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. 🙂

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 Parisand 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. 😉

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A mishmash of recent readings

IMG_7423aIt’s been quite a while since I last finished a whole proper book, the last one being Miss Timmins’ School for Girls by Nayana Currimbhoy, which I did enjoy for the most parts of it (the boarding school setting, the coming of age tale, a murder mystery). I was just a bit let down with the last quarter of the book, especially with the character development of the main narrator of the story. Anyway, although it does look like I have nothing much to show for (in terms of completed books), I have however, been enjoying a very satisfying time dipping into a number of different (yet related in some ways) books at the same time.

I was really excited to dip into Women on the Left Bank and wasted no time diving into it. But I didn’t get very far into the first chapter before I was diverted to check out a Janet Flanner’s essay on Alice B. Toklas entitled Memory Is All, thanks to the thoughtful supply of notes included by the author in Women on the Left Bank. Flanner’s essay was a delight to read. It beautifully captured the poignancy of Toklas’s later existence after the death of Gertrude Stein, her companion for 38 years. It also has a mention about Toklas’s memoir What Is Remembered (which by the way, had just conveniently arrived in the mail during the week), so of course I had to take a look at that too, didn’t I?

IMG_7429 I really do find the subject of Paris and the lives of the many women who decided to make the city a place where they re-define themselves and carve out the kind of lives and possibilities that they seek and long for, to be endlessly fascinating. And I am finding Lucinda Holdforth’s True Pleasures to be indeed, very pleasurable reading. I am very much looking forward to continue exploring Paris with Holdforth, as she takes me along the footsteps of Colette, Nancy Mitford, Edith Wharton, Marie Antoinette and Coco Channel (to name a few).  

IMG_7425When I did finally manage to tear myself away from Paris and her women, I made a hop over to Italy. And who better to take me there than my favourite traveller, H. V. Morton. On the smattering of knowledge I’ve managed to glean from Morton’s A Traveller in Italy thus far,  some of the more interesting facts include: that the Milanese walks twice as fast as the Romans and can tell a story or a piece of scandal without stopping or blocking the pavement; that Milan and Venice were well noted for their hairwashes, bleaches and dye during the Renaissance; and that a Scottish village exists in the Alps, north of Lake Maggiore where the men were found to be still wearing kilts up till the early 1900s. By the way, this was also a recent new arrival to the stacks, and I just love the shade of green that it’s in! Such a lovely used copy (almost pristine) and in a hard to find edition, too. Am so happy with this find. 🙂

 IMG_7430And while I am still making my way through Italy, I also managed to pop my head into Elena Kostioukovitch’s Why Italians Love To Talk About Food and got myself better acquainted with the Tuscan landscape, its food and also its people. This is quite a lovely volume to dip into, if you are interested to learn more about the Italians and their food culture (with a bit of history as background), as it is attractively organized according to region and colourfully designed with illustrations, maps, menus and glossaries. There is also an interesting foreword by Umberto Eco, for whom Kostioukovitch is better known as the writer’s Russian translator.

Weaving in between my time spent with the women in Paris, and those spent on the Italians and their food, I did also manage to read a rather creepy short story by Daphne du Maurier, Don’t Look Now. It was my first taste of du Maurier’s short stories. I usually avoid horror stories at all cost, but I was curious to see what kind of horror du Maurier’s kind is so I decided to give it a try. I have only read Rebecca (which I had quite liked) prior to this, and I do have another collection of her short stories The Breaking Point, as well as a couple of her memoirs. I can’t say that I liked the nature of the story in Don’t Look Now (the ghost of a dead child following a couple’s visit to Venice) very much, but I did find the writing and the pace rather engaging. And since I have not been totally spooked out yet, I think I might just give her next creepy story another go. Let’s hope I don’t regret it. :p

Enough about me and my meandering kind of reading. What about you? What good stuff have you all been burying your noses into lately?
Do share. 😉

March Reading Notes

Looking at my sidebar, it would seem as if all I had manage to read ever since this blog started was just Barbara Pym’s Some Tame Gazelle and Wodehouse’s Something Fresh. And it also looks as if I have been dipping into Sylvia Townsend Warner’s letters and diaries for what seems like forever now. Both the allusions are not entirely true. Truth is, I have been reading from a number of different books simultaneously (problem with having a short attention span and being easily distracted by books calling for attention from every direction!) and none seems to be getting me any closer to the last page (not yet, anyway), thus the lack of progress in books being added to the sidebar. Also, I have actually not been dipping into Warner’s diaries and letters for past one over month now. Will need to rectify that soon.

So, what then have I been burying my nose into for the month of March? It is these.

The Collected Stories of Elizabeth Bowen
I have been trying to establish a sort of ‘Bedtime with Bowen’ of my own since March, by reading her collection of short stories just before going to bed at night. I figured this might help me to be more ‘disciplined’ in my reading and get me through the 700+ pages of short stories in the not too distant future (hopefully!). I have started chronologically with her First Stories (those written before the 1920s) but I think I might want to start mixing it up a bit by maybe reading a story in each of the different classified periods (The Twenties, The Thirties, The War Years & The Post-War Stories) in an alternating order. Like I said, I have a short attention span, so maybe this can help keep things ‘fresh’ and not so predictable.  

No Name by Wilkie Collins 
I started the book in December last year but as usual had somehow allowed it to be set aside in order to make room for the other books and stuff that have taken my fancy in between that time and now. I finally went back to pick it up where I had left, and am slowly trying to gain back the momentum for this (also 700+ pages) chunkster. This is my first Wilkie Collins that I am reading proper, although I have had a sampling of his other works here and there before along the way. I chose to start with No Name instead of his supposedly best work, The Woman in White, thinking that  I would like to save the best for last. But going by what I have enjoyed reading in this book so far, I won’t be very much surprised if I find this to be his best, at least by my preference. If not, then it can only mean that I am really going to be in for a treat with The Woman In White.  Incidentally, this book had one of the best openings to a book I have ever come across. Maybe I have not read all that many books in my lifetime for the statement to really carry much weight, but I can’t think of very many other books that had manage to make me feel so drawn into anticipating the unfolding of the story just by reading the opening scene.

A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Spark
I started this over the last weekend in preparation for the Muriel Spark Reading Week. This is my second Spark, the first being The Girls of Slender Means which I read last year. I think I am enjoying A Far Cry more, mainly due to the narrator’s voice which I find I can relate to better. Since April is already here, I better step up the gear and read this up in time for the Reading Week!

 

Dracula by Bram Stoker
This was one book I never thought I would ever read. I am not a fan of the horror and supernatural genre, and have always steered clear of those. If it was not for a fellow blogger’s power of persuasion in convincing me into giving this a try based on the fact that this book is written in the form of journals and letters (which are one of my favourite forms in writing), I would not have picked this up. And once I did, I must say that I was rather surprised at how engaging a read the book is. I am still averse to horror stories, and I see this as being one of the rare and few exceptions where I will find myself picking up a book in this genre.

Apart from reading, I have also been listening to quite a few audiobooks while driving, walking the dog and at the gym. As with my reading, I also need to have a variety of audiobooks which are on-going simultaneously, depending on what I am in the mood for. I seem to have hit a deep rut with Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery for which I had had such high hopes for. Somehow, I just quite lost it in there. And instead of crying over spilt milk, have decided to move on to more promising (or so I hope) stuff. I am making steady progress with Judith Flander’s The Invention of Murder: How The Victorians Revelled In Death & Detection And Created Modern Crime. It is chock-full of interesting cases and includes information on the circumstances upon which Scotland Yard came about at a time when murder stories are sensationalized, as well as how some of the infamous cases and characters formed the basis for some of Dickens’ and Wilkie Collin’s works in Bleak House, Our Mutual Friend and The Woman In White. Interesting as the book may be, it can be a bit tedious at times to listen to all the details involved in the cases and a lil’ tiring to digest all the information provided.

I guess the highlight of the many hours of my listening pleasure in March would  have to be Kafka’s Metamorphosis. It is just a short book, slightly over 2 hours of narration but the impact of the story lasts much, much longer. This is the second of Kafka’s works that I have encountered so far, and while I didn’t really quite get the point in The Hunger Artist when I read it, Metamorphosis has probably set me back on the right path to begin appreciating Kafka’s genius better. Although I think I still probably have not gotten quite down to the deeper and bigger issues he may be alluding to in the story, even the little that I could glean from just the surface is reason enough to say it is truly a worthy read.

And so, that was how my month had March-ed by…..  😉
How did yours go?