Back to the Books
Spring and summer weren’t good times for reading. But in autumn, I read more books than in the last two seasons put together – 23, and only four of them rereads – even though I hardly read anything at all during November, when I had to concentrate on writing. Then again, all that was mostly about quantity, not quality. I bought a lot of three-Euro books out of bargain bins, but it would have been better to buy one good book instead of three cheap ones.
1. J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (reread, English): I don’t need to rave about my Harry Potter obsession again, do I? Although this is one of my least favourite HP books (too much romance, too little adventure, I think), so maybe not so much raving here anyway.
2. Sabine Kuegler, Dschungelkind (Jungle Child) (reread, German): I read this several years ago, I think at the time it was published. I wasn’t quite as fascinated by it this time round, but it’s still a neat book.
3. Alexander McCall Smith, The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (new, English): meh. I seem to remember that it didn’t have much of an overarching plot, felt like a series of random, unconnected incidents.
4. Regine Leisner, Die Rabenfrau [The Raven Woman] (new, German): meh. Bargain bin book. Not as dreadful as Jean M. Auel’s “Earth’s Children” series, which I’m afraid is what I’ll measure stone-age books against for a couple more years, but unmemorable.
5. Liza Marklund, Prime Time (new, German): Bargain bin book (or maybe flea market). I suppose it wasn’t bad, but crime fiction is “read it and forget it” for me. I should probably get them from the library instead of buying them. Or borrow them from my father.
6. Isaac Marion, Mein fahler Freund (Warm Bodies) (new, German): Can’t say I care for zombies, but it was a nice enough book.
7. Tanja Kinkel, Die Söhne der Wölfin [The Sons of the She-Wolf] (new, German): meh. Bargain bin book. Unmemorable, but I’d rather buy cheap historical novels, even if they end up being disappointing, than cheap fantasy, which is usually downright horrible.
8. Mirjam Müntefering, Flug ins Apricot [ Flying into the Colour Apricot, and that sounds seriously stupid in English] (new, German): meh. Bargain bin book. I picked it up because I was getting ready to write about a lesbian couple, but I can’t say it helped any (not that Theresa and Sophie needed it, either, they’re of the nice variety of characters that come alive without any help at all).
9. Arnaldur Indridason, Operation Napoleon (new, English): meh. I suppose it was good – it’s crime fiction, and yet I can still remember the plot – but I don’t want to read it again. Didn’t like the ending. I do like Icelandic names, though.
10. E. B. White, Wilbur und Charlotte (Charlotte’s Web) (new, German): bargain bin book, and one of only two that was worth the money. Also the only book I read during November/NaNoWriMo. I do like reading children’s books occasionally, but I don’t think I’d have liked it as a child. It’s a cute book, but a spider as a character would have freaked me out (and I’d still not be able to watch the movie now. Ick.)
11. Martin Corzillius, Der Henker von Aix [The Executioner of Aix] (new, German): meh. Bargain bin book. Historical fiction. I get the feeling I’m repeating myself, so that’s all I’ll say about it.
12. Christopher Paolini, Eragon – Das Erbe der Macht (Inheritance) (new, German): I hate leaving a series unfinished, but I didn’t want to spend any money on this, so I read it right there in the bookshop. I could probably find enough to say about it to write a whole post, but it wouldn’t be a nice post, so I won’t.
To be honest, I feel kind of sorry for Paolini. He wrote a lot of rubbish in the first book, when he was pretty young, and then he had to keep working with the characters and rules he established. I don’t know about him, of course, but I’d be beating my head against the wall if I had to work with that mess of made-up and real names, the language that sounds like a mish-mash of Tolkien’s Elvish and something Germanic, blue-furred wolf elves, my own sister (that is, Paolini’s sister), werecats, and magic on every other page. Not to mention a sword called “Tinkledeath” and the name “Blödhgarm”. At one point, I was laughing so hard that I was in tears and stuck between the sofa cushions and couldn’t get out, because “blöd”, in German, means “stupid”, and as my best friend pointed out, “Blödhgarm” sounds a lot like “Blödkram” (“stupid stuff”, “stupid rubbish”).
See? I told you I could write an entire, not-nice, post about it. Books like this, where the characters can’t take three steps without doing magic, are why fantasy has a bad reputation (although there are worse books than Inheritance. Far worse. I’m grateful for the lack of mercenary magicians.)
13. Kij Johnson, Das Geheimnis der Fuchsfrau ( The Fox Woman) (new, German): Bargain bin book, and the second one that was worth the money. It didn’t blow me away, actually the characters left me quite cold, but it was still well written. I was already vaguely familiar with the concept of foxes changing into humans into Japanese folk tales, but I liked how it was carried out here – how the human main character thought he was living in a beautiful house with his beautiful wife and her family, eating delicious foods – while at the same time, he was lying in the dirt of the foxes’ den, eating dead mice. The way he actually did the things he thought he was doing, but not seeing things for what they really were – seeing a cup instead of a dry leaf filled with water, a human boy instead of a fox cub…
14. Suzanne Collins, Die Tribute von Panem: Gefährliche Liebe (Catching Fire) and
15. Suzanne Collins, Die Tribute von Panem: Flammender Zorn ( Mockingjay) (both new, German): Like Inheritance, I read these directly in the bookstore, and for the same reason. Well-written, but – sorry – just a stupid world. Also, the person who wrote the blurb for the back cover for one of these needs to learn the difference between “utopia” and “dystopia”.
16. Stefan Jäger, Das Gold des Nordens [The Gold of the North] (new, German): meh. Bargain bin. Historical. Wouldn’t have bought it if I’d known it’s part of a series, but I doubt it’d have been more interesting if I’d known the first part.
17. Bernhard Hennen, Rabengott [Raven God] (new, German): bargain bin book, and so not worth the money. Terrible in a I-have-to-gouge-out-my-eyes-and-scrub-my-brain sort of way. This is what I meant when I said there are worse books than Inheritance. Way, way worse. I wouldn’t have bought it if I’d known it was set in a RPG world, but no matter what sort of world you write in, you shouldn’t write such a dreadful book. I kept notes for a while. Within 27 pages, I’d written down the following (notes in square brackets added now as I type it up):
- real and imaginary names [settle for one of the two, damn it! I realized I had to decide between real and made-up names when I was twelve, for heaven’s sake!] And “Moron”? Seriously? [Even if you write in German, either you or your editor should realize that this is a moronic name.]
- beating a club aside with a rapier? Seriously? [I can’t imagine that’ll work very well.]
- Praios-star? Seriously? [Who calls their sun that? Apparently the word “sun” doesn’t even exist. And the author even uses the old-fashioned “Gestirn” instead of “Stern” (star) to make it even more complicated.]
- oh, yay, we have healing magic! [Cheap cop-out, if you ask me. It’s fine if it’s a plot point, like in Trudi Canavan’s Kyralia books, but just to keep characters from dying in battle? No.]
- mercenary magicians [Just please no. It brings bad memories of the Chronicles of the Raven, which is every bit as bad as the map of the rectangular continent made me fear.]
- Reptile Lords? Sounds promising. [Sarcasm, of course]
- oh yeah, and Sskhrsechim is a lovely name [someone call an ambulance, I broke my tongue. And several brain cells.]
- yay, badass female mercenary. With magic! [Take that, Chronicles of the Raven – you had mercenary magicians. Raven God has female mercenary magicians. What is it with books with “raven” in the title and mercenary magicians, anyway?]
- oh, arrows that go straight through necks [and fall out the other side]
After that, I gave up on the notes, but it went on in the same vein for a couple hundred pages. Skinned murder victims. Gladiator fights.. Possessed natives. Ghosts. Heirlooms from the mysteriously vanished grandfather. Demons. I don’t even remember what else. It was so horrible that I skimmed more than read.
I’m definitely not going to buy anything else by this author.
18. Daniel Glattauer, Gut gegen Nordwind [Love Virtually] (new, German) A much-talked about book, and while I realize that it takes some skill and hard work to tell a story entirely in e-mails (or letters, for that matter), it didn’t exactly blow me away. (Huh. Accidental pun, at least if you understand the German title.)
19. Astrid Lindgren, Ronja Räubertochter (Ronia the Robber’s Daughter) (reread, German): I love Ronia.
20. Peter David, Wählt König Arthur (Knight Life) (new, German): Bargain bin. Fantasy. Sometimes a little funny, but mostly meh.
21. Noah Gordon, Der Katalane (The Bodega) (new, German): Bargain bin. Historical. I guess I have a soft spot for Gordon because his books were some of the first “grown-up” books I read as a kid, and I liked this one better than the rest of the bargain bin historicals. But even though the main character was neither a doctor nor Jewish this time, his books still feel a little repetitive.
22. Iny Lorentz, Dezembersturm [December Storm] (new, German): Bargain bin. Historical. Meh.
23. Wolfgang Bühne, Zum Dasein verflucht [Cursed to Exist] (reread, German): I hesitate to even call this a book. I only read it again to know what horribleness I was throwing away. I threw away a book. I can’t remember ever doing that. But like I said, this barely deserves to be called a book. It’s a collection of stories of born-again Christians – ex-drug users, thieves, cult members and a couple other “horrible things”. It irritated me for so many reasons. I’m quite happy to be agnostic, thank you very much. I can’t stand that sanctimonious, self-righteous tone. And it was just plain badly written. Glad to be rid of it.
The only reason it even was in my library, and allowed to stay there for several years (apart from the fact that I just don’t throw away books), was that it was a gift from a friend. I lost touch with her several years ago, and feel a little bitter towards her, and yet not quite willing to get rid of a reminder of the good times we had.
There are several reasons why I finally got rid of it. Seeing it one time too many as I cleaned my bookcases. Generally feeling irritated by the amount of books I’m never going to read again, taking up the space that would better be used for books I want to read. But what pushed me over the edge was walking past a church while I did my Christmas shopping, and the people standing in front of it, handing out free books. That was when it hit me – that was where my friend had gotten my Christmas present from. She hadn’t spent a cent on it, or a minute thinking about what to get me (although she was Christian, so I suppose it was well-meant). And she had absolutely no idea what books mean to a reader. For some reason, that hurt me more than knowing she had spent neither money nor time on me. It’s like hearing I’m a houseplant lover and giving me another goddamned boring Kalanchoe. Or deciding to give someone a bottle of wine as a present, and buying the cheapest bottle you can possibly find. Or the cheapest discount store bread instead of a fresh loaf from the bakery. Tasteless supermarket tomatoes instead of sun-warmed homegrown ones. One of those dreadful free tabloids when I ask for a newspaper. That feeling of “it doesn’t matter what, as long as it has letters in it”, that’s what separates the non-reader from the reader.
That’s why I tossed it, and that’s why I’ve been paying more attention to quality since the winter solstice. I’ve read eight books so far, and every one of them was good, I’m reading another good one, and have ordered another four that I’m sure will also be good. Almost exclusively fantasy so far, but that’s what I enjoy, so why bother spending my money on anything else? (Not that I’m spending actual money. I got gift cards for Christmas. € 150 to spend on books, and nothing but books. I get a seriously insane grin every time I think about it.)