A bookish interlude….

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Thought I’d take a break from my Italian photos indulgence streak and share something more bookish instead. Besides, I am really excited about this latest stash of bookish goodness that has just joined the stacks and just can’t wait to talk about them! 🙂 And just for the record…. I didn’t buy any books from my trip this time (how did that happen?!), so all these books here can probably be considered as quite, quite necessary in being part of the remedy for my ‘post holiday blues’. (There’s just no shortage of excuses for a book buying addict, is there?) :p

Anyway, my excitement for these books have more than overridden any guilt I may have for yet adding more to the numbers of TBR on my shelves and floors. So, here goes :

Memoirs of A Dutiful Daughter by Simone de Beauvoir.
I have not read anything by de Beauvoir before and only knew that she was the author of an important book (The Second Sex) and that she was married to Jean-Paul Sartre. And I can’t even recall right now what it was that actually triggered my attention to this autobiography of hers, but having taken a look at it (by the way, I just love the black and white portrait on the cover, don’t you?) I am really looking forward to getting acquainted with this feisty French feminist.

Skylark by Dezso Kosztolanyi
I have read many good things about this one and have been keeping a lookout for it ever since.
“This alternately hilarious and melancholy classic of Hungarian literature plumbs the psyches of a husband and wife burdened with a homely daughter.”  After sending off their “… unintelligent, unimaginative, unattractive, unmarried and overbearing” daughter to some relatives for a week, the parents get to rekindle their joy in living by eating out at restaurants, reconnecting with old friends, attending the theater etc. etc. “Then, Skylark is back. Is there a world beyond the daily grind and life’s creeping disappointments? Kosztolányi’s crystalline prose, perfect comic timing, and profound human sympathy conjure up a tantalizing beauty that lies on the far side of the irredeemably ordinary. To that extent, Skylark is nothing less than a magical book.”

William by E.H. Young
This has also been sitting on my wishlist for a long time now. Again, it was through the number of good reviews I had come across around the blogs that made me keep an eye out for this. So I’m rather glad to have gotten a copy of this at last, and in one of those lovely green VMC covers (almost pristine, too!).

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And over here, three different books but with similar themes running through them – loneliness, solitude and grief. Books dealing with such themes have always had a special place in my heart. Somehow, I find myself rather drawn to such writings. Probably that has something to do with the fact that I have always considered myself a sort of loner by nature. So it kinda makes sense to want to read about how other loners (not necessarily by choice) deal with the same issues, I guess. I suppose that also helps to explain why I think I can appreciate Anita Brookner’s works, depressing as they may be. :p

The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne by Brian Moore
It was the title that first caught my attention. I thought it was very unusual to see the words ‘lonely’ and ‘passion’ put together. I knew nothing about the author (although he was shortlisted three times for the Booker Prize), but the storyline did appeal much to me.
“Judith Hearne is an unmarried woman of a certain age who has come down in society. She has few skills and is full of the prejudices and pieties of her genteel Belfast upbringing. But Judith has a secret life. And she is just one heartbreak away from revealing it to the world.” There’s something about unmarried women of a certain age that makes for some rather interesting reading, don’t you think? Okay, maybe it’s just me who’s the pervert here.

The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton
This is one that I am sure many of you are familiar with. I see quite a number of rave reviews about it on a good number of blogs around, and it is enough to convince me that this is a book I want to read. Reading this, helped too:”Recounting an epic battle of wills in the claustrophobic confines of the boarding house, Patrick Hamilton’s The Slaves of Solitude, with a delightfully improbable heroine, is one of the finest and funniest books ever written about the trials of a lonely heart.”
Besides, I rarely pass up on a book with ‘solitude’ in its title. Yeah, so now you know what’s the sure-fire way to sell me a book. 😉

Staying on Alone: Letters by Alice B. Toklas
“Gertrude died this afternoon. I am writing. Dearest love, Alice.”
That is the first letter collected in this volume of letters covering the two decades that Alice Toklas had lived on after the death of her lifelong companion, Gertrude Stein. It has been said that, if letter writing is a lost art, then this volume of letters is a measure of what has been lost. “On tissue thin paper in tiny, often undecipherable hand, Alice Toklas described her daily life in Paris in absorbing detail. Here are shrewd, witty observations on some of the most interesting artists, musicians, and writers of the twentieth century: Thornton Wilder, Carl Van Vechten, Edith Sitwell, Anita Loos, Cecil Beaton, Janet Flanner, Bennett Cerf, among others. There are stories about Picasso, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Cocteau, and Sartre – all revealing a sharp eye that was as much a part of Alice as her devotion to Gertrude and her passion for recipes and gardening.”
Having just finished reading her short collection of essays “Murder In the Kitchen” , which I had rather enjoyed, I am looking forward to reading more of Toklas’ writing. I quite like her unassuming dry wit and humour which comes through in her straightforward style of writing (as can be seen from the letter above). I have also started reading her memoir “What is Remembered” and it is interesting to read her account of the great San Francisco fire after the 1906 earthquake, as well as her first meetings and walks together with Gertrude Stein in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. I have yet to re-attempt reading any of Stein’s works after having been completely stumped by a short story of hers relating to some cows or something. :p

IMG_0758aMoving on…. The Very Rich Hours of Adrienne Monnier“.
If the name Adrienne Monnier doesn’t seem to ring any bells, maybe it would help if I were to mention Sylvia Beach as well? Monnier’s bookstore and lending library in the Rue de l’Odeon in 1920s Paris, was the inspiration and model for Beach to start her own English & American literature bookstore, the Shakespeare & Company, in Paris.  “Adrienne Monnier had the modest goal of wanting to share her love of literature with the public. It was the first free-lending library in France, which enabled Monnier to reach people from all walks of life and turn them into readers. The small bookshop-library invited readers to browse through books spilling from the shelves propped against the walls, sit in one of the antique chairs scattered around a large wooden table, and study the many photographs and drawings that hung high and low.”

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And in the words of a reviewer of this volume of essays, letters & reviews: “Through the writings, one gets to know Adrienne Monnier and her friends. She is a gourmand, a bookseller, a denizen of Paris, an art lover, a theatre-goer, and a friend. She will provide you with a view of Paris between the World Wars unlike any other.”
I am really looking forward to dipping into this one! I think it truly promises some very “rich hours” of reading, indeed. 😉

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I had never heard of the term ‘miniaturist history’ before coming across Gillian Tindall’s works. And it was the cover of her The House by the Thames …. and the people who lived there” that made me pull out the book from the bargain shelves at a local bookstore a couple of years ago. Much later, I picked up another book “The Fields Beneath” because its contents interested me much, without realizing that it was by the same writer. At that time, Tindall’s name had yet to register in me (since I had not read the first book which I had bought mainly for its lovely cover). When I finally made the connection later and realised that this is the kind of genre (miniaturist history) which Tindall is a master of, it was then that I began to actively seek out her books. Never mind the fact that I still have yet to read any of the ones I already owned. Somehow, that has never stopped me from being sure that I have to collect everything else written by a particular writer because I am sure that when I finally get down to reading them, I am bound to love it! Am I the only one who feels this way? 🙂

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And so, the latest addition to join the collection is “The Man Who Drew London“. Isn’t that another one lovely cover?
“The seventeenth-century London Wenceslaus Hollar knew is now largely destroyed or buried. Yet its populous river, its timbered streets, fashionable ladies, old St Paul’s, the devestation of the Fire, the palace of Whitehall and the meadows of Islington live on for us in his etchings. Drawing on numerous sources, Gillian Tindall creates a montage of Hollar’s life and times and of the illustrious lives that touched his. It is a carefully researched factual account, but she has also employed her novelist’s skill to form an intricate whole – a life’s texture which is also an absorbing and occasionally tragic story.”

So, the question now is…. which Tindall should I ‘kindle’ first? 😉
Suggestions, anyone?

Anyway, this has been fun!
Talking about books is always fun. I really hope there was at least something from the stack that has managed to pique your interest too, in some way or another.
I like the fun to be mutual. 🙂 

And now if you don’t mind, it’ll be back to those Italian photos again…….

Friday Feature : Sylvia’s Shakespeare

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It was great fun getting my little shop ready for the book business. I took the advice of my friends the Wright-Worthings, who had the antique shop Aladdin’s Lamp in the rue des Saints Peres, and covered the rather damp walls with sackcloth. A humpbacked upholsterer did this for me, and was very proud of the fluting with which he finished off the corners. A carpenter put up shelves and made over the windows for the books to be displayed in, and a painter came to do the few feet of shop front. He called it the ‘facade’, and promised it would be as fine when he finished it as that of the Bazar de l’Hotel de Ville, his latest triumph. Then a “specialist” came and painted the name “Shakespeare and Company” across the front. That name came to me one night as I lay in bed. My ‘Partner Bill’ as my friend Penny O’Leary called him, was always, I felt, well disposed toward my undertaking; and besides, he was a best seller.

Charles Winzer, a Polish-English friend of Adrienne’s, made the signboard, a portrait of Shakespeare, to be hung outside. Adrienne didn’t approve of this idea, but I wanted it anyway. The signboard hung from a bar above the door. I took it down at night. Once, I forgot it, and it was stolen. Winzer made another, which also disappeared. Adrienne’s sister made a third one, a rather French-looking Shakespeare, which I  still have.

Now perhaps some people wouldn’t know what a ‘Bookshop’ is. Well, that’s what the specialist carefully spelled out above the window at the right, opposite the words ‘Lending Library’. I let ‘Bookshop’ remain for a while. It quite described Shakespeare and Company making its debut in bookselling.

The books in my lending library, except for the latest, came from the well-stocked English secondhand bookstores in Paris. They, too, were antiques, some of them far too valuable to be circulated; and if the members of my library hadn’t been so honest, many, instead of a few, of the volumes would soon have been missing from the shelves. The fascinating bookshop near the Bourse, Boiveau and Chevillet, which has disappeared now, was a field of discovery for excavators who were willing to go down into the cellar, holding a lighted candle provided by dear old Monsieur Chevillet himself – what a risk!- and dig up the treasures buried under layers of stuff.

[…..] I went over to London and bought back two trunks full of English books, mostly poetry. [….] On the way to the boat train, I stopped in Cork Street at the little bookshop of the publisher and bookseller Elkin Mathews to order my Yeats, Joyce and Pound. He was sitting in a sort of gallery , with books surging around and creeping up almost to his feet. We had a pleasant talk, and he was quite friendly. I mentioned seeing some drawings by William Blake – if only I could have something of Blake’s in my shop! Thereupon he produced two beautiful original drawings, which he sold to me for a sum that, according to Blake experts who saw them later, was absurdly small.

[….] Another pleasant memory of my time in London was my visit to the Oxford University Press, where Mr. Humphrey Milford himself showed me the largest Bible in the world, made for Queen Victoria. It wasn’t a book you could read in bed.

Sylvia Beach, ‘Shakespeare and Company: Setting Up Shop’

I didn’t know Shakespeare and Co. had started out as a lending library, did you? And I found it fascinating to read of how Ms. Beach had gone about setting up her shop and the kind of people she encountered while sourcing for her book supplies. Also rather interesting to know, that there must have been some really serious Shakespeare fans lurking in Paris at that time,  to want to steal those signboard heads of his, although they did leave his French-looking version alone! :p

Friday Feature : An American Bookshop in Paris

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I had long wanted a bookshop, and by now it had become an obsession. I dreamed of a French bookshop but it was to be a branch of Adrienne’s and in New York. I wanted to help the French writers I admired so much to become more widely known in my country. I soon realized, however, that my mother’s little savings, which she was willing to risk on my venture, would be insufficient to cover the cost of a shop in New York. Very regretfully, I had to abandon this fascinating idea.

I thought Adrienne Monnier would be disappointed to hear of the downfall of our scheme of a French place, a branch of hers, in my country. On the contrary, she was delighted. And so, in a minute, was I, as right before our eyes my bookshop turned into an American one in Paris. […..]  Moreover, I was extremely fond of Paris, I must confess, and this was no small inducement to settle down there and become a Parisian. Then too, Adrienne had had four years of experience as a bookseller. She had opened her shop in the midst of war and, moreover, kept it going. She promised to advise me in my first steps; also to send me lots of customers. The French, as I knew, were very eager to get hold of our new writers, and it seemed to me that a little American bookshop on the Left Bank would be welcome.

The difficulty was to find a vacant shop in Paris. I might have had to wait some time before finding what I wanted if Adrienne hadn’t noticed that there was a place for rent in the rue Dupuytren, a little street just around the corner from the rue de l’Odeon. [….] We hurried to the rue Dupuytren, where, at No. 8 – there were only about ten numbers in this hilly little street – was a shop with the shutters up and a sign saying “Boutique a louer.” It had once been a laundry, said Adrienne, pointing to the words “gros” and “fin” on either side of the door, meaning they did up both sheets and fine linen. Adrienne, who was rather plump, placed herself under the “gros” and told me to stand under the “fin”. “That’s you and me,” she said.

We hunted up the concierge, an old lady in a black lace cap, who lived in a sort of cage between two floors, as concierges do in these old Paris houses, and she showed us the premises. My premises, as without hesitation, I decided they would be. There were two rooms, with a glass door between them, and steps leading into the one at the back. There was a fireplace in the front room; the laundress’s stove, with irons on it, had stood in front of it. The poet Leon-Paul Fargue drew a picture of the stove as it must have looked and to show me how the irons were placed. He seemed familiar with laundries, probably because of the pretty laundresses who ironed the linen.

[…..] These premises – including the dear old concierge, “la Mere Garrouste,” as everyone called her, the kitchenette off the back room, and Adrienne’s glass door – everything delighted me, not to mention the very low rent, and I went away to think it over. Mere Garrouste was to think me over, too, for a day or two, according to the best French custom. Shortly, my mother in Princeton got a cable from me, saying simply: “Opening bookshop in Paris. Please send money,” and she sent me all her savings.

Sylvia Beach, “Shakespeare & Company: A Bookshop of My Own”

Isn’t it amazing how one woman’s dream would eventually make it possible for so many others’ dreams to have a chance of being realised as well?
I think we all have a great deal to thank Sylvia’s mum for, don’t you think? 😉