Books: 71 posts

Books and reading lists

Days of Reading

Two weeks ago, talking about an essay by Marcel Proust, I wrote about the place that the word “reading” evokes for me. Finding myself in this very spot, I wanted to share it with you. It’s located near Poltava, one of the oldest towns in Ukraine, although our garden is far enough from the bustle of the town. The apricot tree I mentioned has long been gone, as have the people who planted the garden, my great-grandparents, but the cherry orchard, the hammock, the thicket of jasmine are still there. And so I am with my book.

I spread the blanket under the bush we call “the nightingale’s tree.” It grows tall fronds covered with fuzzy, honey-smelling white blossoms. The cherries are still green, but it’s still early, it’s still spring, and I don’t rush headlong into summer.

My book today is Vivre Dans Le Feu: Confessions (Living in the Fire: Confessions) by Marina Tsvetaeva. It’s a compilation of the poet’s letters and diaries made and commented by the late Tsvetan Todorov. In English, I recommend a similar compilation, but spanning only the years between 1917 and 1922, Earthly Signs, recently translated and edited by the New York Review of Books. On the other hand, if you’re new to Tsvetaeva’s poetry, I would suggest starting with her magnificent The Poem of the EndThe Poem of the Mountain, and The Ratcatcher.

Perhaps, I’ve asked you this already, but if not, where do you like reading?

Haiku of the Day : Freesia Fever

I doze off
In the scent of freesias
High fever.

Je somnole encore
Dans l’arôme des freesias…
Forte fièvre.

This haiku written by Mariko Koga (b. 1924) is from an excellent collection of haiku written by women poets, Anthologie Du rouge aux lèvres. Translated by Dominique Chipot and Makoto Kemmoku (public library). The English translation is mine.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

Marcel Proust on Reading and Recapturing Time

If you were to give me the word ‘reading’ and ask me to describe the first thing that it evokes, I’d describe a secluded corner in my grandmother’s garden where an old apricot tree cleaved in two by a bolt of lightning grew a wild canopy and made for a perfect hideaway. I would spend hours reading under the apricot tree’s branches, occasionally reaching for a fuzzy, under-ripe fruit. In my memory it’s not the individual books themselves that stand out, but rather the pleasure of reading and the emotions it inspired. And the sour almond taste of green apricots.

Marcel Proust conceived Journées de Lecture, Days of Reading (public library), as an introduction to his translation of John Ruskin’s Sesame and Lilies. Proust had not yet written his novel, but his discovery of the famous Victorian art critic’s work was a major milestone, and in the introductory essay one can already detect the makings of the writer of Remembrance of Things Past. For all of Proust’s admiration of Ruskin, he disagrees with the critic’s statement that books are a conversation with the sages. Instead, Proust finds the pleasure of reading in the way books prompt us to look for answers to life’s riddles on our own. Art is not didactic. It is stimulating. It doesn’t instruct. It inspires.

Continue reading →

The Garden of the Seven Beauties of Nezami

For the Persian New Year and the vernal equinox, the first day of spring, I would like to take you to a secret garden with thousands of blossoms and thousands of scents. The passage will be provided by the twelfth-century Persian poet Nezami, who described this enchanting place in his poem Haft Peykar, The Seven Beauties.

Nezami (1141-1209), also known as Nizami Ganjavi, lived in the city of Ganja, the area of Azerbaijan that was part of the Persian empire until the 19th century. Like most poets of his day, Nezami had skills in various branches of arts and science. He was a philosopher, a mathematician, an astronomer, a historian, and a botanist, to name only a few fields in which he was skilled, and his marvelous erudition and knowledge of Persian literature and folklore make his works vivid.

Continue reading →

10 Books on The Art of Science

Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time revealed to me how fascinating and beautiful physics can be. Whether he was talking about black holes and explaining that if the universe had a beginning then it was likely to have an end, page after page Hawking was inspiring me to see the world in a new way and to follow him in asking big questions. How does time flow? How did our universe come together? What is matter? What is the spirit? I had by then received a thorough science oriented education, but I had no idea that science could be discussed in such a creative and beguiling manner.

Hawking (January 8, 1942-March 14, 2018) had many achievements in the fields of theoretical physics and cosmology. One was his famous Hawking radiation discovery. Black holes were long predicted to swallow everything that crossed the surface that surrounded them, event horizons, but Hawking showed that they emit radiation and even glow because of the energy they radiate. It was a revolutionary discovery, because in the process of explaining it Hawking connected two seemingly incompatible domains, that of quantum mechanics and relativity.

Even more important, however, was Hawking’s drive to make scientific subjects, even complex ones like theoretical physics, part of popular culture. He found it a loss that with the increasingly technical nature of science and the overspecialization of academia as a whole, few people, other than specialists could understand it. In his books like A Brief History of Time, The Grand Design or The Universe in a Nutshell he set out to show the general public why science can enchant with its ability to answer complex questions or ponder the mysteries of life.

Continue reading →

From the Archives

Latest Comments

Latest Tweets

Design by cre8d
© Copyright 2005-2018 Bois de Jasmin. All rights reserved. Privacy Policy