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lono

What I am reading

the weird and highly subjective way I see it

Currently reading

Stranger in a Strange Land
Robert A. Heinlein
Progress: 228/438 pages
The Blazing World and Other Writings
Margaret Cavendish, Kate Lilley
Fifty Egg Timer Short Stories
Richard Bunning

Y E S

Yes Man - Danny Wallace

It is not because I needed to read a book on how to get an optimistic perspective on life that I came across Danny Wallaces book, but a couple of weeks ago I rewatched the Jim Carrey movie Yes Man (recommended btw) and noticed for the first time, that it was based on a book – and that made me curious. Also, while the lot of you are reading Halloween-themed stuff and my timeline here is filled with stories about ghosts, murderers and/or spooky stuff of all sorts (not complaining, do your thing, guys and girls), I also wanted to bring in some fresh air and diversity to your timelines as well. You’re welcome.

 

So basically, this book is about Wallace’s experiment to „say Yes more“, which means, he started saying „yes“ to basically anything and everything which led to a lot of new experiences – good ones, bad ones, strange ones and really awkward ones. Of course, there’s the obligatory responding to email spam and scams (he wrote this in 2005), but despite doing obviously stupid things like that,  it is a very nice read. Not very demanding in an intellectual kind of way, but entertaining and even a bit inspirational nonetheless.

And it is very British indeed!

Reading progress update: I've read 178 out of 402 pages.

Yes Man - Danny Wallace

Super optimistic (and so very British) entertainment :)

Mercier had a dream

Jahr 2440. Ein Traum aller Träume - Louis-Sébastien Mercier, Herbert Jaumann, Christian Felix Weiße

Oh dear. Sticking with the dream metaphor, I have to say that this book was a nightmare in more than one regard! After the very rough start it gives you thanks to the overly antiquated language, you’d think it would get better once you’re used to that, but this is not the case whatsoever, because all of L’an 2440 remains an exhausting, yet not really rewarding read.

 

First of all, Mercier must have had a severe footnote fetish. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that almost every page contains at least two of them, sometimes the footnotes even take up more space on the page than the actual text. And as if this wouldn’t have been enough distraction, there are hundreds of additional annotations and comments by the translator as well as editor of this book, so focusing on the already not electrifying plot is a serious challenge.

 

Secondly, instead of describing his utopian vision of Paris in 2440, Mercier is almost exclusively complaining about his 18th century present and – if you think about it – even this happens in a weird way. In his dream he talks to a bunch of 25th century people and it seems that every one of them must be a historian specialised in 18th century France, because they are very well informed about various details of everyday life during that time. And I mean very well informed indeed.

 

For a utopian novel there are hardly any innovations to be found, Merciers idea of improving the shitty present doesn’t go any further than having a "good" monarch ascend the throne and enact a bunch of morally improved laws. All in all, this is way too preachy, exhausting and too far off from the good old liberté, égalité and fraternité to enjoy reading it.

Reading progress update: I've read 70 out of 438 pages.

Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert A. Heinlein

Oh man, Science Fiction from the 60's... So. Much. Sexism.

I am having a lot of Logan's Run flashbacks.

The Sweet Science

The Sweet Science. Boxing and Boxiana: A Ringside View - A.J. Liebling

This is A. J. Lieblings fascinating (and very episodical) account of America’s golden age of boxing. It does not only deal with the careers of legendary fighters like Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano or Sugar Ray Robinson (amongst others), but it includes the people behind and next to those iconic boxers as well. I was probably pretty biased towards this book right from the very beginning, because after dreaming about it for years, I finally found the time (and the balls) to start boxing myself and regardless of all the initial insecurity, frustration, the never-ending soreness of muscles and every punch in the face I got since then, I still love every minute and every round of sparring!

 

I never thought it possible to write about boxing like this – graceful, incredibly poetic, insightful and humorous. AJ Lieblings sharp analyses show his enthusiasm – I would even go as far as calling it his love – for the sport and everyone involved in it. His understanding of fine pugilism itself helps him to find amazing metaphors, thus creating a poetic mixture of boxing and literature, filled with underlying (pretty sophisticated) jokes that will hit your jaw like a straight right as soon as you drop your guard for a second.
But The Sweet Science is also a celebration of nostalgia. By rendering an era before TV and commercial success started to ruin sports in general and drag it down to the publicity spectacle most of it is today, Liebling demonstrates what it meant to personally go to an event, to be there, being completely present in the moment and to not only observe what is going on around you, but to actively engage and interact with your environment.

 

There are indeed some downsides to this as well. First and foremost its outdatedness, by which I especially mean the television bashing and the slight, but persistent racism (he really tries hard to not only mention every fighters skin colour, but to also give you a very good idea of the exact shade of it). Also he is mainly focusing on the heavyweight division (as always), although he is mentioning some noteworthy light- and welterweights as well.

 

Overall I think that AJL succeeded in capturing the often overlooked beauty of boxing while at the same time elevating the craftsmanship of sportswriting to a whole new level. If you think like my mum (who still hates the idea of me putting on gloves) and consider boxing as being just another level of brawling, a dumb sport for brutal nincompoops who frantically swing at each other, I can only beg you to read this enthusiastic and lively account and let yourself be convinced of what a sweet, sweet science boxing truly is.

Reading progress update: I've read 116 out of 354 pages.

Jahr 2440. Ein Traum aller Träume - Louis-Sébastien Mercier, Herbert Jaumann, Christian Felix Weiße

So. Many. Footnotes!

 

Seriously, half of almost every page is filled with footnotes by the author, I can hardly focus on the text.

Reading progress update: I've read 174 out of 238 pages.

The Sweet Science. Boxing and Boxiana: A Ringside View - A.J. Liebling

Just to give you an example of why I am in love with this book:

 

"Next, a short but barrel-chested Puerto Rican lightweight came on with a thin fellow from Philadelphia; the weights were even, and it was a contest between a vertical line and a cube. This was better – the Philadelphian was resolute, although unduly prolonged, and the Puerto Rican appeared to be a great hitter, in a shot-putting style. ‘Look at him!’ a man behind me cried. ‘He looks like a monkey – you know – a griller!’ Having found his mot juste, he stuck to it for eight rounds. ‘A griller!’ he would exclaim whenever the Puerto Rican would up to pitch a fist. ‘A griller! A griller!’ The griller did not succeed in converting the Philadelphian into a horizontal, but he made him look like two sides of a triangle in search of a third."

Reading progress update: I've read 156 out of 238 pages.

The Sweet Science. Boxing and Boxiana: A Ringside View - A.J. Liebling

This is such a poetic way of writing about boxing - I would have never imagined that this was possible!

The Sweet Science

The Sweet Science. Boxing and Boxiana: A Ringside View - A.J. Liebling

What a way to start a book on boxing:

 

It is through Jack O’Brian, the Arbiter Elegantiarum Philadelphiae, that I trace my rapport with the historic past through the laying-on of hands. He hit me, for pedagogical example, and he had been hit by the great Bob Fitzsimmons, from whom he won the light-heavyweight title in 1906. Jack had a scar to show for it. Fitzsimmons had been hit by Corbett, Corbett by John L. Sullivan, he by Paddy Ryan, with the bare knuckles, and Ryan by Joe Goss, his predecessor, who as a young man had felt the fist of the great Jem Mace. It is a great thrill to feel that all that separates you from the early Victorians is a series of punches on the nose.

A labyrinth worth getting lost in

Physik der Schwermut - Georgi Gospodinov, Alexander Sitzmann

Believe it or not, but I bought and read this one solely because I might have (had) a little crush on the translator, who btw is not only a really sweet and charming guy, but he does an amazing job of translating Bulgarian into German as well.

 

I honestly wasn’t really expecting much from Physik der Schwermut, but surprisingly, it pulled me in really quickly with a multifaceted story that is not too easy to follow, but also not too hard, that is as twisted as it is exiting and as nostalgic as it is modern. Gospodinov wrote a very postmodern novel with an unreliable narrator, a protagonist with a fragmented self and some leaps in time as well as in space which takes the reader on a somewhat melancholic journey through the corridors of the Minotaur’s labyrinth mirrored by various European cities.

 

Gospodinov has an amazing way of creating different atmospheres and of playing around with ambiguity and irony on a literary level which you rarely come across in contemporary literature. What I am trying to say is, that basically this book had no reason for being this good.

The Boon and Bane of English

The Fall of Language in the Age of English - Minae Mizumura, Mari Yoshihara, Juliet Winters Carpenter

As always, Mizumura writes quite a long prologue before getting started with what she actually wants to say and as always, I quite enjoy reading it. Also, this is again going to be a long review, because, as always, Minae Mizumura deserves nothing less (but feel free, to just jump to the last paragraph for the bottom line).

 

In her first non-fiction book she deals with the question of what it means to read and write in ones own language in our modern era, where English is just all over the place. Thanks to our digital age, the almost absolute supremacy of the English language cannot be compared to any lingua franca before and there is some uncertainty about the question of the roles our national (non English) languages are going to play in the future.

 

The language we read, write and talk in has an enormous impact on our daily life and I say this out of my personal experience, because if I have leaned anything by (more or less) studying seven languages, it is that each and every one of them comes with an individual and unique mindset. There is this inevitable breaking point when you finally start to get a grip on any foreign language when you notice, that you do not only speak it, but when doing so, you also think in a different way. So, by imposing English on all of us non-English native speakers, chances are, that not only the language itself is imposed on us, but gradually the English culture and mindset are as well.

 

I am guilty of switching languages myself, because English is not my mother tongue, nor do I have any other reason to write in it, other than the fact that more people here understand English than German. The boon and bane of English as our modern day universal language is obvious. I undoubtedly consider it amazing to have a language in which I can communicate with people from all over the world. Especially here in Central Europe we are used to constantly having to deal with people from different countries who speak all sorts of languages (and I love this unique situation) and if you cannot find a common linguistic ground, it is just awesome that you have a lingua franca in which you can talk to each other. Yet at the same time, my mother tongue is very important to me, I love it, I can express myself the most eloquently and I am kind of getting sick and tired of having to write all academic papers in English, because if you don’t, chances are, no one will read them. Nonetheless, I consider myself fortunate, because I have learned a lot of languages and I enjoy nothing more than using them. I could not imagine being a monolingual, only speaking English – although let’s face it, this is probably all you need 90% of the time anywhere in the world (besides when visiting Russia and France – you go, guys!).

 

But back to Mizumura (but still staying in Europe). It was cute to read about an „outsider’s“ perspective on the European language scene, because even though most of the languages spoken here are Indo-European which means, that they can be traced back to the same root (a shout-out to all you Hungarian, Estonian and Finish folks!), that does not mean, that we mutually understand each other, which Mizumura for some reason seems to assume. Hell, I don‘t even understand some of my fellow Austrians if they choose to talk in their hardcore dialect.

 

And now to Japan. She naturally writes a lot about the development of the Japanese language and literature, including an enormous amount of facts which I was absolutely unaware of before. This was a lot to take in, which is one amongst many reasons why it took me so long to finish this book. Since I am by no means able to judge her historical sketch of Japanese language and culture from an academic point of view, I can only state my impressions about it. I cannot help but think, that her depiction of the Japanese and their relationship to literature in the 20th century is a highly elitist point of view (for I am pretty sure, that Japanese farmers had different concerns in their everyday life than to have smalltalk about translations of Western classic literature and I am also pretty convinced, that not every family read five different newspapers per day and had collections of classical literature in their bookshelves). Maybe I am wrong about this, but it just seemes to be a too good to be true picture in which she judged the whole of Japan by herself and her own standards.

 

Alright, bottom line: I am unsure of what to say. The book is a bit repetitive (200 pages is not that long, but it could have definitely been shorter) which makes some parts really tedious to read. For my taste, it was too nationalistic (but maybe that’s just my European mindset since I cannot judge Japan’s situation) as well as too elitist. I really enjoy her writing style (ironically judging by the English translation), but compared to A True Novel, I love Mizumura’s fiction way more than her facts. Last, but not least, The Fall of Language in the Age of English is not so much educational in itself (although you learn a lot about Japan), but it is really thought-provoking, it makes you reflect on your own linguistic situation and this alone makes it worth reading.

Tieck between genius and madness

Der gestiefelte Kater - Ludwig Tieck

So far I have known Tieck only as a translator, never before have I read anything originally written by him and now that I have, I feel like I have missed out on something great so far.

 

This Puss in Boots is probably the weirdest play I have ever read and considering it was first published in 1797 it must have been the first metadrama ever written. There is so much in this short play that anticipated a lot of Brechts later theatrical tactics and manoeuvres that I am baffled and convinced that Tieck’s Puss in Boots signifies the birth of the anti-illusional theatre. This is a play of a play, portraying the completely failed attempt to stage a play. Yet, there is neither a real play with a plot, nor a framing story, but everything there is, goes hand in hand and cannot be separated from each other.

 

The only two downsides I would have to mention is the pretty antiquated language and the very much outdated satire. But besides that, Brecht, Beckett and Stoppard are looking quite old in comparison here.

To read or not to read?

A Midsummer Night's Dream - William Shakespeare

I went to the theatre to see a performance of Macbeth (I am not superstitious, therefore I can say that) last week and that actually got me in the mood for some Shakespeare. But instead of re-reading one of his tragedies (out of which I really enjoy Macbeth the most, but this review actually has nothing to with Macbeth, so I am going to stop mentioning it now), I wanted to try a comedy for a change.

 

I have actually seen a performance of A Midsummernight’s Dream a couple of years ago, but honestly I do not remember anything about it – which shoud have struck me as a bad sign to begin with. Anyway, after reading it, it now makes sense, that I forgot all about this play, because it really is a pretty shallow one (sorry to all of you hardcore Shakespeare fanboys and fangirls out there). It might also be possible, that I am only confused because nobody died and, reading Shakespeare, that is a first for me.

But A Midsummernight’s Dream was not my taste and considering my love for Russian literature, I might be more the kill-everyone-at-the-end instead of the they-now-live-happily-ever-after type of person in generall. Well, at least now I know that for sure.

Reading progress update: I've read 25 out of 87 pages.

Der gestiefelte Kater - Ludwig Tieck

Way to go. Instead of finishing Minae Mizumuras book which I am currently reading, I just started another one.

A literary break

Krankenzimmer Nr. 6. Erzählung Eines Unbekannten. - Peter Urban, Gerhard Dick, Ada Knipper, Anton  Čechov

The two stories in this volume (Ward No. 6 and The Story of an Unknown Man) were a short break for me while I am reading and writing almost exclusively for my master thesis, because I needed some change and some literary input. This is the first time, I read prose written by Čechov, so far, I only enjoyed his late plays, in which, I have to say, the language is a bit more refined.

Still, I really enjoyed both stories and I cannot decide which one was my favourite. While Ward No. 6 definitely had the more interesting topic, The Story of an Unknown Man was captivating due to its unique mixture of elements from Čechov, Lermontov and Dostoevskij. I was (pleasantly) surprised by the amount of philosophy explicitly thrown into both stories, basically because this is something I haven’t seen Čechov do in his plays.

Bottom line: one can never read enough of Čechov.

Reading progress update: I've read 91 out of 196 pages.

Krankenzimmer Nr. 6. Erzählung Eines Unbekannten. - Peter Urban, Gerhard Dick, Ada Knipper, Anton  Čechov

I needed a short break from all the materials and even the topic of my master thesis and what better to read in this case than Čechov?

 

I just finished Čechovs story Ward No. 6, which I can assure you is amazing!