Monday, May 9, 2011

My books in April 2011

Last month I had quite some work with John Updike. I really liked "Seek My Face" and I am still a bit unhappy that I did not use half of the notes I made about it. I could write a seperate essay alone about the artworks mentioned in the book, their background and in lots of cases my personal connection to the them.

After this intense experience I was longing for some easier reads and decided to go for Steven Chbosky's "The Perks of Being a Wallflower". The story takes place in Pittsburgh and this month the filming of the related movie starts in the The Burgh, which is a good reason to pick up the book - at least for me.

"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" was btw the first book ever I read completely on my new Kindle. Although I still LOVE printed books (just like I also still like collecting CDs) I have to say the reading experience is really comfortable and relaxing for the eye. I am spending lots and lost of hours every day with staring on a notebook screen and my eyes are often very tired. This is why an eye-relaxing reading technology is very welcome. It is also definitely a pro that the little machine weights almost nothing. Finally I love the fact that purchasing a book is so easy and fast. A few buttons pressed and *zooom* - it's there. Very dangerous :)

The 2nd book was also a short and quick and relaxing read - which does not mean it was not impressing ... not all. The first time I read "The Great Gatsby" about 20 years ago - in German. When I found the paperback of the English original around Christmas for the super cheap price of 3.50 EUR I thought it would be a very good idea to read it again - in the original version - and now I finally found the time to do it.

But before I get too detailed already in the introduction ... let's get started.

Steve Chbosky - The Perks of Being a Wallflower


The novel tells the story of one year in the life of Charlie - 16-year-old boy from Pittsburgh. It is about the first serious love, friendship and the long journey of finding out who you are and how to learn to live with it.

It's a book about a teenager and I would say also directed to a teenage audience. That means I am about almost 20 years out of target group, but the story dates back to 1991 / 1992. Charlie celebrates his 16th birthday on December 24 1991. I celebrated my 18th birthday on December 25 1991. So I DO relate ...

Charlie is a bit of a shy guy, an outsider, but this year he will step out and finally find friends, will feel the joy and pain of a first deep love, gain some confidence in his talents and fight down an old trauma. A BIG YEAR for Charlie and he tells about it from his very own perspective in the form of letters he writes to an anonymous recipient.

Like you know already from older posts I put together my random thoughts about the book:

  • FORT PITT TUNNEL: I JUST wrote about it here. The famous entrance to Downtown Pittsburgh is the stage for a some of the key scenes in the book. I am glad that they do the film at the real location. The story in general could take place almost everywhere, but these scenes really, really need to be done right there in the tunnel and on Fort Pitt Bridge.
  • The music: Charlie loves The Smiths. When I was his age and an awkward, kind of dorky teenager I loved The Smiths as well. I still do. Morrissey will celebrate his 55th birthday at May 22. TIME is something very scary and I sometimes feel old.
  • The music II: I do miss tapes. I love all the modern techie stuff ... fancy phones, tiny MP3 players, small computers of all kinds, ebook readers - the full range of things, but I do miss tapes. I don't know why, but putting together a MP3 collection for a special person is not half as charming and emotional than doing a mix tape with your favorite songs carefully compiled, perfectly timed - meaningfull tone by tone.
  • The books: Charlie finds in his teacher Bill a friend who suppports his writing talent and interest in literature with giving him a special collection of books to read in addition to the normal curriculum. There are lots of great books like "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee (I LOVE this book!), "The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald" (see below), "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac (which I will always remember by the perfect German summary once made by my sister "Kiffen, f***en, weiterfahren".) or "Hamlet" by William Shakespeare.
    I wish more kids would have some guidance by chosing their books at this age and - even more important - would care about books at all. I was lucky - I read almost all the books mentioned and mostly I did when I was around Charlie's age.
  • Christmas kids: Charlie and I are Christmas kids ... almost. In the US Christmas is celebrated December 25 - his birthday is the 24th. In Germany Christmas is celebrated December 24 - my birthday is the 25th. That means although our families tried their best most people have other things to do when we get a year older. You get used to it.
     Charlie and I have much more in common than just the birthday scenario. I can deeply relate to the way he feels about things, like he tries to express his feelings and sometimes does not and the way he lives parts of his life very much inside himself.
Lots of things I like and lots of deep thoughts for such a small novel. You may wonder why I just chose "I LIKE" and not "I LOVE" like I usually do, when I am ethusiastic about a book.
The reason is the final storyline. The trauma that Charlie is suffering from. Chbosky uses this storyline to tie his novel together. That is where it starts and ends, butI think this storyline is redundant. Charlie is special even without this extra drama. There is no need to put up this additional pound. In my eyes it even weakens the whole plot. The story would be stronger and clearer without it ... sometimes less is more. Old learning, but still true.
Nevertheless I loved reading it and if you are 16 (not very likely) or have been around 16 in the early 90ies (much more likely ;) and if you like music and literature I can recommend "The Perks of Being a Wallflower".

F. Scott Fitzgerald - The Great Gatsby


This won't be a review. It definitely does not need a 30-something German blogger to review one of the most important, most famous, most popular classic American novels ever. But I will add some of my thoughts around the book here.

The storyline - If you really do not know ... here is the summary.
  • The movie(s): I usually do not like it too much when books are turned into movies, because the movie in my head is usually much better than the real one and I hate to kill my phantasy with the one of somebodyelse, but of course there are exceptions. Let's take for example Kundera's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" - a fantastic book, but also a great movie with Daniel Day-Lewis, Lena Olin and Juliette Binoche.
    Jay Gatsby will always have for me the face of a young Robert Redford (could be worse) from the related movie with Mia Farrow and Sam Waterston directed by the Francis Ford Coppola.

    Baz Luhrmann is doing a remake this summer with Leonardo di Caprio, Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan. Honestly ... I could not be less interested. I am not a fan of this cast and the space in my brain is already taken by my own inner movie and the Coppola one. No need for a new version ... at least for me.
  • Long Island: I am hanging around Long Island a lot lately ... virtually. I mean - Sag Harbor, where John Steinbeck lived and started and ended his "Travely with Charley", is on Long Island, big parts of the story told in "Seek My Face" is taking place of Long Island and with "The Great Gatsby" were are back to Long Island again. I wasn't out there when I was in NYC this time, but when I was there 10 years ago my local friend lived there and I had the pleasure to stay with her directly at the beach. I loved it. This wild landscape of sand, ocean, salt, horizon and wind is only minutes drives away from New York City - what a very powerful combination.
  • Emotions: The scene when Gatsby waits to meet Daisy, when years of waiting, years of loving her only from a far distance and more in his heart and head and phantasy than for real get close to the resolution, when he goes through all kind of emotions and almost cannot stand it, is one of my favorite scenes in a book ever.
  • The summer: Remember the Gatsby reference in "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" when Michael Chabon mentions in his notes that the concept of using the time period of one single summer as framework for his novel was borrowed from "The Great Gatsby"? Here is the original ... based one one feverish summer heading for the tragic end right in the night when suddenly from one moment to the next the heat of the late August day makes place for a coolish fall night and ends the summer irretrievably.
  • Writing: If you ever considered writing a novel and wondered how to structure a story, how to create an arc of suspense, how to introduce and draw strong characters. Read this one - you can learn a lot.
This book might be physically a small one (my paperback has a little more than 180 pages), but it is a giant.

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