Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Rest is Noise

I'm not too familiar with 20th century music. I know all the names: Schoenberg, Stravinski, Cage, Britten, Stockhausen, Copland ect. - I read a lot. But I never listened much to any of the music, with the exception of Stockhausen (weird stuff, but cool).
Then I picked up The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross just because the library I work at had just bought it and I needed something to read for the ride home. It has been an amazing trip through the music of the last century and I have learned so many things, something I really love when reading a non-fiction book. It's a story not just about music, but also about culture and history and you get to know all the great composers, their quirks and personality. It also made me curious about all the music I had never listened to until now. There are recommendations at the end of the book and the author's website has music samples you can listen to - once again, I enjoy living in the Information Age.
The book has spawned a very long list of other books Ross mentions that I want to read and of people who's biography I need to read as well. This is how I love to find new books, through another book, a kind of literary six degrees of separation.

Fluffy Bunnies

Shrieking Rabbits by ~tinfinger on deviantART

A while ago this piece caught my eye on deviantArt. It's an illustration for a short story by Julio Cortázar, with whom I wasn't familiar at all. I found the story online and it's way beyond creepy. A slow, gentle spiral into insanity. With fluffy bunnies.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

55 Questions about Books

55 Questions about books
Stolen from Ramblin' With Roger

1. Favorite childhood book?
That's a hard question. The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander - I remember getting them for Christmas and I did nothing but read for the rest of the holidays (I actually finished the whole series in four days).
Dracula - I read it when I was about 10 years old and I loved it right from the start.

the Dolly series by Enid of the few girly things I ever did was read them and I still know them by heart.

Deutsche Heldensagen - Tales of German Heroes...a re-telling of the Nibelungenlied and related stories. I still have the book and it's pretty close to the original Nibelungenlied. I loved reading those again and again, despite all the bloodshed, tragedy and sadness. My favourite character was Hagen of Tronje because he was so loyal and he never pretended and because I myself didn't like Siegfried all that much.

Don Camillo and Pepone - the book had little illustrations by the author, showing the characters as angel and devil and I think that is what drew me to the book. I couldn't even read myself then, but I instited that my mom read the stories to me. It would be years until I grasped the political context of the stories, but that didn't matter, I still enjoyed the priest and the mayor feuding and being friends after all. My favourite story is The 13th Century Angel and Bioanco - be warned, I can't read Bianco without crying.

2. What are you reading right now?
"The Rest is Noise" by Alex Ross, which is one of the best books I have read lately. It spawned a huge list of books I want to read, either because they are quoted in The Rest is Noise or because I want to know more about the person (I like biographies).
"Thud" by Terry Pratchett - with "Nightwatch", those are my two favourite Discworld novels. Fantasy only plays a small part here, it's just the setting, and the story told is of things important for our own world.

3. What books do you have on request at the library?
Just one at the moment, Lingua tertii imperii by Victor Klemperer, a book about language and how it changed in the Third Reich I've been meaning to read for ages.

4. Bad book habit?
I love to eat while I read or read while I eat, which may result in unfortunate accidents. I don't do it with books that are not my own, though.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?
Oh, looong list. I'm a librarian and I find books I'm interested in almost every day. I don't feel like getting up to check the stack of books right now, so off the top of my head:
several Maigret novels (really amazing books)
a Donna Leon, Doctored Evidence
The Rest is Noise
a book about deGaulle, Schukow, Montgomery and Patton
a few picture books, for example by Axel Scheffler (who wrote the Gruffalo - he's awesome)
a few cookbooks
a book about Joseph Goebbels
a book about what would have happened if the Nazi had won the war by Ralph Giordano
a biography of Cosima Wagner (the Wagners and the Manns are fascinating families!)
Under the Dome by Stephen King
The Inner Circle by T.C. Boyle

6. Do you have an e-reader?
No and I don't think I'm ging to get one anytime soon.

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
Look at the list of books above. Take a guess.
Seriously, I read five books at a time usually.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
Not really.

9. Least favorite book you read this year?
Veronica decides to die. I was just so bored by it and Veronica got on my nerve.

10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?
The Rest is Noise.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?
My comfort zone is incredily broad, so it really takes work to get out of it. But I won't reject a book because "I don't read that kind of stuff". I also tend to re-read books that I didn't like the first time after a few years (although not all, I highly doubt I will re-read Twilight or much of the Scandinavian crime authors other people love so much).

12. What is your reading comfort zone?
Let's make things easier and I'll tell you what isn't. As a rule, I don't like book series, especially since the recent trilogy-trend resulted in so many sequels that shouldn't have been written. But there are many exceptions (the Discworld series, for example). I also don't read crime novels much, but again, there are quite a few exceptions.

13. Can you read on the bus?
I read everywhere. I commute by subway and bus and I would go crazy without a book. I used to get sick when reading in the car as a child, but these days I can do that, too.

14. Favorite place to read?
Home, in bed. With some chocolate or cookies.

15. What is your policy on book lending?
Only to people I see on a regular basis so that I can pester them when I want the book back.

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?
Never. And I smooth out dogears people make into library books.

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?
No. No and no. I hate checking a book out of the library and discover that someone couldn't read without a pencil. Underlining things is the worst because the voice that reads in my head reads those words louder, I can't help it.

18. Not even with text books?
Not really, I prefer making notes.

19. What is your favorite language to read in?
I only speak two, German and English, and I love to read in both. I won't read translations of English books, though, because usually they are horrible, especially in the last decade. Sometimes I really suspect that the translator didn't own a dictionary and(or had only a passing knowledge of the language.

20. What makes you love a book?
Characters I can relate to. I don't need to like them, but I want to be able to understand them.
Non-fiction shouldn't be dry and definitely not a mere list of facts and numbers. I love history books and biographies and I want to get to know the persons I read about.

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?
I usually only recommend boks when I'm asked to and even then I may have a hard time with it. Books I have recommended multiple times are the Anno Dracula series by Kim Newman (if you like vampires and history/literature form Victorian times to about the 1950s, go read it!) and "The Demon-Haunted World" by Carl Sagan because it's beautifully written and because Sagan clearly loves what he is writing about, which makes the book inspiring.
By the way, "recommend a good book to me" is a question I hate from library patrons because it's almost impossible to do unless you know the person fairly well.

22. Favorite genre?
Um. I don't think I have one. I read a fair amount of fantasy (Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Tad Williams), but I hate so much that is written in that genre.

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?)
Science Fiction. I really need to read more of it and I have a whole list of books than I want to read. I just need to get them in English, which probably means buying them and that won't be cheap.

24. Favorite biography?
Richard Ellmann's biography of Oscar Wilde
Simon Sebag-Montefiore's books on Potjemkin and Stalin
Ian Kershaw's Hitler biography (don't let the sheer amount of pages keep you from reading it, it's fascinating)
Brigitte Hamann's Hitler's Vienna and The Reluctant Empress: A Biography of Empress Elisabeth of Austria
Lytton Strachey's biography of Queen Victoria

25. Have you ever read a self-help book?
I just read a book for survivors of sexual abuse. I'm not a victim of abuse, but I still found it an interesting read.

26. Favorite cookbook?
the old, huge one I took with me when I moved out - there's everythin in there from how to cook and egg to how to set a table for a five-course dinner for twelve people.

27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or nonfiction)?
I re-read Sciene as a Candle in the Dark.

28. Favorite reading snack?

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.
The hype delayed my enjoyment of Harry Potter for a few years. But once I started, I read all three books that had been published in one weekend and I love the whole series. I don't pay much attention to book-hypes and I don't expect book to be particularly well-written because of it, but I also learned my lesson and will read hyped books right away when I'm interested.

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?
I don't know because I don't read critics.

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?
If I loathe a book, I may write a bad review or bitch about it to friends. Live with it.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you chose?
Spanish, I think.

33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?
Intimidating may not be the right word, but The Canterbury Tales were too much for me the first time around a few years ago. I had to look up a ton of words and it got frustrating. I think I'll try again soon, I even got a very nice annotated edition at a library book sale.

34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?
Not too nervous, but I've been wanting to read Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu for ages. It's just that every time I look at all those volumes, I find myself grabbing a shorter book (on the other hand: I manage to read Lord of the Rings in a week).

35. Favorite poet?
William Blake and Christian Morgenstern

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?
Between 20 and 50

37. How often have you returned book to the library unread?
Often, but it always annoys me. I usually check the book out again and then I read it.

38. Favorite fictional character?
Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird
Samuel Vimes from the Discworld novels

39. Favorite fictional villain?
Richard III
Dracula, both in Bram Stoker's and Kim Newman's version

40. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation?
Lord of the Rings and Tad Williams' Osten Ard Saga - they will keep me occupied for a couple of weeks. Plus I usually bring a Discworld novel and one or two (or three or four) other books. There's this short story by William Somerset Maugham where he talks about travelling with books and how he always takes a kitbag full of books with him. I can absolutely understand that.

41. The longest I’ve gone without reading.
Um, a few hours?

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.
Veronica decides to die. Yawn. And if I had a choice, I wouldn't have finished Max Fisch's Homo Faber. Like Veronica, the main character annoyed me a lot. But it was a book I had to read in school.

43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
Not much.

44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel?
The Shawshank Redemption, Watership Down, To Kill a Mockingbird

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?
Lord of the Rings - I refused to watch it for years and when I did, I saw a ton of things I hated. I still like the movies (in the extended version) because a lot of things are beautifully made and they are awesome fantasy movies. But as a Lord of the Rings-adaption I find too many things missing, added (most scenes with Arwen...boooring) or just plain ridiculous like almost anything Gimli does. Please let the dwarfs be less of a laughing stock in the Hobbit.

46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?
150 Euros and that was with a discount because I was working there at the time. It was for two huge coffee table books of animal photography by Frans Lanting, the newest Blacksad graphic novel and a couple of novels

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?
I often read a couply of paragraphs to find out if the style agrees with me when I pick up a book from an author I haven't read so far.

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?
Annoying characters.

49. Do you like to keep your books organized?
I keep my textbooks roughly organized according to topic and the novels get alphabetized. But I tend to pile up books around my bed.

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?
When I buy books, I keep them. I also re-read books a lot.

51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?
Not really.

52. Name a book that made you angry.
The World Without Us by Alan Weisman - I had to stop after each chapter because I got so angry at humanity's thoughtlessness. The only good thing is that in geological terms, much of what we are doing doesn't really matter. But I would still prefer a world that doesn't get abused all the time.

53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?
"Mistress of the Art of Death" by Diana Norman - I hate historic novels with a passion and usually with good reason. This one was surprisingly entertaining and not too full of factual errors. Although it had one of the most stupid translation errors I've encountered in a while. The English shellfish got translated with the German Schellfisch, which sounds alike, but means haddock. Sine the conversation was about kosher food, it didn't really make a lot of sense. I read that book with a book club, so I didn't bother to get the original version.

54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?
Eragon. I was bored out of my mind after about a third of the book. I switched to Lord of the Rings to read once again how it's really done.

55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?
Stephen King. I love his books and the man knows how to write. He knows how to pull of even the most ridiculous stories, like The Mangler for example. I think that one of the reasons I like his stuff so much is that his characters are so alive. I feel at home right away and he does scare me often.
A slightly guilty pleasure of mine would be fan fiction (there are some amazing writers out there who do fan fiction, believe it or not) and the wonderfully trashy John Sinclair novels - horror pulp fiction at it's best. Or worst. But I love it.