Wednesday, November 30, 2011

German Lit Month: Grimm's Fairy Tales

Publisher: Avenel Books (not the same edition as the lovely cover to the left)
Editor: Lily Owens
Date: 1981
Format: hardback
Acquired: parents' book
Read: for German Lit Month

One last German book for this month, though this isn't a complete review because I'm nowhere near finishing the book yet. 215 tales at about five a week is going to take much longer than a month to finish! However, I am definitely enjoying the stories. I expected them to be somewhat dry and boring (early 19th century literature has been known to do that), but the translation is very readable, great even for younger children. I'm also having fun analyzing the tales a bit, pulling out which are cautionary, which focus on morality, and which are probably meant to be just entertaining. I'm wondering if the "good servant" motif in several of the stories is perhaps a throwback to feudalism - obey your master and do what is best for him (whether or not he actually knows it), and you shall be infinitely rewarded (a bit of a pipe dream for serfs). I was also delightfully surprised to find at least one story that has been repeated in the Anglo-Appalachian "Jack tales," the one about a guy killing "seven [insects] with a whack" and then having to outsmart all the more malevolent beings others want him to kill based on his supposed physical skill. I've run into several other familiar tales, too.

Normally, by this point in reading a book at a painfully slow rate, I would have given up, but the Brothers Grimms' collection of tales is far too entertaining for that. I'll just keep plugging along at it...maybe I'll have the book finished by summer. :)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

German Lit Month: Lotte in Weimar by Thomas Mann

Full title: Lotte in Weimar: The Beloved Returns
Publisher: Univ. of California Press
Translator: H.T. Lowe-Porter
Date: 1990 (1939)
Format: paperback
Acquired: BookMooch
Read: for German Lit Month
Pages: 453
Reading time: one month

From GoodReads: Thomas Mann, fascinated with the concept of genius and with the richness of German culture, found in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe the embodiment of the German culture hero. Mann's novelistic biography of Goethe was first published in English in 1940. Lotte in Weimar is a vivid dual portrait—a complex study of Goethe and of Lotte, the still-vivacious woman who in her youth was the model for Charlotte in Goethe's widely-read The Sorrows of Young Werther. Lotte's thoughts, as she anticipates meeting Goethe again after forty years, and her conversations with those in Weimar who knew the great man, allow Mann to assess Goethe's genius from many points of view. 

My review: I can't believe I actually finished reading this. Lotte in Weimar is probably one of the most boring books I've ever read, mostly because I managed to finish it where similar books would have been back on the shelf weeks before. My reason: I don't do well with dialogue, and the novel is pretty much all dialogue, for all four hundred fifty pages. Dear Thomas Mann: It's not you, it's me. So sorry I didn't like your book that much.

It wasn't all bad and boring, though. Thomas Mann is a great writer and did a really nice job with telling the tale of Lotte's later life and dealings with Goethe, it's just that my teenage mind kept zoning out of the interminable discussions. I'm sure a seventy-page view of Goethe's inner mind is fascinating, but I can't focus on his ramblings for that long. I was able to identify some with Lotte, though she's several decades older than myself. The feeling of love with another person being avoided by a few twists of everyday fate, the wondering of the what-could-have-been, the longing to see and talk to the other person some, even if just within your own mind, can be universal across ages. I also caught the reflection upon the sacrifices other people make to the "genius" of an author, which reminded me of Sofia Tolstoy's diary. Mann's Goethe bore similarities in temperament and "genius" to Sofia Tolstoy's images of her famous husband, which makes me glad that Lotte did not further engage herself with Goethe and end up in a position similar to that of Sofia. The novel also re-emphasized my dislike of the whiny, selfish Werther of Goethe's novel and how, whatever his immediate desires, Werther's want to be with Lotte could never have ended up well in the long run. So, Thomas Mann, I will happily revisit your novel later when I feel more up to the task of dealing with all that talking.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

In My Mailbox #16

For review:
Everneath by Brodi Ashton (publisher)
Arcadia by Lauren Groff (publisher)

From Random Buzzers:
Mastiff (Beka Cooper #3) by Tamora Pierce

Purchased from the library:
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

My teen book club heard that the newly-opened Ollie's in our area had cheap books, so we took a field trip there last week. Of course, I had to buy something:
Possession by Elana Johnson
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Darkness Becomes Her by Kelly Keaton

The book club also chose a new book to begin reading:
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez

Nonfiction: Burmese Refugees by TF and TLS Rhoden

Publisher: Digital Lycanthrope
Date: August 2011
Format: paperback
Acquired: from LibraryThing Member Giveaways
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 128
Reading time: one month

From GoodReads: The misrule of the Burmese military junta continues to be the main catalyst of refugees in Southeast Asia today. In this collection of letters, learn about the true stories of people who have fled from that regime. All of the accounts are written by the refugees themselves and explain how they became asylum seekers, what life is like in the camps, and what they envision for their future. These stories document persons from the 8888 generation, the 2007 Saffron Revolution, and various ethnic struggles. This book contains the narratives of thirty one diverse individuals—all of them united by the simple desire to have a more representative government in their homeland. 

My review: Burmese Refugees provides important insights into the individual lives of people fleeing Burma for a variety of political, cultural, and religions reasons. What I found most eye-opening about the narratives were both the continual presence of militaristic governments in a world moving increasingly towards democracy and some of the relatively Westernized aspects of Burmese society. Many of the refugees had attended university in Burma, owned video stores, worked with computers. Their hope is inspiring, with most of the refugees looking forward to resettling in another country and restarting their educations and careers or hoping the political situation in Burma will become more representative so that they may return to their home country. Overall, though, I thought the refugees' narratives were too short. I realize that they were written as English exercises for a class, but I feel like my understanding of the situations people were facing would have been increased even more had additional details of their stories been told than just what could be contained within a few scant pages.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

German Lit Month: Those Other Guys (and Girls)

So far this month, I've covered two Weimar-era works, with Thomas Mann and the Brothers Grimm yet to come. But what about those other German works of literature I've read before? (Some of these I read years ago, so my memory may be rusty...)

Faust, Part One by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1808)
When I read this, it became one of my favorite books. I now have a love for all things Faustian-myth inspired, like the English versions of The Monk and The Demon of Sicily, the film Phantom of the Paradise, and a bunch of other works I haven't read yet but really, really want to. I'm not sure what struck me the most about the play, but the fact that it's a play I can easily recall reading is a major point. I loved Goethe's writing, too. And Berlioz's "Hungarian March" is one of my favorite pieces to play on trombone.

Faust, Part Two by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1832)
If the first part of Faust made an impression on me, the second one didn't. The most interesting part was analyzing how Goethe's writing style and motifs changed in the decades between the two. I was rather upset that Faust appeared to forget Gretchen, going off and marrying another woman.

The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1774)
I was so not impressed by the novel while I was reading it. I've heard it was strong enough to inspire a few of its emotional male readers to commit suicide, but, personally, I found Werther to be whiny and selfish. Later, though, the novel turned out to be one of those where its greatness sinks into you afterwards. I'll probably end up re-reading it at some point.

The Madwoman on a Pilgrimage by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1821)
This is the last Goethe, I swear. The only thing I can even say about it is my super-short review from a few years ago, because I can't really remember anything about the book. "The three stories in this short book (excerpted from one of the Wilhelm Meister novels) were okay. They're definitely not my favorites of the little Goethe that I've read, but they are worth reading. The middle story, in particular, is a humorous love story that reminded me a bit of A Midsummer Night's Dream, while the two others are more pessimistic views of the trials of love and relationships." (By the way, this was one of my first reviews.)

Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche (1885)
I've actually never finished reading this one. I've attempted to on three (or four?) different occasions, but the farthest I've ever made it is page 70. Something about an "Overman" and a guy falling off a tightrope...Why have I never finished the book? I can't slow my reading down. I have to read it as a novel, meaning I don't take time to analyze and figure out the philosophical parts which are the purpose of its entire existence. I'll come back when I'm more mature.

Mephisto by Klaus Mann (1936)
As with After Midnight, which I read earlier this month, Mephisto is very much a reflection-of-its-times novel. I didn't enjoy it too much while I was reading it, but afterwards, I realized why it's still in print. Such novels are retrospectively great for what they reveal to us of the turbulent times during which they were written.

The Queen's Mirror: Fairy Tales by German Women, 1780-1900
As with most, if not all, anthologies, this one has some great pieces, some mediocre ones, and some that were just boring or too weird. It's definitely interesting and unique, though, and each story has its own flavor. I very much enjoyed reading the tales in the anthology and will probably return to it soon.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giveaway: Eden by Tony Monchinski

Happy Thanksgiving! I'm thrilled to be offering one copy of Eden by Tony Monchinski to a lucky winner! In December, I will be posting a review as part of a blog tour for this first book of a zombie apocalypse trilogy, but for now, here's a plot synopsis from GoodReads:

Seemingly overnight the world transforms into a barren wasteland ravaged by plague and overrun by hordes of flesh-eating zombies. A small band of desperate men and women stand their ground in a fortified compound in what had been Queens, New York. They've named their sanctuary Eden. Harris--the unusual honest man in this dead world--races against time to solve a murder while maintaining his own humanity. Because the danger posed by the dead and diseased mass clawing at Eden's walls pales in comparison to the deceit and treachery Harris faces within.

Interested yet? To enter, just leave a comment on this post with your e-mail address. Extra points if you mention you're a GFC follower or e-mail subscriber. This is a publisher-sponsored giveaway, so US mailing addresses only, please. This giveaway is open until December 14 (12/14/11).

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

German Lit Month: The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht

Publisher: Grove Press
Translator: Desmond Vesey and Eric Bentley
Date: 1994 (1928)
Format: paperback
Acquired: bought at Spindale Library sale
Read: for German Lit Month
Pages: 95
Reading time: four days

From GoodReads: Brutal, scandalous, perverted, yet humorous, hummable, and with a happy ending - Bertolt Brecht's revolutionary masterpiece The Threepenny Opera is a landmark of modern drama that has become embedded in the Western cultural imagination. Through the love story of Polly Peachum and "Mack the Knife" Macheath, the play satirizes the bourgeois of the Weimar Republic, revealing a society at the height of decadence and on the verge of chaos. Complemented with music by Kurt Weill, it was one of the earliest and most successful attempts to introduce jazz into the theater, and the song "Mack the Knife" became one of the most popular and widely recorded songs of the twentieth century.

My review: I didn't realize when I started reading this that the play would be funny, but I found myself laughing frequently. Satire the drama is supposed to be, and satire Brecht does well. Admittedly, I didn't catch that he was satirizing specifically bourgeois society until almost the end (and I found Brecht's notes much more confusing than helpful), but that didn't subtract from my enjoyability of the book. I had expected it to be a much harder read, quick only for its short length, but found it overall very accessible and entertaining. It also helped remind me of the basic plot of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, which I read a few years ago and also enjoyed. I only wish I knew what the music was like. Does anyone know of a good performance of The Threepenny Opera that can be found online?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fiction: Wild Abandon by Joe Dunthorne

Publisher: Random House
Date: January 3, 2012 (UK: May 2011)
Format: ARC
Acquired: from GoodReads First Look
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 320
Reading time: four days

ARC blurb: Brother and sister Kate and Albert Riley are not like the other kids in their corner of South Wales. Hom is a back-to-nature commune that, after twenty years of self-sufficiency, is rapidly disintegrating. Sixteen-year-old Kate's chosen method of dealing: insisting her parents let her attend the village school, where she promptly begins dating a "meathead" whose family drives an SUV. In her absence, eleven-year-old Albert falls under the spell of an outlandish new visitor who fills his head with strange notions of the impending end of the world. His mother Freya's recourse is to hide away in a mud yurt she builds in the woods. And then there is Don: father of the family, founder of the commune, and maker of elaborate speeches. Faced with the task of rescuing his son from apocalyptic visions, his daughter from suburbia's clutches, and his wife from her very apparent desire to leave him, Don decides his only way to save the world he's created throw the biggest party of his life.

My review: Did I love the entire aspect of a novel centered around a commune? Most certainly. Did Joe Dunthorne carry out such an aspect rather well? Yes. Was I absolutely gripped into the plot? As soon as I started reading!

Dunthorne's novel provides an interesting setting for what's basically a combination coming-of-age and middle-age-crisis tale. Though I couldn't identify much personally with breakaway Kate, maturing Albert, in-control Don, or tired Freya, I could easily see where most of their actions and feelings were coming from, and I was quickly drawn into their stories. Dunthorne's writing and characters are captivating, though I must admit I didn't find most of his attempts at humor all that hilarious. Most of the novel is concerned with the gradual breaking apart of the Riley family and the community, not the party advertised in the blurb. Not that I minded this at all; by the time mentions of the party were first made, I thought, "Party? What party? The story's going swimmingly without the promised party!" Really, the party is my one issue with Wild Abandon. Don and the commune's reasons for it were not very well explained or developed, and I thought the last 1/4 of the book, which was a coverage of the "rave," did not live up to the excellence of the rest of the novel. I also feel like I missed some of the main points of the ending. I would have loved to see how the community re-flowered (and recuperated) from their massive all-night celebration, but alas, Dunthorne does not continue the story that far. Oh, well. The coming-of-age and other pivotal times of individual identity development were done wonderfully à la Nunez's also rather odd Salvation City (only even better), Wild Abandon is one of my favorite reads this year, and I'm seriously considering joining a commune after college.

Maturity Factor: language and sexual content

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

YA Fiction: The Jumbee by Pamela Keyes

Publisher: Dial
Date: October 14, 2010
Format: hardback
Acquired: from BookTrib Review Crew
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 385
Reading time: five days

Aspiring actress Esti Legard has lived her entire life in the shadow of her father, a famous Shakespearean actor and author. When he dies of cancer, Esti decides to reinvent herself by attending a theater school in the Caribbean for her senior year. Little does she expect, however, that her attention will be torn between two very different men in a retelling of Gaston Leroux's Phantom of the Opera. Alan is an enigmatic young actor who brings out the best of Esti's talent - but refuses to meet her face-to-face. Their tutoring sessions are carried out in the dark, and Alan will not allow Esti to learn anything of his past or why he remains hidden to the world, though regarded by the island's inhabitants as a jumbee, a ghost. Then Rafe, Esti's childhood friend, arrives back on the island, bringing his bad-boy reputation and becoming a wedge in Esti and Alan's odd relationship.

The Jumbee has a lot of stuff going on: retelling a classic story, Shakespeare, Caribbean folklore, young adult interest, and romance. In many cases, this would be too much for one novel, but Keyes successfully pulls off the blend. Keyes' writing itself isn't anything spectacular - just your typical YA author - but she manages to mix together a variety of different elements to make an interesting, unique retelling. No one element is accentuated too much over the others. To readers who have read Leroux's novel or watched the movie, The Jumbee is obviously a retelling. Yet Keyes' book is not self-consciously a retelling; it sticks to the general plotline but adds enough detail and development to allow it to stand outside of the Phantom-inspired canon. Readers who are not familiar with the original story will have no problem reading and enjoying this novel. I particularly enjoyed the story from the perspective of the "Christine" character, who came off rather weak and idiotic in Leroux's book. Not so in Keyes' adaptation, where readers get to see how "Christine" falls for the two guys and is conflicted in her emotions, identity, and desires.

The Shakespeare parts of the story act more as cute-sy elements as Esti and Alan communicate through quotes. Yet readers are able to grasp the characters' reasons for their Shakespearean devotion, and it ends up serving as a cohesive element. Likewise, Caribbean folklore becomes a necessary aspect of The Jumbee as Alan's origins and place in the community are gradually revealed. There's even a hint of post-colonial racial conflict involved. The romance and love triangle come off well, unlike in many books where it seems to fall flat. Despite these varied aspects to the story, however, I was never completely drawn into it. Enjoyable, yes; memorable, no. A good read, but not one that will stand out to me after a few months or years. The action was too slow in developing, the writing didn't stand out enough, and too little creep factor was involved to allow The Jumbee to become one of my favorites.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

German Lit Month: After Midnight by Irmgard Keun

Publisher: Melville House
Translator: Anthea Bell
Date: 2011 (1937)
Format: paperback
Acquired: won from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat
Read: for German lit month
Pages: 150
Reading time: five days

From GoodReads: Sanna and her ravishing friend Gerti would rather speak of love than politics, but in 1930s Frankfurt, politics cannot be escaped--even in the lady's bathroom. Crossing town one evening to meet up with Gerti's Jewish lover, a blockade cuts off the girls' path--it is the Fürher in a motorcade procession, and the crowd goes mad striving to catch a glimpse of Hitler's raised "empty hand." Then the parade is over, and in the long hours after midnight Sanna and Gerti will face betrayal, death, and the heartbreaking reality of being young in an era devoid of innocence or romance. 

My review: I was expecting After Midnight to be one of those novels that's not that interesting by itself but sticks in your mind later as a reflection of its times. I'm looking at Mephisto (Klaus Mann) and A Tomb for Boris Davidovich (Danilo Kis) here. Not so for Keun's novel of Nazi Germany, however. I enjoyed the novel while I was reading and still had that feeling of this-is-great-because-it-expresses-pivotal-history. Keun's narrator, Sanna, is deceptively naïve. She's young and all absorbed with romance and social relationships and then, boom, she mentions some aspect of Nazi control that's recently come to dominate Keun's characters' lives. The growing effects of Nazism on everyday German society accelerate quickly throughout the novel, with Sanna's life being turned upside down within the course of the two days covered by the story. Like the aforementioned novels concerning authoritarian governments, After Midnight very clearly expresses the life-changing (and life-annihilating) properties of said governments. Unlike the other novels, the central character of After Midnight is one with whom readers can better identify because, at least on the surface, she's just like any other young adult. After Midnight also covers a fairly full spectrum of German lives, from intellectuals to children to Nazi sympathizers to the average people just caught up in it all. The novel even has a satirical character who, like Shakespeare's jesters and other jokesters, is there to provide some comedic relief along with a clear view of what, exactly, is going on. Only this is a book about Nazi Germany, so there's very little relief to be found in these scathing, depressed denouements that will only end in tragedy.

On Germany: "One dreadful day, revenge will come, and it won't be divine revenge, it will be even more atrocious, more human, more inhuman. And that atrocious revenge which I both desire and fear will necessarily be followed by another atrocious revenge, because the thing that has begun in Germany looks like going on without any hope of an end. Germany is turning on her own axis, a giant wheel dripping blood" (p 143). - What I consider to be the most powerful passage of the book.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

In My Mailbox #15

I apologize for being lax in posting these past two weeks. So much for having more reading time in November! In my defense, though, I have completed Burmese Refugees (for review) and After Midnight (for German lit month) and will be posting my reviews of these soon, as well as a pre-scheduled review of The Jumbee. I have to take a break from the German books to read a GoodReads First Look win, but then I'll be back with Lotte in Weimar and The Threepenny Opera.

This week's books for review:
Eruption (Supervolcano #1) by Harry Turtledove (publisher)
The Dragon Turn (Boy Sherlock Holmes #5) by Shane Peacock (LibraryThing Early Reviewers)

After Midnight by Irmgard Keun (thanks, Beauty is a Sleeping Cat!)

And all of these are wins from Ticket to Anywhere:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Eve by Anna Carey

Sorry the titles are backward; I took the photo with Photo Booth on my Macbook and have no idea how to turn it around.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

German Lit Month: Kick-Off

Today's the first day of German Lit Month, hosted by Lizzy's Literary Life and Beauty is a Sleeping Cat! I have a fairly modest stack of translated books to read during November, but I'm looking forward to seeing what German literature has to offer. Though I've read some Goethe, all of these authors are new to me.

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
Lotte in Weimar by Thomas Mann
The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht
Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach
Grimms' Fary Tales by the Grimm Brothers

And After Midnight by Irmgard Keun, which I won from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat, should be arriving soon.

I'm currently reading Lotte in Weimar. Based on the fact that it's taken me two weeks to get halfway through it, I doubt I'll get to/make it through The Magic Mountain by the end of the month. Still, that leaves five books for four weeks of reading.

What are you reading for German lit month?