Home > Personal Posts > German Lit Month: my personal wrap-up

German Lit Month: my personal wrap-up

November 30, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Before starting my personal wrap-up, I’d like to thank Caroline and Lizzy for organizing such an event. It’s probably been a lot of work and I’m happy for both of them that it is such a success. BIG THANK YOU TO YOU TWO.

I have the feeling that German literature is more read in English-speaking countries than in France. At first, I thought it was just my being ignorant. Then I started digging. Caroline gave me names; most of the books are out-of-print and never made it into paperbacks. I was unable to find Effi Briest or The Marquise von O. by Kleist in pdf file when lots of classics are available. In my copy of Effi Briest, the foreword deplores that Fontane isn’t better known in France. This vision was comforted by my experience with German crime fiction, it seems nonexistent in France.

I have read eight different books; you can find the links to the reviews:

So it’s been a month full of discoveries. The best bookish discovery is Effi Briest, I had never heard of that novel before the event. I enjoyed reading other people’s thoughts about the novel. My best blogging discovery is Tony’s blog  I didn’t have time to read all the reviews I would have wanted to but I know have Kleist, Stemmer, Schnitzler and I ordered Grand Hotel by Vicki Baum.

On a personal note, I also learnt a few things about myself. My professional life has been shaken for a year now and I’ve been questioning my choice of a career for a few months. Am I sure I should be buried in figures all day long when what makes my heartbeat quicken has always been literature? But, like Kehlmann points out in Fame, “reading books isn’t a profession.”  So what?

This month unexpectedly brought the answer to that question. On the one hand, I’ve been reading professional literature again and on the other hand, I’ve been reading literature professionally. In other words, I’ve been studying for work and reading novels according to a schedule to meet the deadlines. Reading professional literature rekindled my interest for my career and I found myself totally unable to read the German books according to plan and meet the weekly deadlines. I am not good at reading on demand. I had chosen books I wanted to read, some were on my TBR shelf, some were on my wish list. The only one I didn’t have in mind before the event was Effi Briest and I’m happy I read it, it’s an excellent book. Someway, I found it hard to read them this month. I wasn’t exactly in the perfect mood for Hotel Savoy and I had to put aside books I wanted to read because it was German Lit month. (I’ve been dying to start that book about 19th-Century England since I received it). Nobody forced me to do so but when I commit to something, I respect the commitment I made. As a consequence, I’m not sure I enjoyed the books I’ve read as much as I would have if I had read them separately and in the right mood.

As an aside, my strong reaction against following the Effi Briest readalong, made me think about my personal history with literature classes. Again. There was no way I could make myself follow the Effi Briest readalong, read the chapters in due time and answer the questions. Just the thought of answering questions like for a school assignment made me cringe from it. I’ve been a heavy reader since I was 8 and I’ve always hated literature classes. If I had to shoot a movie about me and literature in school, it would be full of yawns, irritated glances and I can see myself bored in Grammar school and loathing the excerpts of Le Roman de Renart and the inept – so I thought – questions asked by the teacher. I see myself fighting internally to finish that bloody scene from Le Cid or the chapters of Terre des hommes in due time and sluggish hours when a teacher with a sleeping-pill voice tried to pull answers out of unresponsive students. I remember autopsying poems by Baudelaire or Eluard, killing all their beauty. I’m damaged when it comes to studying literature. I thought I was past that now; after all, the years are piling up quickly but being that thoroughly repulsed at answering innocent questions proved it be an unsolved issue. I’m frustrated and sad to discover I haven’t moved on as I thought I had. Well, let’s say there are bigger personal issues than that!

So, I’m better off dealing with figures at work and read for pleasure. And if I come back to German literature, I enjoyed most of the books I’ve read but it hasn’t been a mind-blowing experience. We’ll see how I’ll enjoy the new German-speaking books I’ve put on the TBR and that I’ll read according to my mood. I hope the other participants will also write their thoughts about this reading month, I’m interested in reading how it has been for them.


Categories: Personal Posts
  1. November 30, 2011 at 10:39 am

    Sometimes it’s just best to read what you want and let other people worry about the consequences 🙂 Having said that, I would love to go back to university and study literature, as I mostly avoided it last time – I think I just wasn’t ready for literary analysis at the time…

    It was also nice to find your blog 🙂 The best thing about this month has been getting to know new bloggers – before this month, I hadn’t even heard of you, Caroline, Fay or Danielle (for example)!

    Now that the German rush is over, I may even get to read a French book at some point too 😉


    • November 30, 2011 at 10:47 am

      I haven’t had enough time to explore as many other blogs as I would have wished to.

      There are plenty of good French books out there and you can read in French, so you even have access to the ones that aren’t translated into English. Veinard!!


  2. November 30, 2011 at 5:04 pm

    I throughly enjoyed German Literature month too–although I still have to read one book from my selection (The Man of Straw). Just didn’t have enough time to get to it.

    I would have predicted that Effi Briest would be at the top of your list.

    If it’s any consolation, many English majors discover that they have a wonderful time in the classroom but reading all those great books doesn’t always make an easy transition to a career that matches all the study. I met a classmate years after attending a class together and he said he remembered all those wonderful classes we’d taken and how did it translate to teaching in South Central LA with a class in which only 4 kids could read. He’d just spent a day in classroom lockdown after gang shootings and heliocopters circling overhead. An extreme example, but I always remember his frustration.


    • November 30, 2011 at 5:22 pm

      Terrible example but oh so true. I’ve always known I couldn’t be a teacher, otherwise I would have studied history.
      The German month continues in December for me as it is St Nicholas next week and it’s Lebkuchen, Marzipan and German Christmas biscuits time.

      PS: I LOVE the Wharton although Undine infuriates me.


      • December 2, 2011 at 5:54 pm

        Undine is an interesting character, isn’t she?


        • December 2, 2011 at 6:05 pm

          Interesting, indeed. I won’t say more until I review it though!!


  3. November 30, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    I’m glad you participated and thanks for the wrap up as well.
    You should Eduard von Keyserlin apart from the one that i will give to Lizzy they are all available in Fench and when I read him I thought he is how Fontane would have written if he was more emotional.
    Like you and Tony I’m glad to have discovered new blogs as well. my blogroll has been expanded quite a bit.


    • November 30, 2011 at 5:32 pm

      I’ll try to find him, thanks for the reminder.
      It’s been odd to wander into the original texts sometimes, I have forgotten almost all the German I knew. Now I have to read Tony’s last review.


  4. November 30, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    Emma, I think time is a stern taskmaster for everybody–so I’m happy whenever people like you and my other blogging friends take the time to write up a heartfelt post like this or a review post that’s attention grabbing for one reason or another. I wasn’t able to blog hop much during the month either, but hopefully those German lit posts will stay up for a while so I can find some more recommendations. Not that I’ll have time to read anything new for a while, though. P.S. Belated thanks for your very kind words on my last Proust post a while ago; I was reminded the other day that I never responded to your comment, and I’m very sorry about that. Please pardon my inattentiveness…


    • December 1, 2011 at 2:30 pm

      Thanks for your message, Richard.
      Days aren’t long enough for curious people, are they? There’s always something new to read, to hear, to learn.


  5. November 30, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    Great stuff. I hate reading books in readalongs too, and always fail. I’m meant to be reading Nathalie Sarraute’s The Planetarium at the moment but – and this is how far I’m prepared to go with this – I’m reading Tropisms instead, just to assert my sovereignty.

    I also hated literature classes, though possibly for other reasons. I was always top of my literature class, but despised the glib nonsense I used to write and felt the whole of literary criticism was just a fraud (from about the age of 12).


    • December 1, 2011 at 2:34 pm

      I like readalongs because it’s really nice to share about a book with other readers who have all the details in mind at the same time as you. I couldn’t answer the questions and read the chapters though. I suppose it would be of some help for long and challenging books. For example, if I ever come to Ulysses or Moby Dick, I might enjoy to read it along with someone.


  6. December 2, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    Totally off subject: I saw your comment on Parrish Lantern’s post about recommending a book to a nonreader. I love that you’d bring up The Little Prince! I’m giving it to my students this year for Christmas, with a little background knowledge and the hope that they’ll love it for the rest of their lives. It’s a book which grows in meaning with each rereading. So wonderful. (I even had the opportunity to read it in French when I was studying that language more diligently. I don’t think I could read it in anything but English now.)


    • December 2, 2011 at 6:04 pm

      Hello, thank you for visiting. How old are your students?
      I’ve read The Little Prince as a child and loved it. This summer, I read it along with my children and we had a great time reading it together. There’s a review on the blog if you’re interested.


  7. December 2, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    I can’t do readalongs, challenges, anything like that. It becomes too much like work, and I fear as you found with Hotel Savoy losing the pleasure a book might otherwise have given me.

    But then, for all I was always very good at exams I hated school. Blogging for me is a sort of dispersed conversation, and I’m not sure I want my conversations too structured or channeled. That despite English Lit being one of the few subjects at school I actually enjoyed (sociology, politics, film studies, that’s probably it otherwise. I had a soft spot for home economics but as a boy while technically I could do that post-14 it would have been unwise and it plainly wasn’t intended at boys after that point).

    Still, I’ve enjoyed following German Lit month through the blogs of others and I’ve discovered some interesting writers/books. Very cool. Thanks for the posts, Emma and indeed others.


    • December 2, 2011 at 11:12 pm

      I was bored in school too, except for history classes. It worries me when my children complain that they get bored, which happens.

      What’s home economics? Cooking and sewing?


      • December 3, 2011 at 12:10 pm

        Pretty much. I liked the cooking. At 14 we had to choose which classes we went forward with and teachers made small presentations. Home economics was all girls holding kids in the presentation, which made it pretty obvious that boys weren’t invited.

        It was a bit of an archaism. Essentially it was about training girls to be housewives, but the days the subject was predicated on were past. Well, mostly past. Past at that economic level of society anyway where both partners will always have to work.

        In law firms oddly enough it’s very common for the male lawyers to have stay-at-home wives. In fact I think the profession is predicated on part on unpaid female domestic labour, and the absence of access to it is one of the things that holds back women in the profession. Put simply the men tend to have someone at home taking care of everyday admin so allowing them to put in long hours at the office. The women tend not to. With the hours though it’s hard to manage your life if you don’t have someone filling that role (I don’t, and don’t want that either, but it is clear that there are very few senior lawyers without either massive double incomes permitting hiring servants or a stay-at-home wife and my use of the word wife there is quite intentional).


        • December 3, 2011 at 5:23 pm

          When I was 14, home economics was replaced with electronics. It was the first year, my husband did cooking and sewing. The poor teacher had to teach how to weld tiny electronic components and have students make their own electricity tester or something like that. We also did industrial drawing, I hated it.
          Now that I think of it, the only class I really really enjoyed was PE.
          It’s been a long time now that home economics and the education of future stay-at-home wives has been abandoned in the French school system. Good thing, in my opinion.

          I know exactly what you mean about your lawn firm and all senior lawyers being male and with a stay-at-home wife. I started my career in a big audit & advisory firm (not the one that collapsed after Enron, but one of those) It’s the same kind of environment. But it was changing slowly. I had three women partners, one single, one married with a husband who didn’t have a demanding career and another one who worked part time to take care of her three kids.
          I used to work with an old partner, with white hair and a Dick Van Dyke white moustache. Once he told me that his daughter was getting married, that he hadn’t seen her grow up because he had worked too much. He told me “Don’t do it, it’s not worth it”. I stayed with me. I’ve been wanting to share this with you for a while, because you spend a lot of time at work.

          I’m looking for a new job these days and I can’t tell you how many times I get asked about my private organization, ie how do I do to work and take care of the children. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be a question if I were a man.


          • December 3, 2011 at 5:29 pm

            I’ve certainly never been asked that.

            The hours are an issue, but not one presently I could do much about. That said, as I type this I’m at work waiting for a call, so that old partner had something of a point.


            • December 3, 2011 at 6:02 pm

              And I’m going to bake a vegetable cake with my son. Bon courage (I don’t know the English expression for that, sorry) for the afternoon at work. I hope you’ll get your call soon.


  8. December 3, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    I don’t know whether it’s any consolation, but I never got near poor old Robert Musil all month. I can have a similar reaction to committing myself to reading. I do like my freedom – and I WILL read Musil, just over the rest of the winter, I expect. I’m aware that after all the years of reading for teaching, I’m tired of that way of doing things and have no interest in anything other than my own curiosity. But dear Emma, you are not damaged; you just have strong preferences, and that’s fine. I see it in my son too – he hates the rigidity of ordinary lessons and can only put effort into the things that have a properly interactive side, not the sort of class where you have to sit and listen to a teacher droning on. School situations are all about compliance, alas, and compliance can be so wrong and unhelpful for many people. The important thing is not how you appreciate literature, but that you appreciate it, and you clearly do.


    • December 3, 2011 at 5:28 pm

      Thanks for your kind message.
      I think I wasn’t challenged enough when I was in school. Getting into pre-school and meet similar people was a huge relief.


  9. December 8, 2011 at 2:39 am

    you read some great books emma for german lit month I had hope to post more as I had read more but had a really bad cold so was unable to post ,all the best stu


    • December 8, 2011 at 9:58 am

      Hello Stu, thanks for visiting.
      I enjoyed most of the books I’ve read. I have Grand Hôtel by Vicki Baum, Concrete by Thomas Bernhard at home. I’ll need to read another Böll one day too.
      I hope you’re feeling better now.


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