Unplanned Plans

I had started the year without any specific reading plans or lists because I knew I was not a good one for keeping to pre-planned plans when it comes to reading. I prefer to do my reading at whim.
So, I thought it was probably futile to have one and was not quite inspired to make any.
But then something changed.
And now, I think I do have one, and it’s one that I am quite excited about and feeling rather determined (or hopeful!) to see it through.

What happened was this.
I started an Instagram account sometime in December, after discovering the delights in being able to feast my eyes on a regular dose of book porn, through the various bookstagrammers’ feed out there. I was actually amazed to find that there are so many talented book lovers (cum photographers) out there who can effortlessly make books look so desirable as objects.
Creating the account was intended to mainly facilitate my ease of accessing to these feeds on a regular basis.
But when the new year started out on an unexpectedly rough note for me, I soon found myself in desperate need for a diversion of sorts.
As it happens, there was a book challenge hosted by some bookstagrammers that was taking place for the month, called the #AtoZbookchallenge, whereby one is to post a photo a day for each of the alphabets, relating to either book titles or themes or authors that goes with the particular alphabet each day.
Preferably, it should be books that are already on one’s existing physical TBR shelves.

I thought that sounded diverting enough.

And that’s how my unplanned reading plans came to be.
Here’s the A to Z of it.

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A¬†for Ali Smith, one of my favourite writers. I have been collecting a fair few of her works and reading my way through them over the last ten years. Still a couple of unread ones on the shelves, so I guess it’s high time I pick another.

 

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B for Bennett. Arnold Bennett’s masterpiece, ‘The Old Wives’ Tale’ has been sitting on my TBR shelves for long enough. Its time has come, I think.

 

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C for Charlie Connelly. Years ago, I was fascinated with Connelly’s idea for his two travel writing books – ‘And Did Those Feet: Walking Through 2000 Years of British And Irish History’, and ‘Attention All Shipping: A Journey Around The Shipping Forecast’. It’s strange how both these ‘fascinating’ books are still sitting unread on my shelves after all these years. :p

 

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D for Don Quixote. The sheer size of this tome is daunting for sure, but I really do want to have a go at it. Besides, I really love this Harper Perennial edition…. French flaps and deckled edges are my favourite combinations in a book. It also helps that Edith Grossman’s translation is so very readable (from the little that I’ve sampled).

 

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E for E. M. Forster. I had this packed along with me during my trip to Italy three years ago, thinking how good it would be to read this in Florence, where the book is set. Sadly, I ended up with not much reading done, but at least it was great fun setting up this shot with my friend at the hostel we were staying at, in Florence! ūüôā Time to take care of the ‘unfinished business’ this year.

 

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F for Father Brown. G. K. Chesterton’s endearing Father Brown makes for a rather unlikely, but certainly not unlikeable, mystery solving ‘Sherlock’. I love the cover designs and colours of this Penguin Classics set. Am actually in the middle of the red one, The Wisdom of Father Brown, and I can safely say that it’s as good as it looks!

 

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G for Geert Mak. ‘In Europe: Travels through the Twentieth Century’ is one of the books I am quite determined to get read this year. It’s an account about the year long journey Mak took back in 1999, across the European continent in his quest to trace Europe’s twentieth century history, before the world slipped into the twenty-first.

 

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H is for my favourite travel writer, H. V. Morton. Travel writing has always been one of my favourite genres, and not many can do it as good as Morton, I’d say. His writing is evocative of the old world charm and of a bygone era, brought vividly to life for the reader. It’s a pleasure to ‘see’ the world through his lenses.

 

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I is for ‘I Capture The Castle’. I have long heard of the many good things that fellow readers love about this coming of age modern classic, but have somehow still not gotten around to reading it for myself yet. It’s about time I ‘capture this castle’ too!

 

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J is for James. “When a man has neither wife nor mistress and leads a life which is both orderly and prudent, he does not invite the conventional biographical approach. Henry James was such a man. The richness of his life lies in his words and his relationships.” – Miranda Seymour. These lovely Konemann classics should be good enough incentive to finally get me started on some Henry James. Time to get acquainted with the man through his own words, as suggested.

 

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K is for Kate O’Brien. “O’Brien exquisitely evokes the harem atmosphere of (Irish) convent life, the beauty and the silence, the bickering and the cruelties…… If novels can be music, this is a novel with perfect pitch.” ~ Clare Boylan. Having loved Antonia White’s Frost in May (another coming of age novel with a convent school setting) when I read it some years back, I have been meaning to read O’Brien’s ‘The Land of Spices’ for some time now.

 

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L for The Lost Carving: A Journey To The Heart of Making, by master woodcarver, David Esterly. “Awestruck at the sight of a Grinling Gibbons woodcarving masterpiece in a London church, Esterly chose to dedicate his life to the craft – its physical rhythms, intricate beauty, and intellectual demands.” I have been saving this on the TBR shelves, waiting for just the right moment to savour the journey. I think I should wait no more.

 

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M for The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters. Having collected a fair few of the sisters’ (Nancy, Diana, Jessica and Deborah) individual memoirs, biographies, correspondences and writings but without having read any in proper yet, maybe this would be a good place to start getting acquainted with this extraordinary family!

 

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N for Nabokov. I have decided that this will be the year I read my first Nabokov. And it’s gonna be a toss between The Luzhin Defense, and Pnin. Probbaly The Luzhin Defense….. am in the mood for some chess, I think. These Penguin Classics editions are my favourites. Such beauties to hold and behold, don’t you think?

 

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O is for Orlando. Once described as ‘the longest and most charming love letter in literature’, this was Virginia Woolf’s¬† playfully ingenious tribute to her intimate friend and one-time lover, Vita Sackville-West. This has been biding its time on my TBR shelves for some years now. Thanks to this challenge, some of my sadly neglected books are being brought back to the fore!

 

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P is for Pollan. Michael Pollan’s ‘A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams’ tells the inspiring, insightful, and often hilarious story of Pollan’s quest to realize a room of his own – a small, wooden hut in the forest, ‘a shelter for daydreams’ – built with his own admittedly unhandy hands. It not only explores the history and meaning of all human building, but also demonstrates architecture’s unique power to give our bodies, minds and dreams a home in the world….. Don’t we all need a place like that?

 

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Q is for Q’s Legacy, by Helene Hanff. After reading and loving Hanff’s 84, Charring Cross Road some years back, I immediately went about tracking down her other works too, and was more than happy to net this omnibus of hers which holds four of her other memoirs (as well as Charring Cross Road). Q’s Legacy tells of how a library copy of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch’s series of lectures On The Art of Writing, became the foundation upon which her own writing career took shape. This is a tribute to her mentor whom she had never known except through the printed page.

 

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R for Rainer Maria Rilke. I was thrilled to find these two beautiful hardback Vitalis editions of Rilke’s work at what was once Kafka’s cottage but is now a books and souvenir shop along the Golden Lane in Prague, six years ago. I know I should have brought home a Kafka or two with me instead, but these happened to be in the bargain bin that day….. and I happen to prefer Rilke to Kafka, anyway. :p

 

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S is for Sarton and solitude. “May Sarton’s journal is not only rich in the love of nature, and the love of solitude. It is an honorable confession of the writer’s faults, fears, sadness and disappointments…. This is a beautiful book, wise and warm within its solitude.” ~ Eugenia Thornton. Solitude has always been a subject that is close to my heart. Can’t wait to read this.

 

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T is for A Treasury of Mark Twain. I found this lovely Folio edition in almost pristine condition at a second hand bookshop in Paris five years ago. I’m ashamed to confess that it’s still ‘almost pristine’, sitting patiently on the shelf waiting to be taken out of its slipcase to be read. Will need to rectify that soon!

 

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U is for Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Marriages in Literary London 1910 – 1939. The seven pairs featured in this volume are H.G. & Jane Wells, Vanessa & Clive Campbell, Radclyffe Hall & Una Troubridge, Vera Brittain & George Caitlin, Katherine Mansfield & John Middleton Murry, Ottoline & Phillip Morrell, and Elizabeth von Arnim & John Francis Russell. These couples are said to have triumphantly casted off the inhibitions of the Victorian age while pursuing bohemian ideals of freedom and equality. Time to take a peek at how it’s done back then, I guess.

 

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V is for Van Gogh: The Life, by Steven Naifeh & Gregory White Smith. This doorstopper of a biography may look daunting, but from what I’ve read (the first two chapters), it is highly readable and a very engaging one, too. I just need to try harder to not let the other books distract and detract me from staying on course! Hoping to also get around to reading some of his letters too.

 

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W is for Words In Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. Bishop is one of my favourite poets, and it’s time I start reading one of the many volumes of correspondence I’ve been collecting. Just realized that this photo has another three Ws that can fit the challenge too…… Lucy Worsley’s If Walls Could Talk, Deborah Mitford’s Wait For Me, and a volume of Woolf’s letters. Looks like I’m really spoilt for choice!

 

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X is for Michael Dirda’s Bound To Please: An eXtraordinary One-Volume Literary Education. Yes, I know it’s abit of a cheat but it’s the closest ‘X’ I have on my shelves. :p This lovely collection of essays were responsible for introducing me to many a great writer and their works. Dirda’s enthusiastically persuasive essays made me want to read almost every book that is recommended. A great book to dip into, but a very ‘bad’ one for the TBR shelves!

 

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Y is for Yates. “Richard Yates was acclaimed as one of the most powerful, compassionate and accomplished writers of America’s post-war generation. Whether addressing the smothered desire of suburban housewives, the white-collar despair of office workers or the heartbreak of a single mother with artistic pretensions, Yates ruthlessly examines the hopes and disappointments of ordinary people with empathy and humour.” High praise indeed, but I have to confess that it was mainly the fabulous cover that sold the book to me!

 

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And lastly, Z for Zweig. I have read and loved Stefan Zweig’s short stories and novellas, but have yet to read any of his full length novels in proper. Think I’ll start with this one. “In this haunting yet compassionate reworking of the Cinderella story, Zweig shows us the human cost of the boom and bust of capitalism. The Post Office Girl was completed during the 1930s as Zweig was driven by the Nazis into exile, and was found among his papers after his suicide in 1942.”

 

Not sure how long it will take for me to complete this A to Z reading list, being the slow reader that I am. What I do know is that right now, I’m feeling pretty enthusiastic about it, and that’s a good start!
Let’s just hope that I won’t be stuck at ‘D’ for a long, long time…….

ūüôā

Unrepentant

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Behold, the latest batch of beauties to have been added into the fold…..

Although it appears that I have been unrepentant over my reckless book buying habits, and that the staggering figures as revealed from my earlier post on taking stock of my entire library seem to have had no apparent effect on me, I can safely vouch that this is not true (well, not entirely anyway).

While it is true that I will not be able¬†to¬†stop buying books¬†in the foreseeable future (and I don’t intend to, either), it is however, going to be a much more subdued/ restrained¬†affair from now on (so she says…). At any rate, that is the plan. Along with the other plans to read more from my own stacks¬†and¬†to get rid of¬† give away the ones I no longer need/want in my collection. In other words, to be a better curator of my library.

Will just have to see well how things go according to plan, I guess.

And now, onto the books……

These were gotten from another recent book sale that could well give the Big Bad Wolf a run for its money, I would say. Brand new and priced at RM 5 (around USD 1.20) each, it’s easy to see why they were so hard to resist, isn’t it? :p

I recall reading some good stuff about Sun-Mi Hwang’s The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly some time ago, but even if I had known nothing about the book, the sheer beauty of the cover and illustrations in it would have sold it to me. Nina Sankovitch’s Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Celebrating The Joys of Letter Writing was a no-brainer for me, seeing that it’s all about a favourite subject of mine. Dianne Hales’ Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered¬†happens to be¬†a new discovery for me, as I wasn’t aware of the fact that Mona Lisa was a real person and not just a painting! :p

The Paris Review Book: of Heartbreak, Madness, Sex, Love, Betrayal, Outsiders, Intoxication, War, Whimsy, Horrors, God, Death, Dinner, Baseball, … and Everything Else in the World Since 1953 should be an interesting one to dip into…. ¬†“This astoundingly diverse anthology, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Paris Review, is jam-packed with resonant and provocative work from some of our greatest writers, past and present: W.H. Auden, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Jack Kerouac, Elizabeth Bishop, Truman Capote, William Burroughs, Susan Sontag, Joyce Carol Oates, Toni Morrison, Jonathan Franzen, Ian McEwan and Alice Munro, to name just a fraction.”

A Buzz in the Meadow: The Natural History of a French Farm¬†by Dave Goulson, is yet another one that had me sold on its cover alone. Fortunately, what is offered between the covers seems to be just as promising. “Goulson has that rare ability to persuade you to go out into your garden or local park and observe the natural world. The subtle glory that is life in all its forms is there to be discovered. And if we learn to value what we have, perhaps we will find a way to keep it.”

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The Affairs of Others: A Novel by Amy Grace Loyd was picked¬†because I recalled having read something about the book sometime back that had piqued my curiosity then. I thought it was worth¬†a try for the price….

Matthew Dennison’s Behind the Mask: The Life of Vita Sackville-West¬†is said to be “…. the first biography to be written of Vita¬†in thirty years that¬†reveals the whole story and gets behind ‚Äėthe beautiful mask’ of Vita’s public achievements to reveal an often troubled persona which heroically resisted compromise on every level.”

An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler is a meditation on cooking and eating that¬†weaves philosophy and instruction into approachable lessons on feeding ourselves well. I am no cook, let’s get that clear first. But I enjoy reading essays on cooking, just like how I¬†enjoy essays on gardening even though¬†I do not garden (other than the occasional watering of my mum’s plants). Like armchair travelling, these are my versions of ‘armchair cooking’ and ‘armchair gardening’, minus the sweat and dirt, I guess. ūüôā

Sinclair McKay’s Ramble On: The Story of our love for walking Britain¬†seems to fit the bill nicely for some mild armchair travelling.

Michelangelo: A Life in Six Masterpieces¬†by Miles J. Unger, attempts to¬†portray the¬†artist’s life¬†through the story of six of his masterpieces. Sounds like a fascinating read to me. Am looking forward to it.

Judith Flanders’ The Making of Home: The 500-Year Story of How Our Houses Became Our Homes is one that has been on my radar for some time. I have always found the subject matters in her previous books appealing¬†(The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime; Consuming Passions –¬†Leisure and Pleasures in Victorian Britain; ¬†The Victorian House: Domestic Life from Childbirth to Deathbed),¬†so¬†I was quite thrilled to find this at the sales (did I mention it has a¬†lovely cover too?). ¬†

And being the Francophile that I am, I was especially happy to¬†be able to add David Downie’s A Passion for Paris: Romanticism and Romance in the City of Light,¬†into the basket as well.

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Rachel Allen’s Coast: Recipes from Ireland‚Äôs Wild Atlantic Way¬†is a feast for the eyes (and probably stomach, for those who intend to put the recipes to good use) with beautiful shots of the rugged Atlantic coast of Ireland.

Food Heroes: Sixteen Culinary Artisans Preserving Tradition¬†by Georgia Pellegrini looks to be a promising read as well. Filled with colorful anecdotes, photographs, and recipes, this book offers an accessible introduction to the artisanal food movement, and vicarious living for armchair travelers, food lovers, and others who might won¬≠der what it would be like to drop everything and start an olive farm, or who yearn to make and sell their own clotted cream butter. No harm dreaming, eh? ūüôā

The Italians: A Full Length Portrait featuring Their Manners & Morals¬†by Luigi Barzini,¬†examines ‚Äúthe two Italies‚ÄĚ: the one that created and nurtured such luminaries as Dante Alighieri, St. Thomas of Aquino, and Leonardo da Vinci; the other, feeble and prone to catastrophe, backward in political action if not in thought, ‚Äúinvaded, ravaged, sacked, and humiliated in every century.‚ÄĚ

Elergy for Iris by John Bayley, poignantly describes the love affair between the writer and Iris Murdoch (his wife of forty two years) and the dimming of her brilliance due to Alzheimer’s disease. I have yet to read anything by Murdoch although she has long been on my list of to-read. Maybe this will help to move things up abit.

Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction: Work from 1970 to the Present edited by Lex Williford & Michael Martone. This anthology is said to consist of the most highly regarded nonfiction works published since 1970 by fifty contemporary writers including Cheryl Strayed, David Sedaris, Barbara Kingsolver, Annie Dillard, Amy Tan &David Forster Wallace with pieces ranging from memoir to journalism, personal essays to cultural criticism.

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I¬†discovered¬†Lucy Knisley’s graphic novels in this same book sales last year,¬†when I found a copy of her book Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, and¬†have since¬†been on the lookout for more of her works. So to find a copy of her illustrated travel journal French Milk¬†this time round, was rather blissful.

Ken Jennings’ Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks “…… takes readers on a world tour of geogeeks from the London Map Fair to the bowels of the Library of Congress, from the prepubescent geniuses at the National Geographic Bee to the computer programmers at Google Earth. Each chapter delves into a different aspect of map culture: highpointing, geocaching, road atlas rallying, even the ‚Äúunreal estate‚ÄĚ charted on the maps of fiction and fantasy. Jennings also considers the ways in which cartography has shaped our history, suggesting that the impulse to make and read maps is as relevant today as it has ever been.”¬†
I am definitely no maphead, but this has somewhat piqued my interest.

Next comes the four books which I had ordered over the internet some time back and had¬†them sent over to my friend’s place in the UK because I knew she would be making a trip back¬†home this month, and¬†that means¬†I can save on shipping. :p

I am only now¬†reaching the tail end of Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran (after having started¬†on it¬†some months back) but I had already decided early on that I wanted to read more of her books because I really like her writing. And I have to admit that I would not even¬†have attempted Reading Lolita in Tehran if not for a¬†dear friend’s high regards for it. I think I was put off by Lolita, a book that has never appealed to me before. I am glad to report though, that Nafisi’s book is so much more than what I had imagined it to be. I enjoyed the¬†book very much and look forward to her Things I’ve Been Silent About: Memories of a Prodigal Daughter¬†next.

Writing the Garden: A Literary Conversation across Two Centuries by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, may be yet another collection of garden writing, however, “….. it is not simply a collection of extracts, but real discussions and examinations of the personalities who made their mark on how we design, how we plant, and how we think about what is for many one of life’s lasting pleasures. Starting with “Women in the Garden” (Jane Loudon, Frances Garnet Wolseley, and Gertrude Jekyll) and concluding with “Philosophers in the Garden” (Henry David Thoreau, Michael Pollan, and Allen Lacy), this is a book that encompasses the full sweep of the best garden writing in the English language.”

Sea Room: An Island Life in the Hebrides by Adam Nicolson (grandson of Vita Sackville-West) is the account of Nicolson’s¬†love affair with the three tiny islands he had inherited for his 21st birthday (how cool is¬†that!)¬†and describes “…. their strange and colorful history in passionate, keenly precise prose‚ÄĒsharing with us the greatest gift an island bestows on its inhabitants: a deep engagement with the natural world.” Again, it was the cover that got my attention first, one day while I was browsing around the internet. Sadly, I could not locate an affordable copy of the edition¬†that had¬†my desired cover, and had to settle for another.¬†I am thinking though, if I end up loving the book, I might yet continue to pursue the aforementioned elusive expensive cover. :p

Lastly, Richard Mabey’s A Nature Journal.

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I probably don’t need to tell you why I had to have it, right? :p

In which I try not to be a spoilsport….

I was surprised to have been the recipient of a fellow blogger’s nomination for the Liebster Award over the last weekend (and have since been squirming in my seat trying to get myself out of the task!) :p

As you would all have probably noticed, I have been steadily and progressively turning into a lazier and lazier blogger by the day, in recent months. I have not been putting up any posts that required much thinking or writing, simply because I don’t seem to find the time and energy to do so lately. And whatever little time and energy that I do seem to have, I always think I should put it to better use, probably for reading rather than for trying to wring out something worthy of a post that probably makes no difference to anyone reading it anyway. Sort of.

That is not to say that I don’t value this blog anymore. I do still love the fact that there is this little space out here that I can call my own. I guess I just need to remind myself of the reason for doing this in the first place. It was meant for pleasure, not duty. I just need to make sure it stays that way. ūüôā

And so, back to the Liebster Award thingy, while I was tempted to just decline the nomination and go back into hibernation mode, I really did not relish the idea of being a complete spoilsport, either. So, after the initial struggle of getting into the right frame of mind to take on the task, I decided to (partially) play along. That is, I will participate in the first half of the award, which involves providing 11 facts about myself, and to answering the 11 questions set by Anna, my nominator from ink stains on a reader’s blog (which by the way, is a great place to spend time in, and one I am enjoying very much). However, I’m afraid I won’t be passing on the award to the next 11 nominees, as I do not wish to impose the obligation on anyone. (That is just a nice way of saying that I am actually much too lazy to come up with a set of 11 questions and bloggers to pass them onto!) :p

Anyway, here goes.
The 11 facts about myself:

1. I prefer spending time in the company of books more than with people.

2. Can be considered as an anti-social introvert.

3. Love animals.

4. But am ill at ease with babies and kids.

5. Have a phobia of walking through automatic sliding glass doors (I suffered a nasty concussion once when one of those glass doors closed in on me while I was walking out of a Toy R Us store when I was 7 or 8 yrs old).

6. Cannot stand the smell of perfume or strong fragrances, as they give me headaches and eye sores. Have resorted to holding my breath every time I need to walk through a departmental store where these are found.

7. I feel more comfortable communicating in the written form than in the verbal form, usually.

8. Biggest travel blunder ever : missed getting onto the bus from London to Nottingham 3 TIMES on the same day, during my first trip abroad with friends. (We ended up taking the bus to Manchester instead, after having missed the last bus for the day. Yes, it was shamefully unbelievable.)

9. Favourite ice cream flavour: green tea.

10. Favourite beverage: avocado milk shake.

11. I am unable to roll my tongue and pronounce the letter ‘R’ with the ‘rrrr…..’. :p

‚ąľ‚ąľ‚ąľ‚ąľ‚ąľ‚ąľ‚ąľ‚ąľ‚ąľ‚ąľ‚ąľ‚ąľ‚ąľ‚ąľ‚ąľ‚ąľ‚ąľ‚ąľ‚ąľ‚ąľ‚ąľ‚ąľ

And here are the answers to Anna’s questions:

1. Name a piece of literature you consider the best you’ve read so far?

I don’t know if Sarah Water’s Fingersmith can be considered as the best literature I’ve read so far, but it certainly was one of my best reading experiences. (By the way, have you read this, Anna?)
And although I have yet to finish (listening to) Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, it has already doubtless left me impressed enough to know that its place is among the best (along with my two other favourites: Vita Sackville-West’s All Passion Spent, and Isak Dinesen’s Babette’s Feast.)

2. What are the characteristics of your dream home library?

Spacious yet cosy, evokes a warm yet airy feeling. Filled with all manners of books and bookish mementos that are of interest to me. Must have comfortable seating arrangements. Preferably with windows looking out to the sea or mountains.
Something like this, perhaps?

books with sea view
found this on one of The Captive Reader‘s Library Lust editions and just fell in love with it.

3. What are your favorite places for buying books?

The annual Big Bad Wolf Books Sales held over here in recent years where I have managed to get many a great haul like this, this and this. There are also a few smaller scale clearance sales held every now and then which makes for some rather enjoyable hunting grounds too. I do enjoy going online to look for specific titles and getting them from online sellers such as Awesome Books and Better World Books, as well.

4. Should philosophy be taught from elementary school?

Since I never studied philosophy myself, I wouldn’t really know the breadth and scope of it to say how much of it should be taught at what age/ stage. However, if philosophy is essentially the art of thinking, then I supposed it wouldn’t really harm anyone to be taught how to think at an earlier age? Maybe they could get started off by reading Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World ūüôā

5. What does it mean to be wise? / What is wisdom?

“How can men be wise? The only way to begin is by reverence for God. For growth in wisdom comes from obeying his laws.”
(Psalm 110:10, The Living Bible)

Or to put it in The New Living Translation version:
Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom. All who obey his commandments will grow in wisdom.
(Psalm 110:10)

6. Which literary character feels like a real person to you (as a long known friend, an acquaintance maybe)? Is there any?

Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables, maybe. At least she seems like a good one to have for a ‘bosom buddy’. ūüėČ

7. Quote one of the passages (from any book of your choice, of course) you had to stop by to reread, to note down or ponder upon?

These things – the straw, the ivy frond, the spider- had had the house all to themselves for many days. They had paid no rent, yet they had made free with the floor, the window, and the walls, during a light and volatile existence. That was the kind of companionship that Lady Slane wanted; she had had enough of bustle, and of competition, and of on set of ambitions writhing to circumvent another. She wanted to merge with the things that drifted into an empty house, though unlike the spider she would weave no webs. She would be content to stir with the breeze and grow green in the light of the sun, and to drift down the passage of years, until death pushed her gently out and shut the door behind her. She wanted nothing but passivity while these outward things worked their will upon her.

(Vita Sackville-West, All Passion Spent)

8. Best movie based on a book?

I can think of 3 favourites, so let’s make that ‘Best 3 movies based on a book’, shall we?
That will be (in no particular order): Stardust, Forrest Gump & Misery.
Of the three, I have only read (or rather listened to the audiobook for Stardust). I wasn’t even aware that Forrest Gump was based on a book until recently. And I really think I have no need for reading Stephen King’s Misery because I don’t believe it can be better than the movie.

9. What is the thing that fascinates you the most?

The condition of the human heart.
“The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out.”
(Jeremiah 17:9, The Message – Bible)

10. Suppose you live in several houses. Is there a book you would want to have in every one of them?

The Bible, I suppose.
And I guess I will be carrying my tablet with me to each of the different houses I go to. That way, I can at least have my virtual library with me in all the houses. ūüôā

11. Would you accept the invitation to the Mad Hatter Tea Party?

No, being the anti-social introvert that I am, I do try to avoid parties at all cost.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Done.
(Phew… that wasn’t so bad after all, I guess!) ūüėČ

Blue Specs ~ A Teaser to A Tale

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In Egypt most tourists wear blue spectacles. Arthur Lomax followed this prudent if unbecoming fashion. In the company of three people he scarcely knew, but into whose intimacy he had been forced by the exigencies of yacthing; straddling his long legs across a donkey; attired in a suit of white ducks, a solar topee on his head, his blue spectacles on his nose, he contemplated the Sphinx.
But Lomax was less interested in the Sphinx than in the phenomenon produced by the wearing of those coloured glasses. In fact, he had already dismissed the Sphinx as a most overrated object, which, deprived of the snobbishness of legend to help it out, would have little chance of luring the traveller over fifteen hundred miles of land and sea to Egypt. But as so often happens, although disappointed in one quarter he had been richly and unexpectedly rewarded in another. The world was changed for him, and, had he but known it, the whole of his future altered, by those two circles of blue glass. Unfortunately one does not recognise the turning point of one’s future until one’s future has become one’s past.

Vita Sackville-West, ‘Seducers in Ecuador’ (1924)

Having read and loved Sackville-West’s quietly unassuming piece of gem, All Passion Spent, a couple of years ago, I have not¬†since managed to read any of her other works, other than just a smattering of her letters to her husband and lovers.

So, I¬†thought it’s about time I picked up her Seducers In Ecuador, a novella that was written¬†especially for Virginia Woolf at the height of their intimate affair back then, and see if I will once again be seduced by¬†her writing. Besides, I am now rather intrigued¬†by ‘….. those¬†two circles of blue glass’ that are said to have had altered one’s whole future. ¬†Aren’t you?

Happy New Year (….. & Happy 1st Blogiversary to me!)

NY2013 BWa

Happy New Year, everyone! I know this is a bit late for a new year greeting, but better late than never, right? I had intended to¬†put up¬†a New Year post in conjunction with the one year blogiversary¬†for A Reader’s Footprints a week earlier, but was unfortunately knocked out¬†by a bad bout of flu. Been struggling to regain my lost voice, while battling a nasty cough and a persistent fever at the same time. It’s only now that I am feeling much better, and finally able to put this post up.

So, here we are. A whole new year, full of possibilities and fresh promises lying all stretched out ahead. It’s been a year and a bit now, since I started this blog. It has been a good journey for me and I have enjoyed the experience as well as all the interaction carried out with every single one of you who has been kind enough to have dropped by for a visit in the past year. Thank you all, for having added in some way or other, to the pleasure and comfort that I find in keeping up this little blog here.

It is interesting to note that I had started the previous year with Something Fresh by P.G Wodehouse, and had ended the year aptly with All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West. Both the books brought me much reading pleasure. Although I did not manage to read (or rather, finish reading) many books in the past year, but what I did read, I had mostly liked. A few I had loved, and even fewer still, had me unimpressed. All in all, I would say it was a good reading year for me, just not in terms of quantity I guess.

I have enjoyed reading about all the reading plans and resolutions that many of you have made across the blogosphere, and though I have not come up with any lists or plans of my own this year, it is still exciting to think of all the possibilities that are waiting to be had.  I can only say that I will put in some serious effort in making a bigger dent in the stacks of TBR this year. My reading choices will be mainly based on whim but I might try to join in for a couple of reading events here and there, as the year trundles along.

Remember the ‘sea lion who lost the sea‘ story I posted in my very first post here, a year ago? Well, here’s what became of the sea lion a year later.

When the wind had ceased to blow, the sea lion had a dream. Now, as I told you before, there were other nights in which he had dreamed of the sea. But those were long ago and nearly forgotten. Even still, the ocean that filled his dreams this night was so beautiful and clear, so vast and deep, it was as if he were seeing it for the very first time. The sunlight glittered on its surface, and as he dived, the waters all around him shone like an emerald. If he swam quite deep, it turned to jade, cool and dark and mysterious.

But he was never frightened, not at all. For I must tell you that in all his dreams of the sea, he had never before found himself in the company of other sea lions. This night there were many round about him, diving and turning, spinning and twirling. They were playing.

Oh, how he hated to wake from that wonderful dream. The tears running down his face were the first wet thing he had felt in [a long time]. But he did not pause even to wipe them away, he did not pause in fact, for anything at all. He set his face to the east, and began to walk as best as a sea lion can.
‘Where are you going?’ asked the tortoise.
‘I am going to find the sea.’

John Eldredge, ‘Desire’

I think I have found the ‘sea’. Right here.

And all of you, my dear fellow ‘sea lions’, are what makes finding the sea such a worthwhile journey.

ūüėČ

Ending the year with a bang (or rather, a loud THUD!)

BBW all (BW 2a) pYes, I am definitely ending the year on a high! Not contented with just a tiny ‘thud’, it has to be a THUD!THUD!…THUD…THUD!THUD!! :p

In case you are wondering, no, these are not what I found under my Christmas tree. The people in my life obviously do not think I am in need of any help in the book buying department, as I hardly ever get any books as gifts anymore. They probably think I am in need of help in the opposite, rather.

As such, left to my own devices, this is the bounty resulting from my six days of book-hunting at the biggest book sale ever to have been held over here in Malaysia. A person of stronger mettle might have been able to exert more restraint and resist such temptations I guess, but clearly, I am not that person. Honestly, I really do get a tingling sensation of thrill and excitement just by looking at them all spread out there. Many a times when I stop to gaze at my shelves and stacks of books, thinking of all the goodness that is lying in wait for me within those pages, I just feel like I am the richest person in the world.

Does anyone here feel the same?

Anyway, without further ado…… here they are, in all their glorious beauty and dazzling splendour!

BBW 1Isn’t that about the most beautiful cover you’ve ever seen on a book? I just fell in love with this Margaret Drabble’s A Writer’s Britain, the moment I set eyes on it. And the binding and texture of the book feels really good too. As I am a big fan of all things British (well, almost all), this anthology of how different localities and landscape has played a part in the works of various British poets and novelists seem like a perfect blend of both inner and outer beauty. I have not read anything by Drabble as yet, and am looking forward to reading her. Also interesting to be reminded that she is the sister of A.S Byatt with whom she has a lifetime “feud that is beyond repair”.

Doris Lessing is another writer I am looking forward to reading, not so much her novels though, but rather her essays and short stories. And talking about short stories, Julian Barnes’s The Lemon Table and Jeanette Winterson’s anthology of opera-inspired stories by some of the most acclaimed writers of modern fiction in Midsummer Nights look to be very promising too.

I was very excited to come across Four Letter Word, an inspired and unique collection of love letters edited by Joshua Knelman & Rosalind Porter. “Is there any communication more potent than the love letter? Is there any charge greater than seeing those words on paper? The editors of this collection decided to ask some of the most important writers of our time to compose a fictional love letter – breathing new life into a forgotten custom, and affording words themselves the power of seduction that they richly deserve. The result is an iridescent picture of what love looks like in the twenty-first century: a collage of methods and moods. Each letter is radically different from the others, and all but one are published for the first time.” Some of the names included here are Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Lionel Shriver, Jan Morris, Jeanette Winterson, Audrey Niffenegger, to name a few. Delicious!

BBW 2Speaking of delicious, I manged to get myself a few titles from the Penguin Great Food series, which look really delectable both inside out. I’ve got the ones by Charles Lamb, M.F.K Fischer, Alice B. Toklas and Brillat-Savarin’s Pleasures of The Table. Still on the subject of food, Adam Gopnik’s essays in The Table Comes First is also another much anticipated read. I still want to read his Paris To The Moon (which has been sitting on my shelves for a while now) first though, before getting to The Table.¬† I sometimes see myself like my dog, Sandy, who while having a bone/ treat already in her mouth, still tries to get her paws at another piece. :p

I have always wanted to read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and so was happy to find it at the sale. And having recently started on Alexander McCall Smith’s The Dog Who Came In From The Cold (and liking it), I thought I’d add another one (Friends, Lovers, Chocolate) to the collection. Besides, it was in an edition that I like.

I am no gardener, and have close to zero knowledge about plants and gardening. But in recent years, I seem to have developed a fascination for books on the history and science of it, also memoirs of those working on their gardens and such. Maybe it’s also the influence from reading the blogs of all you garden loving bloggers out there that has brought about this new appreciation. At least I know I recognise the name Anna Pavord from having read about her in The Captive Reader’s blog. The Naming of Names: The Search for Order in the World of Plants certainly looks to be a fascinating read.

BBW 3aAlthough I have been slowly acquiring various volumes on the Mitford sisters and their works, I have never read any of eldest sister Nancy’s books. Now, having found three of her fictions and one non-fiction (Frederick The Great),¬†I can finally see for myself where her genius lies.

Joseph Brodsky is a name I have never come across before, but definitely not unfamiliar to many of you I suppose, being a Nobel Prize winner for Literature at one time. I like essays, and this one (Less Than One & other selected essays) sounds like pretty good stuff!

I have only read, or rather listened, to Graham Greene’s The End of The Affair¬†and although I enjoyed it, I somehow do not find myself wanting to read any of his other books as their subject matters just don’t quite appeal to me. But a book on Greene’s life in letters, that’s another story altogether.

BBW 3bIf you haven’t noticed that I love books on other people’s letters, here’s two more to convince you. Jessica Mitford’s Decca and Lillian Smith’s How Am I To Be Heard?. The Mitford one I am familiar with, but Lillian Smith is new to me. “This compelling volume offers the first full portrait of the life and work of writer Lillian Smith (1897-1966), the foremost southern white liberal of the mid-twentieth century. Smith devoted her life to lifting the veil of southern self-deception about race, class, gender, and sexuality.” Sounds interesting enough to me.

I have not read any Nabokov and have no intention of reading Lolita, his most acclaimed work, but I couldn’t resist this lovely Penguin Modern Classics edition of Pnin. I just love the cover design and the paper quality used in this edition. The story about a Russian professor adapting to the American life and language also seems appealing enough. And I get to say ‘I read Nabokov’ at last (that is, when I have really gotten around to reading it).

Penguin really does have a wide selection of editions and most of them are very pleasing to the eye (and hand, for that matter). I bought both the Chatwin and Auster mainly because they were in the Penguin Deluxe Classics editions. I just love the feel of those French flaps and rough cut pages. Yes, shallow reader that I am.

It was only at this book sale that I first discovered the Penguin’s series of Central European Classics. These are translated works of writers from Central Europe who are completely foreign to me, but all of which appeals to me very much. Titles such as The Elephant, Snows of Yesteryear, Old Masters, Proud to be A Mammal, etc… all look to be very compelling reads.

Another writer whose translated works I am rather excited and looking forward to reading is Mikhail Bulgakov. I managed to get four of his books at this sale and am having a hard time deciding which one to start with. I think I am leaning more towards A Country Doctor’s Notebook, though.

BBW 5For some non-fiction selection, I was most thrilled to find a copy Lucy Worsley’s If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home, having read Darlene’s wonderful review of it some time back. The Virago Book of The Joy of Shopping is also looking to be a fun read.

For some heavier non-fiction reading, I managed to find The Lost Battles, a historical account of the fierce competition between Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo, each trying to outdo the other during their heydays. Hot stuff.

This next title really caught my attention – Reading by Moonlight: How Books Saved My Life by Brenda Walker.
“Packing her bag for hospital after being diagnosed with breast cancer, Brenda wondered which book to put in.¬† As a novelist and professor of literature, her life was built around reading and writing.¬† Books had always been her solace and sustenance, and now choosing the right one was the most important thing she could do for herself.
I am really interested to know which books she did end up packing into the bag.

If there was one book I did not have to feel guilty for buying, it would be this one.¬† When We Were Young: A Compendium of Childhood¬†compiled and illustrated by John Burningham. This is because proceeds from the sale of this delightful collection of contributions by various personalities such as Michael Palin, Seamus Heaney, Donna Tart and Kofi Annan, goes entirely to UNICEF. So, that’s my good deed for the day, I guess. What a great excuse for buying a book, don’t you agree? ūüėČ

Back to the fiction section, I was particularly thrilled to find a copy of The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West. Having been recently reading¬†(and loving!) her All Passion Spent, I think I’m going to be in for a treat with this one as well. And speaking of treats, I can’t wait to read¬†Ishiguro’s The Remains of The Day.

BBW 6This was the final batch of goodies I managed to pick up on the last day of the great sale.

I was really happy to see a copy of Catherine Hall’s The Proof of Love among books that were still left for the taking on the last day. I had read her debut novel,¬†Days of Grace earlier this year, and had really loved it. It was one of my favourite reads for 2012. Am highly anticipating this one now, especially after reading quite a few raving reviews of it around the blogosphere.

William Maxwell is another writer I am keen to get acquainted with. Managed to get my hands on two of his books at this sale, So Long See You Tomorrow and The Chateau. I was actually on the lookout for a copy of his correspondence with Sylvia Townsend Warner The Element of Lavishness, but since none was found I guess I’ll just have to settle with his two novels for the time being. Not really complaining though, as you can see I have more than a fair share of books to keep me busy for a long, long time!

I also found a collection of Du Maurier’s short stories, an Elizabeth Bowen and¬† a Beryl Bainbridge. And I’ve finally gotten myself a copy of Lady Audley’s Secret, after having been wanting to read it for awhile now.¬† Then there’s also W. Somerset Maugham’s literary memoir, The Summing Up and Stella Gibbons’s Westwood.¬† I had already picked up Maugham’s essays on Ten Novels & Their Authors¬†earlier during the sale.

And for something completely different and refreshing, I found Michael Pollan’s A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams to be utterly appealing.¬†“A room of one’s own: is there anybody who hasn’t at one time or another wished for such a place, hasn’t turned those soft words over until they’d assumed a habitable shape? …. Inspired by both Thoreau and Mr. Blandings, A Place of My Own not only works to convey the history and meaning of all human building, it also marks the connections between our bodies, our minds, and the natural world.”

BBW highlights 2
A few of my favourite cover designs. These are the crème de la crème in terms of their aesthetic beauty.

BBW allAnd now, to find ‘a place of my own’ where I can sit down to quietly enjoy all these bookish goodness. What bliss!

ūüôā

Tuesday Teasers : It begins with a death….

bath tangle (a)

Two ladies were seated in the library at Milverley Park, the younger, whose cap and superabundance of crape proclaimed the widow, beside a table upon which reposed a Prayer Book; the elder, a Titian-haired beauty of some twenty-five summers, in one of the deep window-embrasures that overlooked the park. The Funeral Service had been read aloud, in a pretty, reverent voice, by the widow; but the Prayer Book had been closed and laid aside for some time, the silence being broken only by desultory remarks, uttered by one or other of the ladies, and the ticking of the clock upon the mantelpiece.

The library, whose curiously carved bookshelves and gilded and painted ceiling had earned it honourable mention in every Guide Book to Gloucestershire, was a handsome apartment, situated upon the ground floor of the mansion, and furnished with sombre elegance. It had been used, until so short a time previously, almost exclusively by the late Earl of Spenborough: a faint aroma of cigars hung about it, and every now and then the widow’s blue eyes rested on the big mahogany desk, as though she expected to see the Earl seated behind it. An air of gentle sorrow clung about her, and there was a bewildered expression on her charming countenance, as though she could scarcely realize her loss.

It had indeed been as sudden as it was unexpected. No one, least of all himself, could have supposed that the Earl, a fine, robust man in his fiftieth year, would owe his death to so paltry a cause as a chill, contracted when salmon-fishing on the Wye. Not all the solicitations of his host and hostess had prevailed upon him to cosset this trifling ailment; he had enjoyed another day‚Äôs fishing; and had returned to Milverley, testily making light of his condition, but so very far from well that his daughter had had no hesitation in overriding his prohibition, and had sent immediately for a physician. A severe inflammation of both lungs was diagnosed, and within a week he was dead, leaving a wife and a daughter to mourn him, and a cousin, some fifteen years his junior, to succeed to his dignities. He had no other child, a circumstance generally held to account for his startling marriage, three years earlier, to the pretty girl who had not then attained the dignity of her twentieth year. Only the most forbearing of his friends could think the match allowable. Neither his splendid physique nor his handsome face could disguise the fact that he was older than his bride‚Äôs father……

Georgette Heyer, Bath Tangle (1955)

This is my first taste of Heyer, after reading so many wonderful things that has been said of her, and I must say I am liking what I find here. No doubt, I already have every intention to make my way slowly through her extensive list of works, if this is the kind of wit and writing that I am in store for. I do like her tone.

 Incidentally (or rather, co-incidentally), I have just started another book which also opens with a death in the family.

All Passion Spent

Henry Lyulph Holland, first Earl of Slane, had existed for so long that the public had begun to regard him as immortal. The public, as a whole, finds reassurance in longevity, and, after the necessary interlude of reaction, is disposed to recognise extreme old age as a sign of excellence. The long-liver has triumphed at least over one of man’s initial handicaps: the brevity of life. To filch twenty years from eternal annihilation is to impose one’s superiority on an allotted programme. So small is the scale upon which we arrange our values.

It was thus with a start of real incredulity that City men, opening their papers in the train on a warm May morning, read that Lord Slane, at the age of ninety-four, had passed away suddenly after dinner on the previous evening. “Heart failure,” they said sagaciously, though they were actually quoting from the papers; and then added with a sigh, “Well, another old landmark gone.” That was¬†the dominant feeling: another old landmark gone, another reminder of insecurity.

 Vita Sackville-West, All Passion Spent (1931)

¬†Another delightful opening, I’d say,¬†to a very promising read. I’m about fifty pages into the book and it is proving itself to be¬†every bit as good as what I’ve been led to believe (and expect), from¬†all that I’ve read on the blogosphere.¬†There is definitely more to explore¬†about¬†Vita Sackville-West than just her associations with gardens and Virginia Woolf. ūüėČ

 

The Plan (or something like that….)

Looking at how my TBR pile is getting way out of control, I think it’s time I come up with a plan of some sort. I have never really had the habit of making lists of books that I plan to read, but I feel that it might be a good idea to do so now. It will¬† probably help me to have some kind of a structure whereby manageable “reading goals” can be better met, I think. So this year, here’s to giving it a try!

First In First Out or Last In First Out?

If it’s gonna be FIFO, then I should be well reading these few oldest occupants on the shelf :

  • The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer
  • The Accidental by Ali Smith
  • Stiff by Mary Roach
  • The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain De Botton
  • Fresh-Air Fiend by Paul Theroux
  • My Sergei : A Love Story by Ekaterina Gordeeva

But if it’s LIFO (and you know how it is with current fascinations, you just can’t wait to dive into them), then this would be the stack to tackle :

  • Violet to Vita : The Letters of Violet¬† Trefussis to Vita Sackville West
  • The Secret Self : Short Stories by Women
  • In Tearing Haste : Letters Between Deborah Devonshire & Patrick Leigh Fermor
  • The Odd Women by George Gissing
  • All Passion Spent by V. Sackville West
  • Wish Her Safe At Home by Stephan Benatar
  • The Reader by Ali Smith
  • On Borrowed Wings by Chandra Prasad (bought on account of Danielle’s high praises)

And while I am deciding between the two, here’s also the ‘already-planned-to-read’ stack :

  • Life Mask by Emma Donoghue
  • The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
  • The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh
  • a couple from the Bronte sisters’ collection
  • The Hound of The Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Then there’s also the ‘already-started-and-stopped-but-need -to-get-back-to’ pile :

  • The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton
  • Three Weeks With My Brother by Nicholas Sparks & Micah Sparks
  • Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  • In Europe by Geert Mak
  • Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  • Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides by James Boswell

 

There are also a few tomes which I plan (& hope) to be dipping into regularly :

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  • Elizabeth Bishop and The New Yorker
  • Words In Air : The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop & Robert Lowell
  • Classics For Pleasure by Michael Dirda
  • Bound to Please by Michael Dirda
  • Seeing Further : The Story of Science & The Royal Society edited by Bill Bryson
  • The Collected Stories of Elizabeth Bowen

And last but not least, the stack of gems I am most looking forward to reading :

IMG_5258

  • The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue
  • Prague Tales by Jan Neruda (already started)
  • Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker (highly recommended by Stuck in A Book’s Simon)
  • The Odd Women by George Gissing
  • The Diaries of Sylvia Townsend Warner (already started)
  • I’ll Stand By You : Letters by Sylvia Townsend Warner & Valentine Ackland
  • In Tearing Haste : Letters Between Deborah Devonshire & Patrick Leigh Fermor
  • Wait For Me by Deborah Devonshire

Just realised there’s two of them (The Odd Women & In Tearing Haste) which had appeared in one of the earlier stacks too. Guess this makes them definite must-reads, no? ūüėČ

So¬†there you have it, that’s the plan ……for now.