What I’ve been reading

random 6 (w2c)

These would have been the next batch in line to receive their moment of due recognition, but as it is, there are no hard and fast rules pertaining to the bookish way of life around my shelves…. and so these have been pre-empted in order to give way to the not-so-random six that has been selected instead.

My Random Six (Week 4)

Elizabeth Bowen – The Collected Stories of Elizabeth Bowen

Henry Green – Nothing, Doting, Blindness.

Rose Macaulay – The Towers of Trebizond.

Graham Greene – Reflections.

Virginia Woolf – The Waves.

Anthony Curtis – Virginia Woolf : Bloomsbury & Beyond.

This ensemble was largely inspired by Lara Feigel’s The Love-Charm of Bombs, which I have been enjoying in the past week. I had initially thought it would be just a sort of ‘touch and go’ kinda thing, but it appears that ‘my random six‘ project is turning out to be a much more comprehensive affair. Not that I’m complaining, though. I’m really glad that it’s getting me to finally read the books that I have been long meaning to.

I read a couple of Bowen’s stories from the war years and discovered that she can actually give Susan Hill a run for her money in the horror story department. ūüėĪ Check out her chilling piece, The Demon Lover, if you want to know what I mean.

Also read a couple of Greene’s essays/ reviews during the war years and am reminded to get around to some J. B. Priestley soon.

Sampled a bit of Henry Green’s debut novel, Blindness, and am making sure that I return to it later. It’s rather good. ūüôā

As for Macaulay, she will be getting a post of her own soon. Anyone with the courage to volunteer as an ambulance driver during the Blitz, knowing that she was well over the acceptable age limit (she was fifty nine!), definitely deserves a little bit more, I think.

Boxes of delight! (Part 1)

I have been so overwhelmed by the amount of treasures that came home with me from this year’s Big Bad Wolf Box Sale that it has taken me forever to get this post up on the blog, simply because I just didn’t know where to begin¬†in sharing the¬†richness of this loot! ūüėÄ

There are so many good finds in there that I am more than excited to show and tell. So, without further ado, here there are:


I found quite a few gems in the nature/ animals section!

I remember having read some good things about the Beatrix Potter biography some time back and was very happy that I also managed to get my hands on a Peter Rabbit box set to bring home with me. As I have never been properly acquainted with Potter and her creations before, they would do well to complement the biography, I think.

Finding a copy of Durrell’s The Corfu Trilogy and The Whispering Land also brought much cheer to the box. ūüôā I recall finding two other of his works at last year’s box sale and they were also in the same edition as the one found this time, so that makes it even better.

I have never heard of The Walker’s Guide to Outdoor Clues & Signs by Tristan Gooley but this winner of the 2015 BBC Countryfile Magazine Country Book of the Year looks very promising indeed.

Kathleen Jamie’s Sightlines: A Conversation with The Natural World. Unlike the Gooley, I’ve heard much about this one and they are mainly good things, so into the box it went, together with Mister Owita’s Guide To Gardening (by Carol Wall), The Urban Bestiary: Encountering The Everyday Wild (by Lyanda Lynn Haupt) and Over Vales and Hills: The Illustrated Poetry of the Natural World.

A beautiful volume containing an anthology of 100 best loved poems with timeless vintage photographs of landscapes and natural scenes.

Another beautiful find was the Natural Histories: Extraordinary Rare Book Selections from the American Museum of Natural History Library.

Natural Histories allows readers a privileged glimpse of these seldom-seen, fully illustrated scientific works. Forty essays from the museum’s top experts in a variety of disciplines enhance each rare tome’s unique qualities and scientific contribution, and three to four illustrations accompany each one. This beautiful book will fascinate natural science and art lovers alike.”


The beauty of natural science revealed.


Just as beautiful without the dust jacket.

As usual, the loot also included a fair few tomes on one of my favourite genres: travel writing.

I was especially happy with the Geert Mak (I actually gave a small squeal of delight, I think!) when I saw the solitary volume among the stacks on the table.¬†In America: Travels with John Steinbeck has been on my wishlist ever since I knew of it. I love Mak’s writing and am currently making slow¬†but steady progress with his In Europe: Travels through the Twentieth Century.

Bill Barich’s Long Way Home: On The Trail of Steinbeck’s America is another take on the same route & subject matter. It will be interesting to¬†see how these two narratives go together in¬†recounting Steinbeck’s travels.

Gary Kamiya’s Cool Gray City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco, “…. is a one-of-a-kind book for a one-of-a-kind city. It’s a love song in 49 chapters to an extraordinary place, taking 49 different sites around the city as points of entry and inspiration-from a seedy intersection in the Tenderloin to the soaring sea cliffs at Lands End. Encompassing the city’s Spanish missionary past, a gold rush, a couple of earthquakes, the Beats, the hippies, and the dot-com boom, this book is at once a rambling walking tour, a natural and human history, and a celebration of place itself-a guide to loving any place more faithfully and fully.”
Next to New York, San Francisco (& Seattle) are the cities I would love most to have the chance to visit in the US, someday. Am expecting good things from this one!

The Other Side of The Tiber: Reflections on Time in Italy by Wallis Wilde-Menozzi.
“Beginning her story with a hitchhiking trip to Rome when she was a student in England, she illuminates a passionate, creative, and vocal people who are often confined to stereotypes. Earthquakes and volcanoes; a hundred-year-old man; Siena as a walled city; Keats in Rome; the refugee camp of Manduria; the Slow Food movement; realism in Caravaggio; the concept of good and evil; Mary the Madonna as a subject‚Äēfrom these varied angles, Wilde-Menozzi traces a society skeptical about competition and tolerant of contradiction. Bringing them together in the present, she suggests the compensations of the Italians’ long view of time.” Another one that sounds rather promising.

Howard Norman’s My Famous Evening: Nova Scotia Sojourns, Diaries¬†and Preoccupations, is a book of “selective memories”, combining stories, folklore, memoir, nature, poetry, and expository prose, in its goal to portray the emotional dimensions of the writer’s experience.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic travelogue, Travels with A Donkey in the Cervennes, was picked mainly for its slim size which is a very handy feature to look out for in a box sale. They make for great¬†gap-fillers¬†(no offense to Mr Stevenson, I hope!) :p

I found an unexpected piece of gem in¬†London: A Literary Anthology, a lovely British Library Publishing edition¬†that¬†features “……¬†a wide-ranging collection of poems and scenes from novels that stretch from the 15th century to the present day. They range from Daniel Defoe hymning “the greatest, the finest, the richest city in the world” to Rudyard Kipling declaring impatiently, “I am sick of London town;” from William Makepeace Thackeray moving among “the very greatest circles of the London fashion” to Charles Dickens venturing into an “infernal gulf.” Experience London for the first time with Lord Byron’s Don Juan, and James Berry in his Caribbean gear “beginning in the city.” Plunge into the multi-racial whirlpool described in William Wordsworth’s Prelude, Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album, and Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. See the ever-changing city through the eyes of Tobias Smollett, John Galsworthy, and Angela Carter. From well-known texts to others that are less familiar, here is London brought to life through the words of many of the greatest writers in the English language.”
There is much to be savoured from this one, no doubt! ūüôā

Two lovely volumes of illustrated histories of the cat and of man’s best friend.

The Spirit of the Dog and The Elegance of the Cat are two lavishly illustrated volumes that is bound to be treasured by dog lovers and cat lovers alike. Beautiful photography by the award-winning photographer Astrid Harrisson makes these two a real pleasure to behold.

And now, on to¬†the fiction stack…..


I get excited just looking at these pretty spines. What pleasures await! ūüėÄ

First up, the recent Penguin reprints of William Trevor’s backlist. I just love the black and white photos used on these covers. I find the effect to be so very evocative and appealing. Just like an invitation to step into another world,¬†another time…..



Can’t wait to dive in!

As opposed to the beautiful set of¬†Trevors, the¬†copy of Willa Cather’s The Bohemian Girl¬†that I managed to¬†bring home from the sale, has¬†to be one of the ugliest edition I have ever come across! :p ¬†If it was not Cather’s name that was on the cover, I would never have picked it up. Yes, I am a shallow reader who¬†tends to judge a book by its cover, sorry!

Colette’s The Last of Cheri¬†was another one that was picked for its handy size and purpose.

Rose Macaulay’s The Towers of Trebizond¬†has been on my wishlist for some years now, so spotting it at the sale was a joy. And it was in¬†very pretty edition too. ūüôā

Angela Thirkell’s¬†recent¬†VMC reprints are another set of titles that have been on my wishlist in the last couple of years. I just love the cover designs on all their covers! Pomfret Towers¬†is¬†the first one I have managed to get my hands on, and I am sure it won’t be the last.

Also¬†managed to add¬†two lovely editions of Gabriel Garcia Marquez into the box, and I am especially in love with the cover for¬†his One Hundred Years of Solitude. Hope it’s as good as it looks!


Yet another fabulous find, James Joyce’s Dubliners in the Penguin Classics Deluxe edition. Am so glad it was this that turned up, and not Ulysses! :p

Last but not least,¬†the Centennial Edition of Steinbeck’s masterpiece East of Eden.¬†This had to come home with me even if it had meant the disposing of some other books in the box to make room for it, and ignoring the fact that I already have a perfectly fine copy of it in¬†the Penguin Modern Classics edition!

Blame it on those French flaps and deckle-edged pages.

Friday Feature : On Reviewing Fiction


 If you are a practised reviewer of fiction, you will very soon learn to divide the books you have to review into quite a few categories according to their subjects. Thus, they may deal with Family Life, Village Life, London Life, Married Life, Individual Life, School Life, American Life, Corpses, International Conspiracies, South Sea Islands, or Love. As you will not wish to read the books, I will set down a few hints as to what to say of each class.

Family Life and Village Life are both rather sad, disagreeable subjects. The people who live in families and villages are seldom good or at all nice to one another. Villagers are the worst, for they are imbecile as well as criminal. They go further than families, as families only think and speak criminally, and villagers act. You may safely call a Village Life novel realistic and powerful, even, in some cases, sordid. If you call a Family Life novel any of these, you will probably be going further than the text warrants, and may be sued for libel.

London Life novels are much gayer. They deal, as a rule, with London . You may say , if you like, that they are about well-known society figures, many of whom will be easily recognisable to their friends and enemies. London Life novels are not realistic, powerful or sordid, as people in London have a wider range of entertainment and are therefore more cheerful. Besides, novels about persons who pay income tax are not realistic. And persons who pay super-tax are not considered by most reviewers real people at all.

Novels about Married Life are often ‘poignant studies of a very modern problem’ (a propos, you will find much of what you need to say kindly supplied for you by the publisher on the paper wrapper. But you must not trust blurb-writers too implicitly, for they have not, any more than you, read the book about which they blurb) …. Stories of School Life are a little¬†pass√© now. But should one come your way, you can safely say that it deals once more with the problems of adolescence from a realistic angle, and that nothing us shirked, though Mr – is always restrained.

American Life may be divided into sub-sections. There are novels about Eastern America, or civilised life (perhaps by Mrs Wharton or Miss Sedgwick), Middle Western Life (which you should praise), Wild Western Life (which are about cowboys or long white trails, and published by Messrs. Hodder and Stoughton), and South American Life (which I recommend you to read, as they are probably readable).

Novels about Corpses are often readable, too. For the corpse, you should look in the library, in one of the early chapters, and there you will find the murdered body of an elderly gentleman. It is safe to say of this book that the mystery is well kept to the end (or else you spotted the murderer straight off, according as you wish well or ill to the author) and that there is a happy affair between the detective, or the suspected but innocent young man (you had better ascertain which) and the corpse’s niece, daughter, or ward (you need not ascertain which).

Novels about International Conspiracies deal with Bolshevists, and relate world-wide schemes for the overthrow of established governments and the setting up of a world dominion. You will quite soon see if a book is about this. you may safely say that the Bolshevists are bad men, and that their schemes are defeated by the intrepid hero.

Books about South Sea Islands reveal themselves at once. If you open them anyway, you will see ‘yam’, ‘bread-fruit’, ‘palm toddy’, ‘kanaka’, ‘beach-comber’, or ‘lagoon’. You can call them picturesque, romantic or exciting, or (if you feel more like it) ‘cheap lagoonery’.

Books about Love deal with a well-worn subject in a new and moving way.

Some reviewers like to be quoted by publishers in advertisements; others are shy, and do not. If you do, you should make your favourable comments detachable from the context; thus, if you desire to express distaste and yet be quoted, you may say ‘This cannot be called a really good book,’ and trust that the publishers may know which words to select. If you do not like being quoted, you should be careful to express any favourable views you may hold in a delicate and obscure way which shall elude the publisher’s grasp, and see you do not hang your laudations like cullable blossoms on a bough.

Rose Macaulay, A Casual Commentary (1925).

Now, that was rather¬†helpful, wasn’t it? ūüėČ


April Acquisitions

Towards the end of March, I received an email from one of¬†my favourite¬†online booksellers¬†for new and¬†used books saying that they have not ‘heard’ from me¬†for¬†a while and that they missed me. They¬†also included a discount voucher code for 20% off¬†any purchase of their used books. And so, with an offer like that, coupled with the fact that though I have not been buying, I certainly have been picking and piling up¬†for myself quite a good load of books into the basket/ wishlist. It works as a kind of therapy¬†for the withdrawal symptoms that come when I seem to have not¬†been buying¬†any books for a substantial period of time, although in this case it was barely more than a month (strange, but it sure did feel much longer than that). What can I say, I kinda ‘missed them’ too. :p

With the exception of the first five books at the top of the pile, the rest are used copies, including the two standing hardcovers which I am particularly excited about. 

Writers and Their Houses: Essays by Modern Writers – A Guide to the Writers’ Houses of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland edited by Kate Marsh.
This collection features a wide range of contemporary writers, discussing the homes, lives and work of their predecessors, looking at the environments where some of the finest works of British literature were produced. The essay writers include John Fowles, Jeanette Winterson, Margaret Drabble, P.D. James, Seamus Heaney, Malcom Bradbury, A.N. Wilson, Penelope Fitzgerald, Ian McEwan, Claire Tomalin, Peter Porter and Jenny Uglow. The reader is taken on a detailed tour through the work and homes of writers such as William Shakespeare, Beatrix Potter, James Joyce and Jane Austen. From lively social circles to places of retreat, the homes described here reveal unexpected facts about their occupant’s taste, habits and eccentricities.

Doesn’t that sound delicious? I am really¬†looking forward to reading these essays and poring over the photographs in there (unfortunately though, the photos are all in black and white). This book will complement my copy of¬†‘A Reader’s Guide to Writers’ Britain’¬†by Sally Varlow¬†very nicely, I think. ūüôā

A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel.
Another compilation of interlinked essays on the history of reading. Manguel’s set of essays ‘…. explains not only the ability of the Bible and the classics to speak to successive generations, but also clarifies the deeply personal appeal of any favorite book: It says what we need it to say, what we wish we could say for or about ourselves. Manguel’s urbane, unpretentious tone recalls that of a friend eager to share his knowledge and enthusiasm. His book, digressive, witty, surprising, is a pleasure.’ Can’t wait to have the pleasure of dipping into this one!¬†

A closer look at the paperbacks.

I absolutely love the cover of Paris In Mind¬†(edited by Jennifer Lee). Next to being a major Anglophile,¬†I have to admit I am a lover of all things Parisian, too.¬†The city holds no end of fascination and appeal to me. ‚ÄúParis is a moveable feast,‚ÄĚ Ernest Hemingway famously wrote, and in this captivating anthology, American writers share their pleasures, obsessions, and quibbles with the great city and its denizens. Mark Twain celebrates the unbridled energy of the Can-Can. Sylvia Beach recalls the excitement of opening Shakespeare & Company on the Rue Dupuytren. David Sedaris praises Parisians for keeping quiet at the movies.”
Among the writers from which¬†these excerpts, essays, letters and journals are taken from¬†are James Baldwin, Sylvia Beach, Saul Bellow, T. S. Eliot, M.F.K. Fisher, Janet Flanner, Benjamin Franklin, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Jefferson, Ana√Įs Nin, David Sedaris, Gertrude Stein, Mark Twain, Edith Wharton & E. B. White.

Summer Will Show by Sylvia Townsend Warner.
Written with the French Revolution of 1848 as the backdrop, this is the story of¬†how a young Englishwoman from an aristocratic family¬†finds her way to Paris and ends¬†up forming the unlikeliest of relationships with her husband’s mistress. Bold and unconventional in its ideas, this novel is described as “at once an adventure story, a love story, and a novel of ideas, Summer Will Show is a brilliant reimagining of the possibilities of historical fiction.”

The classics.

Isn’t this another lovely cover? I fell in love with the cover of this latest Vintage edition of Anthony Trollope’s The Warden¬†and felt that I must have it. I think this is just the perfect starting point for me to¬†discover the charming world of Trollope’s Barsetshire chronicles. This is yet another significant Victorian novelist whom I managed to miss out on during my younger days. I intend to rectify that this year, and am thrilled to know that this is just the begining of a whole new series waiting¬†to be savoured.

Wordsworth Classics have recently been re-issuing a combination of Virginia Woolf’s works¬†in very affordable editions. I got my pre-ordered copy of The Years & Between The Acts¬†from The Book Depository for only USD2.36, which I think is a steal! And it has quite a¬†lovely piece of artwork for its cover too,¬†aptly¬†named The¬†Bookworm. ūüôā¬†¬†

Virago Classics and my first Thirkell.

I have to say that I much prefer this VMC cover of Lettice Cooper’s The New House as compared to the plain (though elegant)¬†grey cover of the Persephone edition.¬† Another writer whose works I have been looking forward to get acquainted with is Rose Macaulay. I remember reading a good review of Crewe Train¬†some time back on one of the blogs, and has since¬†been very¬†interested to read¬†it.¬†After reading all the rave reviews for Angela Thirkell’s books on Claire’s¬†blog, I just couldn’t resist adding¬†The Brandons¬†into the basket. Interestingly, it is also one of her series of novels that is set in Trollope’s Barsetshire. Guess I¬†can look forward to spending¬†quite abit¬†of time with the some rather memorable characters from Barsetshire this year. ūüėȬ†¬†

Having recently discovered Barbara Pym as¬†one of my new favourite writers, I grabbed hold of two more of her goodies. Civil To Strangers and A Vey Private Eye : An Autobiography in Letters And Diaries. The former consists of a collection of¬†materials that were unpublished during Pym’s lifetime, while the latter is as the title suggests, an autobiography in the form of Pym’s letters and diaries, two of my favourite formats in writing, by the way.¬†

Last¬†pile¬†of¬†goodies in this¬†stack is Elizabeth Bowen’s To The North, Catherine Hall’s debut novel Days of Grace¬†(whch I am already midway through, and am enjoying it very much) and Katie Roiphe’s Uncommon Arrangements¬†:Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles 1919-1939.

Love the vintage¬†black and white cover of Bowen’s To The¬†North¬†and can’t wait to read it after all the glowing reviews from so many fellow bloggers out there.

Uncommon Arrangement,¬†also promises to be an interesting read. Said to be¬†: “Drawn in part from the private memoirs, personal correspondence, and long-forgotten journals of the British literary community from 1910 to the Second World War, here are seven ‚Äúmarriages √† la mode‚ÄĚ‚ÄĒeach rising to the challenge of intimate relations in more or less creative ways. Jane Wells, the wife of H.G., remained his rock, despite his decade-long relationship with Rebecca West (among others). Katherine Mansfield had an irresponsible, childlike romance with her husband, John Middleton Murry, that collapsed under the strain of real-life problems. Vera Brittain and George Gordon Catlin spent years in a ‚Äúsemidetached‚ÄĚ marriage (he in America, she in England). Vanessa Bell maintained a complicated harmony with the painter Duncan Grant, whom she loved, and her husband, Clive. And her sister Virginia Woolf, herself no stranger to marital particularities, sustained a brilliant running commentary on the most intimate details of those around her.”

So, there you have it. My indulgences for the past month all laid bare here.
Has any one¬†of these¬†caught your eye (or attention) too,¬†in particular? ūüėČ

Friday Feature : On Reading In Bed

“Hundreds and thousands, possibly millions, of people every night in England read something in bed. They say nothing about it except, ‘I read for a little last night and then slept like a top,’ or ‘I didn’t feel like going to sleep last night, so I read for a bit,’ or ‘I began reading so-and-so in bed last night, and damn the book, I couldn’t get to sleep until I finished it.’ Usually nothing at all is said; if anything is said it is very little. Yet what a large slice of each of our lives has gone into this harmless occupation.

We get our clothes off. We put our pyjamas on. We wind our watches. We arrange the table and the light and get into bed. We pile up, or double up, the pillows. Then we settle down to it. Sometimes the book is so exciting that all thought of sleep fades away, and we read on oblivious of everything except the unseen menace in that dark house, the boat gliding stealthily along that misty river, the Chinaman’s eyes peering through that greenish-yellow fog, or the sudden crack of the revolver in that den of infamy. Sometimes we read for a while and then feel as though we could go peacefully to sleep. Sometimes we struggle desperately to gum our failing attention to the acute analysis and safe deductions of our author. Our eyes squint and swim. Our head dizzies. We feel drunk, and, dropping the book aside from lax hands, just manage to get the light out before falling back into a dense and miry slumber.

We all know these fights against inevitable sleep, those resolves to reach the inaccessible end of the chapter, those swimmings in the head, those relapses into the gulf of oblivion. And we all know those long readings when the mystery and suspense of the text so excite us that every creak of the stair and every fluttering of the pertinacious moths makes the heart stand still, and then keeps it beating hard for minutes. We have all turned the light out just in time; and we have all turned it out from boredom, or in an access of determined common-sense, and then turn it on again to resume dreary reading where we left the piece of paper or the pencil in the page. But we seldom talk about it. It is part of our really private lives.”

J.C. Squire, ‘Reading in bed’ (1927)

Reading in bed. I am sure this is something that is done (or attempted) by just as many other “Hundreds and thousands, possibly millions, of people every night……” around the planet, and not just England.

I, for one, do (try). Hahah! Sometimes I succeed in keeping my eyes open long enough to make sense of what I’m reading, before the words start ‘swimming’, or before my arms give way under the weight of the book (no matter how slim the volume may be). My greatest concern is that I hope I don’t damage the dear book in the event of having lax hands. Really.

And sometimes I just downright fail. Those are the times when ‘the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak’. But still I say, it’s always worth a try! ūüėČ
By the way, my current bedtime reading has been Wilkie Collins’s No Name, and alternatively Elizabeth Bowen’s The Collected Stories. Both are chunksters, and therefore fall under the category of ‘high risk’ for ‘damage-prone-books-resulting-from-lax-hands’. :p

Alternatively, one could always consider taking on Rose Macaulay’s suggestion.

Only one hour in the normal day is more pleasurable than the hour spent in bed with a book before going to sleep, and that is the hour spent in bed with a book after being called in the morning.

Rose Macaulay, A Casual Commentary (1925)

But for those of us who still think we prefer to do our reading in bed when all is dark and still…. I think we can well benefit from heeding the words of Erasmus.

A little before you go to sleep, read something that is exquisite.

Desiderius Erasmus, Colloquies: Of the Method of Study (c. 1500-8)