life · reading

The Words

A couple of days ago, while browsing Twitter, I stumbled upon three books whose covers and titles got me immediately interested.

I won’t write about the covers. Nor about the titles themselves. But about the words in the titles.

I came to a realization that there are some dozen words to which I am unreservedly, invariably drawn to. They pull me like gravity.. Have I caught but a glimpse of one of these words in the title of some book I am immediately there, reaching for it, picking it up, without exception.

BOOK. SEA. ISLAND. WIND. WINTER. SNOW. DEATH. GARDEN. FOREST. NORTH. ICE. LAKE. MOON.

Writing these words down and seeing them one besides the other I get a strange feeling I can not exactly express. Because I am not sure I know what the feeling is.

I am looking at my affinity towards the coldness. This affinity is absolutely not a surprise – I have known about it, of course. Still, seeing it black on white is like looking at myself from the outside; which again, is not something new – I see myself this way very often, if not always. But, something is different. Like, these are the outlines of my being. A sketch of a character. I have no idea… I am just throwing the words out, therefore I will stop.

Also, thinking further about the words I am drawn to, I realized there are some names of the colors that would interest me in a title more than others – BLACK. BLUE. WHITE.

Then, I also have an inclination towards the names of certain months – NOVEMBER. MARCH. APRIL. MAY. It is highly unlikely I would feel compelled to immediately reach for a book with February in the title.

Then, certain animals – BEAR. WOLF. FOX. SERPENT. HEDGEHOG. WHALEEAGLE. SEAGULL. OWL. 

I definitely need to do some more thinking on this subject.

In any case, it was an interesting thought, fun to ponder.. and it would only be right to make a note of the books that inspired this little list. Looking very much forward to reading:

books

 

 

life · reading

Childhood

Children, in all of the books I loved and read countless times when I was a child, had two things in common. First – their own space. Second – a kind of a club or a fellowship…

Pippi was always a category of her own, of course – having a villa all to herself at all times (which was not that desirable at that age, I suppose, but still fun to think about). The rest of the heroes had what always attracted me: the possibility of living in their own worlds for at least a couple of hours a day – not only in their heads but in an actual place to which the access was, more or less, restricted… Jovanče and his friends (Eagles Fly Early) had a camp (and a cave!) in the woods, Boka and company (Paul Street Boys) had a forgotten construction site to play at, Pero and his friends (Pero Kvžica’s Gang) had the mill… It is true that all of them (except for Pippi, of course) lose their playgrounds in the end, but it is hardly the point.

The point is that they had it. They had a place where they could be on their own, where they could act by their own rules, a place they could shape as they wanted. This was very important.

I shared a room with my younger sister, but I would be telling a lie if I would say that the room was really ours – we were barely allowed to stick our drawings on the wall let alone re-imagine it as we wished… Not to mention that parents were able to find us in there any time they wanted to…

I tried ‘having’ some corners in the house but, as one can imagine, they were all too exposed. I longed for a tree house – that would’ve been perfect… I wished for an attic, like Joe (Little Women) had, but ours was dirty, full of roofing tile, tin sheet, timber, varnish, whitewash and whatnot, so there was no way of using it for my purposes… I remember I even tried making a large fridge carton box my second home.

What I also lacked was a group, a fellowship… My younger sister had zero interest in (almost) everything that interested me. Nevertheless, I never stopped struggling to get her into it all. (We still laugh about how I, trying and constantly failing to persuade her to read Eagles Fly Early, started reading it to her one night and she fell asleep.)…

I was eager to go investigating the front yard, as Pippi did, wanted to build a hut somewhere in the back yard – inspired by Jovanče and his classmates, and, more than any other thing in the whole wide world, I wanted to have a secret society, one just like the ‘Pickwick Club’ in Little Women… There was no one to have it with (the youngest sister was still a bit too young, although pretty enthusiastic), so I tried having it by myself. It wasn’t the same, of course… I started a newspaper. My sisters were also enjoying reading (some of) it, looking at the pictures, but felt no desire to really contribute. And I did not want to read my texts only, to only admire the drawings I made. I wanted to learn, to get something new, from someone else. Being the sole editor, author and artist soon became pointless and my newspaper shut after its third issue.

I still long for both my own space and the secret society.

life · reading

Dewey’s Readathon. Entry No. 2 – Rewards and Fairies

After reading ‘Cold Iron’, I wished I haven’t read it because there’s Puck of Pook’s Hill, which precedes Rewards and Fairies and which, therefore, should have been read first. On the other hand, had I not read this story, I wouldn’t have known now that I want to read these books. And, maybe, I wouldn’t have known precisely why.

I’m interested to see how much fairy-yarn Kipling wove into these stories. It seems he only sprinkled them, actually, and, if it’s the case, it’s for a good measure. Strangely, even though I find folklore (and myth) very appealing, I don’t read much of it. As if I’m always saving it for later.

‘Cold Iron’ has a particular resonance that makes it very easy to envision. I suppose the same could be said of Rewards and Fairies in general. I’ve read a comment somewhere, that these stories are meant to be heard. Consequently, I was reminded of the times grandmother used to tell us stories and fables – and rather odd ones, to say the least; with people cementing the cracked road with polenta, animals traveling hidden in a rooster’s behind, fox sharing bed and honey with a bear. It’s hilarious. Ridiculously so. What’s even more astonishing to me, now, is that we loved hearing them, especially the one with polenta. “Tell us again the one with polenta!”, was our constant plea… I am absolutely clueless as to why we found it so enchanting and entertaining. Maybe the reasons would come back to me if I’d heard it again.

 

life · reading

A problem and a list

Sometimes I miss the years when I read and thought about one book at a time. Reading felt substantial, so much more rounded, and I seemed to be much more involved… Or was it truly so? I was prepared to dismiss this feeling as a classic case of golden age illusion, but that would be far too simple a thing to do. There certainly was school – homework, exams, projects  – as well as everything else that goes with being a teenager, a young adult, but, in my free time, when I had a book of my choice in my hands it was always just the two of us.

Nowadays I am bombarded, daily, (even if it is, to a great extent, my own choice) with information on so many intriguing sounding titles (The Hedgehog, the Fox and the Magister’s Pox; The Year of Reading Dangerously; A Book of SilenceThe Forest in Folklore and MythologySurely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman; H is for Hawk – some of the recent ones). Keeping them from intruding my mind while reading a chosen book (On Rereading) is not hard. It’s what happens when I put it down. It is then the reading becomes stained: what is in those books? maybe I should have picked Feynman first? oh, that Book of Silence quote was so good! maybe forests would prove to be more suiting a theme at the moment, and so on.. This problem was non-existent fifteen, twenty years ago. I had one, no – I wanted one book at a time is a more accurate statement.. and there was not even a hint of guilt regarding the amount of time spent with a given book.

Now, not only does this constant exposure to information create pressure in terms of time and choices, but (and this is a particularly annoying problem) it makes processing a book (letting it settle, thinking about it, forming a considerable opinion) quite difficult. I feel almost bullied to grab a new book as soon as I shut the covers of a previous one (for how on Earth should one get to all those titles with so little time!). I am fighting this feeling on a regular basis because, in spite of all the sensible, logical arguments against its presence, it’s always there…

∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼

On a slightly non-related note – a wish-to-reread list of books I’ve read this year:

  • Carson McCullersThe Heart is a Lonely Hunter
  • Willa Cather
    • Death Comes for the Archbishop
    • O Pioneers!
    • The Professor’s House
  • Mark Slouka Lost Lake
  • Muriel SparkThe Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
  • Angela Thirkell
    • The Brandons
    • August Folly
    • Before Lunch
  • A.S. ByattRagnarok
  • Tove Jansson
    • Moominpappa at Sea
    • Tales from Moominvalley
    • Moominvalley in November
    • Moominland Midwinter
life

Dear old Shakespeare

A month ago I walked into the library in search of a thin book. I was reading How Proust Can Change Your Life (which started promising but was turning out to be pretty unrewarding) and I needed some refreshment.

I said I wanted something thin. To be precise, I wanted something thin and English. So, after taking every title on the shelves in consideration, I ended up with Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew

While sitting on a bench in a tiny park, leafing through this small, old volume I became conscious of a wish to go back to all his plays. I remember we read King Lear in our last year of elementary school. I was overwhelmed and enchanted in spite of the fact I didn’t (of course) understood it completely. Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet were required high-school reading but I discovered and loved the comedies more. I thought them cleverly structured and enjoyed their crowdedness. 

There is an anecdote I will keep in my memory for as long as I live. We were at the English class, the first year of high-school, working on our small assignments while the professor went around the classroom assisting one or the other or giving suggestions. Suddenly we all became conscious of a noise coming from the first row. A friend was turning the pages of a dictionary in a wild and desperate manner, looking rather lost. When the professor approached him asking what the problem was he said he couldn’t find what Shakespeare means anywhere! ‘What does it mean? There is no such word in the dictionary!’, begged he, all confusion and distress… We had such a hearty laugh.. (not at his lack of knowledge, but at the state he was brought to searching for this mysterious word)

Some years later, at the University, Hamlet and King Lear were on the schedule again, along with The Tempest, Henry V, and Midsummer Night’s Dream. There was a thrill and a certain kind of excited fear of digging deeper into them (‘Would I be up to it?’) but History of Drama was taught by one of the most captivating and outstanding professors at the University, in cooperation with a delightfully dry-humored and sarcastic assistant, so every lecture was nothing less than gratifying.

I feel the time is ripe for getting back to Shakespeare. It could be different – I might find something new, something that speaks to who I am now. And the enjoyment would prove to be of a slightly different quality, I think – more profound and more appreciative. Maybe I should go for it…

life · reading

to hell with titles

Having read a dozen of pages or so, I had to admit defeat and let the book wait for more suitable times. My mind, after the day-long fights to teach unwilling children, has been too exhausted, continuously failing to properly engage in such a text. The decision to abandon it was enforced by a particular feeling, a suspicion I don’t get to acknowledge much often, which is: The Sea, The Sea might prove to be worthy of an appointment to the Favorites Shelf.. The anticipation and hope give me much pleasure; as much as having the book near the bed and casting a glance at its cover whenever I’m around.

As I’ve said, the week was very trying and tiring (and these two days too short to fully restore my strength), but, whenever an opportunity arose I did my best to put everything (even the torturing thought of a neglected blog) aside and ensconced myself in Angela Thirkell’s “good bad books”. They have been the most devoted guardians of my sanity and I cannot begin to tell how happy I was to have them always by my side… Out of precaution, their contract has been extended for another week.

High Rising was an introductory one. August Folly and The Brandons followed respectively and, today, I finished Wild Strawberries. Every one of them brought heaps of joy and I particularly appreciated Thirkell’s witty observations on human nature (recognizing myself in some of them).

There will be time to write about Barsetshire series; soon, I hope. Right now, I am not feeling able to give the books a proper thought. I need more restoring…

Gerald Durrell · life · reading

Nature, reading and who else but Gerald Durrell

I’m picnicking under a tall pine tree, slightly bent towards the river. Situated on the rocky ground, its roots were given the chance to play with their shapes – some decided to form a considerably wide, cozy-looking cave, while others, with a determined help of a boulder, made a set of steps leading to the entrance of the said cave and down onto the two square meters of welcoming beach.. The spot is enchanting – it looks like the perfect home for tomtar, gnomes, that I am in a serious danger of believing it really is.

Mild wind is blowing, gently disturbing the surface of the incredibly still river as if trying to make it flow a bit faster. The sun is high up in the sky, making everything very vivid and vibrant. There are birds, its names unknown to me, calling one another cheerfully from their branches of choice somewhere up in the treetops; and there’s an occasional dragonfly, beautifully royal blue, taking a rest on a leaf of a baby birch, only for a moment or two, before flying away on its business. The warm scent of pine is making the air sweet and the tiny blackberry bushes are already half way through to getting the berries deep purple and delicious. From above this all come the wailing and squawking of the seagulls that I love so much…

I have no books with me for I found it’s impossible to focus on a narrative when thus surrounded. I made several attempts during the previous weeks and failed every time:

On a first picnic, I was seated upon a great rock just at the root of a small and very narrow lake peninsula, rich with pine trees. There were no boats that day, no people around the summer houses along the coast either. Even the seagulls were quieter than usual. The sky was clear blue. The gigantic, shining white clouds were floating above the lake, almost too slowly to notice, and the faint rain started to tenderly poke its surface. I just sat there, gazing at this vast mirror stretching in front of me.

The second time, I was in the park on the other side of the lake, laying in the shadow of a birch tree. Small children were playing in the shallow, their parents sunbathing or watching over; a group of scouts was looking for some hidden treasure and, on the terrace of a guest house, sat small groups of people, having their meals and drinks. I thought I would have no problem concentrating on my book but my attention was soon caught by numerous wild ducks enjoying the warmth of the sun some five meters away. One of them went for a short swim and, getting out of the water gagged pensively across the earthy beach. Passing by my blanket, at a safe distance, he was eyeing me suspiciously, strangely resembling a wary, slim, and tall but slightly bent old man.. I almost burst out laughing.

Of course, I was not out in the nature day and night, so I did read. My choice, or rather, the only option since I really had no choice, was Birds, Beasts and Relatives and, consequently, The Garden of the Gods. Neither was as good as My Family and Other Animals (with Garden being better executed than Birds), but that is not to say they weren’t delightful. The usual combination of luscious descriptions of nature, of exciting animal observations and portraits, a palette of extraordinary guests and a bunch of hilarious family anecdotes was the only thing I could and wanted to read.

I am looking forward to adding these two to my collection… I hear his Picnic and Suchlike Pandemonium is wonderful as well. Soon to be found out!