A man, a book and a ship

Last night I left behind a sleeping baby and tired husband and drove the Autobahn south, to Cologne. I walked along the Rhine until I found the MS RheinEnergie/Literaturschiff at the KD Anleger, refulgent against the dark river.

IMG_20150317_202002In its belly waited a bearded word-smith, quickly signing away at a desk filled with books.

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The Literaturschiff was continuously flooded with guests until, shortly after 9 pm., the ship left shore and the excited susurrus swelled. As Patrick Rothfuss, of Kingkiller Chronicles fame, took the stage, one could find grinning faces all around, it was finally happening: the author was in Germany, in Cologne, and about to read excerpts from his latest novella, “the Slow Regard of Silent Things”. Joining him was ChrisTine Urspruch, whose gentle reading of Auri, Rothfuss’ pixie-esque trickster, was truly endearing, enchanting the audience as much as Rothfuss himself.

Joined by Denis Scheck for a question-and-answers session he spoke of growing up around books

“not literature”

his love for language

“I really admire Chaucer”

and especially for the Fantasy genre

“why can’t we do [what Chaucer does], but – with dragons!”

His disbelief was tangible when Rothfuss questioned why only “the tragic movies where people die” get all the Oscars, not the comic ones, referring to the late Terry Pratchett and his humorous genius.

It was a whirlwind of a night for a fan who wouldn’t have dreamed seeing “his wordship” in the flesh was possible. The pleasure was only slightly disturbed by Schecks impressive endeavor of trying to translate as much of Rothfuss’ detailed answers as possible. After the event, Rothfuss stayed until every one who so wished could take home a signed copy of one or several of his books, even if it took him until 1:30 am to do so.

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Sadly, the organisers managed to utter two conflictive pieces of information concerning where the actual signing session would take place, leading to much confusion and chaos for the fans – and for this one to suddenly find herself in the last third of the oh-so-long queue of waiting book-carriers.

Still, it was worth it, just for being able to simply say

Thank you for writing

and, though having signed for such a long time, seeing a content twinkle in those tired eyes above the beard, which itself seemed to say

it was worth it

The Slow Regard of Silent Things

This book has been lying around here since late October 2014, and I hadn’t had a chance to read it yet, because you know!

But now I’ve finally read it, which didn’t take all that long since it’s a 176-page novella, and I’m so glad I did.

 

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I’ve been a fan of Patrick Rothfuss’ King Killer Chronicle books for a couple of years now. Not only are they deliciously written, the story and its hero is unique. Kvothe is a brilliant arcanist, but he is flawed and down-to-his-bones human. Book one alone warrants a post of its own, which I can’t deliver right now. Let’s leave it at: best fantasy I’ve read in a long while and definitely worth being mentioned in the same sentence as Tolkien.

“The Slow Regard of Silent Things” is not, and Rothfuss will be the first to tell you, the long awaited third part of his trilogy, but rather a short glimpse into the world of one of his characters, Auri.

On his blog – and in the book’s foreword – Rothfuss warns the potential reader that the book might not be for everyone:

You might not want to buy this book.

I know, that’s not the sort of thing an author is supposed to say. The marketing people aren’t going to like this. My editor is going to have a fit. But I’d rather be honest with you right out of the gate.

First, if you haven’t read my other books, you don’t want to start here.

My first two books are The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear. If you’re curious to try my writing, start there. They’re the best introduction to my world. This book deals with Auri, one of the characters from that series. Without the context of those books, you’re probably going to feel pretty lost.

Second, even if you have read my other books, I think it’s only fair to warn you that this is a bit of a strange story. I don’t go in for spoilers, but suffice to say that this one is … different. It doesn’t do a lot of the things a classic story is supposed to do. And if you’re looking for a continuation of Kvothe’s storyline, you’re not going to find it here.

On the other hand, if you’d like to learn more about Auri, this story has a lot to offer. If you love words and mysteries and secrets. If you’re curious about the Underthing and alchemy. If you want to know more about the hidden turnings of my world…

Well, then this book might be for you.

Even though this is certainly a weird book, having only one character, neither storyline nor dialogue, I immensely enjoyed reading it.

When you’re hungry, sometimes you wolf down fast-food. You might even enjoy it, but you’ll be hungry again soon. And it’s not healthy.

Other times, you need a dark piece of chocolate, one you let dissolve in your mouth for minutes, that tastes oh-so-good.

This novella is like said piece of chocolate. Reading it is pure bliss for bibliophiles.

Rothfuss had to take some sh** for it, being blamed that he “only did it for the money” and shouln’t have written it, because “Hell, where is part 3? You OWE me part 3, and you waste your time on this?”. These accusations are rather ridiculous. Aside from no author “owing” their reader more books, accusing Rothfuss of being greedy is just wrong. Anyone who has a mind to can check out his blog and see just how much of his time and effort are directed at “Worldbuilders“, his charity. I don’t think that many other authors “who made it” spend so much of their time working towards helping others. More than once, reading his posts has warmed my heart, sappy as it sounds.

Sure, you could say that as writing is his dayjob, he should be so good at it that he’s believable, but reading posts like this leave me thinking that I could do more, myself:

I don’t want to get all heavy here in the middle of my charity post. But I’ll be honest with y’all. These last couple weeks have been hard for me. Sometimes it just feels like everything in the world is spiraling into shit. Politicians are awful. Corporations are worse. Our justice system seems to be irrevocably fucked. Cash register receipts are giving us cancer and the oceans are poisoned with our plastics.

There’s just so much of it, all the time, and I can’t fix it. All this shit is so wrong and it’s just so fucking *big* and I can’t do anything about it.

There is a word: “Weltschmerz.” I’ve heard it defined as “the despair we feel when the world that is, is not the world we wish it would be.”

I feel this way all the time. I am so endlessly angry and disappointed in the world. If people really understood how constantly, incessantly furious I am, nobody would ever dare come within arm’s reach of me.

That’s why I run Worldbuilders. Because the world isn’t what I want it to be. And I can’t fix it all, but if I don’t do something I’ll either start drinking or simply rage until there’s nothing left of me but ashes.

I can’t fix it all. But I can do this.

Lugazi Dioces Heifer Project (21-0616-01)

(Imagine obviously owned by Patrick Rothfuss and taken from his blog)

There. That’s what I’m about. That little guy is so fucking excited because he has clean water to drink.  That I can do.

At the risk of letting this post get even longer, here’s another snippet from his blog, where you can see that even the little Rothfuss knows what it’s about:

A couple days ago, Sarah made the questionable choice of reading an entire toy catalog to Oot. He showed it to me when I came home, all excited. He had circled about twenty things in it with a red pen, and explained each of them to me. There were two marble mazes. A laser game. A skeleton with removable organs. A fossil kit….

Score one for rampant consumerism.

Later on, he came into my office, clutching the magazine. He started to explain the items to me again, focusing especially on the little terrarium that is supposed to grow plants that look like brains and eyeballs, as well as carnivorous plants (A pitcher plant, I’m guessing from the illustration) and a plant that moves (A sensitive fern.)

“I remember these,” I said, interrupting him gently. “You showed this to me last night.”

“Oh yeah,” he said. “But I was just thinking that you could order all of these on your computer. Not all at once,” he said quickly. “You could do some e-mail. Then order one. Then do some more e-mail. And then order one.”

It breaks my heart that he knows how busy I am. That he feels like he has to fit himself in between my e-mails. I’ve been neglecting him during the fundraiser. today I kissed a llama more than I kissed him. That’s wrong. I’m going to start making that up to him starting tomorrow.

“Those are pretty cool,” I said to him, then added. “Did you know that some families don’t have very much money? There are some families that are so poor that the parents can’t afford to buy any toys at all for their children for Christmas?”

I was going to lead him down the garden path. Explain the concept of something like “Toys for Tots” to him. Make a plan with him about how we could go out together and buy toys for other families.

But he didn’t even give me the chance. He started chattering on almost as soon as I’d finished. “Oh,” he said. “Well if you could buy this one thing for me,” he pointed to the terrarium. “Then we could give all of those other toys to other kids.”

That was it. There was no hesitation. He didn’t have to think it through. I could see his face when I explained that some kids didn’t have toys. It was confusing to him. His is expression said the five-year-old equivalent of “Some kids have no toys? Seriously? What the Actual Fuck?”

So they should get all these other things. He was fine with just one present.

He’s my sweet boy. He’s good. That’s the moral of the story here. He gets it. It’s just sharing. It’s simple.

That is how you raise your kids, people.

The end.

The World According to Irving

Over ten years ago my friend lend me one of her father’s books. It was a tattered, often-borrowed German copy of “Owen Meany“, published by Diogenes.

http://www.amazon.de/gp/product/3257224915/ref=s9_simh_gw_p14_d0_g14_i1?pf_rd_m=A3JWKAKR8XB7XF&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=1Z6F22HXAZ66JEMVZ563&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=463375173&pf_rd_i=301128

John Irving took me by surprise, to say the least. I had just met the master of first lines.

Take a look at the beginning of “A Prayer for Owen Meany“:

“I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice. Not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God.

I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.”

This is how you hook your audience.

Fortunately, Irving’s grip didn’t loosen over time. I got caught up in the story as if it were a vortex, with some apprehension – could it be as great as the first line promised?- but without the possibility to stop.

Soon I discovered the second thing Irving’s mastered: the entanglement of what seems like a hundred characters and storylines, all wrapped up in a tightly woven ball of yarn. And the surprising discovery that all makes sense in the end. If “A Prayer for Owen Meany” hasn’t made me a religious person, it certainly has helped to enforce my belief that most things happen for a good reason. Still, I’m no believer like Owen:

“It made [Owen] furious when I suggested that anything was an “accident”— especially anything that had happened to him; on the subject of predestination, Owen Meany would accuse Calvin of bad faith…”

Next in line was “The Cider House Rules“. I got the German version “Gottes Werk und Teufels Beitrag” from the same friend’s father, though I bought my own copy not too long afterwards. http://www.amazon.de/Gottes-Werk-Teufels-Beitrag-Irving/dp/3257218370/ref=pd_sim_b_2

 I quickly fell in love with Dr. Larch:

 “Goodnight you princes of Maine, you kings of New England”

who would later be portrayed by the amazing Michael Caine in the 1999 adaptation that would win Irving the Oscar for its screenplay.

Following those two novels I began a barrage on my local bookstore and library, my shelves filled with all the beautiful Diogenes copies of Irving’s books.

As my English improved I rekindled my love for Irving’s prose with the originals. “A Prayer for Owen Meany” is still dear to me, but my favourite is, and always be, “The World According to Garp“.

Weirdly, it never was published as a paperback by Diogenes, which led to a hiccup in my otherwise white wall of Irvings. Garp und wie er die Welt sahIt is hard to explain what “Garp” does to me.

Among Irving’s novels it’s the one I’ve read the most often. I lost count along the way, but I can vouch for at least six sessions.

Every time I read it, I discover something new about the book and about myself.

Though I find saying “this is my favourite book” somewhat silly, it comes dangerously close to that title. Were I to run out of my burning flat, and had I still room in my arms next to my cats, I’d probably snatch my copy of Garp.

 As I began to re-read Irving’s novels I discovered “Black Swan”, who published pretty paperback versions like this one: World According to Garpand helped me get over my white Diogenes paperbacks, which weren’t available in English.

Anyone who has never picked up one of John Irving’s books should take his 70th birthday as an opportunity to give him a gift. Buying an Irving novel would be a nice idea.

If you’re stumped as to where to start, this is my top five list:

  1. The World According to Garp
  2. A Widow for One Year
  3. A Prayer for Owen Meany
  4. The Cider House Rules
  5. The Hotel New Hampshire

And if you’re still hesitant, here are the first lines of my top five, as an incentive:

  1. “Garp’s mother, Jenny Fields, was arrested in Boston in 1942 for wounding a man in a movie theatre.”
  2. “One night when she was four and sleeping in the bottom bunk of her bunk bed, Ruth Cole woke to the sound of lovemaking – it was coming from her parent’s bedroom.”
  3. “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice.”
  4. “In the hospital of the orphanage – the boys’ division at St. Cloud’s, Maine – two nurses were in charge of naming the new babies and checking that their little penises were healing from the obligatory circumcision.
  5. “The summer my father bought the bear, none of us was born – we weren’t even conceived: Not Frank, the oldest; not Franny, the loudest; not me, the next; and not the youngest of us, Lily and Egg.”

If I had a Delorean (Part I)

If I had a Delorean, and you know which one I mean,

 

 

I’d go straight back to 1994. Driving down Kölnerstr., I’d park behind the post to visit the old library.

 

 

I dream of pushing back the heavy old doors, turning left to the giant staircase.

I’d love to see those steps again, polished shiny by generations of feet.

If I’d climb those stairs they would take me to the first floor, the smell of old books and coldened coffee greeting me.

I’d turn right to check out the tapes first, looking for ones I haven’t checked out yet, or for old favourites.

But my true goal would lie to the far left, past all the other shelves, where the fantasy, fairytale and horror stories are kept, away from books about girls and ponies.

 

I’d love to read those stories for the first time, again.

My first ghost stories, the first vampire anthology I laid my hands on, the tales sending shivers down my spine, making me want to stop reading, but at the same time making stopping impossible.

 

If I had a Delorean I’d go back to that time, and once more fill my basket with more books than I could carry…

‘I like big books and I cannot lie’

Do you read more than three books a year?

Would you rather hide away with a book than with, well, anything else?

Would you choose books over food if you were forced to decide?

Then the Book Fiend has the necessary means to promote your credo on the back of your car, your bike, your bag or wherever you’d like to stick it.

And if that’s not enough you can even carry the smashing announcement “I like big books and I cannot lie” around with you.

If that’s not awesome then I don’t know what is. You do know that my birthday and Christmas are both right around the corner, right? *cough cough*

From another world?

My heart just skipped a beat.

Is this thing even real? I really hope so, I want to live in a world where this place really exists.

Then I want to make lots and lots of money, even if I singlehandedly have to press each bill, so I can buy that place.

Or start a mutiny and garrison it.

Promise my firstborn child? Ok, that seems a bit much..

My secondborn? Nah, still kidding.

Dear, I have to keep breathing lest I hyperventilate.

Oh the glory of it all…

Books

Books were my first love.

My parents used to read to my big brother and me every night before bed. We would snuggle up to my mom or dad, listen to Janosch, Astrid Lindgren or the Brothers Grimm and always demand “one more”.

The favourite pastime I shared with my grandfathers was when they cradled me on their laps, reading for me the biggest fairytalebooks they could find.

When I was about four my family spent its summer vacation in Hungary, near Lake Balaton. On a hot day my parents and their best friends, the K’s, decided to visit a nearby castle. Us kids were less than thrilled with their choice, longingly thinking about the cool lake. Then we were surprised about the huge felt-slippers we had to slide into. But several rooms later a door opened to what I felt must be paradise:

A gigantic room with bookshelves covering every wall, from ground to ceiling. Antique chandeliers glistening over the backs of books with their titles long gone after generations of Hungarian prince’s and princesse’s fingers.

And that was what I longed to be: A princess, reigning over this marvellous room with no duties on hand but to read every book in this room from cover to cover.

Only a few years later, in 1991, I was catapulted back to that Hungarian scene. Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” hit the cinemas and not only provided me with the first Disney princess I could identify with, it also boasted what seemed to me like a complete replica of the Hungarian library.

 


Thinking about that library, even now, gives me goosebumps and sends shivers down my spine.

My love for books never left me and nowadays I read about 45 per year. Good thing I don’t smoke or drink, this is my one vice and drug of choice.

In early July Hubby and I made a roadtrip through England and Scotland. Thanks to the Lonely Planet we made a stop in Alnwick to visit Barter Books, one of the largest second-hand bookstores in Europe.

It was beautiful. A former trainstation with racks and racks of books from whatever category you could wish for. And a little coffee corner. And cake.

 

And a miniature train choo-choo-ing over the racks.

 

 

What a blissful place.

 

I will probably take that love for books to the grave, but I’m already sure it will be passed on in my family.

Why, doesn’t my three year-old nephew already unplug his babyphone so he can stealthily continue reading at night?

“The Uncommon Reader”

One day the Queen notices a travelling library car that is parked behind the kitchen. She feels the only polite thing to do would be to borrow a book, even though she usually doesn’t read. Then the surprise: she enjoys it!

Bennett takes the reader on an enjoyable journey through literature, as the Queen gets more and more drawn into the world of books as her people and personal adviser get more and more worried.

After all, reading? What an indecent thing to do!

“The Uncommon Reader” is filled with little truths and humorous insights into the human mind and behaviour, recommendable!