1757 Companions
28 Accompanied
lono

What I am reading

the weird and highly subjective way I see it

Currently reading

The Sweet Science. Boxing and Boxiana: A Ringside View
A.J. Liebling
Progress: 14/238 pages
The Blazing World and Other Writings
Margaret Cavendish, Kate Lilley
Fifty Egg Timer Short Stories
Richard Bunning

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!

Reading progress update: I've read 71 out of 221 pages.

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

Slow but steady is what I would call my reading progress here..

 

The book is super interesting though. I just wish, I'd have more time to read!

Reading progress update: I've read 36 out of 221 pages.

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

Minae Mizumura IS BACK!

… at least in my bookshelf. As far as I know, the real Minae Mizumura didn’t go anywhere, so why would she be back.

 

Anyways, this is her first non-fiction book and so far it is written (= translated) so beautifully!

The First Vonnegut

Player Piano - Kurt Vonnegut

Well, this was disappointing.

 

Player Piano was not a good book, although everything about it seemed so promising at first – I hate it, when that happens! I really adore Vonnegut, therefore it is hard for me to admit, that he really did come a long way since his first novel and that he was not born the amazing writer I know him to be. Also, on the bright side – I am now convinced, that there is hope for every single amateur writer out there.

 

The whole story of a couple of very smart people planning a revolution and to overthrow the system (which I had a very hard time getting into right from the start) reminded me a lot of Superstoe and I am wondering if Mr. Borden was a fan of Vonnegut as well? Probably.

 

But instead of rambling and complaining about why I didn’t like Player Piano I tried to find something to take away from having read it. You know, always focus on the glass that is half-full. So I interpret it as a search for a purpose in life, because as comfortable as it is if you’re provided for concerning all your basic needs, it does not quite make life worth living per se (especially if machines are doing all the providing-work). Everybody needs a purpose in life and wants to feel useful in some way or another. The other thing I am taking away from Player Piano is the importance to just give a damn about what you are doing. I think this is something I (if not we all) ought to embrace more these days.

Reading progress update: I've read 105 out of 320 pages.

Player Piano - Kurt Vonnegut

"History has a way of showing us what, in retrospect, are very logical solutions to awful messes."

 

It took me quite some time (time equals pages in this case) to get into the story of Player Piano, but now I think, we're getting somewhere.

Missed the beat

The Beats: A Graphic History - Peter Kuper, Harvey Pekar, Gary Dumm, Trina Robbins, Ed Piskor, Nancy J. Peters, Jay Kinney, Nick Thorkelson, Anne Timmons, Paul Buhle, Joyce Brabner, Mary Fleener, Penelope Rosemont, Lance Tooks, Summer McClinton, Jerome Neukirch, Jeffrey Lewis

The first 121 pages follow a clear concept, namely to explore the life of the Core-Beat poets Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs. Those stories are either pretty much focused on their homoerotic sexlife or on the very basics of them moving around a lot while switching from one odd job to the next or running out of money. And those facts are somehow presented in a less entertaining way than in any reasonable wikipedia article.

 

The second half is a bit more random. Different illustrators and writers focus on various poets, on some special perspective or aspect associated with the Beats, but they never get enough space to adequately deal with the subjects. I got the impression, that their goal was to somehow cram as many poets in there as possible, sort of a better-than-usual-because-illustrated name-dropping.

 

The constant changing in the style of the artwork in the second half of the book gets really annoying and speaking of the artwork in general, I think it was shockingly mediocre and the portrayed poets did not necessarily resemble their real life alter egos if you compare them to actual footage or photographs. Don’t get me wrong – it is better than anything I could ever do, but also, I am not earning my living as an illustrator.

Reading progress update: I've read 53 out of 208 pages.

The Beats: A Graphic History - Peter Kuper, Harvey Pekar, Gary Dumm, Trina Robbins, Ed Piskor, Nancy J. Peters, Jay Kinney, Nick Thorkelson, Anne Timmons, Paul Buhle, Joyce Brabner, Mary Fleener, Penelope Rosemont, Lance Tooks, Summer McClinton, Jerome Neukirch, Jeffrey Lewis

So far, so good.

Pretty focused on the Beats sex life.

The Gore of the War

Das Menschenschlachthaus - Wilhelm Lamszus

This is a book that needs some time for digesting. Even today and even for me.

 

Das Menschenschlachthaus (The Human Slaughterhouse) was a bestseller back in the days of 1912, years before books by Barbusse or Remarque were written, even before WW1 broke out. Lamszus, a cocksure pacifist who devoted his life to fight for peace tried to warn his audience of the dangers and devastating consequences of industrialised warfare. In his fictional scenario of a war between France and Germany he features the euphoria at the beginning and the resignation in the end, there are trenches, mines, shitty weather, the effects of machine guns against flesh and blood, the horrors of wounded soldiers, the nightmare visions of field hospitals, so basically WW1 without the gas.

 

The language is incredible, Lamszus knew how to make a point (no wonder, Barbusse was a fan of his). It’s great and easy to read, yet hard to take in.

Logan runs and Jessica stumbles along

Logan's Run  - William F. Nolan, George Clayton Johnson

I am still very much into dystopian fiction and Logan’s Run seemed like a classic must-read to me.

 

The story in a nutshell would be a future earth society in which everybody has to go or is being put to „sleep“ at the age of 21. If you want to live longer, you can try to run. But you will most likely be hunted down by the so called Sandmen or be killed by some renegades, outlaws, cyborgs or robots. Logan and Jessica run, survive various adventures, fall in love aaaand happy (yet kind of open) ending.

 

The novel has a classic late 60s setup – a strong, smart, goal-oriented, enduring white male protagonist and a pretty, quiet, cooperative, helpless female companion who stumbles and falls down a lot or who gets stripped naked and tied to a rock, waiting for rescue. And these rescue manoeuvres sometimes get quite ridiculous. I mean, at one point, Logan is forced to have sex with six lovely ladies in order to get an antidote and to save Jessica. Need I say more?

 

Logan’s Run is an okay entertainment, definitely no world-class literature and filled with 60s sexism, racism and all sorts of prejudices, also, the writing sometimes jumps between first and third person narration. But, let’s face it – it had me with words like „rebel hipsters“ or „pleasure gypsy“ on page one.

 

…just a side note: this is one of the rare occasions in which I think that the movie really is way better, because the story (in the movie) makes more sense and is less focused on showing what a tough guy Logan is.