There is no Frigate like a Book/ To take us Lands away
It is summer and I am reading fiction again! Somehow, Autumn and Winter seem so much more serious and I find myself reading books about education and art processes, history and biography, with the occasional classic thrown in. But summer, full of shimmering heat and drowsy afternoons is a season that calls for lots of fiction.
The following are the books that I have read this past month with some of my favorite quotes from the books:
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald. Translated from Swedish by Alice Menzies. A book about books full of eccentric characters, what could be better? I found this book charming. A good beach read!
“Sophie lifted the book to her face, still cautiously and carefully, and slowly breathed in through her nose. She smiled,
“‘Can you smell it? The set of new books. Unread adventures. Friends you haven’t met yet, hours of magical escapism awaiting you’….
“Sara smiled. Hardback and paperback books smelled different from each other, but there were also differences between English and Swedish paperback editions. Classics, for example, had a smell all their own. Textbooks had their own unique aroma, and university texts were different those used in schools. interestingly, adult education books smelled just like schoolbooks, with that familiar scent of classrooms, restlessness, and stuffiness.
“New books always had the strongest aroma. Sara assumed the printing smells just lingered and somehow, logically, disappeared once a book had been opened, read, and leafed through. That was what she thought on a purely intellectual level anyway, but she didn’t quite believe it. She still believed that what she could smell were all the new adventures and reading experiences awaiting her.” (pp. 303-304)
A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles. I loved this book and at the same time found it disturbing. I remember reading Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, and being so troubled by the crushing force of communism on human freedoms, the pervasive network of spying and the accompanying lack of trust, and the rewarding of mediocrity. And yet there was also the valiance of the human spirit pushing upward. I felt that in this book also.
“For pomp is a tenacious force. And a wily on too. How humbly it bows its head as the emperor is dragged down the steps and tossed in the street. But then, having quietly bided its time, while helping the newly appointed leader on with his jacket, it compliments his appearance, and suggest the wearing of a medal or two. Or, having served him at a formal dinner, it wonders aloud if a taller chair might not have been more fitting for a man of such responsibilities. The soldiers of the common man may toss the banners of the old regime on the victory pyre, but soon enough trumpets will blare and pomp will take its place at the side of the throne having once again secured its dominion over history and kings.” (pp 59-60)
“By their very natures, human beings are so capricious, so complex, so delightfully contradictory that they deserve not only our consideration, but our reconsideration–and our unwavering determination to withhold our opinion until we have engaged with them in every possible setting at every possible hour.” (pp120-121)
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. Quirky, geeky and the cover glows in the dark! I did have to look up techno-computer phrases!
“‘Hello, there,’ a quiet voice called from the stacks. A figure emerged–a man, tall and skinny like one of the ladders, draped in a light gray button-down and a blue cardigan. He tottered as he walked, running a long hand along the shelves for support. When he came out of the shadows, I saw that his sweater matched his eyes, which were also blue, riding low in nests of wrinkles. He was very old.
“He nodded at me and gave a weak wave. ‘What do you seek in these shelves?'” (pg.8)
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. Translated from French by Simon Pare.
I enjoyed this book, sort-of. I can’t give it my complete endorsement because despite the author’s assertion that “there are no wrongs and no rights in life” (pg261), and that people can be emotionally okay with an unfaithful spouse, I have never known it to work out the way Instead, infidelity causes heartbreak and wreaks havoc with relationships. It is the ultimate act of selfishness. I am especially sensitive to this right now, because in the last ten months I have had three friends who have discovered that their spouses were having affairs and it has been completely shattering and devastating.
“It takes only one word to hurt a woman, a matter of seconds, one stupid, impatient blow of the crop. But winning back her trust takes years. And sometimes there isn’t the time.” (pg 64)
“Reading–an endless journey a long, indeed never-ending journey, that made one more temperate as well as more loving and kind. Max had set out on that journey. With each book he would absorb more of the world, things and people.” (pg. 142)
“A bookseller never forgets that books are a very recent expression in the broad sweep of history, capable of changing the world and toppling tyrants.” (pg 143)
“‘Ah, Pagnol. A good man He knew that you can only really see with your tongue. And your nose and your stomach,’ said Cuneo with an appreciative sigh. Then between two mouthfuls, he added, ‘Capitano Perduto, I’m a firm believer that you have to taste a country’s soul to understand it and to grasp its people. And by soul I mean what grows there, what its people see and smell and touch every day, what travels through them and shapes them from the inside out.'” (pg 191)
“‘Do you know that there’s a halfway world between each ending and each new beginning? It’s called the hurting time, Jean Perdu. It’s a bog; it’s where your dreams and worries and forgotten plans gather. Your steps are heavier during that time. Don’t underestimate the transition, Jeanno, between farewell and new departure. Give yourself the time you need. Some thresholds are too wide to be taken in one stride'” (pg 301)
The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Kahn “On the day he retires, Inspector Ashwin Chopra inherits two unexpected mysteries. The first is the case of a drowned boy, whose suspicious death no one seems to want solved. And the second is a baby elephant.” I found this book delightful although the answer to the mystery is poignant and reveals a darker side of humanity that I wish did not exist.
“Remember, what is real and what is illusion, is only a matter of perspective.” (pg 25)
“The great mysteries of the cosmos are everywhere around us, seeded into the land, into the sky, into the air we breathe; all we have to do is open our sense sto them.” (pg. 26)
“The only way to avid falling prey to the perils of confusion is to never be confused about what you are. If you are an honest man, as I hope you will prove to be, never allow the circumstances of a moment to make you act against your nature. That way lies t the ruin everything you stand for.” (pg 36)
“Sometimes it seemed to him that the whole country was being rebranded. He imagined lines of Indians moving past booths manned by representatives of foreign multinationals; as each Indian went past he was stripped of his traditional clothes, his traditional values, and given new things to wear, new things to think. Branded and rewired, this new model Indian, went back to his home thinking that he was now truly a modern Indian, and what a fine thing that was. But all Chopra saw was the gradual death of the culture that had always make him proud of his incredible country.” (pg 134)
The Awakening of Miss Prim: A Novel by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera. Translated from Spanish by Sonia Soto. I loved this book. This is probably my favorite fiction book that I have read this summer. I encountered a lot of new vocabulary–and I don’t usually have to look up words! I found the writing style charmingly victorian. I especially resonated to the non-traditional view of education espoused by the “Man in the Wing Chair”. This was such a unique novel, and I guess that one of the things that appealed to me the most was the celebration of tradition and slowness as an answer to many of the modern-day ills that we face.
“…intelligence, this wonderful gift, grows in silence, not in noise. It was here too that she learned that a human mind, a truly human mind, is nurtured over time, wth hard work and discipline…” (pg 59)
“Starets Ambrose didn’t divide problems into big and small like everyone else does. He always said that angels are in the simple things; you never find angels where things are complicated. He believed that the small things are important.” (pg. 75)
“The Redemption is nothing like a fairy tale, Miss Prim. Fairy tales and ancient legends are like the Redemption. Haven’t you ever noticed? It’s like when you copy a tree from the garden on a piece of paper. The tree from the garden doesn’t look like the drawing , does it? It’s the drawing that’s a bit, just a little bit, like the real tree.” (pg 75)
“An attractive, refined woman is a work of art (pg 84)
“But then one day the great dilemma arrives, the one that touches your heart, crushes your spirit, threatens your self-esteem. It turns up one day and presents you with a choice between two paths, each ending in sacrifice. If you take the right-hand path, you have to sacrifice yourself; if you take the left, it’s the children who suffer…Put like that it sounds rather cold-blooded doesn’t it? You must be wondering how anyone could choose the left path and sacrifice their children. But it’s not that simple my dear, because when you decide to take the second path you never allow yourself to see reality as it is, without excuses. You tell yourself that if you don’t pursue your own happiness, they’ll suffer too; that you have a right to be happy and you only get one life; that it’ll be better for them, they’re young, they’ll get over it. But the truth is, you make a choice and there is always a price to pay.” (pg 119)
“And to conversation too, of course. We modern primitives also have our limitations. We no longer find the time to sit around a table and chat about the human and the divine. And not only do we not find the time, we don’t even know how to any more. ” (pg 136)
“Look around you, at your own life, your relationships. Isn’t life a continual debate?” (pg 137)
“If two people admire each other, they’re not equals. If they were, they wouldn’t admire each other. They’re different, as each admires in the other what they don’t find in themselves. It’s difference, not similarity, that fosters admiration between two people. Similarity has no place in a good marriage. Difference does. Claiming otherwise is pure foolishness, which is prevalent nowadays and typical of people who haven’t been taught to reason.” (pg 177)
“I know, but I just can’t conceive of a room in winter with an empty hearth. A fire is much more than heating, it’s the heart of the home.” (pg 188)
“Nobody begins the search [for faith, for God] unless they’ve already found what they’re looking for. And no one finds what they’re looking for–the One they’re looking for–if one doesn’t take the initiative and allow himself to be found. It’s a game in which one player holds all the cards.” (pg 194)
“‘Young people still walk in a certain innocence, still view the world with wonder and hope. Later on, as time passes, they find things aren’t as they’d imagined and they begin to change, to lose that luminosity, that innocence. Their gaze clouds over and darkens. In one sense, it’s very sad, but in another it is inevitable, because it’s precisely sorrows that lead to maturity’…’And you think that has changed?’ ‘Of course it has. You’d have to be a fool or a lunatic not to see it. Young people today extend childhood well beyond the chronologically allotted time. They’re immature and irresponsible at an age when they no longer should be so. But at the same time they lose their simplicity, their innocence and freshness early. Strange as it sounds, they grow old early.’ ” (pg 224-225)
What I’m Reading Now:
The Life of Elves by Muriel Barbery. I am 75 pages into the book, and enjoying it very much.
What are you reading this summer?