Summer of 2015 Holiday Reading

We will be visiting our hometown of Kolkata in India during the month of August. I haven’t been to Kolkata for five long years. I can’t wait to catch up with friends and family, eat savory street side snack food and be overwhelmed all over again by the sights and sounds of the city. Though it is essentially a holiday, I will be taking some work with me. But, I expect that in between socializing and working,  I will have a little time to myself to catch up on my reading.

It is such a delicious task to select books to read on a holiday. I find the Kindle so handy for such circumstances. I can pack a huge library within a sleek gadget and I don’t even have to feel ashamed about hoarding so many books! Even though I may not end up reading a single line, it is comforting to know that the books are close to me and can be reached easily if I need them.

Although I do enjoy using my Kindle, I also really like reading from the Kindle app on my iPod. It is a little narrow and you do have to flip the page every few seconds but It is very convenient for reading in bed. I can lie down and read on my back (my favorite reading position) and my arms don’t hurt.

Since I don’t expect to have Wi-Fi in Kolkata (I will have internet access in the form of a data port inserted into my laptop) I’ve downloaded my books in advance. I thought it might be fun to share a look at the books I will be reading on the trip. They represent the ultimate in my concept of comfort reading.


The author’s writings just take me to a calm and relaxing place. They are often witty, light and often convey a strong sense of place.

The Unbearable Lightness of Scones by Alexander McCall Smith is the fifth installment in the 44 Scotland Street Series set in Edinburgh, Scotland. The series was originally published in serial format in a Scottish newspaper and still runs to this day. Apart from providing delicious glimpses into Edinburgh city life, the stories are quirky, and have a variegated cast of characters. They make me smile and each short chapter is the perfect small morsel to fit into 10 minutes of reading time.

I am finishing off The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim and enjoying it immensely. It is the perfect summer read. It takes place in Italy. Four, lonely women decide to rent a medieval castle together for the month of April to escape their everyday lives in London. The writing is humorous and the characters well drawn.

Barbara Pym is a favorite author of mine and I have not yet read Jane and Prudence. Pym is often compared to being a latter day Jane Austen. I find her writing wry and intelligent. I cannot wait to dive into it.

I also enjoy reading books in the epistolary format especially those set during war times. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society and These Wonderful Rumours by May Smith particularly spring to mind as books from this genre. When I read These Wonderful Rumors last year, many parallels were drawn between it’s context and that of the ultimate wartime diary- E. M. Delafield’s The Provincial Lady Diaries. A trip is a wonderful opportunity to read books in this short chapter format.

Betty Neels is the ultimate escapist read. Please don’t read her books if you have a very rational mind. Nothing makes sense in her stories. The Dutch doctor always rescues the English nurse and marries her and whisks her away to the Netherlands into a loveless marriage that blooms later on. To me though, the books are very charming and provide tiny glimpses of a side of Europe that I am unfamiliar with.

Lastly, a book from my favorite genre- mysteries. I have heard many good things about A Scream in Soho. It is a part of the newly re-released British Library of Crime Classics series. The cover looks lovely with a vintage feel. Need I say more?

In addition to e-books I decided to download the free audiobooks app on the iPod. I intend to walk everyday to get in my daily exercise and I thought listening to some audiobooks would be perfect to listen to during my walking. The librivox audiobooks are free to download. I rarely read classics nowadays, so I thought I would download a few classics. The following are the audiobooks I’ve downloaded:


That, in a nutshell, is a glimpse into my summer holiday reading. Any bets that I won’t even finish a single book? Never mind. I won’t be heartbroken if that happens because I know that the time will have been filled with other enjoyable pursuits. Hope you are having a wonderful summer (or perhaps winter) wherever you are. I’m off to venture forth into a summer adventure.

Martha’s Vineyard in 30 Memorable Moments


Last month we spent 3 glorious days on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. Surrounded by sandy beaches on all sides, we had fun, we frolicked and we explored every nook and cranny of the island. We cooked comforting meals in a huge hostel kitchen, ate lobster rolls and lobster bisque, drank too much blueberry beer at the pub and went on ‘wild’ carousel rides in the pursuit of elusive brass rings. I visited most of the bookshops on the island, wanted to browse through the public libraries, but was able to visit only one. Here are some of the more ‘bookish’ moments of the trip, accompanied by many ‘non-bookish’ moments…

The night before the trip we discovered that it was necessary to book a ferry crossing if traveling with a car in advance. Hence, the only crossing times from Woods Hole in Cape Cod to Vineyard Haven available were at 7 am in the morning! Luckily the previous night we were staying at my Aunt’s house, only an hour’s drive away. IMG_1140 Although the ferry crossing was painfully early, we did manage to see the sun rising in the eastern sky on a beautiful, balmy day in June.

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The first call of duty upon arrival was breakfast at the Black Dog Bakery in Vineyard Haven. I opted for their delicious breakfast sandwich along with a cup of coffee…

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We strolled along quiet Main Street of Vineyard Haven before the shops had opened and the locals and tourists had started milling the streets. We took delight in noticing little inconsequential details in the houses and shops and taking numerous pictures. A few early-bird locals looked on with a mixture of amusement and scorn. We waited outside the doors of ‘The Bunch of Grapes Bookstore’ like guards outside Buckingham Palace, waiting for it to open. We whooshed in when the clock struck nine and perused all the books. The air was still hot and humid from the lack of air-conditioning…it had only been switched on a few minutes before… The store was packed with books about the sea, summer, the Vineyard, it’s history and it’s stories…

IMG_1197 When we left, we noticed the tall, quaint clock with ‘Bunch of Grapes’ inscribed on it’s graceful face.

IMG_1168 Here is the signpost of the Black Dog Tavern in Vineyard Haven. So beautiful… now that is memorable branding! IMG_1303

IMG_1219 The highlight of the morning and in fact the trip was the Flying Horses Carousels in Oaks Bluff. There is something very liberating about riding make-believe horses even if you are an adult. The green fuzzy man depicted in the photo was very energetically plucking metal rings out of the holders as the horses periodically whizzed past the ring dispensing station. The person who picks a brass ring as opposed to the silver ones gets a free ride!

Top tip: the carousel rides are double the fun after a pint of blueberry beer at the Offshore Ale Company in Oaks Bluff 😉

In the afternoon we came back to the hostel (HI Martha’s Vineyard) and made cheese and cucumber sandwiches and ate them with hard-boiled eggs. We took a short nap in our hostel room… In the evening, we packed a few snacks, a blanket and a few beach chairs and took them to Menemshah Beach to watch a memorable sunset. Menemshah Village is famous for being the location of the fishing village depicted in the movie Jaws. The beach was humming with families, enjoying their evening with friends…


Next morning, Little M wanted to ride the ‘horses again’. We visited the gingerbread cottages in Oaks Bluff. They were all so uniquely themed…




We visited the Museum Cottage which was a peek into what the cottages look like on the inside. They are surprisingly small and claustrophobic.




In the afternoon we visited Edgartown and of course ‘Edgartown Books’. It has a nice set of stairs leading upstairs and a small but good selection of books…




We walked to Edgartown Lighthouse. Little M and her Uncle went all the way to the top of the lighthouse and waved down to us from the top.



The lighthouse keeper (pictured on the left) very kindly lent Little M’s Uncle some special props which made for great photos! … Memories are made of these…


The spiral staircase of the lighthouse as photographed looking upwards.


The following morning we visited the very picturesque ruddy Aquinnah Cliffs. The lighthouse has recently been lifted and moved (by a friendly giant) further inward to avoid the perils of coastal erosion. I really love how all New England’s lighthouses look so unique.


In the afternoon the car rode on what must be the smallest ferry in the world- the little Chappy Ferry. It took us to the island of Chappaquiddick. We visited the Japanese Mytoi Gardens. We also combed the beach of East Beach for variegated rocks and pebbles. We spent nearly one hour scouring the beach and amassed what may be several kilos of stones which are now to this day (a month after the trip!) lying unceremoniously in a plastic bag in the boot of our car (go figure!).

The trip is coming to an end and so must the blogpost. I will leave you with some random moments…


A tube of Jane Austen toothpaste seen at Alley’s General Store in West Tisbury where President Obama visited on his trip to the Vineyard.


A strange creature reading a book in the ‘Field Gallery and Sculpture Garden’, West Tisbury.


A final hurrah on the ‘horsies’…


…and lastly a small memento to remember an unforgettable trip.

A Visit to Brattle Book Shop


One of my most favorite things to do is to visit independent bookstores. Sadly, they are a rare species nowadays. Whenever I visit a new city I try to pinpoint interesting bookstores and public libraries to possibly visit. I like to browse the shelves of these small bookstores. I like to guess the personality of the bookstore owners through the books they choose to display. One such memorable book shop I visited just recently, is the famous Brattle Book Shop in Downtown Boston.

Boston and Cambridge are cities renowned for their educational institutions. The city as a result is inundated with a rich student population. It is not uncommon to see a slightly unkempt backpacked student, reading Dostoevsky with furrowed brow on the subway. Literally everyone is reading something on the public transportation system, be it a newspaper, a library book or an e-reader.

This is a city closely associated with literary stalwarts like Transcendalists Ralph Waldo Emerson and Louisa May Alcott, poets Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Oliver Wendell Holmes, writers like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe.

Henry James talked in a satirical tone about the city and the etiquette of its intellectual class in the book ‘The Bostonians’. In more recent times the romance of the city has been captured in Erich Segal’s books ‘Doctors’ and ‘The Class’.

To bring this long-winded discussion to a conclusion- literary Boston is most-deserving of a bookstore of the acumen of the Brattle Book Shop.

IMG_1411It may be a little easy to overlook the location of the bookshop. Whilst walking past the crowd of tourists and Freedom Trail enthusiasts conglomerating on Boston Commons, you might never know that such a delightful book haven awaits you on a quiet side-street to the right. There is nothing very striking about the bookstore facade until you come upon what seems like an unused parking lot adjacent to the shop, crammed with cart upon cart of used books. They are sorted according to topic and price. Here is a shot of several dilligent book browsers. I could easily have spent the whole day looking through the various treasures. What struck me the most was that these used books were not just your run of the mill cast-off books that are often seen at library sales. Most of the books were older, vintage books which had interesting titles. Here is a closer look at some of the book carts.


I also found some quaint painted doors which resembled book covers. When you actually enter the Bookstore interior you find yourself in the good company of shelf upon shelf of fiction books, mystery, sci-fi and the upper story also has a dedicated travel book section among others.


I also found an excellent nook crammed with children’s books. Here is what it looked like and some of the shelved books.


Lastly I will leave you with the spoils of my treasure hunt.

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I picked up two books by one of my favorite authors, H.E. Bates and a Jeeves short story collection. You can never have enough of PG Wodehouse in your life. I found a vintage children’s book called ‘Singing Games’ for Little M. I thought it might be fun to research some of the songs mentioned within and try to learn them together as a fun activity. Lastly I found an interesting volume named ‘Literary Landmarks of London’, that looks very serious inside but might have some interesting information.

Lastly, there is a gorgeous illustrated map of Germany. The small illustrations next to the towns and villages are just too cute.

I would love to learn about any favorite book stores you have visited on your travels. Till next time.

Vincent and Camille and a Little Dip into van Gogh’s Past

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Author: Réne van Blerk

Illustrator: Wouter Tulp

Published: 2013

Main Characters: Vincent (of van Gogh fame!), Camille, Camille’s Mother and Father.

Short Synopsis of the Story: Camille has been asked by Mister Vincent a painter to help him with a little job. Camille’s parents ask Camille what the job is but Camille doesn’t know. Camille sets off from home and walks to Mister Vincent’s yellow house. On the way he sees a very loud train that clatters and causes a loud noise on the rail tracks above a bridge. As the train disappears the noise of the train becomes fainter and fainter. In a small pond opposite Mister Vincent’s yellow house Camille looks for frogs but is disappointed to see none there. He does notice his own reflection in the surface of the pond. Mister Vincent spies Camille from the upper window of his yellow house and beckons him. Camille is led into Mister Vincent’s house which is filled with beautifully coloured paintings. Camille is asked to sit down and Mister Vincent gives him a large glass of lemonade to drink. In the meantime, Mister Vincent starts painting on a canvas but Camille can’t see what he is painting because the back of the canvas faces him.  Camille asks Mister Vincent why his house is painted yellow. Vincent replies

Yellow’s such a beautiful colour. Yellow’s the colour of the sun, of cornfields and of fresh butter.And yellow’s the colour of sunflowers too and buttercups and leaves in the autumn.

Vincent, in turn, asks Camille what color he would paint the house if given the choice. Camille thinks deeply and replies with the answer-green. Green reminds Camille of the grass, leaves and spring… and frogs. Then he changes his mind and replies with the answer-blue. Blue reminds Camille of the sky, the colour of his own eyes, the colour of his father’s big coat and his own cap. Then Camille changes his mind yet again and replies saying he would paint the house red. Red is the color of strawberries and roses. As Camille changes his mind a picture of the house in three different colors can be seen.

Mister Vincent laughs aloud when he hears about Camille’s problem with picking a colour. He remarks that Camille loves colour as much as he does. At this point Camille’s mother and father arrive at Mister Vincent’s house. Mister Vincent comments that Camille has been a great help to him. Camille protests and says that he hasn’t helped Mister Vincent yet, he’s only been talking and drinking lemonade.

The job that Mister Vincent had in mind for Camille is revealed, however, when Mister Vincent shows the whole family the canvas he has been painting. It is a portrait of Camille. Camille stares in wonder at his own image and feels like he is looking into a mirror, only with many different colours. The reds, greens, blues and yellows that they had talked about are all captured in the painting.

Favorite Part of the Story:  In accordance with the theme of painting the book is a very visual one. The images of the train scooting across the train tracks and Camille looking into the pond and catching his own reflection are very striking. The images of Vincent’s yellow house are beautiful and it is nice to see it metamorphose into a green house, blue house and red house in quick succession. What is most delightful are the illustrations of Vincent, Camille and Camille’s father which are instantly recognizable from van Gogh’s paintings. Also not to be missed is the sneak peek into Vincent’s yellow house drawing room, which is filled with canvases of van Gogh’s most memorable creations.

Portrait of Camille Roulin, 1888, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

Portrait of Camille Roulin, 1888, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

This is simply a lovely book to get your child excited about painting and coloring. A lovely introduction to van Gogh. The story is insightful and the illustrations stellar. Don’t miss the opportunity of opening up this delightful book.

Portrait of the Postman, Joseph Roulin (1841-1903), MFA,Boston

Portrait of the Postman, Joseph Roulin (1841-1903), MFA,Boston

Incidentally, the Camille from the book ‘Vincent and Camille’ is Camille Roulin, a small boy of the Roulin family, van Gogh was friendly with during his time in Arles. Camille’s father is Joseph Roulin, postmaster, depicted in several of van Gogh’s memorable paintings, one of which is displayed at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.  Van Gogh painted multiple portraits of each of the members of the Roulin family. The portrait of Camille, aged 11, described in this book hangs in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and is entitled ‘Portrait of Camille Roulin’, 1888.

Many thanks to BudgetTraveller and frommadeiratomars for picking up this  book for Little M from the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

Leaving you with some beautiful postcard images of van Gogh’s works.

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