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Sesame and Lilies by John Ruskin

Friday, June 6th, 2008

“…so far as you prefer those rapid and ephemeral writings to slow and enduring writings — books, properly so called. For all books are divisible into two classes, the books of the hour, and the books of all time. Mark this distinction — it is not one of quality only. It is not merely the bad book that does not last, and the good one that does. It is a distinction of species. There are good books for the hour, and good ones for all time; bad books for the hour, and bad ones for all time. I must define the two kinds before I go farther.”

Sesame and Lilies
by John Ruskin

Sesame and Lilies is a collection of lectures by Ruskin that I’ve just added to my to-buy list. I found a promising edition by Yale University Press (ISBN: 9780300092608) that includes a number of essays commenting on various aspects of the text.

Here’s a good general introduction to John Ruskin and here’s the extensive section on him at the Victorian Web.

If you find yourself in the Lake District, you might want to visit Brantwood, the house where he lived for the last 30 years of his life. (Then again, you might not. It’s entirely up to you. I’ve never been, so I can’t vouch for it.) Also in Coniston in Cumbria, is a Ruskin Museum whose website has some information about a startlingly direct method of contraception for sheep — with photos! These are, of course, the famous Lake District sheep known as Herdwicks.

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Bookshops in Paris, France (new and used!)

Saturday, May 3rd, 2008

I can’t believe I haven’t done a post on the English-language bookshops of Paris before!

I searched this blog (yes, I wrote all of it, but I’ve a mind like a sieve this days) and only came up with one post on Berkeley Books of Paris. So here’s a little list I’ve compiled:

Second-hand bookstores:

San Francisco Book Company
17 rue Monsieur le Prince
Paris, 75006
(near métro Odéon)

Excellent selection of literature, fiction, poetry, philosophy, history. They also have a very large selection of pocketbooks: literature, fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, etc.

Berkeley Books of Paris
8, rue Casimir Delavigne
Paris, 75006
(near métro Odéon)

Excellent selection of literature, fiction and poetry.

Tea & Tattered Pages
24 rue Mayet,
Paris 75006
(Métro Duroc)

You hear about this one constantly: it’s mentioned in every guide and tourist website. I went once, six years ago and was completely unimpressed. Not only were the books tattered, they were downright grubby. And it was all bestsellers and mainstream fiction. (Wow, do I ever sound like a snob!) I should go again and see what they’re like now.

New books:

Village Voice Bookshop
6, rue Princesse
Paris, 75006
(near métro Odéon)

Excellent selection of new, English-language books; primarily literature, fiction and poetry. Respectable selection of history, philosophy, art, psychology, etc. The owner, Odile Hellier, tells a moving story on this page about the history of the shop.

Galignani
224, rue de Rivoli
Paris, 75001
(Métro Tuileries)

A very good selection of literature, fiction, poetry, history, philosophy, art books, politics, Paris guides… “Best Atmosphere” award. Lovely shelves. When you get to the literature section in the back, look up! (Especially nice on a rainy day.) And peek through the glass door into the little office just before the philosophy section — I want to move in there.

[Also, don’t miss their website! There’s a nice little intro, then when you click on Enter you get a little film of the interior. Turn up your speaker volume. It’s a love song to books. The camera caresses the hardwood shelves, reels from the overwhelming selection. As the string section builds, I feel a swoon coming on. I tear up, it is… too much. I must lie in a darkened room for the rest of the afternoon with a cool handkerchief on my forehead. (And I’ve been there a hundred times.) Try not to drool on the keyboard. To the right of the movie is a fascinating history of the shop. Now that’s a pedigree.]

Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore
22, rue St Paul
Paris, 75004
(métro St Paul)

I haven’t been there in years, but I seem to remember they had a good selection.

W.H. Smith
248, rue de Rivoli
Paris, 75001
(métro Concorde)

I am including them for the sake of thoroughness, but not because I like them. It’s a chain bookshop, the staff are usually quite rude and their prices are frequently higher than any of the other new-books bookshops. They are, of course, more mainstream. Their literature section is an embarrassment (for us and them); and to insult further, they keep shuffling the section around the shop to make way for Christmas cards or a monster display of dieting books. Anyhow, I have to admit they do have a larger non-fiction than most and their magazine selection can’t be beat. They even have the National Enquirer for around nine euros. I can’t believe anyone bothered.

Added 7 hours later…

Both new and used books:

The Abbey Bookshop
29, rue de la Parcheminerie
75005 Paris

I haven’t been to this one in ages. All I remember is that it’s a mix of new and used and that the owner is Canadian. So, if you’re desperate for a copy of Canada’s version of the New York Times — known affectionately to its employees as “The Mop and Pail” and to the public at large as “The Globe and Mail” — this is the place for you.

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Arabic literature

Monday, April 14th, 2008

Apparently the recent London Book Fair featured Arabic literature. That would have been really interesting to go to.

As compensation, I found an interesting article in the Guardian. They asked a good number of authors and academics about what it’s like to be an Arab or Egyptian author today and what books they would recommend or like to see translated into English.

Here’s an excerpt from the Guardian article:

Adania Shibli
Palestinian writer

I remember a story from four years ago in Ramallah. One night the Israeli army stormed a building in which somebody I knew lived. Everyone was told to get out. After a few hours, the army announced it wanted to blow up the building and gave the inhabitants 20 minutes to go up to their rooms and retrieve what they could. When my friend went up he didn’t know what to take; he had all of his life there, he was totally lost. He finally went to the washing machine, emptied it and went out with the washing, leaving everything else behind to be blown up a few minutes later.

In the same way, I could never say which text to have translated from Arabic into English; if I did, it might be the least important.

I keep thinking about him standing there with his arms full of laundry watching his home being destroyed.

Sadly, I found pretty much none of the mentioned authors available in English, but I did find a few in French. I’m going to try the bookshop at the Institut du Monde Arabe, they should have a good selection.

It’s wonderful to finally be able to read in another language — even if I still need my dictionary. The ones I learned in school and forgot don’t count because I was foolish enough to lose them. So now I’m discovering all kinds of new writers: French, Italian, Spanish, African, and on and on.

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Tolstoy Madness!!!

Saturday, December 1st, 2007

Okay, I’m one martini into it, but this is my blog dammit and I can rant about Tolstoy again if I want to!

So he’s popping up everywhere. I’m so thrilled. The world can’t be completely going to hell if Leo is getting this kind of column space.

The New York Times has gone even more mad than me. This is like a fantasy. Here’s a screenshot (of page one of three), just in case it disappears one day and we want to relive it (please tilt your head to the left):

Tolstoy frenzy

I also just discovered this New Yorker article but I am way too overstimulated to read calmly. How can they not give more info on the photo? I know Tolstoy’s wife was big into photography — was this one of hers? It looks like an autochrome… is it? What year?

I was in my local English-language bookshop (one of two! Help! Please send English language books to: …) and saw the British edition of the Pevear and Volokhonsky War and Peace translation in person and fell in love. In the online photo it doesn’t look like much, but in person it’s beautiful: grey cloth, red text… I wanted desperately to buy it, but the only copy they had (?!?) had been in the window and had somehow gotten horribly water damaged.

Cruel, cruel fate…

But I think I’ll order a copy (ISBN-10: 0099512238 / ISBN-13: 978-0099512233). What the hell, it’s gonna be Xmas soon. I’m tired of counting centimes. After all, this isn’t something useless like rent or food — this is a book.

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