My World Through Stories

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An imagined world

Montreal, Canada

Meditations, Marcus Aurelius
Peter Pan, J.M. Barry

I studied part of my literature major in a fall semester at McGill University. We arrived in the summer, after a month travelling west coast USA, and the musical city was intoxicating, ringing with Quebecois French, wild celebrations, strange experiences and layers of history. I had four lit subjects, each requiring a text a week. My book/play/poetry collection was too heavy to ship home so I sold most of it to a Canadian friend one snowy night before Christmas. He gave me his personal copy of Meditations in return, to this day one of my most treasured literary items. Of all the wonderful texts I read throughout the shockingly beautiful fall several stand out to me, but for some reason none more so than the original Peter Pan, which I studied along with Romeo & Juliet and My Own Private Idaho for a comparative essay on boy gang culture.

 

Calgary, Canada

Beauty Tips From Moose Jaw, Will Ferguson

Obtained from a hostel bookshelf in Calgary on a solitary trip to the Canadian Rockies, one of many expeditions out from Montreal. I read this at the start of my Canadian residency and the quirky anecdotes and bizarre historic detail established in me a new respect for the cultural diversity of the great maple-leaf nation.

 

Paris Eurail Trip

The English Assassin, Daniel Silva

Purchased in a second-hand bookshop in Montmartre for three euro it was one of few English-language books on offer and elicited a patronising smirk from the bearded shop-guy. Not my usual fare, it turned out to be a fantastic scenic parallel to our trans-European journey. And the heroine was a violinist convalescing in Portugal.

 

Sola Voce European Tour

An Equal Music, Vikram Seth

The tomb of Monteverdi is in Basilica di Santa Maria dei Frari, Venice

The tomb of Monteverdi is in Basilica di Santa Maria dei Frari, Venice

One of my all-time favourite books, as much for the time of life in which I discovered it as for the story itself. I bought a second copy from a bookshop in Montreal and reread this during a tour of Europe with a chamber choir from the University of Queensland. Violin was my major degree study so I felt an intimate connection with the protagonist and the way music, both craft and passion, was an inseparable part of his identity. His string quartet performed in Vienna and Venice and our choir toured to these places and more, the pieces we sang becoming a soundtrack to our incredible experiences just as the music Michael plays parallels his doomed love affair. The writing is astonishingly beautiful and full of melancholic depth and I’ve never read another author who has such a nuanced understanding of the intricacies of Art music practise and the lesser-performed masterpieces of the Western canon.

 

Oahu, USA

On the Road, Jack Kerouac

On my second trip to Hawaii I had just finished Kerouac’s famously meandering roman á clef. Though it had little connection to Oahu it nevertheless leant a deeper magnificence to the Pacific sunsets.

 

Penang & Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

On Stranger Tides, Tim Powers

I have a thing for pirates and so does Malaysia, whose history is drenched in nautical mishaps and adventure. A perfect book for resort poolsides, a Singapore sling in one hand and a view of the Straits of Malacca before you.

 

Piazza del Campo in Siena, Italy

Piazza del Campo in Siena, Italy

Siena, Italy

Under the Tuscan Sun and Bella Tuscany, Frances Mayes

As part of an extensive overseas trip we spent a week in a villa in the Sienese countryside. It was as exquisite as it sounds, made all the more so by Mayes’s portraits of Tuscan life and epicurean recommendations. Thanks to her we discovered an antiques fair at the top of Arezzo hill and the pure delight of fava beans with pecorino fresco and local sangiovese.

 

Paris, France

A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway

Having read The Sun Also Rises for my lit studies, invoking an endless love of Hemingway, it comes as no surprise that one of the greatest moments of my life was purchasing A Moveable Feast from Shakespeare & Company before walking in the rain along Rue Mouffetard.

 

Vernazza, Italy

Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell

I found this book while revisiting a little apartment in Vernazza, Italy, on the last leg of a world trip. This was before it became a hyper-marketed movie so I had no idea what to expect. I’m still not sure what to make of it, but the novel reads a bit like a travel narrative touching on various parts of the globe and traversing huge spans of time. For me it evoked a similar feeling to travelling around the world, that anchorless, ageless sensation. The musical tale of Robert Frobisher was a special gem for me, as was the seafarer’s bookending narrative.

 

New York City, USA

The New York Trilogy, Paul Auster
The Elements of Style, William Strunk, Jnr, & E.B. White

On my third trip to NYC my husband and I spent one week in the East Village and another in Green Point, Brooklyn. Every minute was perfect, and littered with literary memories. The shelves of our East Village apartment were full of contemporary sociology books, and I spent a glorious morning in the JP Morgan Library & Museum, and an equally glorious afternoon wandering the hallowed halls of the Public Library. Not to mention McNally Jackson in Soho, the Met rare book collection and the gorgeous bookshop attached to the MoMA. I bought Auster’s trilogy in the gift shop of the Whitney Museum and reading it later was amazed at the true New York-ness of his hyper-realistic style. Another grand life-moment was purchasing the latest edition of Strunk & White’s style bible from The Strand.

 

Pool deck of the Eastern & Oriental Hotel

Georgetown, Malaysia

The Quiet American, Graham Greene

It’s fair to say Penang has stolen my heart, in a manner on par with New York City and Rome, due in no small part to its 20th century literary heritage. It’s one of few places in South East Asia that bring together many extreme historic influences because of its unique geographic location: sitting at the heart of the shipping lanes that bore the lifeblood of world culture for more than 3000 years. Penang counts in its history an ancient Austronesian settlement, a Persian dynasty, the oldest Sultanate in the world, a port for the Dutch East India Company, a British colonial fortress, Chinese opium wars, and Japanese occupation in WW2. Greene’s book is set in Vietnam but finds its place alongside many authors of that era who were fascinated by the South China Seas, such as Anthony Burgess, Somerset Maugham, Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling and Noel Coward. I read this book with my mother on the pool deck of the Eastern & Oriental where Maugham himself penned several novels.

Elise Janes

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