Friday (Thursday) Fun: Writers’ Retreats

Some of them belong(ed) to writers, some of them are being used for writing workshops and retreats. All of them will predispose you to a bookish reverie…

Edith Wharton's house The Mount in Lenox, MA, organises 2-3 week residencies for women writers of 'demonstrated accomplishment'.
Edith Wharton’s house The Mount in Lenox, MA, organises 2-3 week residencies for women writers of ‘demonstrated accomplishment’.
Court Green in Devon, the house of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Picture courtesy of P.H. Davies. Hughes' widow still lives there.
Court Green in Devon, the house of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Picture courtesy of P.H. Davies. Hughes’ widow still lives there.
Lumb Bank is another house formerly owned by Ted Hughes, and is currenty an Arvon Writers' Centre.
Lumb Bank is another house formerly owned by Ted Hughes, and is currently an Arvon Writers’ Centre. Picture by Alison Morton.
Kerouac's cottage in the Orlando neighbourhood where he wrote The Dharma Bums. 4 three-month residencies a year are available to writers of 'any stripe or age, living anywhere in the world.
Kerouac’s cottage in the Orlando neighbourhood where he wrote The Dharma Bums. 4 three-month residencies a year are available to writers of ‘any stripe or age, living anywhere in the world.
Marguerite Yourcenar's villa not far from Lille and the Belgian border offers 1-2 month residencies to European writers.
Marguerite Yourcenar’s villa not far from Lille and the Belgian border offers 1-2 month residencies to European writers.
Barnhill on the Scottish island of Jura, where George Orwell wrote 1984, is still open to writers seeking solitude and lack of Wifi.
Barnhill on the Scottish island of Jura, where George Orwell wrote 1984, is still open to writers seeking solitude and lack of Wifi.
Gladstone Library in North Wales operates a bed and breakfast, as well as a Writers in Residence Programme.
Gladstone Library in North Wales operates a bed and breakfast, as well as a Writers in Residence Programme.

Finally, the Michalski Foundation in Switzerland has  been busy building different versions of treehouses by renowned Swiss architects. You can apply for a writing residency programme in one of those treehouses, very close to where I used to live (talk about bad timing for leaving the area!). Here are more details on how to apply (deadline is Sept. 30th, hence a Thursday rather than Friday Fun posting, to give you time to apply).

Cabane Mangeat-Walhen, Fondation Jan Michalski.
Cabane Mangeat-Walhen, Fondation Jan Michalski.

The Biggest Book Haul Ever?

My days of basking in ample shelf space may be over. I still have to venture into the dark recesses of my loft, but I nevertheless managed to fill in all available gaps buying books as if there were no tomorrow. Att the same time, my boys and I are such a constant fixture at our local library that we think they might start dusting us down together with the furniture.

Since moving back to Britain, I’ve bought 20 books (and I’m not counting the review copies I’ve received). That’s nearly 3 per week on average, but actually works up to more than that, as the first three weeks I was out of action, still travelling and nowhere near a bookshop. So it’s really 20 books in 4 weeks, which (with the most fancy mathematical footwork in the world) still comes to 5 a week. Madness, I tell ye, madness! (But probably to the delight of booksellers in London).

The Visible...
The Visible…

Initially, I thought there were just 14, most of which I bought in Waterstones Piccadilly when I attended a few events there. These include: Grief Is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter; The Outrun by Amy Liptrot; How to be Brave by Louise Beech; Breach (Refugee Tales) by Olumide Popoola and Annie Holmes (Peirene Press), because they are all heart-wrenching and therefore very much suited to my current state of mind. Poetry, of course, because that is not so easy to find abroad: The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy; Bloodaxe Books’ Staying Alive anthology; the winner of the Forward Prize 2016 Vahni Capildeo and the Best First Collection winner Tiphanie Yanique (not so much because they are winners, but because they write about gender and expatriation, two subjects so dear to my heart); and the enigmatic Rosemary Tonks. Finally, to round off my bookshop extravaganza, I also bought Teffi’s Subtly Worded, after so many of my favourite bloggers recommended Teffi.

I’ve always been a Jean Rhys fan and own most of her books in slim Penguin editions from the 1980s, But one can never have too much of a good thing, so, following the #ReadingRhys week, I’ve bought a collected edition of her early novels (Voyage in the Dark, Quartet, After Leaving Mr Mackenzie and Good Morning, Midnight), her letters and a biography by Lilian Pizzichini.

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Then there are the random books I bought off Amazon (I try to limit my purchases there, but occasionally get distracted): a collected edition of some of Margaret Millar’s best novels; Super Sushi Ramen Express by Michael Booth, because I love Japan, its food and travelogues in general; Get Published in Literary Magazines by Alison K. Williams because… well, I keep on trying.

Finally, there are the ebooks, which I barely even count anymore, as they are not so ‘visible’. I’ve downloaded two Tana French books (because I’ve only read two of hers and want to try more). I couldn’t resist the offerings of two of my online friends: an escapist love story set in Provence by Patricia Sands and pre-ordering Margot Kinberg’s latest murder mystery.

wp_20160920_13_33_02_richLet’s not forget the ARCs I’ve received, and my book haul is even greater than the one in Lyon earlier this year. I’m behind with reviewing the atmospheric The Legacy of the Bones by Dolores Redondo, so I hope Harper Collins are patient. Thank you to Orenda Books, who sent me Louise Beech’s The Mountain in My Shoe, Michael J. Malone’s A Suitable Lie and Agnes Ravatn’s The Bird Tribunal (transl. Rosie Hedger), which all look very promising indeed. And, after quite a deep chat with Zygmunt Miłoszewski earlier this week, I can’t wait to read his book Rage, so thank you Midas PR  for providing me with a copy of that!

wp_20160922_20_37_52_proAs Stav Sherez was saying last night at Crime in the Court: Twitter is an expensive habit, as it’s full of book recommendations from people whose opinion you respect. (Yes, I still blame him and Eva Dolan for half of my noirish purchases.)

I dread to add up the exact amount I spent, but if we calculate an (underestimated) average of £5 per book, you realise the full extent of my folly! It takes no great psychologist to realise that there is something deeper at work here beneath my simple and pleasurable book addiction.

 

 

 

Friday Fun: Abandoned, Pulled Down and Restored

Let me introduce you today to homes of famous writers or artists, which no longer function as homes. In most cases, they’ve been pulled down to make way for progress, but not before bankrupting their owners.

Bowens Court, Ireland, home of Elizabeth Bowen.
Bowens Court, Ireland, home of Elizabeth Bowen, visited by Virginia Woolf. Bowen couldn’t afford the bills and sold it; it was demolished in 1961.
Haddon Hall in Beckenham, where David Bowie lived in a commune-like environment in the early 1970s, one of his most productive and creative periods. It was demolished to make way for a road and a block of flats.
Haddon Hall in Beckenham, where David Bowie lived in a commune-like environment in the early 1970s, one of his most productive and creative periods. It was demolished to make way for a road and a block of flats.
Franco-Romanian writer Anne de Noailles spent a part of each year in Evian, where she ran a salon popular with all the great French writers of the period. Although a street and a secondary school in Evian now bear her name, the villa itself no longer exists.
Franco-Romanian writer Anne de Noailles spent a part of each year in Evian, where she ran a salon popular with all the great French writers of the period. Although a street and a secondary school in Evian now bear her name, the villa itself no longer exists.
George Simenon's house near Lausanne, known (NOT affectionately) as 'the Bunker' by the locals, has just been torn down to make way for a new luxury residential development. Simenon had designed the house himself and was extremely security-conscious.
George Simenon’s house near Lausanne, known (NOT affectionately) as ‘the Bunker’ by the locals, has just been torn down to make way for a new luxury residential development. Simenon had designed the house himself and was extremely security-conscious.
The house in which Ray Bradbury lived for 50 years in LA was bought by a star architect in 2015 and torn down to make way for a new building.
The house in which Ray Bradbury lived for 50 years in LA was bought by a star architect in 2015 and torn down to make way for a new building.
This masterpiece of 1970 architecture by Mark Bernstein in Charlotte, NC, aka 'the house that fell to earth' was also torn down to make way for a more modern and bland building.
This masterpiece of 1970 architecture by Mark Bernstein in Charlotte, NC, aka ‘the house that fell to earth’ was also torn down to make way for a more modern and bland building.

Fortunately, some houses escaped this fate, even though the owner had to sell them to pay off debts. Alexandre Dumas, for instance, overreached himself when he built a magnificent chateau (known as the Chateau de Monte-Cristo) just outside Paris, including a little island with the most ambitious ‘writing shed’ in history.

Surrounded by its own little moat, the Chateau d'If writing studio was another typical Dumas extravaganza. in 1969 the house was scheduled for demolition and a large housing development was going to take its place. However, the local villages and an 'Alexandre Dumas Friends Association' managed to band together and save it.
Surrounded by its own little moat, the Chateau d’If writing studio was another typical Dumas extravaganza. in 1969 the house was scheduled for demolition and a large housing development was going to take its place. However, the local villages and an ‘Alexandre Dumas Friends Association’ managed to band together and save it.

 

Friday Fun: Reading Oasis

I may be ordering an orange and lemon tree for the conservatory, but for the time being, this is what my little reading oasis looks like (before it gets too cold to sit in there). Although there hasn’t been that much time for reading lately…

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Here are some more ambitious reading corners to which one might aspire…

The library is nothing else but a huge reading corner, from homedit.com
The library is nothing else but a huge reading corner, from homedit.com

 

readingfamilysponge
Reading in a window seat is always fun, and there’s so much storage for books and magazines in there. From Familysponge.com
From Pinterest, the rustic and romantic version of the window seat.
From Pinterest, the rustic and romantic version of the window seat.
A modest corner of the living room dedicated to reading, from minimalisti.com
A modest corner of the living room dedicated to reading, from minimalisti.com
And a slightly less modest corner of the living room, from resenhasalacarte.com.br
And a slightly less modest corner of the living room, from resenhasalacarte.com.br

And, for the ultimate dream… with a view…

From Homebunch.com
From Homebunch.com

 

 

 

More Shelving Dilemmas

Having somewhat haphazardly flung my books out of boxes and onto shelves, I discovered I couldn’t find anything anymore. So I’ve tried to rearrange my shelves according to countries and subject matter. Here is what I’ve been able to do so far.

The French Corner. This is a narrow bookcase at the very edge of the room, which has books (some in French, some in translation) by and about French authors or about France (but not the dictionaries or French culture guides, which are housed with the reference books). Unsurprisingly, this section of my library has grown exponentially during my 5 years in that part of the world.

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Non-fiction is relatively modest and housed just below the French section. (But there is an additional overly large academic and business books section, see below.)

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A whole shelf is dedicated to books on the writing craft and literary criticism – and includes the complete diaries of Virginia Woolf (my favourite writing book), while another shelf is all about poetry. Alas, I’ll soon be running out of space on this latter one.

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I’m pretty sure I’ve got more German books stashed away in the loft, but for the time being there is sufficient space on these two shelves to house Scandinavian fiction and Peirene Press as well. [Update: just went up to the loft this morning and can tell you there is no more space to house anything. See the picture below this one.]

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Japanese literature is housed next to books on Japanese society, culture and religions (which might help you guess what the subject of my Ph.D. was). Once again, I am convinced I have far, far more Japanese books up in the loft (or at my parents’ house in Romania).

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As for Romanian books – I had to set up an additional bit of foldable shelving to do it justice, although I also added some authors loosely categorised as ‘East European’ – Milan Kundera, Ivan Klima, Kieslowski (the film director) and Andrzej Stasiuk. The Russians are on the bottom shelf as well, although I am confident there are more of them lurking up in the attic. Apologies for the darkness of the shot, but light conditions were against me.

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Then we have the mish-mash shelf: Spanish, South American and some non-Japanese Asians.

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After setting up all of these shelves beautifully, I then realised that I don’t  have much space left for the English language fiction, which represents by far the greatest proportion of my books. Sigh! I think I may have too many ‘professional’ books. I love my anthropology books, but I may need another office for the more business-like stuff, so that I can leave this one free for creative pursuits.

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There is one more segment of wall against which I could put up additional shelves, but the study will also have to accommodate an armchair-bed for visitors, so I doubt there will be any room left over. If the alternative is no more shelves, then I may have to give visitors my bed and sleep on a mattress in my beloved library.

Or maybe I should copy this brilliant idea of ‘book-hunting’ from Belgium?

Friday Fun: Orangeries

If you get even more ambitious, beyond the suburban world of conservatories, there is the palatial orangery beckoning. All good European palaces had them in the 18th and 19th centuries. Here are a few favourites you might want to make your own.

Belton House, Lincolnshire - modest proportions but pleasing symmetry.
Belton House, Lincolnshire – modest proportions but pleasing symmetry. From Pinterest.
The main orangery at the Summer Palace near St. Petersburg is a monstrosity, but I prefer this little 'outhouse'.
The main orangery at the Summer Palace near St. Petersburg is a monstrosity, but I prefer this little ‘outhouse’. From Intrepid Travelogue.
The luxuriously repurposed orangery/restaurant in Monlucon, from TripAdvisor.
The luxuriously repurposed orangery/restaurant in Monlucon, from TripAdvisor.
The ambitious project at Schloss Schwerin in Germany.
The ambitious project at Schloss Schwerin in Germany. From Wikimedia.
The Orangery Palace (Orangerieschloss) in Park Sanssouci in Potsdam, Germany
The grandiose Orangery Palace (Orangerieschloss) at Sanssouci, Germany, from 123rf.com
A French favourite, the Jardin des Plantes in Paris.
A French favourite, the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. From mnhn.fr
Winterhuin near Anvers, a masterpiece of Belgian Art Nouveau style. From Home & Garden.
Winterhuin near Anvers, a masterpiece of Belgian Art Nouveau style. From Home & Garden.
Finally, the truly endless orangery at Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, from schonbrunn.at
Finally, the truly endless orangery at Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, from schonbrunn.at

Now I’m thinking of getting a little orange tree for my modest conservatory, just so I can legitimately call it an ‘orangery’.

In the Spirit of Reunification (of Books)

Yesterday I finally braved the loft again and got down a new set of book boxes. Sadly, quite a few boxes ended up with heavier boxes on top of them during 5 years of storage, so the books are not always in pristine condition. (Fellow booklovers who are equally obsessive about book spines remaining uncreased, corners unturned and therefore hardly ever lending books for fear of damage will understand my dismay!)

Small sample in a dusty bundle...
Small sample in a dusty bundle…
Spread out on the floor...
Spread out on the floor… with a nudge from my bright green slipper

From the English collection: one of the funniest books about anthropologists and one of my favourite Barbara Pym novels; Sylvia Plath’s rite of passage, the Metaphysical poets (which we were not allowed to study at university during Communist times).

From the Austrian collection: the stories of Arthur Schnitzler and Elias Canetti’s first volume of memoirs (given to me as a present by a friend who said it was his favourite book).

From the French collection, a charming coming-of-age story by Colette (perfect summer reading) and a grim childhood memoir by Herve Bazin (required reading in French class, but nevertheless memorable rather than sheer torture).

One of my favourite Romanian poets: Ion Pillat (I don’t think he’s ever been translated) – a lyrical nature-loving poet.

And finally a book that I haven’t read (there aren’t many of those in my loft): Fernando Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet, because I was translating a Romanian writer at the time who kept referring to Pessoa and was writing in his style.

Here are some excerpts from the Japanese collection against a background of bins:

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Ugetsu Monogatari is one of the lesser-known classical works of 18th century Japanese literature. A collection of spooky stories, it is perhaps better known as a masterpiece of Japanese cinema. The flowery cover is actually the paper wrapping that you automatically get at the time of purchase in Japanese bookshops for all your paperbacks. It covers Banana Yoshimoto’s Tugumi, which I haven’t looked at since I was a student (and probably won’t be able to read anymore). Finally, we were very excited to read Norwegian Wood with our Japanese professor during our student days, but this is the English language translation. And what a beautiful edition it is too, with its two small volumes encased in a golden box.

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Alas, alas, only a small part of the books have descended from the loft and we are already running out of space!

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