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.

IMG_20150317_202607

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.

IMG_20150318_081435

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 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.”

The King and the Cobra

Marcel Krüger asked us to stop coming to his house, so people went to the Cobra instead.

In early November Krüger had his first self-published book coming out, which compiled stories from his blog, his project Sonic Iceland and even some articles that had previously been published in real newspapers.

 

 

What better way to celebrate than to return to his hometown, from which he’d fled several years ago in search of ginger maidens and Guiness. Luck had it that a festival was planned for Lindisfarne‘s 12th anniversary, so Mr. Krüger packed his bags and book and came running. At least I guess he did, knowing about his fear of flying. And he took the opportunity to re-unite with his old band Stuck, albeit going easy on the bellowing to save some strength for 8 p.m. when the Cobra’s cinema room’s door would open for his reading.

 

In the beginning Krüger seemed a bit tense, no wonder for not only was his family sitting in the first row, complete with parents, two brothers and his girlfriend, the rest of the small room was filled with old friends who had come to hear some stories first-hand.

 

 

But he quickly seemed to adapt to the scene and started to read about an eclectic mix of topics, from expats in Irelands to his above mentioned fear of flying and spiders. Since his book is written exclusively in English, Krüger translated some of his work so that the less capable German wouldn’t get lost in an English swirl.

 

 

Having read the stories before it was interesting to discover new aspects to them by way of Krüger’s introductions or intonation.

And even though the scene itself might have been nicer had the reading been in the Cobra’s Kantine, the room’s atmosphere of good will towards the author was tangible, which was really nice to experience. Whatever face I looked at either seemed just happy to see Mr. Krüger back on German soil, intrigued by his stories or smiling at his snarky side-remarks.

The evening was rounded off with a “cover” reading of Neil Gaiman’s “The day the saucers came” and his “Tale of two Spiders”. It ended with Mr. Krüger, deservedly, selling some copies of his book and then, equally deservedly, retreating to the Kantine for a small family celebration of his first reading in Germany.