books.ba!

A new bookstore opened last year in April… I just found out about it two weeks ago! How I managed to stay ignorant for a year and a half is astonishing.

Needless to say, I had to pay a visit to the store as soon as was possible. (The minute I got back home I started writing to my sisters and friends, spreading the word of the thrilling discovery, singing praises at the top of my lungs. It turned out one of them knew about the shop all along. Somewhat disheartening.)

img_20161123_133550Anyway, as it happened, I did not go alone but with a friend (who knew nothing of the new bookstore). We stayed there for more than an hour and left excited and tremendously happy.

The bookstore is very pretty in its simplicity and the staff is particularly friendly and welcoming. Stepping in we found ourselves amongst the books written in/translated to Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian – fiction, poetry, essays, reference books… img_20161123_122735

I admit I moved on to the next room very quickly because I knew they had books in English. At the center of the room stood a large table with dozens of Wordsworths , then I caught the gaze of small black Penguins. Wonderful!

I was trying to decide whether to immediately purchase Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper and some of Conrad’s sea stories or novels when I saw something I could not ignore (which left this second section quite underexplored).

Used books, in English! The most pleasant surprise. I don’t think any of the bookstores in Sarajevo has them. What a marvelous idea! img_20161123_122553

The area is pretty large, with taburets and tables in the middle, as well as a tiny cafe corner right beside the window. There’s a coffee machine, and one is welcome to have a cup, take a book and read for as long as one wishes to. One can even borrow a book! It’s here we stayed the longest.

img_20161123_122608One of the shelves contains a delightful variety of non-fiction. From Sheep for Beginners to The Poser’s Guide, Attracting and Feeding Garden Birds to Tea Rooms of Britain, The GI Plan: Lose Weight Forever to The Loo Companion – Are You Sitting Comfortably; we had such a fun browsing through these titles.

Other shelves hold mostly romance and detective novels, but one can find some great things there as well. I came across my first Virago – The Virago Book of Women Gardeners! Then two more appeared – Angela Thirkell and Michele Roberts. By this point, I was ecstatic – not just because I found Viragos in Sarajevo, but because this allows me to hope, on a solid enough ground, that there could be more of these in time to come…

I brought home six new books:

  • img_20161124_090610A Year in Provance. Peter Mayle – I’m not usually drawn to places that bask in the sun but Provance and Tuscany are enchanting.
  • Making The World Legible. Edited by Julian Evans, it contains extracts from 36 books that Writers in Translation Programme has supported since its inception.
  • High Rising. Angela Thirkell. Not my favorite of her works, still I couldn’t resist having it.
  • Fair Exchange. Michèle Roberts. Never heard of her, I’m afraid, but since the novel tells about Mary Wollstonecraft and William Wordsworth I decided to take it with me.
  • The Virago Book of Women Gardeners. edited by Deborah Kellaway. This one is self-explanatory.

Shelf News. September and October Arrivals

img_20161122_124959aLate September saw the end of one of my favorite places in town when it comes to books – the second-hand market near Konzum Family Center.

It’s not completely gone but moved to a different location… It could be argued that the new location is just 600 meters away from the old one, but the damage is considerable nevertheless. Of the four book stalls that existed only one is left standing. Yes, it is the one I used to visit most frequently, but it is not even close to what it used to be.

The stall is now significantly smaller and, consequently, holds less books. Over a thousand of dusty old volumes (that were my main interest), as well as several dozen books in English, have been put away in a storehouse somewhere. There’s just no room for them…

img_20161122_130605It was pure luck that I paid a visit to the market just weeks before the said disaster happened, that I managed to finally get my hands on much praised Colette. There were only two Claudine novels,

  • Claudine at School and
  • Claudine is Leaving (Claudine and Annie)

which means I still have to hunt down the other two titles. Fingers crossed.

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  • I also bought her The Vagabond,
  • Francoise Sagan’s A Certain Smile,
  • Karel Čapek’s short story collection The Blue Chrysanthemum,
  • Practicalities by Marguerite Duras,
  • Shaw’s Man and Superman, and
  • Sharks and Little Fish by Wolfgang Ott.

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Finding Aeschylus’ tragedies – all of the surviving plays in one old volume – was a sheer delight. The book is almost a century old (published in Zagreb, in 1918) and still uncut. Nobody has ever read it! Unbelievable! Sad, too.

The backbone is nonexistent, the pages are starting to fall apart, which means I will have to rebind it.

 

Ever since I first heard about Belgrade’s book fair I’ve been wanting to visit it. Somehow the opportunity never arose; bad timing, poor funds, no one willing or able to accompany me were the reasons that kept me away all these years (more than a decade, come to think of it!). This October however, the stars lined up just right. All the pieces of the puzzle came perfectly together.

img_20161122_130225I traveled with Johanna and her colleagues from the library and we spent the whole day browsing. Oh, the scope of it! It’s ten times larger than Sarajevo’s fair, with a much better offer and much more variety. We didn’t even manage to see everything. Still, it was a wonderful day.

I stumbled upon two of the Proust’s books at a flea market sometime in mid-September. Buying parts of a series separately is a risky business, but I decided to purchase them, hoping to eventually get my hands on the rest of it. Luck served me, and I found other nine titles at the Belgrade’s fair! Now there’s only the first one missing.

img_20161127_093535One of the most thrilling moments was spotting a wide stall that held Wordsworth Classics. I have a soft spot for these editions. It took me a good half an hour to decide which of them to bring back to Sarajevo. In the end, I opted for a number of Woolf’s novels and Ulysses.

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I also found:

  • The Origin of Species, for a very nice price,
  • Queneau’s Exercises in Style, and
  • Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table.

Belgrade, I will be back.

How to read a book?

The Second Common Reader. Virginia Woolf

Reading has been a subject of interest for a long time now. From the process itself to habits one develops around it, from the choices of literature to the history of reading, its every aspect has a way of arousing my curiosity. If I feel overwhelmed by literature there’s almost one hundred percent certainty that I will reach for a book about reading.

I’ve been keen on rereading Woolf’s The Common Reader series and #Woolfalong, hosted by Ali, was the push I needed. As usual, though, I am late with the blog post.

I read both volumes almost ten years ago, but could not remember much. A wish to reacquaint with her way of reading was the reason I wanted to reread these books, especially The Second Common Reader, so I paid attention and kept extensive notes only to come to the final essay (How to read a book?) in which she actually sums it all up. That I could not remember much of these books was an understatement, it seems. I completely forgot about the existence of the aforementioned essay.

Well, at least I can find some solace and satisfaction in seeing that my notes caught the essence of her reading process with precision.

So, here it is:

  • take from each what it is right that each should give us” – fiction, biography, and poetry should be read differently
  • open your mind as widely as possible” so that it can pick up signs and hints, finesses of the book. ”Do not dictate to you author; try to become him.”
  • write, ”make your own experiment with the dangers and difficulties of words” so you will better understand what the writer is doing
  • read biographies, letters, diaries to
    • see if a novel or a poem will read ”differently in the presence of the author
    • exercise our own creative powers
  • wait for the dust of reading to settle” – engage in some physical or social activity so the book will have time to take shape in your mind
  • compare, judge – the most difficult part of the reading process, a continually developing skill. ”To continue reading without the book before you, to hold one shadow-shape against another, to have read widely enough and with enough understanding to make such comparisons alive and illuminating – that is difficult; it is still more difficult to press further and say, ‘Not only is the book of this sort, but it is of this value; here it fails, here it succeeds; this is bad, this is good.’ To carry out this part of a reader’s duty needs such imagination, insight, and learning that it is hard to conceive any one mind sufficiently endowed;
  • turn to critics, ”to the very rare writers who are able to enlighten us upon literature as an art”. Keep in mind though that ”they are only able to help us if we come to them laden with questions and suggestions won honestly in the course of our own reading.”

#1947 Club

I’ve been a silent observer of Club’s activities during the previous two readings. The main reason was my inability to commit to writing.

It had always been the most difficult thing to do – no matter the language or the subject, the form or the purpose. My brain distils information and observations into short notes, and notes (as far as I know) don’t make a text.

One might argue that a blog post can contain notes only, that it doesn’t have to be a text. Well, I want it to be a text – so I struggle. It takes me hours, sometimes even days, to stretch and to mold notes into full, connected sentences, to form a short text with which I am generally nowhere near satisfied.

But, enough about the problem. On to the book – for I decided to join in and to struggle on. Thanks to Karen and Simon for coming up with the idea and for hosting the 1947 Club.

 

The Comrade. Cesare Pavese

It’s a bildungsroman of sorts, focusing on a formative year in a life of Pablo.

The first half of the book feels rather stale and static despite the events that take place. Pablo is helping in a family tobacco shop during the day, at night he’s out with friends and his guitar. He doesn’t know much about anything, he has no ambitions nor interests (besides the guitar), but he wants some kind of change because he’s tired of the routine he’s been living in.

Amelio, one of the friends to whom he could always talk to, has had a motorcycle accident and is now paralyzed, tied to bed. Pablo is paying him visits and thus meets Linda. He falls in love (never had a girlfriend), forgets about Amelio (and the shop) and spends his days wandering around town with her.

Like cold, rainy and foggy Turin, Pablo’s relationships are shapeless and shallow. He never knows where’s he at with Linda nor with any of the people he meets thanks to her. Conversations are often broken, unfinished, cut short with shrugs, jokes, dances, drinks or plain silence. He feels lonely as a dog. The one time he sets out to express his thoughts and feelings it happens off page. Pablo only tells us this much (he’s the narrator): ‘I told her everything.’

It’s not a surprise that he ends up heartbroken.

Acting upon a suggestion of an acquaintance, he sets out to Rome. The city is bright, the air is lighter, the sea is close and its influence on the city people benevolent. It’s a strong contrast to Turin. Pablo finds a job as a bicycle mechanic, he starts reading newspapers seeking a deeper understanding of the country’s politics. He gets involved with anti-fascist movement and, in the process of learning and questioning, recognizes himself as a communist.

There’s much more to the book, of course. This is just an outline of Pablo’s maturation. Linda is a very interesting character. Amelio returns into the story near its end. It becomes clear that he and Pablo mirror each other in a way.

The first sentence is effective and puzzling:

Mi dicevano Pablo perché suonavo la chitarra.

(They called me Pablo because I played guitar.)

I am clearly missing a reference…

This is the first Pavese I’ve read, but I am getting the feeling that he’s one of the writers with a particular field of interest, a particular subject; that his books speak of each other and therefore need to be read and understood in a tight relation to each other if one wants to get the most of them. I also have a feeling that he often writes about essentially the same character. We shall see if this is true since I intend to read more of his work.

Wide Sargasso Sea

Three years ago, I wrote about favorite books I haven’t read. Sometimes it happens that, based on the presentation of a certain book (through a movie, TV series, through another book or an essay) or, more directly, on reading its first page or chapter I get a strong feeling that the book is important, that it’s going to be one of the treasured. As soon as I acknowledge this feeling, I leave the book aside. Out of fear maybe; maybe just because I want to save it for a better time, less stressful, when I would be able to invest more energy and presence of mind into reading it.

I always take in consideration the fact that the hunch could prove wrong – it being right so far does not mean it is unmistakable. So, there’s a regular dose of fear that the book in question will not be good, or that it will not mean anything to me, which, in a way, is what’s more important in these cases.

I approached Wide Sargasso Sea with reserve. Nevertheless, I was crushed. Such a small volume, so densely packed. Gloriously complex, mighty, disturbing. Devastating. Even though I knew the story, it’s end in particular, I found myself hoping – for a little bit of sympathy and understanding, for just a little bit less stubbornness… It was a painful experience, I must admit. Something heavy lay on my chest, especially during the reading of the second part. In Antoinette’s words:

Such terrible things happen [..] Why? Why?

The opening lines, in which every word has its purpose, has a meaning, set expectations very high. The book is full of symbolism, there’s a lot of foreshadowing, a lot of parallels (a lot of foreshadowing through parallels too). It isn’t a book one reads once. It calls for multiple readings.

Instead of writing about what I perceived and understood, I want to note the scenes and sentences that left me in confusion, things that left me wonder.

  • Mount Calvary convent. The girls are stitching and listening to stories from the lives of the saints. All of the sudden, this:

Quickly, while I can, I must remember the hot classroom. The hot classroom, the pitchpine desks, the heat of the bench striking up through my body, along my arms and hands. But outside I could see cool, blue shadow on a white wall. My needle is sticky, and creaks as it goes in and out of the canvas. ‘My needle is swearing,’ I whispered to Louise, who sits next to me.

Why does she need to remember it quickly, while she can? At what moment in her life is she remembering this? The use of present and past tense in the last sentence is stunning.

  • The same conundrum here, when she’s talking about England with Christophine:

I must know more than I know already. For I know that house where I will be cold and not belonging, the bed I shall lie in has red curtains and I have slept there many times before, long ago. How long ago? In that bed I will dream the end of my dream. But my dream had nothing to do with England and I must not think like this, I must remember about chandeliers and dancing, about swans and roses and snow. And snow.

  • What is the meaning of the story about rats and moonlight?
  • Antoinette’s husband is unnamed. Her father as well. Why?

 

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P.S. Tremendously glad that I joined Rhys Reading Week, I send many thanks to Jacqui and Eric Karl for organizing it. Congratulations are in order too!

Jean Rhys Reading Week

jeanrhysreadingweek-bannerHere it is at last! A week of reading and discussing the writing and life of Jean Rhys. I am curiously happy that I decided to join and very eager to read the thoughts of other participants.

I am still on holiday, but since this (apparently) does not mean that I don’t have to work I will have less time to dedicate to the event than I thought/planned.

That was one of the reasons why I started reading Wide Sargasso Sea ahead of the Rhys Reading Week. The other one was the fear that something (else) will come up which would not leave me time enough to write, which would consequently lead to not contributing my part.

I have read Voyage in the Dark, but I can’t recall when. Seems so long ago. What I can recall is darkness and dependency. I didn’t liked that, I remember. I felt no urge to read anything else by Rhys. Than, at the university, when we discussed postcolonial literature and feminism her name was mentioned. Through The Madwoman in the Attic I became aware of Wide Sargasso Sea, of the significance of the story it tells. It was the text that spoke to my interests – the rewriting of canon, giving the perspective of the Other..

Strange thing life is – all these years passed, other books were read.. Why not Wide Sargasso Sea? It is difficult to tell. The experience with Voyage in the Dark (which just came at wrong time, I am inclined to think) had nothing to do with it, I knew Wide Sargasso Sea was different. Was it because I already knew it, because I was so, indirectly familiar with it? Could be, in part.. Also, there’s that tendency to leave great things for later. While this is reasonable in many circumstances, I cannot find any good argument in favor of this practice when it comes to books. Yet, I sometimes do practice it.

I finished Wide Sargasso Sea last night.

Today, I wish to get back on the first page again. And there’s no reason not to grant myself this wish.

A slight growth of my library

Finally I have time enough to properly note down the books I acquired the previous month. On two occasions, while working on a particularly long and exhausting project, I took a refuge in a quiet walk and a book-browse. Twenty one new friend is the outcome.

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  • Spotted Dog Running On Seashore/Cranes Fly Early. Chinghiz Aitmatov
  • The House of Insects. Ottó Tolnai
  • Season of Migration to the North. Tayeb Salih
  • Reeds and Mud. Vicente Blasco Ibáñez
  • The Ant Heap. Margit Kaffka
  • War with the Newts. Karel Čapek

 

 

Aitmatov is a recently discovered treasure trove. After it has been sitting on a shelf for who knows how long, I read Jamilia and was awe-stricken. Mesmerized by his writing, by Kyrgyzstan he describes, I proceeded to read the other two novellas in the collection I own (The First Teacher and The Red Scarf). Then I found an English translation of Spotted Dog Running On Seashore which just cemented my decision to seek out every book he ever wrote. My happiness was even greater when I learned that almost all of them were translated to Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian. Stumbling on Spotted Dog Running On Seashore and Cranes Fly Early was a bliss!

Tolnai I knew as a poet. Leafing through The House of Insects one could not fail to notice that it is an experimental novel, which got me interested. Seeing it contains an afterword titled A Novel as a Spiderweb I had no choice but to take it home.

Salih and Ibáñez I have never read. The afterwords (these books were published back in the days when there were no blurbs on the back covers) sounded interesting, so I put them in a bag. Back home I discovered I actually had Season of Migration to the North on my reading list. Great!

The Ant Heap was a pleasant surprise. I have read somewhere (on a blog, probably) about Margit Kaffka, but never read anything she wrote. Now that I have it near, I will not wait long to pick it up.

Čapek. I have been eyeing War with the Newts for nearly six months, and this time I decided to take it. Knowing his wit and humor, it can hardly be anything but wonderful.

 

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  • The Elements of Style. William Strunk Jr. and E.B White
  • Bambi. Felix Salten
  • The Voices of Marrakesh. Elias Canetti
  • Barabbas/The Sibyl/The Death of Ahasuerus. Pär Lagerkvist
  • The Loss of El Dorado. V.S. Naipaul

 

 

The Elements of Style and Bambi were found on a yard sale, hilariously cheap. Again, I haven’t read anything by E.B. White, but I knew something about his books which is why I was interested in finding out what he had to say about style. Bambi I bought mainly because it’s a classic. Maybe I shouldn’t have – I don’t know if I will ever read it again.

A trip to Marrakesh sounded particularly inviting, even more so when the one in charge was Elias Canetti. Looking forward to this one!

Pär Lagerkvist.. I cannot remember how long it has been since I read his novels, but I remember I read them eagerly – each and every single one that city library had.. Good to have my own copies – I will definitely be getting back to them at a certain point.

Spotted and immediately grabbed Naipaul. Another interesting trip to take!

 

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  • Sense and Sensibility. Jane Austen
  • The Lost Shore. Anna Langfus
  • Tears of the Giraffe. Alexander McCall Smith
  • The Wind in the Willows. Kenneth Grahame
  • The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Carson McCullers

 

 

I do own it in translation, but since I can understand the original perfectly well and since it’s one of my favorite novels I had to have Sense and Sensibility in English!

Again, one of the books I found intriguing upon reading the blurb – The Lost Shore by Anna Langfus. Never heard of her before. Very interested to see what’s between the covers.

I am not sure why I bought Tears of the Giraffe. I suppose I intended it for those stressful, working days that call for an urgent escape in the form of ”light reading”. Another one from a yard sale, very cheap. As well as The Wind in the Willows – beloved children’s classic that I haven’t read yet. Time to do so.

Ever since I read it couple of years ago, I’ve been looking for a copy of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter – amazing piece of literature that I have been telling about to anyone who was willing to listen. It’s translation, and the decision was to stop buying books translated from English, but…

 

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  • Collected Short Stories. E.M. Forster
  • The Grandmother. Božena Němcová
  • Villette. Charlotte Brontë
  • Patterns of Childhood. Christa Wolf

 

 

 

The blurb seemed interesting, so I took Forster’s Collected Short Stories home. I am not sure why I’ve never read anything by Forster. I suspect something that Virginia Woolf wrote in one of her essays kept me away.

Božena Němcová I know only by name. Time to find out more, I think.

It’s funny with Villette – every time I am on a fair or at the book market or in a bookshop I can never remember whether I have it or not, so I never buy it. Couple of weeks ago I stood in front of my British literature shelf, internalizing the fact that there was no Villette on it. It worked. I knew I would find it at the market and here it is now, all mine.

Funny thing with Wolf as well – even though I read only Medea (of which I don’t remember a thing) I feel a strange compulsion to accumulate her books. Patterns of Childhood now gets to join its sisters Medea, Cassandra, No Place on Earth and Divided Heaven on a German shelf.