Only a lover notices the small things: the way the afternoon light catches the nape of a neck, or how a strand of hair slips out from behind an ear, or the way a finger curls around a cup. And no one scans a letter so closely as a lover, searching for its small print, straining to hear its nuances, its gasps, its sighs and hesitations, poring over the secret messages that lie in every cadence. The difference between “Jane (whom I adore)” and “Jane, whom I adore,” and the difference between them both and “Jane—whom I adore—” marks all the distance between ecstasy and heartache. “No iron can pierce the heart with such force as a period put at just the right place,” in Isaac Babel’s lovely words; a comma can let us hear a voice break, or a heart. Punctuation, in fact, is a labor of love. Which brings us back, in a way, to gods.

― Pico Iyer, In Praise of the Humble Comma, from Tropical Classical

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Some meta book-books I think are worth their weight in paper pulp laced with gold during the great Kerala wedding season: Kalpetta Narayanan Master’s Kayar Murukukayaanu (The Noose tightens) on books, people, places etc., and Kavithayute Jeevacharitram (The Biography of a Poem) on po-etry and -ets; Nilanjana Roy’s The Girl Who Ate Books; Neil Gaiman’s View from the Cheap Seats on people with books in them; Browse: Love Letters to bookshops Around the World edited by Henry Hitchings on places with books in them; Eco-and-Carriere’s This is Not the End of the Book where they talk about the book object; Kavitha Rao’s The Librarian with a girl who goes to work in a large library in Bombay; Stephen King’s On Writing; Yoda Press’s weird collection of imaginary libraries in Invisible Libraries; Phil Baines’s Penguin by Design, on book covers and the people and places that make them; Nick Hornby’s Stuff I Have Been Reading with a self explaining title; Pradeep Sebastian’s witty and relatable Groaning Shelf on book people and book places; P.K. Rajashekharan’s book memories in Bookstalgia (not as fun as Kalpetta; the title is what sells it). The list is defined by the length of my scan-bed; off-screen, working as props and caught in a Kindle are Seven Hundred Penguins, David Lodge’s Lives in Writing, Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind, etc.

Up-hoot #1: Found Love Among the Bookshelves today at the State Public Library (this, of the dust-jacketed—not the just-jacketed—kind.) Too many book-related coincidences this week.

People try to get away from it all—to the country, to the beach, to the mountains. You always wish that you could too. Which is idiotic: you can get away from it anytime you like. By going within. Nowhere you can go is more peaceful—more free of interruptions—than your own soul. Especially if you have other things to rely on. An instant’s recollection and there it is: complete tranquillity. And by tranquillity I mean a kind of harmony.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Kavitha Rao’s book, The Librarian, scanned against a backpack as background.

Tomorrow, I take a taxi and another taxiing thing and yet another taxi to Gangtok. I overpacked and weeded out the necessary stuff and then realised my misatke and inverted the selection and then tried to stick to the 7kg luggage limit and then went to Blossoms after an early end to a meeting (awkward after) and weighed my priorities again—against pulp this time—and ended up with four new paperbacks and of the four is this thing that clearly isn’t helping an early-onset-midlife-crisis. The others are mostly harmless. What happens? The city is singing traffic at one in the night.

We begin to think we know what the water feels like to the fishes. But it’s not always like fur and ash and the cleanest tooth. At night, they say, the water can be different. At night, when it’s very cold, it can be like the tongue of a cat. At night, when it’s very very cold, it’s like cracked glass. Or honey. Or forgiveness, they say, ha ha.

— Dave Eggers, What The Water Feels Like To The Fishes

I was twenty years old. When you are twenty years old, and twenty-one, and twenty-two, and twenty-three, and twenty-four, what you want from people is that they tell you about you. When you are twenty years old, and twenty-one, and twenty-two, and twenty-three, you watch the world for the way it watches you. Do people laugh when you make a joke, do they kiss you when you lean into them at a party? Yes? Aha—so that’s who you are. But these people themselves, laughing, kissing and not-kissing, they themselves are young, and so then you begin to think, if you’re twenty or twenty-one, when you are young, that these people are not to be trusted, your contemporaries, your screwed-up friends and girlfriends—that it’s not because of you that they kissed you, but because of them, something about them, those narcissists, whereas you were asking about you, what did they think of you? Now you have no idea. This is why it’s so important to meet your heroes while you are young, so they can tell you.

— Keith Gessen, All The Sad Young Literary Men

As Duane Elgin has famously defined it, voluntary simplicity is ‘a manner of living that is outwardly simple and inwardly rich,… a deliberate choice to live with less in the belief that more life will be returned to us in the process.’ According to the most prominent historian of the Simplicity Movement, David Shi, the primary attributes of the simple life include: thoughtful frugality; a suspicion of luxuries; a reverence and respect for nature; a desire for self-sufficiency; a commitment to conscientious rather than conspicuous consumption; a privileging of creativity and contemplation over possessions; an aesthetic preference for minimalism and functionality; and a sense of responsibility for the just uses of the world’s resources. More concisely, Shi defines voluntary simplicity as ‘enlightened material restraint.’
Voluntary simplicity , furthermore, does not mean indiscriminately renouncing all the advantages of science and technology. It does not mean living in a cave, giving up all the benefits of electricity, or rejecting modern medicine. But it does question the assumption that science and technology are always the most reliable paths to health, happiness, and sustainability. […] Voluntary simplicity, then, involves taking a thoughtfully sceptical stance in relation to technology and science, rejecting those aspects which seem to cost more than they come to, all things considered.

— Samuel Alexander: Reimagining the Good Life Beyond Consumer Culture (Paper, link)

Citing David Shi, The Simple Life: Plain Living and High Thinking in American Culture and Duane Elgin, Voluntary Simplicity: Toward a Way of Life that is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich