Wednesday, 21 August 2013

August Reading

Every month when I get my salary, I return home, open my wishlists, and order books. The bill inevitably mounts to half of my salary, regardless of how many books I buy. But August turned out to be an exception. I ordered my books, felt extremely content, divided the money, and patiently prepared myself for the wait until I could lay my hands on the books. The next day I was slightly early to work, and on these occasions I usually while away my time at the big bookstore opposite, looking at titles, making mental notes, and deciding which ones to buy in the near future. As the elevator door opened, I stared dumbfounded at the big signs every where, reading "Discounts. Up to 50% off." I am usually wary of these special discounts at big bookstores; but in India, where books are extremely expensive, it is gradually becoming increasingly difficult to overlook "special offers". So I devoted that day to selecting books from the classics and literary fiction shelves, and came back the next day to buy my selected books (yes, the books I'd selected were still nesting in their respective shelves. This is India, where an air-conditioned bookstore is not a place to buy books, but to cool off with your partner, or as in the case of this particular store located opposite a school, the perfect place for the mommy brigade to chatter while waiting for their darling daughters to be released). Before going to the payment counter, I made another massive check of the shelves to see if I'd missed any book appealing to my taste. I hadn't.

To retire in self-content for the rest of the month, I've decided to click pictures of and write about all the books that I bought this month. I already feel divine.

1. Invitation to the Waltz -- Rosamond Lehmann
When I discovered some time last month that the Virago edition of Dusty Answer was available in India, my happiness knew no bounds. Ms Lehmann's sensuous language has made me addicted to her writing, and at the very beginning of this month, I went and bought Invitation to the Waltz. It is of course no surprise that I have finished reading it already, and am absolutely moved by it. I do hope to devote a considerable length of time and space writing about it, but until then stare at this picture I took this morning, of my copy of the book beside Jean-Baptiste Corot's 1866 painting Agostina. No there is absolutely no relation between the book and the painting. Obviously.

2. Jules et Jim -- Henri-Pierre Roché

I try to pacify my excited heart every time I see the cover of Jules et Jim. I think I love Jean Moreau as much as I love the movie, and our affair has lasted so many years now! Do I even need to say, that I wanted to read the book ever since I watched the movie during my university years? It had been roosting in my wishlist this long, and I would sadly watch the escalating prices before staring at my empty wallet. Le tourbillion. The sudden whimsical reducing of prices meant that I could now read about pre-War Paris and the usual friendship of a French and an Austrian boy, and their entanglements with a passionate French-English girl from my very own copy.

Jim: Either it's raining, or I'm dreaming.
Catherine: Maybe it's both.

3. Lark Rise to Candleford -- Flora Thompson

 My association with Flora Thompson's Lark Rise
to Candleford precedes even Cider with Rosie, to a time when I was reading Stella Gibbons and J. L. Carr. Being able to finally hold the book puts an end to a year-long craving for nostalgic stories and pre-War simplicity of life. I don't especially like book covers with pictures of their corresponding film or tv series, but with this book, my options were limited. Nevertheless, I do not particularly mind. Perhaps one day I'll watch the BBC adaptation.

4. The Way of All Flesh -- Samuel Butler

 I do not think Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh has anything to do at all with Renoir's painting (Pierre-A. Renoir, Studie, 1890). But of course I wouldn't know. I haven't read the book yet, and I'm extremely ashamed to admit that. Well, in my defence, I can say that I have been meaning to read the book since my first year of English hons., and that the book being immediately unavailable in College Street (our go-to place for books in the last decade), and this being a time before e-retailers invaded the subcontinent, my plans to read Samuel Butler got deferred until an unspecified time in the future. But now I can, and I will.

5. Brave New World -- Aldous Huxley

I simply do not have any excuse for not having read Huxley's Brave New World until now, despite having an MA in English literature, and pretending to profess avowed interest in early twentieth century literature. I have finally bought the book, and I will read it, and engage in intellectually-stimulating conversation with my friend who wrote a paper on it for her Master's thesis. Hope springs eternal.

6. Down and Out in Paris and London -- George Orwell

I am a great admirer of Orwell's prose style ever since I read his Animal Farm in middle-school. Of course, at that point of time I wasn't particularly aware of and alive to different kinds of prose style, but I'm glad that my unexplainable hunch about a certain writer has survived thirteen years of haphazard, voracious reading. I loved 1984 for different reasons, and I have exceedingly admired his journalistic pieces, and excerpts from books like Homage to Catalonia and The Road to Wigan Pier. Hence when I spotted this beautiful Penguin Modern Classics copy of Down and out in Paris and London with a 5% discount resting on it, it wasn't much of a struggle to pick it up and take it in my arms. It is the book that I started reading yesterday, while waiting for some people, and the dismal rains and the prospect of a long wait couldn't spoil the sheer pleasure of reading about (albeit a poverty stricken) life in a poor Paris quarter. Orwell is not a particularly cheerful man, but his prose has that right balance to portray grim realities with a touch of light-heartedness.

7. The Brothers Karamazov -- Fyodor Dostoevsky 

I couldn't possibly have anything special or original to say about this particular acquisition. Roughly a month ago, I could't find my copy of The Brothers Karamazov in the Russian section of my bookshelf. I'm not sure if it's my imagination that vividly conjures up the black cover of my (supposedly) Wordsworth Classic, or if I really owned the book and misplaced it somehow (highly unlikely). Hence, on spotting this discounted Bantam Classics copy of the book, I picked it up.

8. Zorba the Greek -- Nikos Kazantzakis

My surprise at spotting this book at the bookstore knew no bounds, because I had been looking for it for years, but it wasn't available any where. A university professor has waxed eloquent about this book while teaching us Aristotle (I think), and since then it had featured prominently in my wishlist. Of course I can't wait to begin.

9. The Canterville Ghost, The Happy Prince and Other Stories -- Oscar Wilde

I read The Canterville Ghost in class III and have loved it ever since, even more than The Happy Prince, which I read much later. Of course my love for Oscar Wilde knows no bounds, and I wish not to publicise it, for fear it will be lost among the thousands of men and women who recite his lines and kiss his grave in Pere Lachaise. Anyway, I have a collected edition of his plays, and had always found it difficult to procure The Canterville Ghost separately. No wonder this book struck me as extremely handy. It has The Happy Prince and other Tales, A House of Pomegranates, Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and other Stories, and of course The Canterville Ghost.

10. A Hero of Our Time -- Mikhail Lermontov

I will not pretend to show off. I learned about Lermontov only in that book by Kundera, and realised that he was a very important Russian writer. Obviously having concentrated on the late nineteenth and twentieth century greats make me ignore the Romantics. On discovering this book at the bookshop, I hastened to right the wrong.

11. Barchester Towers -- Anthony Trollope 

I have a feeling that Renoir (Pierre-A. Renoir, Landschaft, 1890) and Manet (Edouard Manet, Beim ,,Pere Lathuille'', 1879) do not overtly have anything to do with Trollope's book. I picked up Barchester Towers without asking any questions especially because my appetite had been whetted by the reading habits and eloquent posts of the numerous book blogs that I follow. In recent history, most of these wonderful people have been reading and writing and recommending a reread of Trollope, so much so that I decided to go back to my favourite literary period and procure one of its most prolific writers. I love the cover of my copy, and I absolutely adore this picture.

12. The Thirty-Nine Steps -- John Buchan

Seen the Robert Donat movie? Liked it? I loved it. Unlike most people, I am partial to Hitchcock's movies before he migrated to Hollywood, and Robert Donat's wonderful voice and the mesmerising Scottish landscape made me want to read the original work on which the film is based. My copy of the book is inexpensive, but highly prized.

13. Diamonds are Forever -- Ian Fleming

I had bought a second-hand copy of Dr. No in my first or second year of college, but alas I haven't read it yet. I am more attuned to Agatha Christie's brand of whodunnit, and spy novels rather intimidate me. Yet I loved the Le Carres I've read, and my recent watching of Skyfall has restored my faith in the James Bond cannon. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw this Penguin Modern classics edition of Diamonds are Forever at an extremely affordable rate. If it was a sign that I should read more Ian Fleming in the future, I promptly acquiesced.

14. NW -- Zadie Smith 

The high point of my reading life of 2011 was reading Zadie Smith. I was overwhelmed with White Teeth, and I've often wondered if she's had any personal connections with the Bengals or with P. G. Wodehouse. The former for the Bengal and Bengali connection in her first book, and the latter for her impeccable sense of humour. I was extremely disappointed with Autograph Man, and every time Zadie Smith comes up in conversation with friends, we tacitly avoid the mention of that book. On Beauty, however, features prominently, and the fact that it has been inspired by Forster's Howards End makes it even more appealing. Every time The New Yorker publishes her stories, I promptly read them, and NW has featured in my wishlist for a very long time. Little surprise that I bought it the moment I spotted it resting on the Modern Fiction shelf. I can't wait to start reading it.

Fourteen books bought in one month. That's a rather impressive haul. I'm still waiting for Vita Sackville-West's All Passions Spent and James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small to make home with me. Until that happens, I will patiently wait for them while reading Down and Out In Paris and London. And once that is finished, I will start another book.


  1. What beautiful books, and what a delight to find such a sale - well done!

    1. Thank you! It is indeed a delight to find a book sale, although I must admit, that book browsing on its own is also a very pleasurable exercise. :)

      And I absolutely love your blog.