Sunday, July 8, 2012

Armchair Travel

Summertime is for travel. Either on the road, or as Karen Blixen put it in Out of Africa, as "a mental traveller."

Like many of you, I spent a good deal of my summertime's of youth reading. I was an armchair traveler. Every Saturday when our mother did the marketing she would drop us off at the local library and pick us up again on the return.

One summer I selected The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas merely because it was the thickest book on the shelf. I still remember it's plain green library cover. The cottony soft pages rounded at the edges from its having been lent to such a long string of borrowers.

The journeys I took through those silently turning pages shaped me as much as any actual trips I took in the same years. I suppose it was then that I developed a taste for long evocative narratives.

I have found that you really can't recommend reading. We are all so diverse, and have such distinct appetites for books and films, that all you can do is offer up a taste of your own experience, and let it stand on its own.


For moody summer reading here's an excerpt from the first lines of  The Sea, by the living Irish writer John Banville:

"They departed, the gods, on the day of the strange tide. All morning under a milky sky the waters in the bay had swelled and swelled, rising to unheard-of heights, the small waves creeping over parched sand that for years had known no wetting save for rain and lapping the very bases of the dunes. The rusted hulk of the freighter that had run aground at the far end of the bay longer ago than any of us could remember must have thought it was being granted a relaunch. I would not swim again, after that day. The seabirds mewled and swooped, unnerved, it seemed, by the spectacle of that vast bowl of water bulging like a blister, lead-blue and malignantly agleam. They looked unnaturally white, that day, those birds. The waves were depositing a fringe of soiled yellow foam along the waterline. No sail marred the high horizon. I would not swim, no, not ever again."

A perfect read while on a bay side vacation. . . .

(From The Nest: An Artists Sketchbook by Maryjo Koch)

And another from Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse, Time Passes:

"So with the lamps all put out, the moon sunk, and a thin rain drumming on the roof a downpouring of immense darkness began. Nothing, it seemed, could survive the flood, the profusion of darkness which, creeping in at keyholes and crevices, stole round window blinds, came into bedrooms, swallowed up here a jug and basin, there a bowl of red and yellow dahlias, there the sharp edges and firm bulk of a chest of drawers. Not only was furniture confounded; there was scarcely anything left of body or mind by which one could say, “This is he” or “This is she.” Sometimes a hand was raised as if to clutch something or ward off something, or somebody groaned, or somebody laughed aloud as if sharing a joke with nothingness.

Nothing stirred in the drawing-room or in the dining-room or on the staircase. Only through the rusty hinges and swollen sea-moistened woodwork certain airs, detached from the body of the wind (the house was ramshackle after all) crept round corners and ventured indoors. Almost one might imagine them, as they entered the drawing-room questioning and wondering, toying with the flap of hanging wall-paper, asking, would it hang much longer, when would it fall? Then smoothly brushing the walls, they passed on musingly as if asking the red and yellow roses on the wall-paper whether they time at their disposal) the torn letters in the wastepaper basket, the flowers, the books, all of which were now open to them and asking, Were they allies? Were they enemies? How long would they endure?"

We've had an active summer so far, with more to come. Not much time for books yet.  But I get a deep longing on white hot afternoons, when the pace slackens, and the world stops. I want a few cushions, silent pages, and a wandering journey across a landscape of beautiful words.  

I like to revisit places I have traveled as much as going someplace new. I find I'm the same way about books. There are the volumes that you pass on to someone after you've read them, and then the ones you love and return to again and again. Where do your summer travels take you?


Join me at


Louise (Elsie May and Bertha) said...

I know what you mean about travelling by books. I am currently on book eight of ten of the Henning Mankell Wallander books, so have spent the past few weeks in Sweden.
I have a couple more sets of books to read next, so I'll either be 'off' to New York or to Venice next. :-)

Vickie @ Ranger 911 said...

The sad truth is that by the time I settle down with a book in the evening, I'm falling asleep. But I do like to have a few good books on hand when we're heading out of town on road trips. When I was younger I would stay at my Baba's house, and she would send me off to the "libary" as she called it. :@

Love the white clock in your first photo!

A Super Dilettante said...

My dear Jacqueline, This is an exquisite and thought-provoking post. Like you, I became infatuated with books when I was young. They allow me to drift into the other world like a dream. One seems to fall under its spell in such a tremendous way.

I think C. S. Lewis was right when he said "We read to know that we are not alone".

I love your armchair (it looks very cosy and comfortable). I like the passages you selected for us by John Banville and Virginia Woolf. Banville is regarded as the master of poetic description stirring both thought and emotion with his immensely rich and illustrative vocabulary. I love this novel you mentioned in the post - "The Sea" (I've got an audio CD of unabridged version read by an Irish actor with a beautiful voice at home).

But my favourite by Banville is called "The Newton Letter".

Hope you are enjoying your summer with your reading at your beautiful home.


Olive Cooper said...

I am reading about raising puppies by the Monks of Skete. Also a campy little British love story I picked up in a thrift store-I do so love how the British write. Especially British mystery writers. I love the white funeral wreath. I have all mine piled into the hearth right now. Joe rolls his eyes at them. That was after I told him what they were however-he had no clue:}

Jen said...

Beautiful post. I love all the books you referred to. I'm going to go pull The Sea off my shelf.

On Crooked Creek said...

I have a "trip" planned to our local library later this week. The Summer between my Freshman and Sophomore year in High School, I read an entire set of Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia!!! We had no Public Library in our small town on the Prairie and I was totally bored with little to do. When returning to classes in the Fall...I was nicknamed "Ms. Walking Encyclopedia" by my classmates. To which I smiled as I was now filled with knowledge and my grades reflected it! Thanks for the lovely suggestions; however, I can't choose books for one. My selections will be NoN~Fiction! I love reading about past Presidents wives! Women who've made History!!! Have a great week...curling up with a great read!

Michele @ The Nest at Finch Rest said...

Wonderful passages and gorgeous white pics.

And I absolutely Loved CoMC - and the movie (the m ost recently made one) we own It's one of my all-time favorites.

Lady Pamela said...

As always, your photography is wonderfully calming. But I never realized before what an accomplished writer you are. I still say you should publish a coffee table book. Remember, to autograph my copy.

Pamela Gordon said...

I've been reading 2 books by Canadian authors that delve into the history of our province of New Brunswick in a fictional way. I'll be taking them to my daughter in August for her to read. I love to read and need to make more time for it. Pamela

p harrison said...

Hi Jacqueline,

I am quite taken with the book in one of your photos today --- it pictures a birds nest.

What is the title of this book?
Looks wonderful.


Bella said...

Hi J,
You have sent me on a journey today, back to my youthful days in the library, I loved picking fresh books each week. Summer does beg for long lazy days reading, I feel a Jane Austin binge coming on :-)
I thought of you last night, when the thunder started rolling!! A VERY uncommon event here in the summer, our neighboring town had hail, weird stuff!
Hope your week is off to a good start!

Cindy said...

what a nice journey through the photos and excerpts from your beautiful books. Words are so powerful aren't they. One can be whisked away in just a moment. Did you ever read the Neverending Story... Reading your post made me remember how amazing that story is...


Kay said...

Oh my, Jacqueline! Beautiful! But I think that just a few minutes of reading in that luxurious, comfy, cozy, soft, gorgeous chair with those beautiful pillows and covers---I would be sound asleep!! Kay

Linda said...

Another post full of delicious eye candy!!!
Love your clock!!
Reading a crochet pattern right now....trying to refresh my memory!

Linda :o)

Mary said...

Lovely whites...faded white wednesday may be a good one for me.

Olga said...

Hi Jacqueline,
You know in my youth I spend my summers reading too. There just wasn't anything else to do in our tiny town in Ukraine. Back in the 90th, the Western children were playing computer games, which arrived to our woods much later. And my parents could not afford any trips for me. So I read! And I enjoyed sea adventures the most. I read a lot of Jules Verne's works (my favorite was The Children of Captain Grant). I hope to read them all again one day!

Custom Comforts said...

Lovely calming post. So serene. Makes me want to curl up and read, but alas, too much to do. Too many projects in the mix. I tell myself someday I will slow down long enough to read - when all these projects are done. But I am learning I often lie to myself. There will always be projects to do because my creative mind never ceases to find new ideas. I tell myself, one day they will all be done and I can sit and enjoy the fruit of my labor - but I deceive only me. For me, to read a book, is a guilty pleasure I rarely allow myself. I must work on that.

collarcitybrownstone said...

Jacqueline this is truly one of your best posts. I love to read. I am passionate about reading. I cannot even imagine a world without books. When a person tells me they do not like to read I cannot comprehend it, but I respect how they feel.

You are right, reading is not something that you can recommend. I think that either you love it or you don't. I do try to inspire others to read by sharing my experiences of reading, especially when it is about a book that I loved. When I am reading I am transported mentally into the story.

I read Under The Tuscan Sun while it was on the NY Times best sellers list. I loved it and since then I have been a huge fan of travel essays. On Rue Tatin by Susan Hermon Loomis is one of my favorites. So is At Home in France by Anne Barry. I just finished reading Paris My Sweet by Amy Thomas. I love reading regency romance books and get lost in them.

It is so wonderful to get comfy in a cozy chair or in bed with a book. I recently joined Goodreads dot com. It is wonderful being part of an online community of people worldwide who also have a passion for reading.

Love and Hugs Jacqueline!

val's alentejo said...

Once i get a book, i become possesed. I become part of that book for the time i am reading it.
I am a person that usually reads two books at the same time, not always,but sometimes.
Nice passages from the books you have chosen.
Living out in the bush in Africa , our library was in the city. But mum would always buy a collection of new books once a month.
Great post Jaqueline.. summer is the time to catch up on everything.
gorgeous photos..
happy Tuesday

victoriantailor said...

Your photos are so gorgeous, what camera do you use, I am looking to buy a good one, love the "reads", will have to pick up John Banville,

Anonymous said...

Such a lovely post (and photographs!), Jacqueline. I return again and again to Jane Austen's world.
Re: your comment on my blog... a small greenhouse is on our To-Do list. I don't know when it will happen, but one is planned. :)

Jennifer @ Town and Country Living said...

Beautiful photos, as usual! Love the picture of the nest.

michele said...

just lovely!

if you like, swing by my place where i am hosting a giveaway:

and keep sharing your lovely posts!



Judy at GoldCountryCottage said...

Hi Jacqueline: As I was scrolling down to leave you a thank you for your kind words on my Breast Cancer post, I realized that I had missed a few of your posts so just wanted you to know that they are beautiful, as usual, and I get such a feeling of contentment when I look at your pictures. You are so good.. Happy Friday and thanks again..Judy

Haworth said...

My summer travels kept me close to home, Jacqueline: being restful in the garden, or painting some walls and cabinetry, weeding the flower beds in the cool of the early morning before the sun was overhead. When it comes to books, I love returning to "old friends" as well.

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