Saturday, September 19, 2009

Bookself #3 Wrap-Up... The Shelf of Dreams

A couple of weeks ago, I showed you a photograph of this shelf and asked for opinions. It was a shelf filled with books about Ireland, Scotland, England, and Tsarist Russia. Some of the books were travel guides, but most were not.

Some of you were surprised that I was interested in Tsarist Russia. Some of you thought I might be a world traveler. One person thought I might come in handy when planning a trip to Scotland. (I just might as long as she doesn't want info about the cities!)

Two of the books that piqued your interest were

The Irish World kept me fascinated for hours as I read about Irish art and culture through the ages. How the Scots Invented the Modern World is a book that I very much need to finish as many of my ancestors are from that country. The author describes a very poor nation whose countrymen somehow reached out around the globe and had a hand in modernizing the world. How did they do it? Let me see... it all started with (1) books and (2) education. Go figure!

One of the nice things about traveling in a country where many villages, cities and buildings are hundreds of years old is that I can look through a book like the AA Illustrated Road Book of Scotland (printed in 1972) and I don't have to worry about the places having disappeared. Sure the hours they're open may have changed, but the history remains the same. I'd hate to tell you how many hours I turned the pages of this book with the hot pink cover. The pages are thin, almost like tissue paper, and they must be turned carefully. But oh, what wonderful things are waiting to be discovered!

The AA Illustrated Guide to Britain is another of my books that dates from the 1970s, and its color photography and descriptions of all sorts of places to visit certainly fueled my mania to travel to the UK. I can smile at certain pages now, knowing that I've actually been to the places I dreamed about for years.

I would have to say, however, that the books on that shelf that have fueled the most dreams are the books about Tsarist Russia. After all, it hasn't existed for almost one hundred years. Pouring over books about Nicholas and Alexandra, looking at photographs of their books, their clothing, their furniture... going through books of photographs that were taken during the period... I was not only an armchair traveler; I was also traveling through time. Books like these can make history and historical fiction come to life!

Of all the books on this shelf of dreams, there is one book that put the details in the dreams. There is one book that I would take with me to that desert isle. There is one book that has such lush and vivid descriptive passages that I remember them years later. Which book am I talking about? Suzanne Massie's Land of the Firebird, The Beauty of Old Russia. She totally immerses me in her subject. I can read her descriptions, close my eyes...and I'm there. It's as simple as that.

So there you have the latest bookself. It's a shelf of travels, both real and imagined. But more than that, it's a shelf of dreams induced by the power and beauty of words.

Do you have an author whose writing is so powerful that he/she can write a scene and it's so clear in your mind that you feel as though you're there? You can see it? Feel it? Hear it? Smell it?


  1. Hi, Cathy,
    There's an award for you at my
    Splashed and Lovely space.

  2. I read Nicholas & Alexandra by Robert Massie. It was a fascinating and amazing story of Tsar Nicholas II's Imperial Dynasty, the revolution, his relationship with Alexandria and the doomed empire. I loved the descriptions of the buildings, the castles, the clothing and the Faberge eggs, unbelievable & so beautiful I wanted to go to Russia to see it all ever since!

  3. Oh Cathy, I can tell you still have the flu, because you are pouring over your books rather than poring! I hope you feel better soon.

    Lots of authors can do that for me - I think I enter the fictive dream rather willingly. Among US authors who write for adults, Barbara Kingsolver comes to mind as a stand out.

  4. Yes, I do have an author who takes me into her world instantly. Louise Penny only has to write a couple words to take me into the world of Three Pines in Quebec. It's a village that you need in order to find it, and I wish I could actually live there. (Although there are an exceptionally high number of murders for such a small village.) And, I'm lucky enough to be reading her new book, A Brutal Telling, so I'm in her world this weekend.


  5. Margot--Thank you so much!

    Amy-- As good as Nicholas and Alexandra is, it doesn't hold a candle to Suzanne Massie's Land of the Firebird. I really suggest that you find a copy and read it. It is superb!

    Susan-- I think I'm a willing entrant myself. The author usually has to do something drastic to boot me out of their book!

    Lesa-- I love Louise Penny, too, and I would love to spend some time in Three Pines. However, as much as I love Three Pines, Ms. Massie's Land of the Firebird went well past those books in creating a world for me.


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