Donnerstag, 28. Februar 2013

A Modern March

I admit, I am not exactly early in signing up for this event, but the heaps of snow weighing down on the landscape here have made March seem very far away. Apparently Austria is experiencing the coldest winter in twenty years; it's foggy, not a single snowdrop has fought its way through the frozen soil yet and I am very close to developing a serious case of seasonal affective disorder.

Anyway, since it is almost March despite what the weather says it is high time I announced my participation in Allie's Modern March. As the name implies, this literary event focuses on Modernist writers, which I find especially exciting because to my shame I hardly have any experience with them. But to be honest I am a tiny little bit apprehensive at the same time since my attempt to read Virginia Woolf last year didn't go too well. Mrs. Dalloway seemed interesting enough, but unfortunately I did not understand a word of it. Whenever a personal pronoun was mentioned I was at a complete loss because I had no idea who was being referred to. I'll try again in the next few weeks, but don't expect stream-of-consciousness and me to become friends anytime soon.

Apart from Mrs. Dalloway I have To the Lighthouse on my shelves, which I will probably read to give Virginia Woolf a second chance. And, if all else fails I still have Kafka's The Metamorphosis waiting for me in its original version: the privilege of a German reader.

Last but not least I am looking forward very much to a first encounter with F. Scott Fitzgerald. My copy of the iconic Great Gatsby has finally arrived and I cannot wait to start it. As always when I am about to read such a famous and well-loved classic I am even a little nervous.
Here's to hoping that March will be exciting (and warm)!

Samstag, 23. Februar 2013

Tristan by Thomas Mann

Tristan was an assigned read for my German literature class and a merciful attempt of my teacher to familiarise us students with Thomas Mann without expecting us to read his most famous and dreadfully long book, The Magic Mountain.
It is a novella which already introduces most of the themes that appear in Mann's later works, most prominently the conflict between life and death and in consequence between reality and art.
While I don't usually enjoy the texts I have to read for that class I was surprised how interesting  I found this short work: it is challenging mostly due to Mann's naturalistic style. While very descriptive, his style is strangely detached and so neutral that it makes you almost forget the author behind the narration.

Set in a sanatorium and following the model of Tristan and Iseult, the story explores the growing relationship between Mrs von Klöterjahn, the moribund wife of a wealthy and lively merchant and the writer and fanatical aesthete Mr Spinell. Their love is never consummated and serves only as the framework for a comparative study of the artistic and the bourgeois mind; one of them orientated towards the ideal of beauty in death, the other towards the less noble but more human idea of living a fulfilled life.

What makes this work truly fascinating is the way in which Mann deals with the artistic quest for beauty: Mr Spinell is the exaggerated personification of an idea we have all come across countless times in literature and the arts; the idea that a beautiful, a poetic death at the right time is preferable to a long, ordinary life full of vulgar imperfections. He destests reality because of its uncouthness and loves only beautiful ideas, such as the shadow of Mrs Klöterjahn as a young woman who is too fragile and special for life and therefore consecrated to death. To his mind her death is the only truly beautiful solution because the continuation of her life would only make her common; a fat, wrinkled housewife and mother.

This mindset is (subconsciously) all too common in every type of art, be it poetry or cinematics, but Thomas Mann is the first writer I have ever read to openly address it. I cannot say if he personnally criticises this romanticised death-wish or simply wants to bring attention to it; his style is non-judgmental and at the end of his narration Mr Spinell as an example of the morbid artist and Mr von Klöterjahn as an image of the fun-loving but crude burgher are equally dislikable.
The struggle between a sublime death and an ordinary, but long and happy life is an idea that is as old as the art of storytelling itself, with examples ranging from the Arthurian legend to, for instance, Wuthering Heights and after my first encounter with Thomas Mann one that will probably occupy me for a little while to come.

Dienstag, 19. Februar 2013

The Beginning of my Library

I would like to claim that I spent the day reorganising my bookshelves, but since my books have never been in any kind of order before that would be a complete and utter lie. Instead it would be more accurate to say that I laid the foundation of my own little library today.

Since I decided to start reading the classics in November 2011 more and more books have been accumulating in my already stuffed room. There has never been a plan behind my acquisitions: whatever catches my eye and is affordable usually ends up in my possession. So Dickens slowly joined Harry Potter and Tolstoy landed in a pile together with Twilight. The problem with this is obvious; there is no system and you never find what you are looking for (and the floor is covered in stacks of books to the point of my room being no longer traversible). Nonetheless I never felt like I had enough classics to give them a place of their own, after all I am still practically a novice to classic literature. Anyway, just out of curiousity I decided today to pile all my classics up and see if there are enough of them to give them their own shelf. Can you imagine my surprise when I realised that they do not only fill a shelf but a whole bookcase? That I have in fact enough classics to sort them by century?

The result of my work, sorted by century with the ancient Greeks on top left and the Modernists on the bottom right

To this day I have collected exactly 70 books by classic authors, some of which I loved, some which I did not like too much (I'm looking at you, Faust!) and some that I have yet to read. I know that those two shelves contain only a tiny percentage of world literature, but I have hope that this percentage will continue to grow at the same rate for many, many years to come. By then I will hopefully have moved into a giant manor with my books, otherwise I see no way to accommodate all of them!

Montag, 18. Februar 2013

Time flies

Yes, my blog has once again been on hiatus and I am terribly sorry, but the last few weeks were simply crazy. I thought I knew what being stressed meant, but this end of term has taught me better: before receiving my certificate last Friday I had to write so many tests, complete so many assignments and hand in so many papers that the idea of a full night's sleep became a ridiculous fantasy. Obviously being in the second last year means that they want to prepare us for our A-levels by giving us a stress-induced heart-attack...
Anyway, the reward for surviving this torture is one glorious week of semester break that has just begun.

Reading-wise I don't have many news since the only thing I had time to read was the assigned The Best Little Girl in the World, which is a young adult novel about a girl with anorexia and therefore not exactly what I usually read. Over the semester break though I have to finish both Jean Anouilh's The Lark (a play about Jeanne d'Arc) and Thomas Mann's Tristan, so I will have some literature to write about soon enough.
Oh, and on a side note: I have finally seen Les Misérables and now simultanously love and hate this movie as well as Victor Hugo. I definitely have to get around to reading the end of the book!

Unfortunately and contrary to my wishes the world does not stop turning simply because I am busy and neither does anyone stop blogging only because I have no time to read their posts. So, in addition to having to catch up with all your blogs I have missed the Classic Clubs awesome Classics Spin, which makes me really sad because it seems so much fun. But, thank God, the rules in the announcement post state clearly that we should "feel free to rebelliously break the rules at our leisure" and I am taking them at their word; so I  will just post a list of 20 titles now and use this random number generator to choose which book I will be reading. While I pretend to belong you will simply have to trust me not to cheat because that would be kind of pointless.

Five books I am a little bit afraid of:
1. Don Quixote, de Cervantes
2. Clarissa, Richardson
3. Moby Dick, Melville
4. The Faerie Queene, Spenser
5. Anna Karenina, Tolstoy

Five I can't wait to read:
6. Emma, Austen
7. Peter Pan, Barrie
8. The Handmaid's Tale, Atwood
9. The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald
10. Gone with the Wind, Michell

Five neutral titles:
11. Henry VIII, Shakespeare
12. Moll Flanders, Defoe
13. Beloved, Morrison
14. The House of the seven Gables, Hawthorne
15. Catch-22, Heller

Five books I have attempted to read before and never managed to finish:
16. Les Misérables, Hugo
17. Oliver Twist, Dickens
18. Mrs Dalloway, Woolf
19. The Divine Comedy, Alighieri
20. The Perks of being a Wallflower

That's the list, now fate will decide...God, I'm nervous!
And the randomly chosen number is: 
Which means the book I will have to finish until April 1st is Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I know virtually nothing about it, so I am very curious. I hope it will turn out to be amazing and that everyone else is happy with their chosen book. Good luck!