Sunday, October 24, 2010

New series: My books - First issue: May to September 2010

Inspired by the upcoming Munich Literature Festival I decided to launch a new monthly series, where I will introduce to you the books I read the past month. I will mostly (sometimes I might not be able to keep my mouth shut ;) not give full reviews, but quick Facebook style "I like" / "I don't like" statements with short description of the reasons for my thumb up or down. 

As for the potential interactive part of this I would LOVE to hear your opinion if you maybe already read one ore more of the books mentioned in my postings or / and get recommendations from you what should be next on my reading list.

This kick off will be massive because I'll cover all summer, but don't be shocked: Once I am on my planned monthly schedule it won't be that much stuff anymore - especially in the next couple of months when Christmas business will force me to a sleep-work-work-work-sleep rhythm of life.

All right - so let's get started with the books of the summer 2010:

John Updike "The Maples Stories"


but I had a rough time learning to like it. This book is a collection of short stories, which follow all a couple - The Maples - from being newlywed to family with kids to divorce and finally the birth of a grandchild.

John Updike is famous for his sharp and (self-)critical view on the American middle class people and their relationships. So the content of this book is no suprise, but I am from another generation, from Europe and I grew up as the kid of a happily married, not cheating couple. So it was not easy for me to enter the world of "The Maples", but the longer I tried the better it worked and in the end I really enjoyed reading.

And it is not really necessary to mention that Updike was a fantastic storyteller and a must read for everybody interested in the (American) English language, isn't it? And that is why more of his books are on my "will read" mountain of paper stored in my apartment.

Elif Batuman - "The Possessed - adventures with russian books and the people who read them"


so much. I really thought that I read enough Russian books and had enough insight in Eastern European culture and history (including a degree in Eastern European History as minor subject in my master program) to enjoy this book, which got mostly good reviews, but in the end it seems I was not enough of a specialist to have really fun reading it.
I really enjoyed the parts of the book when Elif Batuman described with a nice dry sense of humor her travels, but the literature related part was mostly too deep into topics I am not familiar enough with.

I am sorry to say, but the best part for me was at the very end her short love story with a Croatian student who ended up being a priest on a tiny Dalmatian island. She definitely struggled to understand the Croatian mentality. Maybe she can teach me more about Russian books one day and I'll explain her some certain things about Croatian men ;) - deal?

Steven Galloway - The Cellist of Sarajevo


although this is for sure not 100% fair. The writing is really not bad and the (Canadian) author put a LOT of effort into research to tell things right, describe places and events right and to create believable characters. This is not a bad piece of work, but sorry - it is not feeling right.

This book practically fell down to my feet in a San Francisco book shop and I bought it because I knew the story of the real
Vedran Smajlović and also loved the small tribute given to him at the end of one of my favorite movies - "Welcome to Sarajevo". And that movie is also leading me to the reason of the "I don't like":

The movie by Michael Winterbottom is telling the story from a foreigner's point of view. A very involved foreigner indeed, but he never pretends to tell from the perspective of the besieged Bosnian people. Other than that Galloway tries to tell his story from even this perspective and - in my opinion - fails. Non-Bosnians should not tell Bosnian stories, sorry - but that is how I see it. For the same reason I do not believe in Angelina Jolie's recent movie work, but we'll see.

Aleksandar Hemon - "The Question of Bruno"
Aleksandar Hemon -  "Love and Obstacles"

so so so so so much! I bless the day the wonderful Marica Bodrožić posted a short quote from Aleksandar Hemon's "The Lazarus Project" on her blog and recommended the whole book to me, which I bought, inhaled and enjoyed like I've not enjoyed a book for a looong time. Since then I am SO IN LOVE with Aleksandar Hemon's writing. It is poetic, metaphoric, intense, sad, funny, heart breaking, heart healing and much more. All carried by the very special and wonderful use of the English language by the Sarajevo born and Chicago based author.

I very much read the stuff in the wrong order. I started with the novel "The Lazarus Project", continued with the latest short story collection "Love and Obstacles", went back to the very beginning to the short story collection "The Question of Bruno" and now have only the Bruno-follow-up-novel "Nowhere Man" left, which I will read soon with tears in my eyes, because I read so much faster than Aleksandar Hemon can write.
But although I mixed up with the order of the books it doesn't hurt. You can do that and I found it amazing to see clearly how he developed his story telling and how he more and more made the English language his own without loosing his special style. A style you can probably only create when you write in a language which is not your first one.

And by the way: All that "right" feeling in the gut I was missing reading "The Cellist of Sarajevo" is right there in "The Question of Bruno" reflecting in some cases very similiars scenarios in the besieged city of Sarajevo.

Tom Stoppard - Rock 'N' Roll


But before I recommend this to you, you need work on the following check list:

- You like reading plays.

- You like reading Stoppard plays (this is not the perfect choice for your first Stoppard read so you better already know some of his work).

- You have basic knowledge and interest in the history of the Czech Republic.

- You have a basic idea who Václav Havel and Milan Kundera are.

- You read at least one novel of Milan Kundera ("The Unbearable Lightness of Being" is of course the "must read" and I would also strongly recommend the wonderful "Immortality").

- Names like Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, U2 mean something to you and you understand that music is so much more than just entertainment.

- You like the ancient Greek (love) poetry of Sappho.

- You can handle it when a book with only 118 pages (already including a lot of additional material and comments) tells a story which has more layers than a giant onion.

If you can agree to at least 4 to 5 points there is a good chance that you'll like "Rock 'N' Roll". If it is less than 4 it could be critical, I guess.

Since I could answer almost all questions above with yes, I enjoyed "Rock'N'Roll" a lot although it will never win over my all time Stoppard favorite "Arcadia" (LOVE IT!).

Asking myself why it did not touch me as much as "Arcadia" I would say it is mostly because it has - just my humble opinion though - a couple of layers too much. I think a little less would have been more and would have made it a bit easier to go emotionally after the big hits like for example the betrayal of the main character on his father like friend. But that is just a small complaint about a great book and play.


Nick Hornby - Juliet, Naked


it soooo much that I already wrote a huge blog post about the book and my "stolen diaries", which you can check out

That's it for summer 2010 - more to come in the first week of November with the books of October.

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