes about the difficult choices we make in order to retain our humanity, and about the redemptive power of love in a violent world.”
On Looking : About Everything There is to Seeby Alexandra Horowitz.
I have another book by Horowitz, Inside of A Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know which I have not yet read, and was surprised to find this one, which despite the misleading picture on the cover, has nothing to do with dogs. Instead, it talks about our inattention to the things around us. It is about attending to the joys of the unattended, the perceived ‘ordinary’ and how to rediscover the ‘extraordinary’ in our ordinary routines. Sounds interesting?
After reading and loving Patrick Gale’s The Cat Sanctuary just a couple of months back, I have been on the lookout for more of his works. And so A Sweet Obscurity was picked solely on the strength of my previous encounter with his work. If I had just gone by the blurb on the back of the book, I would surely have passed it by.
I have read good things about Stella Duffy’s The Room of Lost Things and have been curious to try out her books one of these days. Since Calender Girlwas the only title I came across at the sale, I took a chance with it.
The Big New Yorker Book of Cats is an anthology of essays, poetry, fiction and cartoons contributed by a stellar list of writers such as Margaret Atwood, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Elizabeth Bishop, Roald Dahl, Ted Hughes and Haruki Murakami. .Defiinitely a good one to dip into every now and then when one is in the mood for all things kitty.
The Picador Book of Journeys on the other hand, is an anthology of writing which challenges that which we define as travel writing. This selection takes us on a fascinating journey of writers and discoverers such as Chekhov, Doris Lessing, Tobias Wolff, Flaubert, Elizabeth David and V.S Naipaul, among others.
Landscape with Figures: Selected Prose Writings by Richard Jefferies.
“Richard Jefferies was the most imaginative and least conventional of nineteenth-century observers of the natural world. Trekking across the English countryside, he recorded his responses to everything from the texture of an owl’s feather and ‘noises in the air’ to the grinding hardship of rural labour. This superb selection of his essays and articles shows a writer who is brimming with intense feeling, acutely aware of the land and those who work on it, and often ambivalent about the countryside. Who does it belong to? Is it a place, an experience or a way of life? In these passionate and idiosyncratic writings, almost all our current ideas and concerns about rural life can be found.” I have never heard of Richard Jefferies before but am now interested to get acquainted.
The Missing Ink: How handwriting made us who we are by Philip Hensher.
“From the crucial role of handwriting in a child’s development, to the novels of Dickens and Proust – and whether a person’s writing really reveals their true personality – The Missing Ink goes in search of the stories and characters that have shaped our handwriting, and how it in turn has shaped us.” Interesting food for thought, eh?
Sharon Lovejoy’s A Blessing of Toads: A Gardener’s Guide to Living with Natureis a lovely discovery. Beautiful illustrations accompanying delightful essays on the boundless joys of a country garden. This is a lovely addition to the growing pile of armchair gardening books that I seem to have been steadily acquiring in recent years.
Lastly, a coffee table book that every bibliophile should have – Living With Books by Alan Powers. “This is an inspirational book that explores over 150 ways in which books can not only be stored, but made to play a full part in the character of a home, be it large or small, minimalist or full of cluttered charm. Books are among the commonest but most treasured possessions in a home, yet their storage and display is often neglected and not given serious consideration as part of the interior design – something all the more necessary as the functions of home and workplace now often merge.”
Now, this will probably give me a better idea as to how to deal with these new stacks!
Alright, moving on to the next haul….
First up, Cleopatra’s Nose: 39 Varieties of Desire by Judith Thurman.
I had no idea what the book was about before picking it up, although the author’s name sounded familiar. Upon closer inspection, I found that this is a volume of essays and profiles written for the New Yorker by the author (and biographer of Isak Dinesen & Colette) on the subjects of human vanity & femininity. Looking forward to this one. And yes, there really is a write up on Cleopatra’s Nose, in case you are interested. 😉
Gentry: Six Hundred Years of a Peculiarly English Class by Adam Nicolson.
“Adam Nicolson tells the story of England through the history of fourteen gentry families – from the 15th century to the present day. This sparkling work of history reads like a real-life Downton Abbey, as the loves, hatreds and many times of grief of his chosen cast illuminate the grand events of history.”
With BBC’s Downton Abbey having finally drawn to a close, this might not be a bad alternative to consider helping with the possible withdrawal symptoms.
Edward Lear’s The Complete Verse and Other Nonsense seemed like a fun one to bring home. This delightful collection, the most comprehensive ever compiled of his work, presents all of Lear’s verse and other nonsense writings, including stories, letters, and illustrated alphabets, as well as previously unpublished material.
I used to enjoy writing silly limericks myself when I was much younger, and together with my best friend, we used to call ourselves The Rhyme Slime (doesn’t sound very complimentary, I know :p) so, this really should be my kind of book, I guess.
I also got myself two 3-in-1 volumes of The Adventures of Tintin (Volume 6 & 7), simply because they were such good value for the money. And besides, I really like Snowy the dog. 🙂
I have long been aware of Philip Roth’s fame but somehow have never found any of his books to be appealing enough to try. And even this one, Goodbye, Columbus and Five Short Stories, I was actually first drawn to it by its cover more than anything else. I am happy to find that the stories in this volume at least, do not seem to put me off. Let’s see how well Mr. Roth and I will get along then.
I actually do already own a copy of Virginia Woolf’s Between The Acts but this was a lovely Vintage edition which I find really beautiful, plus it features a Foreword by Jeanette Winterson and an Introduction by Jackie Kay, which were all the more reason to get this copy too.
Robert Macfarlane’s The Wild Places “…. is both an intellectual and a physical journey, and Macfarlane travels in time as well as space. Guided by monks, questers, scientists, philosophers, poets and artists, both living and dead, he explores our changing ideas of the wild. From the cliffs of Cape Wrath, to the holloways of Dorset, the storm-beaches of Norfolk, the saltmarshes and estuaries of Essex, and the moors of Rannoch and the Pennines, his journeys become the conductors of people and cultures, past and present, who have had intense relationships with these places.”
I am wondering if I should start with this book first or The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot….. any suggestions?
Christopher Benfey is a new name to me, but I found two of his works in this sale and both appeals to me very much. A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain , Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Martin Johnson Heade. “At the close of the Civil War, the lives of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Martin Johnson Heade intersected in an intricate map of friendship, family, and romance that marked a milestone in the development of American art and literature. Using the image of a flitting hummingbird as a metaphor for the gossamer strands that connect these larger-than-life personalities, Christopher Benfey re-creates the summer of 1882, the summer when Mabel Louise Todd-the protégé to the painter Heade-confesses her love for Emily Dickinson’s brother, Austin, and the players suddenly find themselves caught in the crossfire between the Calvinist world of decorum, restraint, and judgment and a new, unconventional world in which nature prevails and freedom is all.”
Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay: Reflections on Art, Family, and Survival.
“An unforgettable voyage across the reaches of America and the depths of memory, this generational memoir of one incredible family reveals America’s unique craft tradition. In Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay, renowned critic Christopher Benfey shares stories—of his mother’s upbringing in rural North Carolina among centuries-old folk potteries; of his father’s escape from Nazi Europe; of his great-aunt and -uncle Josef and Anni Albers, famed Bauhaus artists exiled at Black Mountain College—unearthing an ancestry, and an aesthetic, that is quintessentially American. With the grace of a novelist and the eye of a historian, Benfey threads these stories together into a radiant and mesmerizing harmony.”
The Bosnia List: A Memoir of War, Exile, and Returnby Kenan Trebincevic and Susan Shapiro, is a memoir of a different kind. It tells the tale of a young survivor of the Bosnian War, returning to his homeland after two decades to confront those who betrayed his family. While the subject matter may be rather heavy, the heart of the story is said to be one mesmerizing tale of survival and healing.
Now for something much lighter, but no less thoughtful, Linda Grant’s The Thoughtful Dresser: The Art of Adornment, the Pleasures of Shopping, and Why Clothes Matter, the thinking woman’s guide on what to wear.
“For centuries, an interest in clothes has been dismissed as the trivial pursuit of vain, empty-headed women. Yet, clothes matter, whether you are interested in fashion or not, because how we choose to dress defines who we are. How we look and what we wear tells a story.”
Hopefully this can help bring about some improvement/ enhancement on my wardrobe, of which my mum is of the opinion of it being a disgrace. :p
Missing Lucile: Memories of the Grandmother I Never Knewby Suzanne Berne.
Yet another memoir (I do have a fondness for them), and this time it’s about the writer’s attempt at uncovering the woman who was her grandmother.
“Every family has a missing person, someone who died young or disappeared, leaving a legacy of loss. Aided by vintage photographs and a box of old keepsakes, Berne sets out to fill in her grandmother’s silhouette and along the way uncovers her own foothold in American history.”
Christopher Isherwood’s The Sixties – Diaries: 1960-1969. This second volume of Christopher Isherwood’s remarkable diaries opens on his fifty-sixth birthday, as the fifties give way to the decade of social and sexual revolution. Isherwood takes the reader from the bohemian sunshine of Southern California to a London finally swinging free of post-war gloom, to the racy cosmopolitanism of New York and to the raw Australian outback.
The diaries are crammed with wicked gossip and probing psychological insights about the cultural icons of the time—Francis Bacon, Richard Burton, Leslie Caron, Marianne Faithfull, David Hockney, Mick Jagger, Hope Lange, W. Somerset Maugham, John Osborne, Vanessa Redgrave, Tony Richardson, David O. Selznick, Igor Stravinsky, Gore Vidal, and many others. But the diaries are most revealing about Isherwood himself—his fiction (including A Single Man and Down There on a Visit), his film writing, his college teaching, and his affairs of the heart.
As with memoirs and correspondences, diaries are yet another genre that I have a fondness for, as they are probably the most intimate insight we can hope to have of the person behind the writer. I still have his Berlin stories yet to be read, and but have enjoyed A Single Man (the movie version, though).
Last but not least, this was one of the most promising unexpected finds from the sale – Jessica A. Fox’s Three Things You Need to Know About Rockets: A Real-Life Scottish Fairy Tale.
If it wasn’t for the cover, a book with a title like that would certainly have had my eyes glazing over it. Now we all know how important book covers are…. (as with book titles!) :p
“Jessica Fox was living in Hollywood, an ambitious 26-year-old film-maker with a high-stress job at NASA. Working late one night, craving another life, she was seized by a moment of inspiration and tapped “second hand bookshop Scotland” into Google. She clicked the first link she saw.
A month later, she arrived 2,000 miles across the Atlantic in Wigtown, on the west coast of Scotland, and knocked on the door of the bookshop she would be living in for the next month . . .”
As it happens, I had just read about the same bookshop in Wigtown that offers travellers a holiday experience of the bookish kind, just a week or so before chancing upon this book. A bookish serendipity of sorts, for me. 🙂
It’s always a tough choice to decide which books get to be read first (out of all these lovelies), but this time, the choice has been rather easy and timely.
And with that, I wish you all the very best in all regards and a very Happy New Year, to be filled with many joyous hours of reading pleasure, and all things dear.
Oh, one last bit of goodness to leave you with before I go….. enjoy! 🙂