My Reading List

A personal library reflects the interests of the owner and extends their knowledge in as many directions as possible. Since before I could read, I was in love with books. When I was a child my father was the head of the “Ethnic Department” of Melbourne’s Greater Dandenong Libraries, and I would spend hours exploring the entire library upon each visit once I’d exhausted the children’s picture book section. My stack of chosen books which I’d eventually settle into looking through, as high as myself. Such a delight!

Even before opening the binding, the pages transport you with their unique texture and smell, added to by the imprinted human aroma that thumbed its way through over the years, decades or centuries. Upon holding a publication that is not in mint condition, you are holding the fragrance of human beings’ thirst for knowledge, making the softness of a worn out, well read book, such an marvellous treasure to feel in one’s hands. According to the International League for Antiquarian Booksellers, there is a hint of vanilla: “Lignin, which is present in all wood-based paper, is closely related to vanillin. As it breaks down, the lignin grants old books that faint vanilla scent.” The result? The sensation of bibliosmia, loving the smell of the book.

The cover of the book reveals much about what is promised, by the publisher, which may or may not be reflected by its content. Hence the expression -never judge a book by its cover-. Yet the effort which has gone into that promise will seduce or repel you from picking it up. If you fell for its seduction, you’ll be feeling its weight in your hands, making judgements regarding the thickness of the cover. Some have a preference for paperback, yet a premium price is always paid for the hardcover. Embossing on titles, various degrees of textures on the book’s jacket can inadvertently confer a quality of sensuality . Modern publishing houses prefer to offer smoother laminations, making it a pleasure when you find books of previous vintages that are draped in textile or leather jackets.

Over time, I’ve accrued a wonderful personal collection of books, gathered from bookstores, library sales, markets as they’ve crossed my path. With that esprit in mind, I’ll share in this list some of my personal gems accompanied by a brief description.

Feminism In The Age of George Sand

Dijkstra’s portrayal of Tristan as a social reformer in the age of revolutions is comprehensive, exploring the complex context within which Tristan’s ideas evolved. Born in Paris in 1803 to a Peruvian father & French mother, Tristan identified women’s, artists’ and workers’ problems. She began her literary career by insulting the most powerful literary women & feminists of her time. A political & historical analyst, the first to try to change the situation of the working class by uniting them. Penning critiques on the degrading condition of French women’s lives, Flora Tristan called for women to be granted equal legal rights, education, pay, and to cease being ‘a nice little doll and a slave destined to amuse and serve her master’.

Susan Sontag Debriefing Collected Stories

Susan Sontag, a great intellectual of the 20th century who’s brilliance is a delight to witness as is the case with this book of parables, autobiography, allegory, letters and short stories. Her depth & complexity as yielding as a Cabernet Sauvignon. Pouring over Debriefing Collected Stories makes me realise what a gift she was as a writer, seated prominently at the table of greats. Her pen delineates what social awareness ignores.

“No one extraordinary appears to be entirely contemporary. People who are contemporary don’t appear at all:

they are invisible.”

The French Art of Not Trying Too Hard

Pencil poised, I confess that as a reader, I’m an underliner. When truly engaged, I’ll respond in the margins. Pourriol left no dent on my lead.

Reading this felt like a long boozy lunch with a charming acquaintance who rambles, and no sooner has one topic started that you’ve both ended up light years away on another. Which is fine for a lunch! But not for a book with a title which promises one thing, then digresses from it unashamedly, rarely if ever to return. Pourriol started writing the book in Paris, ended up in Greece, which may explain why explain why there are more Greek life, history & sport references than French. With so many lazy metaphors, one of them is bound to hit the mark. Noticeably lacking, an absence of France’s Grande Dames throughout history. Unless in not trying too hard he was literally proving his title’s point, the content laboriously eludes any claim made in the cover jacket. Touché


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