Thursday, June 30, 2016

July's Book List and a Trip to Becker's Bookstore

A few weeks ago, during one of those many days where Houston continued to face flooding from the daily rain, I stepped into a home that had been converted into a used bookstore. Shelves of books seemed to cover ever square
inch of wall, some even left in small piles along the floor. The beauty of the place was simply in its imperfection, such as in the way muted, worn spines were coupled next to newer books, or the way books were squeezed on top of other books to fit onto the shelves. There was something so enchanting about exploring the many aisles, corners, and nooks of this place, while the sound of rain drowned out the bits of conversation taking place in other sections of the store. Views of the rain could be seen upon entering a new undiscovered corner of the place, like the one found upon exiting the art section and entering into the cookbook section.

It's difficult to spend only a few minutes in a place like this, especially with the eclectic selection of armchairs suggesting you stay awhile, like the tufted, velvet pink chair at the end of the European and U.S. history section, or the floral fabric covered chair around the corner of the poetry section. So perhaps you sit down with the small growing selection of books you've removed from the shelves, while the musk scent from the books coat the tips of your fingers as you flip through the aged pages.

And just when you've assumed you've walked through every aisle, you spy another section, and quickly shift the pile of books from one arm to the other to provide momentary relief as you spy a few classics, like A Tale of Two Cities, Anne of Green Gables, The Three Musketeers, or The Odyssey. Even though you know you can come back again, there is a part of you that doesn't want to wait, so you stay a little extra while to contemplate and to re-add the growing dollar signs. You consider waiting and perhaps purchasing it online, but you know there is something special about the book having been used. Because unlike buying it new online, you can share something in common with the previous owner - an appreciation for the contents of this book. So you decide what to bring home now and plan to revisit soon, with the hopes of curating a home library filled with the scent of worn books, the scene of rugged lightly faded spines, and the many stories neatly, or perhaps imperfectly, stacked side by side or on top of each other.


My growing appreciation for having a good book around is what led me to visit Becker's Bookstore, a store containing used, rare, and out of print books, located in Houston, Texas. I wanted to pick out some books for the summer and since the summer usually consists of vacation days away, I felt the need to pick out topics pertaining to faraway places. Are you the same way? Since Europe usually happens to be my dream vacation spot, I picked out the following books, The Paris We RememberFood and Friends, and Great Masters of French Impressionism.

Food and Friends by Simone Beck
I was a little late to the Julia Child fan club, given that I didn't know about her until the movie Julie and Julia came out. I was hoping to find an old copy of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, when I came across this book. In it are several stories from Simone's life, with each chapter ending with a menu of recipes associated with those memories. Stories and food are a favorite combination of mine, not to mention the introduction is written by Julia Child. I can't wait to cook from this book, while getting to know Simone a bit more.

The Paris We Remember edited and translated by Elisabeth Finley Thomas
I do have an obsession with France, so I definitely took my time when I came across the French History section. The contents of this book contain several short stories written by authors, such as Victor Hugo, Mark Twain, and Charles Dickens.

Great Masters of French Impressionism
This book showcases more than 72 pieces of impressionist artwork that are displayed in the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. Paintings from artists, such as Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, and Pissarro are showcased with a page of dialogue discussing the piece and the artist. I think it makes a wonderful coffee table book and provides some interesting facts if you really love Impressionism.


Night by Elie Wiesel was heart wrenching, emotional, and a reminder of the not so long ago terrifying and horrendous events of the Holocaust. The author recounts his personal experience of being placed on a cattle cart as a young teenager, without the knowledge of where he and his family were headed or what was in store for them upon arriving to a concentration camp. Forever separated from his mother and younger sister with the words "Men to the left! Women to the right!", he and his father became victims to a terrifying world of starvation, torture, loss, and the looming shadow of death as each day was a battle to survive. The following is an excerpt from the book (p.34):
     Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven
     times sealed.
     Never shall I forget that smoke.
     Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke
     under a silent sky.
     Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever.
     Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live.
     Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to
     Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself

Emma by Jane Austin is clearly a classic, full of wit, drama, and romance. It was definitely one of those novels where I couldn't decide which character to like, because each had their flaws or weaknesses. But in the end, I really did like Emma. Even though I often found her immature, insensitive, and lacking self-awareness, at other times I found her to be incredibly empathetic, smart, and forgiving.

Lastly, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert is written in a very straightforward way. She addresses various realities that take place while pursuing a creative life. One area I really appreciated was her words on perfectionism. I have always struggled with perfectionism, and it's usually because I want to produce something without flaws, so that the amount of "wrongs" I've committed is limited; thereby allowing me to face the world without being a total failure or feeling embarrassed. But the truth is, "we must understand that the drive for perfectionism is a corrosive waste of time, because nothing is ever beyond criticism. No matter how many hours you spend attempting to render something flawless, somebody will always find fault with it" (p.169). In the end, we should create, not for the sake of success or affirmation, but because we enjoy it and desire to.

What's on your summer reading list? 

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