“…. keep going come what may.”

Well, today I am no longer in those surroundings, yet they say that what is known as the soul never dies but lives on for ever, continuing to seek for ever and again.

So, instead of giving in to despair I chose active melancholy, in so far as I was capable of activity, in other words I chose the kind of melancholy that hopes, that strives and seeks, in preference to the melancholy that despairs numbly and in distress.


Now for the past 5 years or so, I have been more or less without permanent employment, wandering from pillar to post. You will say, ever since such and such a time you have been going downhill, you have been feeble, you have done nothing. Is that entirely true?

What is true is that I have at times earned my own crust, and at other times a friend has given it to me out of the goodness of his heart. I have lived whatever way I could, for better or worse, taking things just as they came. It is true that I have forfeited the trust of various people, it is true that my financial affairs are in a sorry state, it is true that my future looks bleak, it is true that I might have done better, it is true that I have wasted time when it comes to earning a living, it is true that my studies are in a fairly lamentable and appalling state, and that my needs are greater, infinitely greater than my resources. But does that mean going downhill and doing nothing?

[….] I am lost. That is how I look at it – keep going, keep going come what may.

The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

Vincent’s words never fail to move me.

Perhaps even more so, than his art.

A Bookish Interlude

wpid-cam01528.jpgTime for another bit of some bookish goodness before I continue on with more photos from my trip to France.

So, here we go…. I managed to grab these from a recent book sales where everything was going for RM5 (that would be less than a pound, and slightly more than a US dollar each, based on the current exchange rate). As you can see, I have certainly gotten more than my money’s worth here.

Hidden Cities : Travels to the Secret Corners of the World’s Great Metropolises (by Moses Gates)
In this fascinating glimpse into the world of urban exploration, Moses Gates describes his trespasses in some of the most illustrious cities in the world from Paris to Cairo to Moscow.

Gates is a new breed of adventurer for the 21st century. He thrives on the thrill of seeing what others do not see, let alone even know exists. It all began quite innocuously. After moving to New York City and pursuing graduate studies in Urban Planning, he began unearthing hidden facets of the city—abandoned structures, disused subway stops, incredible rooftop views that belonged to cordoned-off buildings.

Sounds like something that is off the beaten track, but I think I’d prefer to do the ‘exploring’ from the safety of my home and leave the trespassing for someone else to do. 😉

The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie (by Wendy McClure)
“… an incredibly funny first-person account of obsessive reading, and a story about what happens when we reconnect with our childhood touchstones—and find that our old love has only deepened.”
And I find the premise of this book rather appealing even though I have to admit that I have never read Little House on The Prairie before.

Alice Waters and Chez Panisse (by Thomas McNamee)
Described as ‘… the first authorized biography of Alice Waters (the mother of American cooking, and the person responsible for introducing Americans to goat cheese and cappuccino). Looking forward to this.

No One Gardens Alone: A Life of Elizabeth Lawrence (by Emily Herring Wilson)
I have not heard of Elizabeth Lawrence before but after coming across this book, I have a feeling I will be hunting down her books on garden writing as well as her correspondence with Katherine S. White, the legendary editor at The New Yorker, wife of E.B. White, and fellow garden enthusiast in Two Gardeners: Katharine S. White and Elizabeth Lawrence–A Friendship in Letters. (I can hear the shelves groaning already.)

Animal Magnetism: My Life with Creatures Great and Small (by Rita Mae Brown)
I have been wanting to read her infamous Rubyfruit Jungle for some time now, but somehow have yet to do so. Maybe I’ll start with this instead.

The Last Days of Haute Cuisine: The Coming of Age of American Restaurants (by Patric Kuh)
Chef and food writer Patric Kuh offers an excellent, clear-eyed look at the death of old-fashioned American restaurants and the advent of a new kind of eating. Kuh takes readers inside this high-stakes business, sharing little-known anecdotes, describing legendary cooks and bright new star chefs, and relating his own reminiscences. Populated by a host of food personalities, including Julia Child, M.F.K. Fisher, and James Beard, Kuh’s social and cultural history of America’s great restaurants reveals the dramatic transformations in U.S. cuisine.
This should go well as a companion read with the Alice Waters.

Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters (edited by Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower & Charles Foley)
As most of you would have already known, I love reading letters. So, this was a no-brainer for me.

Same goes for Dear Theo: The Autobiography of Vincent Van Gogh (edited by Irving Stone).

The Memory Chalet (by Tony Judt)
A memoir in the form of essays, composed when the acclaimed historian was paralyzed with a devastating illness that finally took his life, this book seems like a poignant read. I love the book cover. Reminds me of Christmas. Or maybe something from Agatha Christie….

Memory Chalet

Coming to My Senses: A Story of Perfume, Pleasure, and an Unlikely Bride (by Alyssa Harad)
Perfumes are not something that I can enjoy in real life but in the realm of words, I think it should be more pleasurable.

I managed to bring home two very interesting books by Simon Garfield, one is about maps, On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks, and the other is about fonts, Just My Type: A Book About Fonts. Has anyone here read them yet?

The Beauvoir Sisters: An Intimate Look at How Simone and Hélène Influenced Each Other and the World (by Claudine Monteil)
This was an unexpected find, and is one that I am rather excited about.

Sprinkled with astounding fragments of conversations Monteil witnessed firsthand between Simone, Jean Paul Sartre, Pablo Picasso, and other luminaries, the sisters’ story is told by a woman who had the distinct privilege of belonging to their intimate circle of friends and who has been a leading figure in France’s women’s movement since the 1960s. Spanning the period between World War I and Helen’s death in 2001, The Beauvoir Sisters is also the story of an era, as Monteil immerses the reader in the artistic and intellectual life of twentieth-century Paris, the effects of the Cold War, and the feminist movement in France and in the United States.

Objects of Our Affection: Uncovering My Family’s Past, One Chair, Pistol, and Pickle Fork at a Time (by Lisa Tracy)
Am very thrilled with this find. Sounds just like the kind of book I’d love to read.
After their mother’s death, Lisa Tracy and her sister, Jeanne, are left to contend with several households’ worth of furniture and memorabilia, much of it accumulated during their family’s many decades of military service in far-flung outposts from the American frontier to the World War Two–era Pacific. In this engaging and deeply moving book, Tracy chronicles the wondrous interior life of those possessions and discovers that the roots of our passion for acquisition often lie not in shallow materialism but in our desire to possess the most treasured commodity of all: a connection to the past.”

One Thousand Gifts Devotional: Reflections on Finding Everyday Graces (by Ann Voskamp)
A devotional comprising of sixty reflections on how in the world do we find real joy and experience grace in the midst of deadlines, debt, drama, and all the daily duties.

Photos: Style Recipes (by Samantha Moss & David Matheson)
An inspiring volume that gives one plenty of ideas on how to tastefully decorate one’s living space with photos. Am looking forward to be inspired into action. 🙂

wpid-cam01533.jpgI don’t often read graphic novels but came across two really interesting volumes that look really appealing to me. Feynman by Jim Ottaviani & Leland Myrick, and Relish: My Life In The Kitchen by Lucy Knisley (whose works I’m fast becoming a fan of). While one is a biography of one the greatest minds of the twentieth century, the other is an honest, thoughtful and funny memoir of a talented young cartoonist who loves food. Being the daughter of a chef and a gourmet probably played a large part in fuelling that passion.

Relish 2 Relish

The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World (by Sophia Dembling)
A book that’s just right up my alley.

I have read good things about Patrick Gale’s works before but have yet to read any until now. And amazingly, I have already actually finished reading one of the two books of his that I found at the sales, which is something that doesn’t happen very often. I seldom read my new purchases that soon (as I feel that it’s some sort of an injustice to the others who have been queuing in the long line of TBRs), but had simply found The Cat Sanctuary to be very readable and hard to put down. I loved it.

Now I am half tempted to move on to the next book of his, The Whole Day Through, a bittersweet love story, told from the events of a single summer’s day.

Calvin Trillin’s About Alice is a moving portrait of the writer’s devastating loss of his beloved wife Alice. The dedication of the first book he published after her death read, “I wrote this for Alice. Actually, I wrote everything for Alice.” I have only read some of his essays on food so far, this will certainly be something else.

I was really happy to spot a copy of the Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume Two, The Defining Years, 1933-1938 to add on to the first volume which I had gotten from last year’s sales.

William Trevor’s Two Lives is actually made up of two novels, Reading Turgenev and My House in Umbria. Getting two for the price of one is certainly incentive for me to try Trevor again as I seem to have failed to get on with his writing before.

The Maine Woods is Henry David Thoreau’s account on the three trips that he made to the largely unexplored woods of Maine over a three year period. He climbed mountains, paddled a canoe by moonlight, and dined on cedar beer, hemlock tea and moose lips while taking notes constantly. This should be interesting.

The Mark Twain Anthology: Great Writers on His Life and Work
In this unique collection scores of these literary legatees from the U.S. and around the world take the measure of Twain and his genius, among them: José Martí, Rudyard Kipling, Theodor Herzl, George Bernard Shaw, H. L. Mencken, Helen Keller, Jorge Luis Borges, Sterling Brown, George Orwell, T. S. Eliot, Richard Wright, W. H. Auden, Ralph Ellison, Kenzaburo Oe, Robert Penn Warren, Ursula Le Guin, Norman Mailer, Erica Jong, Gore Vidal, David Bradley, Kurt Vonnegut, Toni Morrison, Min Jin Lee, Roy Blount, Jr., and many others (including actor Hal Holbrook, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, stand-up comedians Dick Gregory and Will Rogers, and presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Barack Obama).

The Maid and The Queen: The Secret History of Joan of Arc by Nancy Goldstone.
Having just been to view the site where Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake in Rouen during my recent trip to France, this book appeals much at the moment.

And last but certainly not least, Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth. This one probably needs no introduction as most of you would have either read or heard of it. I am actually more interested in her Testament of Friendship: The Story of Winifred Holtby but until I get my hands on a copy of that, I think I should content myself with this first.

Any of these appeals to any of you? 🙂

Painted With Words

If you happen to be a fan of Van Gogh, I think you would find this BBC drama documentary, Vincent Van Gogh: Painted With Words, to be a real treat.
If you also happen to be a fan of the talented Benedict Cumberbatch (a.k.a Sherlock), then this would probably serve as a double treat for you. 🙂

I chanced upon this while browsing around Youtube for the trailer to The Imitation Game, a film which I am very much looking forward to watching. Related results for Cumberbatch’s works led me to this.

I thought you might like it, too.



Friday Feature : Van Gogh, the Reader (2)

Van Gogh’s Still Life with Books {source}

It is with the reading of books the same as with looking at pictures; one must, without doubt, without hesitations, with assurance, admire what is beautiful.

Vincent van Gogh, The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

Van Gogh’s Still Life with Open Bible {source}

Let me stop there, but my God, how beautiful Shakespeare is! Who else is as mysterious as he? His language and style can indeed be compared to an artist’s brush, quivering with fever and emotion. But one must learn to read, just as one must learn to see and learn to live.

Vincent van Gogh, The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

Van Gogh’s Still Life with Three Books {source}

I have been re-reading Dicken’s Christmas Books these days. There are things on them so profound that one must read them over and over; there are tremendously close connections with Carlyle.

Vincent van Gogh, The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

But you see, there are many things which one must believe and love. There is something of Rembrandt in Shakespeare, and of Correggio in Michelet, and of Delacroix in Victor Hugo, and then there is something of Rembrandt in the Gospel, or something of the Gospel in Rembrandt, as you like it – it comes to the same, if only one understands the thing in the right way, without misinterpreting it and assuming the equivalence of the comparisons, which do not pretend to lessen the merits of the original personalities.

If now you can forgive a man for making a thorough study of pictures, admit also that the love of books is as sacred as the love of Rembrandt, and I even think the two complete each other.

Vincent van Gogh, The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

Reading the letters that Vincent wrote to his brother Theo, one gets to see a clearer picture of the man behind the art, the mind behind the driving force that moved the hand to produce such strokes of genius.

In his own words, Van Gogh was an artist who wanted to “…. paint what I feel, and feel what I paint.” No one could truly see his paintings without knowing his story.

“As my work is,” he declared, “so am I.”

What am I in the eyes of most people — a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then — even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart.

Vincent van Gogh, The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

Friday Feature: Van Gogh, the Reader (1)

Vincent Van Gogh, Starry Night (June 1889)

For his painting, however, Vincent reduced the bustling town of six thousand to a sleepy village of no more than a few hundred souls—no bigger than Zundert or Helvoirt. The twelfth-century church of Saint Martin, which dominated the town with its fearsomely spiked stone bell tower, became a simple country chapel with a needlelike spire that barely pierced the horizon. Finally, he moved the town from the valley floor north of the asylum and placed it to the east, directly between his bedroom window and the familiar serrated line of the Alpilles—a spot from which it, too, could witness the celestial spectacle about to begin.

With all these elements—cypress tree, townscape, hills, horizon—secured in his imagination, Vincent’s brush launched into the sky. Unconstrained by sketches, unschooled by a subject in front of him, unbounded by perspective frame, unbiased by ardor, his eye was free to meditate on the light — the fathomless, ever-comforting light he always saw in the night sky. He saw that light refracted — curved, magnified, scattered — through all the prisms of his past: from Andersen’s tales to Verne’s journeys, from Symbolist poetry to astronomical discoveries. The hero of his youth, Dickens, had written of “a whole world with all its greatnesses and littlenesses” visible “in a twinkling star.” The hero of his age, Zola, described the sky of a summer night as “powdered with the glittering dust of almost invisible stars”.

Behind these thousands of stars, thousands more were appearing, and so it went on ceaselessly in the infinite depths of the sky. It was a continuous blossoming, a showering of sparks from fanned embers, innumerable worlds glowing with the calm fire of gems. The Milky Way was whitening already, flinging wide its tiny suns, so countless and so distant that they seem like a sash of light thrown over the roundness of the firmament.

In his reading, in his thinking, in his seeing, Vincent had long looked past the “real” night sky—the tiny, static specks and sallow light of the night paintings he detested—in search of something truer to the vision of limitless possibility and inextinguishable light—the ultimate serenity—that he found in Zola’s blossoming, showering, glittering night.

Steven Naifeh & Gregory White Smith, Van Gogh: The Life (2011)


The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

We all know that Van Gogh was a passionate painter, but I wonder how many of us realize that he was a most ardent reader too? My recent trip to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has renewed my interest in reading more about this gifted yet tormented painter. I knew he had written letters quite extensively to his brother Theo and I did manage to get a copy of his letters some time ago, though yet to read them (as usual). But it is only now that I realize that Van Gogh was a lover of books, too! And this has certainly sealed the deal in me wanting to read not just his letters, but also to attempt his biography (and this is no small feat!), which comes in the form of a 900+ pages chunkster of a book, Van Gogh: The Life, by Pulitzer Prize winning writers Steven Naifeh & Gregory White Smith.

This definitive biography has been described as a “….. tour de force — an exquisitely detailed, compellingly readable, and ultimately heartbreaking portrait of creative genius Vincent van Gogh.”

Doesn’t that sound simply irresistible? 😉

Has anyone read this yet? Or his letters, by any chance? If so, would love to hear what you think about them.

Paris in Pictures (#5)

 There is but one Paris and however hard living may be here, and if it became worse and harder even – the French air clears up the brain and does good – a world of good.

 Vincent van Gogh

The view from the balcony of the B&B I stayed at. It was for this view that I convinced my travelling companions to pack up from the centre of Paris and move to this B&B located at the northwestern suburbs.

The view wasn’t the only good thing about the B&B. The owner was great too, and even packed his home-made muffins for us to take along for our day out.
And then, there’s also the cats.

This is Lulu. Isn’t she a beauty?

And this is Mona. I think she must have been helping herself to the muffins, too.

Incidentally, this was also the only other Mona I met in Paris during the trip. And this is obviously not the smiling one. :p