This picture does look rather familiar now, doesn’t it? The the story that follows is just as familiar, I’m afraid. Same old, same old …..
Yes, I have gone a book-hunting again, and came back with no small haul (as usual), I’m afraid. It was the lure of the Big Bad Wolf’s Fireball Book Sale, where every book has been given a further mark down in prices, following the mega year end sale they had back in December. Technically, these were supposed to be the ‘leftovers’ from the previous sale. But in reality, I found many more exciting stuff here that I had not even come across during the December sale. And to find all these at even lower prices…. well, it is just pure bliss! 🙂
I have the first volume of Virginia Woolf’s collection of essays in The Common Reader sitting on the shelves for awhile now. So, getting the second volume to keep the first one company was just the natural thing to do, I guess. I also found a biography of hers, Virginia Woolf: Bloomsbury & Beyond by Anthony Curtis and thought, why not? At any rate, it was a nice looking hardback, bountifully illustrated with sepia photographs.
As you can see, I also convenienty found her dear friend Vita Sackville-West’s volume of letters with her husband (Vita’s, that is) Harold Nicolson, as well as a volume of Nicolson’s diaries. I would not have thought of wanting to read his diaries or letters if it were not for those delightful excerpts that I had read on The Captive Reader’s blog sometime back. Getting these at only RM5 (less than a pound) each, makes the find all the more delightful!
France On Two Wheels by Adam Ruck “…. follows the writer through six intricately plotted Gallic cycling routes; from Lake Geneva to the Channel, the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, Vichy to Roanne, Paris to Provence, Roanne to the Atlantic, and Burgundy to Spain. Both a practical companion and a story of exploration and rediscovery, France on Two Wheels offers detailed descriptions of useful routes, stop-off points and watering-holes, along with detours into subjects as varied as wine, Flaubert, windmills, Wodehouse, belfries, battlefields and beer. It is vivid proof that the only way to experience the French countryside is on two wheels.” Sounds good to me.
I also found another book to do with bikes and travelling (pictured in one of the stacks below) Britain By Bike: A Two-Wheeled Odyssey Around Britain by Jane Eastoe. That one is based on a six-part BBC series, Britain by Bike providing all the authoritative information a biker needs, from interesting routes and unusual attractions to great lodgings. Well, that should be quite enough biking now for someone who doesn’t even own a bike. :p
So having gotten off the bikes, I found myself a copy of Caroline Sanderson’s Rambling Fancy: In the Footsteps of Jane Austen. “Following in Jane Austen’s footsteps, Sanderson tramps the muddy fields around Austen’s childhood home in rural Hampshire, walks the elegant streets of Bath, and strolls along the breezy promenades of south coast resort. Drawing upon Jane Austen’s letters as well as her many novels Caroline Sanderson charts her own experiences of the very places from which Jane Austen sought inspiration, reaching some original and fascinating conclusions.”
Hmmm, I wonder what might those be. Anyway, I also managed to find a pretty Penguin English Library edition of Austen’s Mansfield Park and thought it’s high time I read more Austen.
I think it’s also high time that I get down to reading some Orhan Pamuk as well, and was glad to find a copy of his The Naive and Sentimental Novelist. “In this fascinating set of essays, based on the talks he delivered at Harvard University as part of the distinguished Norton Lecture series, Pamuk presents a comprehensive and provocative theory of the novel and the experience of reading. Drawing on Friedrich Schiller’s famous distinction between “naïve” writers—those who write spontaneously—and “sentimental” writers—those who are reflective and aware—Pamuk reveals two unique ways of processing and composing the written word. He takes us through his own literary journey and the beloved novels of his youth to describe the singular experience of reading. Unique, nuanced, and passionate, this book will be beloved by readers and writers alike.”
Another writer whom I’m really looking forward to reading more of, is Wilkie Collins. I loved his No Name and am halfway through listening to The Moonstone. Have yet to read his supposedly best work, The Woman in White (which incidentally, is said to be the partial inspiration for Sarah Water’s Fingersmith, one of my all time favourite reading experiences). So I’m looking forward to read Peter Ackroyd’s take on the man himself, Wilkie Collins.
Next are two books on reading. One is the general history of reading over the ages, while the other, John Tytell’s Reading New York, is a combination of memoir and historical criticism on a more personal note.
I have not read anything by Richard Yates before, and all I know of him is that he wrote the book behind the movie, Revolutionary Road. What got my attention here was the the title Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, the book from which some of the stories found in this collection, The Collected Stories of Richard Yates were taken from. I will see what I make of my acquaintance with Mr Yates and report back duly.
I have not heard of Nabokov’s The Luzhin Defense before, but this came in a beautiful Penguin hardback edition which has the kind of fonts, paper texture and binding that I just love, so it was definitely coming home with me. I was glad to know upon further examination that the story is actually about “….. the strange yet oddly endearing chess-playing genius Luzhin. Discovering his prodigious gift in boyhood and rising to the rank of international Grandmaster, Luzhin develops a lyrical passion for chess that renders the real world a phantom. As he confronts the fiery, swift-swooping Italian Grandmaster, Turati, he brings into play his carefully devised defence. Making masterly play of metaphor and imagery, “The Luzhin Defense” is the book that, of his early works, Nabokov felt “contains and diffuses the greatest warmth”. Back in my school days, I used to play chess competitively and was President of the Chess Club. For me, it wasn’t just the game itself that I enjoy. It was also very much the opportunity for long talks and quality time that the game offers me to spend with a friend, or with someone whom I would like to get to know better and wouldn’t mind looking at (discreetly, of course) for a few good hours maybe. 😉
I have read good things about Lucy Wood’s Diving Belles and from the little samplings that I have taken from it so far, I’m already finding myself falling under its charm.
Colette Rossant’s Return to Paris: A Memoir with Recipes looks to be another charming read. “It is 1947 and Paris is recovering from the war. As soon as Colette’s family arrive from Cairo, her mother abandons her yet again. Terribly homesick, Colette finds solace in the kitchen with the cook Georgette, and discovers a love for French food – roasted lamb stuffed with garlic, springtime strawberries bathed in creme fraiche, the first taste of truffle. And it is through food that Colette finds happiness in Paris, skipping school to go to the farmers’ market in Port de Neuilly and dining in Michelin-starred restaurants with her new stepfather. Then at sixteen, she meets a dashing young American – and, despite all opposition from her family, never looks back…”
I found both Michael Holroyd’s A Book of Secrets and Margaret Drabble’s The Pattern in The Carpet: A Personal History with Jigsaws and brought them home with me without realizing that both these writers were married to each other! It was only when I started reading Drabble’s introduction the next day, that I got to know it. Margaret Drabble weaves her own story into a history of games, in particular jigsaws, which have offered her and many others relief from melancholy and depression. Alongside curious facts and discoveries about jigsaw puzzles — did you know that the 1929 stock market crash was followed by a boom in puzzle sales? — Drabble introduces us to her beloved Auntie Phyl, and describes childhood visits to the house in Long Bennington on the Great North Road, their first trip to London together, the books they read, the jigsaws they completed. She offers penetrating sketches of her parents, her siblings, and her children; she shares her thoughts on the importance of childhood play, on art and writing, on aging and memory. And she does so with her customary intelligence, energy, and wit. This is a memoir like no other.
I think this one is going right to the top of the pile. I used to love doing jigsaws when I was younger and it’s been ages since I last did one. Drabble mentions in her book that The World’s Most Difficult Puzzle is a 340-piece jigsaw based on Jackson Pollock’s painting Convergence. Personally, the most challenging jigsaw that I have ever come across is one of those reverse perspective puzzles, in which the picture on the box is merely a clue for the puzzle you will be putting together. The image on the box depicts a cartoonish scene of surprise and tumult and the goal is to discover the source of the commotion by figuring out what the characters in the scene are seeing. I had gotten myself one of these in my enthusiasm back then but sadly, after a decade of more now, the pieces are still left sitting in the box, undone. I may yet again attempt it, someday.
I love the cover of Diana Athill’s Instead of a Letter: A Memoir. This classic memoir tells the story of Athill “…… as a young woman, was engaged to an air force pilot—Instead of a Letter tells how he broke off the engagement, married someone else, and, worst of all, died overseas before she could confront or forgive him. Evoking perfectly the picturesque country setting of her youth, this fearless and profoundly honest story of love and modern womanhood marks the beginning of Athill’s brilliant literary career.”
Being an Anglophile, I was happy to find A.N. Wilson’s The Elizabethans and both Liza Picard’s Elizabeth’s London: Everyday Life in Elizabethan London and Victorian London: The Tale of a City 1840-1870. These books help make history come alive in the lively and engaging way that they were written. Highly readable stuff. Oh, and I also found a lovely hardback copy of England’s Forgotten Past: The Unsung Heroes and Heroines, Valiant Kings, Great Battles and Other Generally Overlooked Episodes in Our Nation’s Glorious History. Seems like a fun one.
For a more contemporary take on Great Britain, I got Ian Jack’s The Country Formerly Known as Great Britain. “In this selection from more than 20 years of reporting and writing, Ian Jack takes us to a place of which there are now only memories and ruins—the Great Britain that gave us the Industrial Revolution, a nation that led the world in feats of engineering, a Britain of empire, a place of vital cities, each with their own unique identity, and a country whose residual presence can still be found in the strangest corners of the world.”
I also found two short biographies, one of the great American evangelist D.L Moody, the other is that of F. Scott Fitzgerald in a collection of personal essays and articles written before his fatal heart attack at the age of forty four.
For my dose of armchair gardening, I found Jamaica Kincaid’s My Favourite Plant: Writers and Gardeners on The Plants They Love, E. Buckner Hollingsworth’s garden classic, Flower Chronicles, and Mandy Kirkby’s The Language of Flowers: A Miscellany.
As for my dose of armchair travelling, I found a lovely looking hardback edition of Umbria by Patricia Clough. “When Patricia Clough bought a house in Umbria, she knew that buying her dream home did not mean that one’s life became a dream. By the end of this book she is sure that “if one has basic requirements for being happy, then Umbria provides some of the best surroundings for happiness.”
In Made In Italy: A Shopper’s Guide to Italy’s Best Artisanal Traditions, Laura Morelli revisits Italy’s best shops and craftsmen to provide a thorough shopper’s guide to Italy’s best local traditions.
Judith Martin’s No Vulgar Hotel: The Desire and Pursuit of Venice is said by Donna Leon to be one of those books that one must read before coming to Venice. “This is the definitive book for managing an incurable passion for a decaying, water-logged village. Whether you already have a raging case of Venetophilia or are among the fifteen million people who yearly put themselves in danger of contracting it, here is where you get your fix of Venetian wit, history, practicality, and enchantment.” I have not been to Venice yet, so maybe I should take up the advice.
Eric Newby’s On The Shores Of The Mediterranean.
As they travel around the sea at the center of Western history, Eric Newby and his wife Wanda visit not only the better-known Mediterranean sights and cities but also venture into places where Westerners are few: Albania under Hoxha, the holy Muslim city of Fez, and a country about to disappear in civil war – the former Yugoslavia. Eric Newby entertains and enlightens as he follows in the footsteps of Cleopatra and St John, and waits for a meeting with Colonel Gaddafi. With his customary flair for description, he is equally at easy pondering King David’s choice of Jerusalem as the site for a capital city or enjoying a meal cooked by one of France’s finest chefs. His acute curiosity and encyclopedic knowledge combine to make absorbing reading, whether he is explaining the workings of a defunct Turkish harem or the contemporary Mafia. From antiquity to the present, Eric Newby’s erudite, engaging tale is not a simple tour but a tour de force.
For the longest time, Miguel De Cervantes’ Don Quixote has always seemed like an intimidating giant to me. But flipping through this Edith Grossman translation of the Spanish masterpiece, I found it to be surprisingly engaging and very readable. It also helped that this Harper Perennial edition comes in the form of one of my favourite combinations for a book – French flaps with rough cut pages. The book, though close to a hefty thousand pages, feels so easy on the hand. So, this is all looking very promising indeed, for my getting acquainted with Mr Cervantes.
Though I have heard of John Mortimer before, I have never read any of his Rumpole stories. But coming across a copy of his Forever Rumpole: The Best of the Rumpole Stories at one of the tables, my interest was suddenly stirred and I found myself enjoying the writing more than I expected. So, what better place to start than with ‘the best of the Rumpole stories’ right?
“While still a practicing barrister, Mortimer took up the pen, and the rest is literary history. His stories featuring the cigar-chomping, cheap-wine-tippling Rumpole and his wife, Hilda (aka “She Who Must Be Obeyed”), have justly earned their place in the pantheon of mystery fiction legends, becoming the basis for the very successful television series Rumpole of the Bailey. Bringing fourteen of Rumpole’s most entertaining adventures (seven of which were collected in The Best of Rumpole) together with a fragment of a new story, Forever Rumpole proves beyond a reasonable doubt that Rumpole is never less than delightful.”
You would have probably noticed Van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, sitting on my sidebar for quite some time now. What I had previously was just a copy of the e-book. Finding the physical edition of the book at the sale for only RM8 (slightly less than £1.5) was really quite the catch of the day for me! It is a highly readable biography of the artist’s life and works, generously illustrated with his paintings throughout. I am quite determined to finish reading this 900+ pages door stopper of a book, even if it’s gonna take me forever.
Well, back to the British and their eccentrics. David Mckie’s Bright Particular Stars: A Gallery of Glorious British Eccentrics “….. examines the impact of 26 remarkable British eccentrics on 26 unremarkable British locations. From Broadway in the Cotswolds, where the Victorian bibliomaniac Sir Thomas Phillipps nurtured dreams of possessing every book in the world, to Kilwinning in Scotland, where in 1839 the Earl of Eglinton mounted a tournament that was Renaissance in its extravagance and disastrous in its execution, McKie leads us to places transformed, inspired, and sometimes scandalized by the obsessional endeavors of visionary mavericks. [….] But together their fascinating stories illuminate some of the most secret and most extraordinary byways of British history.”
Maybe reading Sir Thomas Phillipps’ story would help put my book buying habits (and yours too, perhaps?) in their proper perspective. 🙂
Johnson’s Life of London: The People who Made the City that Made the World by Boris Johnson promises to be quite another interesting one too. “Boris narrates the story of his city as a kind of relay race of outsized characters, beginning with the days when “a bunch of pushy Italians” created Londinium. He passes the torch on down through a procession of the famous and infamous, the brilliant and the bizarre – from Hadrian to Shakespeare to Florence Nightingale to the Rolling Stones- illuminating with unforgettable clarity each figure and the era he or she inhabited. He also pauses to shine a light on places and developments that have contributed to the city’s incomparable vibrancy, from the flush toilet to the King James Bible. As wildly entertaining as it is informative, this is an irresistible account of the city and people that in large part shaped the world we know.”
Ross King’s The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave The World Impressionism.
While the Civil War raged in America, another revolution took shape across the Atlantic, in the studios of Paris: The artists who would make Impressionism the most popular art form in history were showing their first paintings amidst scorn and derision from the French artistic establishment. Indeed, no artistic movement has ever been quite so controversial. The drama of its birth, played out on canvas and against the backdrop of the Franco-Prussian War and the Commune, would at times resemble a battlefield; and as Ross King reveals, it would reorder both history and culture, and resonate around the world.
I have always been interested in the lives of the Impressionists, ever since being introduced to the BBC mini series, The Impressionists, by a dear friend back in 2006. I have a copy of Sue Roe’s The Private Lives of The Impressionists which I am looking forward to reading too. I think that will tie up quite well with the reading of the Ross King one.
Paris: Capital of the World by Patrice Higonnet.
In an original and evocative journey through modern Paris from the mid-eighteenth century to World War II, Patrice Higonnet offers a delightful cultural portrait of a multifaceted, continually changing city. In examining the myths and countermyths of Paris that have been created and re-created over time, Higonnet reveals a magical urban alchemy in which each era absorbs the myths and perceptions of Paris past, adapts them to the cultural imperatives of its own time, and feeds them back into the city, creating a new environment. […] Insightful, informative, and gracefully written, Paris illuminates the intersection of collective and individual imaginations in a perpetually shifting urban dynamic. In describing his Paris of the real and of the imagination, Higonnet sheds brilliant new light on this endlessly intriguing city.
Yes, I do find Paris to be endlessly intriguing, and certainly don’t think there can be too many books on it. Do you?
And for something completely different from all the rest, I had picked Oliver Sacks’s A Leg To Stand On for a very personal reason. “
Dr. Oliver Sacks’s books Awakenings, An Anthropologist on Mars and the bestselling The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat have been acclaimed for their extraordinary compassion in the treatment of patients affected with profound disorders.
In A Leg to Stand On, it is Sacks himself who is the patient: an encounter with a bull on a desolate mountain in Norway has left him with a severely damaged leg. But what should be a routine recuperation is actually the beginning of a strange medical journey when he finds that his leg uncannily no longer feels part of his body. Sacks’s brilliant description of his crisis and eventual recovery is not only an illuminating examination of the experience of patienthood and the inner nature of illness and health but also a fascinating exploration of the physical basis of identity.”
A very dear friend of mine, the same one whom I had mentioned was the one who introduced me to The Impressionists, had an accident a little over a year ago. Like Dr Sacks, her journey to recovery has been (and still is) a rather strange one. While it was a leg in Dr Sacks’s case, for her it was an arm that she finds herself being alienated from. And all these has taken a toll on her general state of mental well-being. I am hopeful that what Dr Sacks has to share in his journey would be helpful in shedding more light to understanding some of these anomalies my friend is experiencing, and be of an encouragement to her.
Happy reading to you all, too! 😉