Samstag, 7. Juli 2012

Au Revoir

Yesterday was the date I anticipated most for many months: the last day of school. Finally I have passed all tests, written all essays, done all research projects and, thank God, received my certificate.
What lies before me now are two golden months of summer holidays before the madness begins again.
Summer holidays mean reading, sleeping until noon, lazy afternoons at the pool - and travelling.
Tomorrow my dad, Honeyponey and I are leaving at an unearthly hour for France. At least when she's in a good mood Honey is the sweetest "little" sister you can imagine, she is 18 but doesn't quite act her age, and my dad is a slightly confused person anyway, so most of the planning and navigation of our trip will be up to me. I don't really mind though, if nothing else it will be a splendid opportunity to practise my French. Five years of learning have to amount to something, don't they?

According to the plan we will be touring the south of France for the next two weeks and the weather is currently the very picture of summer, so I am really excited. From Graz we will drive to San Remo in Italy first  and then further on to France, along the shore of the legendary Côte d'Azur with a stop in Monaco to the Provence and then as far west as to Toulouse. I am still trying to convince my dad to extend the trip to Andorra for a day, but even if he doesn't give in I will still see places as famous as Nice, Cannes, Marseille, Avignon, Nîmes and Carcassonne. I think to say that I am excited is in fact the understatement of the year.
The only drop of bitterness is that I will not be around to blog and read your posts for two whole weeks. I will have a hard time catching up on all of you once I'm back!

I don't expect to have much time for reading, but since I never leave home without a book I am of course taking some Victorians with me. Wuthering Heights will stay in Austria because somehow I'm having a hard time getting into it and I'd rather read it when I'm craving some Bronte romance instead of having to force myself to read it. Apart from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (short stories are fantastic for travelling) I will also be taking my edition of Oscar Wilde's plays with me and probably finish An Ideal Husband. 
Anyway, what I am most excited about is North and South, I have read the first hundred pages and want to read on and on and on; in short I'm utterly loving it and could continue to write about it for a long time, but my unpacked suitcase is calling me. Au revoir, mes amis et à bientôt!

Freitag, 6. Juli 2012

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

 A Little Princess, The Secret Garden, Little Women and now of course Anne of Green Gables - How come I never read any of the common children's classics when I was young? Sadly, those wonderful English books are hardly known here and if children are familiar with their stories at all, then only thanks to movie adaptations. Perhaps all those classics are so little-known in Austria because they always lose some of their charm when they are being translated, but I cannot help wondering why we don't have any German classics to pass from generation to generation instead. The only thing I'm sure about is that I will hand my copy of Anne of Green Gables on to my future daughter, so that she will know what her mother was like when she was her age.

Here is something which should never appear in a review, but which I have to admit in all honesty: I cannot talk neutrally or objectively about Anne of Green Gables. Anne Shirley is so much like the little girl I used to be that I desperately wish I had read about her when I was still a child. Then I would have known that so many kindred spirits are out there that even books are written about them! I read some passages (especially speeches of Anne dropping with big words and greater ideas) to my mother and she was amazed because apparently I regularly delivered similar monologues when I was a child. Quite coincidentally I even had red hair until some years ago when it lightened to strawberry blond, and believe me, being called "carrots" is a capital offense which totally deserves being punished with eternal hate.

Anne's passionate nature, her limitless curiosity and of course her imagination are very familar to me too. Unfortunately I also share her habit of losing my temper when someone treats me disrespectfully.
Reading this when I was still Anne's age would have been a wonderful experience, but I enjoyed it very much anyway now that I finally came across it. While reading I was reminded of many episodes of my childhood which I had completely forgotten and I have to say that perhaps it is a good thing I never heard of Anne Shirley when I was young: I cannot even imagine all the mischief her stories would have inspired me to.
Needless to say, I love the character of Anne Shirley and envy Diana quite ardently for being her bosom friend.
“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It's splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”
Mrs Montgomery certainly had a fantastic talent for creating characters, for although I will probably quickly forget most of Anne's childhood adventures, the people surrounding her will stay with me for a long time. Matthew's pride of and care for Anne especially warmed my heart and Marilla reminded me of my grandmother in her harsh but loving way. The ending was so sad that I actually cried, which happened the last time to me at the ending of A Tale of Two Cities.
Oh, and I am very curious what will become of Gilbert Blythe, I think I see some romance coming. Usually I don't care too much for long series and I don't promise I will read all eight Anne books, but I guess it's safe to say that Anne of Avonlea will be among my birthday presents this year.

Mittwoch, 4. Juli 2012

Half a Year, twenty Books and a whole new Person

It is the first week of July and halway-through-the-year-posts are mushrooming everywhere over the blogging community. Of course I meant to join the general trend anyway with an update on my reading challenges, my progress in personal life as well as in reading and plans for the rest of the year, but until last night I had no idea how much this past half-year really changed me.

Yesterday I was sitting on the balcony and reading Wuthering Heights when my sister came by in a very bad mood and asked how I could read such boring books. Needless to say, she never read Wuthering Heights or any other Brontë, in fact the only classics she ever touched were a few German and Austrian books she absolutely had to read for school. Never did she read or even want to read an English classic, she knows nothing of Dicken's adorable characters apart from what she saw in the Mickey Mouse adaptation of A Christmas Carol, she never stayed up until the early hours of the morning to finish a case with Sherlock Holmes and if you mentioned the name Wilkie Collins in her presence I'm sure she would think you were talking about a woman. More than anything, she never read a thought which so essentially mirrored the depths of her soul that the author must have known her, must have written these sentences about her because surely no one else in the world could feel exactly the same, just to be reminded that those thoughts were published hundreds of years before she was born.

How dare she call the classics boring and stupid when she has never read them? To say it with her own words: because they are old, and old books cannot be interesting. She is not able to imagine that maybe even when an author wrote his book by hand and had never heard of a thing like the telephone he may have felt the same feelings as she does and captured them in his writings. She cannot envision that she will feel less alone because in Jane Eyre there is a girl who thinks exactly the same way she does and who is entirely so like herself that the fact that she never lived matters little. She knows nothing of kindred spirits.
And, despite my angry attempt to explain all this to her, she can't waste her time trying to read something which she knows to be absolutely boring when there are so many good, i.e. new (fantasy) books out there.

After our argument I was furious because she condemned something I love without knowing anything about it, without giving it a chance and without listening. A little later I was sad, because I realised that most people think like my sister and that in fact I don't know anyone in real life who reads the way I do. While I love the blogging community and find it wonderful to exchange thoughts and opinions with all of you I cannot help feeling lonely at times because I can never have a face-to-face discussion about the books I read with anyone. Anyway, right now I'm feeling neither sad nor lonely, but happy and thankful for this past half-year.

I started reading the classics and simultaneously blogging in December, so now I am looking back on the first half-year of reading classic literature in my life. Not counting a few non-classic titles, I have read twenty books until now. That is not much, but you cannot imagine how much those twenty titles have changed me. Half a year ago I would have shrugged and wondered a little about it if someone had told me that all books written before 1900 were boring, now I am starting a fiery argument because those twenty books turned me into someone else. They changed me because A Tale of Two Cities made me turn pages quicker than the finale of Harry Potter could and because the love story in Jane Eyre captivated me more than the one in Twilight. Even though I am still a raw beginner, have not read a tenth of what I would like to have finished by now and in all honesty know virtually nothing about literature, I feel like I have progressed immensely. I may not be doing too well in my reading challenges, which is rather I am failing them epically, but I am not worried at all. Firstly, I have two months of holidays before me to catch up and will probably read from sun-up to sun-down and secondly I feel that I have already learned that which is most important and which so many never do because they are either too lazy or to prejudiced: to love the classics with all my heart.

Sonntag, 1. Juli 2012

Mark Twain and The Awful German Language

And there I thought I was having a difficult relationship with German! Compared to Mark Twain I am a faithful and devoted admirer of its curiosities. In his essay The Awful German Language he spares no pains to prove its horrible shortcomings, complete disorder and lack of system; in fact Mark Twain takes his criticism as far as the boundaries of satire and his imagination will let him.

First off: I don't really know how I liked this "brilliantly witty piece of literature" as the blurb of my edition states. It is a very light, short and entertaining read for anyone who has ever had troubles learning an illogical and complicated language. While I of course could not relate to the problems any foreigner must have learning German (for I admit it has a horribly difficult grammar), I remembered a lot of similar difficulties I had with other languages such as French, Spanish and Italian. And this is where my criticism begins.
I am by no means influenced by national pride -there is hardly a harsher critic of my land and language than a true Austrian-  but for a native speaker of German some of Twain's remarks are simply ridiculous.

Mark Twain cannot have had much experience studying foreign languages, because the predominant part of his critique can be applied to almost any European language, not just German. The completely random distribution of sexes for example is a part of any language I have ever studied (except for Japanese, but that has its own stumbling blocks). That the English language is free from grammatical sexes of any kind is a wonderful relief, but then I don't know any other language whose grammar is so simple and clear as the English. I can tell you, though, that English has its own difficulties for eager students (vocabulary! You have so many words for one and the same thing! And then tenses! In my opinion there are roughly twenty ways of expressing that something will happen in the future...but I'm departing from the topic).

What really irritated me was that some of Twain's points of criticism are simply wrong. In one paragraph he talks for instance about the German habit of over-describing things.

"A German speaks of an Englishman as the Engländer; to change the sex, he adds inn, and that stands for Englishwoman -- Engländerinn. That seems descriptive enough, but still it is not exact enough for a German; so he precedes the word with that article which indicates that the creature to follow is feminine, and writes it down thus: "die Engländerinn," -- which means "the she-Englishwoman." I consider that that person is over-described."

Now, first of all the particle to signalise a woman is -in, not -inn (the multitude of spelling mistakes in this short essay makes Twain's authority as a competent judge of the language somewhat less believable). Secondly, "die" means exactly the same as "the", so "die Engländerin" translates literally to "the Englishwoman", which makes it exactly the same as in English. In my opinion it is even easier, because an -in at the end of a word always means that the person is a woman, which avoids a lot of confusion. I can have a male friend, "Freund", and a female friend, "Freundin" and instantly know the difference, whereas when someone talks in English about a friend I am always wondering whether this is a woman or a man.

Then at one point Twain moans about the long German words. It is true, we tend to use only one word when the English use several, but I don't really see why "Unabhängigkeitserklärung" which literally translates to "independencedeclaration" should be so much worse than "declaration of independence". And some of his remarks are nothing but inaccurate: contrary to Twain's claim there is no German word which changes its meaning depending on which syllable is emphasised. Also, I get the impression that he never learned French, which is far, far more intricate and haphazard, since he believes that "a gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing) in 30 hours, French in 30 days and German in 30 years".
Obviously I cannot consider myself as gifted, for I have spent the last five years studying French and am nowhere near fluent. 
But who would dare to question Mark Twain's expertise in German, a language he has studied for nine whole weeks?

I have just noticed that this post sounds much harsher than I intended it to be. Who would have thought that? Perhaps I am a tiny little bit proud of my mother tongue after all? Anyway, I admit: German grammar is systemless and this essay really amusing, just don't take it too serious. It is probably more enjoyable and easier to dwell in Twain's dry humour for someone who cannot control the accuracy of all of his critical remarks.