Over the past couple of years I’ve discovered two entirely different, yet equally entertaining bookish quarterlies that, along with so many of you book bloggers out there that I try to catch up with, have taken my reading and book-love to the next level. Along with the cosy, beautifully produced Slightly Foxed, which I’ve rattled on about on here a couple of times before, the wonderful folk at Penguin have just recently brought out their own publication to help us reignite our enthusiasm with the changing seasons.
The two editions of The Happy Reader that have landed on my doorstep so far have been simply awesome. Concentrating on a classic of world literature every quarter, the magazine splits itself in two; concentrating on one hand on an interview with a well-known book lover (e.g. the charming Dan Stevens for Winter ’14) and on the second with exploring the many different themes and facets of a famous work of literature. So far I’ve exercised some serious self-control not to race to the end to see what book is in-store for the following edition. It’s sort of like being in a long-distance book club since you can only really get the most out of the magazine after having read the book in question.
Our treat for Spring 2015 was The Book of Tea; the ever-philosophical ode to ‘Teaism’ by early 20th century Japanese author Kakuzo Okakura. Born in Yokohama in 1862, Okakura grew to be a well-respected scholar of the arts who was both well-traveled and deeply aware of the advantages and beauty of Japanese ascetic life; the tea room and rituals being central to this.
Divided into several sections that take us from the general concepts of Tao and Zenism to the use of art and flowers in the tea room, this slim volume takes us through each step, from the more general and philosophical to how to make the perfect brew, making The Book of Tea essential reading for anyone wanting to achieve that perfect harmony and quietness of mind that makes some Eastern philosophies so attractive.
Finding myself a cosy little corner one sunny Sunday afternoon, this book was the perfect accompaniment to a cheeky glass of wine, leaving me with a profound sense of serenity I rarely get from just any book (NB: as a perfect test this feeling remained unbroken through the ten minute break in which I had to chase and catch a mouse around the living room; a ‘present’ my over-excited cat dragged in).
Did some of the philosophy go way over my head? Sure. Was this experience teetering on the edge of an abyss where beauty and learning becomes study? Perhaps. However, regardless of my ignorance the exploration of exquisite Japanese traditions and the school of learning that encourages its’ students to appreciate the very simplest joys in life was not only calming but fascinating all the same . Although Okakura’s English was far better than my own and indeed many English-speaking authors I’ve read, there is a slight foreign flavour in the prose that really works, dragging us back to comprehend just how pivotal this little leaf has been in crucial moments throughout history (e.g. the Boston Tea Party).
I don’t know about you other Englishes out there but I’m sure many of you find, like me, that a good brew does help to break the ice/calm one down and I honestly for one don’t know where I would be without my quiet afternoon pause. Cultures across the globe, no matter what method they use to make it, or situation in which they drink it, would I’m sure be lost without it. Okakura certainly takes this message home. Don’t take your Tetleys for granted, there’s some real magic and medicine in that little bag…