What One Finds in a Fireball Book Sale…..

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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! ūüôā

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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‚Äôs footsteps, Sanderson tramps the muddy fields around Austen‚Äôs 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs famous distinction between ‚Äúna√Įve‚ÄĚ writers‚ÄĒthose who write spontaneously‚ÄĒand ‚Äúsentimental‚ÄĚ writers‚ÄĒthose who are reflective and aware‚ÄĒPamuk 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.

BBW FS (2)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. ūüėČ

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 ‚ÄĒ did you know that the 1929 stock market crash was followed by a boom in puzzle sales? ‚ÄĒ 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‚Äôs 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‚ÄĒInstead 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‚Äôs 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.

BBW FS (3)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‚ÄĒthe 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‚Äôs life became a dream. By the end of this book she is sure that ‚Äúif one has basic requirements for being happy, then Umbria provides some of the best surroundings for happiness.‚ÄĚ

In Made In Italy: A Shopper’s Guide to Italy’s Best Artisanal Traditions, Laura Morelli revisits Italy‚Äôs best shops and craftsmen to provide a thorough shopper‚Äôs guide to Italy‚Äôs best local traditions.

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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. ūüôā

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.

CAM00326aEnough of the British for now. Let’s move over to Paris for a change in scenery, shall we?

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.

BBW FS (4)Lastly, a few lovely coffee table books on gardens and gardening. And I should really end this seemingly never-ending post, and start spending some time with all these lovelies instead!

Happy reading to you all, too! ūüėČ

Promising Starts: The Hand That First Held Mine

hand that first held mine cover

Listen. The trees in this story are stirring, trembling, readjusting themselves. A breeze is coming in gusts off the sea, and it is almost as if the trees know, in their restlessness, in their head-tossing impatience, that something is about to happen.

The garden is empty, the patio deserted, save for some pots with geraniums and delphiniums shuddering in the wind. A bench stands on the lawn, two chairs facing politely away from it. A bicycle is propped up against the house but its pedals are stationary, the oiled chain motionless. A baby has been put out to sleep in a pram and it lies inside its stiff cocoon of blankets, eyes obligingly shut tight. A seagull hangs suspended in the sky above and even that is silent, beak closed, wings outstretched to catch the high thermal draughts.

The house is set apart from the rest of the village, behind dense hedge, on the crest of a cliff. This is the border between Devon and Cornwall, where the two counties crouch, eyeing each other. It is a much-disputed piece of land. It would not do to look too long at the soil here, soaked as it will be with the blood of Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Romans, filled out with the rubble of their bones.

However, this happens in a time of relative peace for Britain: late summer in the mid-1950s. A gravelled path curves towards the front door of the house. On the washing-line, petticoats and vests, socks and stays, nappies and handkerchiefs snap and writhe in the breeze. A radio can be heard from somewhere, one of the neighbouring houses perhaps, and the muffled thwack of an axe falling on wood.

The garden waits. The trees wait. The seagull, balancing in the sky above the washing, waits. And then, just as if this is a stage set and there is an audience, watching from a hushed dark, there are voices. Noises off. Somebody screams, another person shouts, something heavy hits the floor. The back door of the house is wrenched open. ‚ÄėI can‚Äôt bear it! I tell you, I can‚Äôt!‚Äô the someone shrieks. The back door is slammed, resoundingly, and a person appears.

‘The Hand That First Held Mine’ by Maggie O’Farrell

Although I have come across a fair few glowing reviews of Maggie O’Farrell’s The Hand That First Held Mine,¬† I had never really thought that it would be a book that I would find myself wanting¬† to read. Somehow, it just wasn’t the kind of story that would appeal to me.

But then one day while browsing at a local bookstore, I saw a copy of the book and decided to pluck it from the shelves and flip through it out of curiosity. And after reading the above, I found myself wanting to read more. The writer has managed to set the stage so well for her to begin her storytelling that one just couldn’t help but be drawn into it.

I am also reminded of another one of my favourite openings to a book, found in Wilkie Collins’ No Name. Another brilliant set up for the storyteller to begin his tale.

THE hands on the hall-clock pointed to half-past six in the morning. The house was a country residence in West Somersetshire, called Combe-Raven. The day was the fourth of March, and the year was eighteen hundred and forty-six.

No sounds but the steady ticking of the clock, and the lumpish snoring of a large dog stretched on a mat outside the dining-room door, disturbed the mysterious morning stillness of hall and staircase. Who were the sleepers hidden in the upper regions? Let the house reveal its own secrets; and, one by one, as they descend the stairs from their beds, let the sleepers disclose themselves.

As the clock pointed to a quarter to seven, the dog woke and shook himself. After waiting in vain for the footman, who was accustomed to let him out, the animal wandered restlessly from one closed door to another on the ground-floor; and, returning to his mat in great perplexity, appealed to the sleeping family with a long and melancholy howl.

In which I’m reminded that I need to read more Wilkie Collins……

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source

WHEN I first saw him, he was lost in one of the Dead Cities of England‚ÄĒsituated on the South Coast, and called Sandwich.
Shall I describe Sandwich? I think not. Let us own the truth; descriptions of places, however nicely they may be written, are always more or less dull. Being a woman, I naturally hate dullness. Perhaps some description of Sandwich may drop out, as it were, from my report of our conversation when we first met as strangers in the street.

He began irritably. “I’ve lost myself,” he said.

“People who don’t know the town often do that,” I remarked.

He went on: “Which is my way to the Fleur de Lys Inn?”

His way was, in the first place, to retrace his steps. Then to turn to the left. Then to go on until he found two streets meeting. Then to take the street on the right. Then to look out for the second turning on the left. Then to follow the turning until he smelled stables‚ÄĒand there was the inn. I put it in the clearest manner, and never stumbled over a word.

“How the devil am I to remember all that?” he said.

This was rude. We are naturally and properly indignant with any man who is rude to us. But whether we turn our backs on him in contempt, or whether we are merciful and give him a lesson in politeness, depends entirely on the man. He may be a bear, but he may also have his redeeming qualities. This man had redeeming qualities. I cannot positively say that he was either handsome or ugly, young or old, well or ill dressed. But I can speak with certainty to the personal attractions which recommended him to notice.

For instance, the tone of his voice was persuasive. (Did you ever read a story, written by one of us, in which we failed to dwell on our hero’s voice?) Then, again, his hair was reasonably long. (Are you acquainted with any woman who can endure a man with a cropped head?) Moreover, he was of a good height. (It must be a very tall woman who can feel favorably inclined toward a short man.) Lastly, although his eyes were not more than fairly presentable in form and color, the wretch had in some unaccountable manner become possessed of beautiful eyelashes. They were even better eyelashes than mine. I write quite seriously. There is one woman who is above the common weakness of vanity‚ÄĒand she holds the present pen.

So I gave my lost stranger a lesson in politeness. The lesson took the form of a trap. I asked him if he would like me to show him the way to the inn. He was still annoyed at losing himself. As I had anticipated, he bluntly answered: “Yes.”

“When you were a boy, and you wanted something,” I said, “did your mother teach you to say ‘Please’?”

Wilkie Collins,¬†‘Miss Morris & the Stranger’ (1881).

Yesterday, while¬†sorting¬†through some of the free e-books that I have been greedily busy accumulating for quite some time in my¬†e-reader, I came across a collection of short stories¬†entitled ‘Little Novels’ by Wilkie Collins. This is a collection of fourteen short stories which revolve around the theme of love and marriage, frequently across the social barriers of class and money. I remember reading¬†one of the stories ‘Mr. Lismore and the Widow’ sometime last year and had quite enjoyed it but¬†then had set the rest aside (probably in favour of some other books that were calling out louder for attention at that time!), until yesterday. Reading the teaser above reminded me once again of how I much I enjoy reading Collins, and why there’s absolutely no reason I should wait any longer before diving right back into his books.

I just love his wit and writing style,¬†ever since¬†having¬†first¬†tasted of¬†it in ‘No Name’, one of my favourite¬†reads ever!
And if you have yet to be acquainted with Collins yourself, I would strongly urge you to. He is definitely worth it. ūüôā

Had a good wash lately?

 
How true.

Especially so when I¬†happen to be in the middle of feeling rather¬†quite well-covered in the ‘dust of everyday life’,¬†in recent weeks. Thankfully, we just had¬†two days of¬†national holiday over here, and¬†coupled with the weekend altogether,¬†I had a good four days stretch of much needed rest.

In between the ‘resting’ and busying with a personal piece of creative project I had promised to help a good friend with, I managed to pick up my copy of Wilkie Collins’ No Name which had gotten by the wayside some months back. It was a book I had enjoyed much, having started it earlier this year but as usual¬†got distracted by other books and stuff and had set it aside somewhere along the midpoint of this 700+ pages doorstopper. Picking up from where I left reminded me of how very good it really is, and how much I am loving Wilkie Collins’ writing. And Captain Wragge (for those who are familiar with the book) has now¬†firmly claimed the top spot¬†as my all time favourite¬†‘scoundrel’. You just can’t help but love his wit and dash of humour!

And so, although I only managed to read fifty pages or so in the past few days, it did me a world of good! It was a good washing I had been in need of for quite a while, I guess.

Enough about me. How has it been for the rest of you?¬†Read any books that gave your souls a good washing lately?¬† ūüėČ

Friday Feature : On Reading In Bed

“Hundreds and thousands, possibly millions, of people every night in England read something in bed. They say nothing about it except, ‘I read for a little last night and then slept like a top,’ or ‘I didn’t feel like going to sleep last night, so I read for a bit,’ or ‘I began reading so-and-so in bed last night, and damn the book, I couldn’t get to sleep until I finished it.’ Usually nothing at all is said; if anything is said it is very little. Yet what a large slice of each of our lives has gone into this harmless occupation.

We get our clothes off. We put our pyjamas on. We wind our watches. We arrange the table and the light and get into bed. We pile up, or double up, the pillows. Then we settle down to it. Sometimes the book is so exciting that all thought of sleep fades away, and we read on oblivious of everything except the unseen menace in that dark house, the boat gliding stealthily along that misty river, the Chinaman’s eyes peering through that greenish-yellow fog, or the sudden crack of the revolver in that den of infamy. Sometimes we read for a while and then feel as though we could go peacefully to sleep. Sometimes we struggle desperately to gum our failing attention to the acute analysis and safe deductions of our author. Our eyes squint and swim. Our head dizzies. We feel drunk, and, dropping the book aside from lax hands, just manage to get the light out before falling back into a dense and miry slumber.

We all know these fights against inevitable sleep, those resolves to reach the inaccessible end of the chapter, those swimmings in the head, those relapses into the gulf of oblivion. And we all know those long readings when the mystery and suspense of the text so excite us that every creak of the stair and every fluttering of the pertinacious moths makes the heart stand still, and then keeps it beating hard for minutes. We have all turned the light out just in time; and we have all turned it out from boredom, or in an access of determined common-sense, and then turn it on again to resume dreary reading where we left the piece of paper or the pencil in the page. But we seldom talk about it. It is part of our really private lives.”

J.C. Squire, ‘Reading in bed’ (1927)

Reading in bed. I am sure this is something that is done (or attempted) by just as many other “Hundreds and thousands, possibly millions, of people every night……” around the planet, and not just England.

I, for one, do (try). Hahah! Sometimes I succeed in keeping my eyes open long enough to make sense of what I’m reading, before the words start ‘swimming’, or before my arms give way under the weight of the book (no matter how slim the volume may be). My greatest concern is that I hope I don’t damage the dear book in the event of having lax hands. Really.

And sometimes I just downright fail. Those are the times when ‘the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak’. But still I say, it’s always worth a try! ūüėČ
By the way, my current bedtime reading has been Wilkie Collins’s No Name, and alternatively Elizabeth Bowen’s The Collected Stories. Both are chunksters, and therefore fall under the category of ‘high risk’ for ‘damage-prone-books-resulting-from-lax-hands’. :p

Alternatively, one could always consider taking on Rose Macaulay’s suggestion.

Only one hour in the normal day is more pleasurable than the hour spent in bed with a book before going to sleep, and that is the hour spent in bed with a book after being called in the morning.

Rose Macaulay, A Casual Commentary (1925)

But for those of us who still think we prefer to do our reading in bed when all is dark and still…. I think we can well benefit from heeding the words of Erasmus.

A little before you go to sleep, read something that is exquisite.

Desiderius Erasmus, Colloquies: Of the Method of Study (c. 1500-8)

ūüôā

March Reading Notes

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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