Books: 90 posts

Books and reading lists

5 Books for Language Lovers

Babel comes from the Hebrew verb meaning “to confuse,” and the story of Babel is the story of human folly in aiming to reach the heavens by building a large tower. To stop their efforts, God splintered their tongue into a dizzying multitude–and created the first language barrier humanity has experienced. Yet, one can find this diversity incredible, rather than regrettable. The 6,000 or so human languages that exist today are so rich that learning them, or learning about them, is a fascinating pursuit.

I’ve shared some of my tips on learning languages in three different articles, How I Learn Languages, How I Learn Languages: Where to Start, and How to Learn A Language by Reading and Listening, but today I would like to invite you to read about languages. I’ve selected five books that either explore the way languages developed or the way people use them. None of them are standard academic books, but rather works written by people passionate about words, sounds and letters.

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Michael Edwards’s Perfume Legends II

I’ve been waiting for Michael Edwards’s Perfume Legends II in the same way that Star Wars fans anticipate the new sequels. First published in 1996, Perfume Legends told stories behind more than 40 iconic fragrances. Edwards explained the inspiration behind the concept and the bottle and also left room for perfumers’ voices. Why did Edmond Roudnitska add an opulent plum note to Rochas Femme? How did Jacques Polge create the baroque effect of Chanel Coco? I read and re-read the book so much that my copy fell apart.

Edwards, however, wouldn’t rush the sequel. Respected in the industry for his Fragrances of the World database that assiduously tracks every new launch, he brought the same meticulousness to the Perfume Legends project. He decided to update the list, and so he spent several years researching information and interviewing perfumers, creative directors and designers. The industry can be frustratingly secretive, especially when it comes to explaining the perfume formula, but Edwards has never been daunted by such obstacles. The book reveals it all.

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Boris Pasternak : Let’s drop words as gardens drop orange-peel and amber

The garden stood still and fragile, ready to drop golden leaves at the gentlest breeze. I woke up early and as I stepped out of the house, I didn’t anticipate the ethereal beauty of autumn. I too stood still, my hand outstretched to pick a red apple forgotten on a bare branch. Fall cast its spell on me, and I didn’t want to shake it off.

The last time I was in Ukraine in autumn was in 1993, but I don’t recall visiting Poltava, the place where my grandmother Valentina lives, at that time. When I still lived in Ukraine, I would usually be in school. Once I was already abroad, I would return only in spring or summer. This spontaneous visit happened because of a series of events out of my control, but as I stood in the orchard filled with golden light, I realized what a gift fate has given me. To experience perfect beauty when one least expects it is after all one of the greatest blessings in life.

Such moments aren’t grand. As Boris Pasternak (1890 – 1960) writes in one of his most moving poems, “life, like an autumn stillness, is all detail.” Noticing these details and capturing them is essential. When people ask me why I find the sense of smell so fascinating, I respond simply–it allows me to pay attention to details. If you notice the scent of fallen leaves, you will also notice the delicate etching of their veins, the lemon yellow hue, the silvery mist that turns the landscape into an impressionist painting, the sound your steps make in a quiet orchard. Your ability to slow down and pay attention to such things is the essence of enjoying life, of living it fully, of savoring every moment, whatever the circumstances.

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The Color of Love

“Even before the two worlds took shape, there was the color of love.” The 14th poet from Shiraz, Hafez, embodies for most the most beautiful and poignant of what the poetic Sufi tradition has produced. This mystical branch of Islam encourages the experience of the divine through one’s personal quest, and it fits with my idea of spirituality. According to the Sufi worldview, the divine is in the details. In every leaf. In every jasmine petal. In every exhalation of a rose. In oneself. The search for it gives meaning to all that one does. And art in all of its manifestations is the way to connect to something greater than oneself, to bridge the two worlds, the inner world of spirit and the outer world of the material.

What is the place of love then? For Hafez, who stays true to the Sufi tradition in his writing, it’s the most important state that can be. Without love, it’s impossible to understand the divine. Which is why in his famous poem he says that even before the idea for the world existed, there was love. Love intoxicates. Love breaks all barriers. Love enlivens. Love takes one out of oneself. Love transcends all. Love makes you feel alive.

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Perfumes for Reading The Pillow Book

“Things that make your heart beat fast: to wash your hair, apply your make-up and put on clothes that are well scented with incense. Even if you’re somewhere where no one special will see you, you still feel a heady sense of pleasure inside.” The woman who wrote these lines was a 10th-century Japanese lady-in-waiting in the Heian court. We only know her title, Sei Shōnagon, not her real name, but The Pillow Book ensured her fame. In my recent FT magazine article, Three Perfumes for Sei Shonagon, I select three fragrance to accompany the Japanese literary masterpiece.

“For a fragrance that evokes Sei Shōnagon’s description of the royal palace – the carved screens, incense smoke and rustle of silks – I turn to Arquiste’s Nanban. It’s dark and plush, with velvety layers of myrrh, sandalwood and leather, but the infusion of osmanthus, a blossom that smells of apricots and tea, gives a candlelit glow to the composition. To continue reading, please click here.”

Have you read The Pillow Book? Do you ever select scents that match the mood of your favorite books?

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