Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

5 Books I Love to Read over and over again

Montag, Mai 18th, 2009

It may not always be obvious, but long before I became a film fanatic, I was an avid reader. From my childhood days onwards, there was hardly a day which I didn’t spend with my nose in a book. For a long time, I read almost everything I could find – luckily, my parents had a knack for picking out great books, so that probably helped further my love for the written word. My formative years were spent in the company of Astrid Lindgren, Michael Ende and Erich Kästner and to these day I am convinced that they are the three greatest authors of children’s literature ever.

None of them are represented on this list, however, for as much as I love their books, I also feel I have outgrown them slightly. Occasionally, I pick one of them up and remember the good old days when reading was the greatest thing imaginable. Nowadays, I read much less and very erratically. There are periods – months sometimes, in which I do not turn a single page. And then there are times where I read five books a week and seem to be doing little else.

The five books (or “written works”, rather) I am going to talk about in this article are ones I treasure above all others. Not because I believe they are the best ever written or even my favourite ones, but because they are a sort of comfort food for the mind for me. Whenever I’m feeling down, I love to pick them back up and read them again. They, quite simply, cheer me up. So don’t expect great Russian literature of the 18th century after the jump, but a declaration of love for books many people would consider – maybe even rightfully so – trite.

(weiterlesen …)

Thoughts on “Good Omens”

Samstag, November 17th, 2007

In the late 1980s, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett wrote a book called “Good Omens”. In 1990, it was first published. In 2006, a new edition was published with some information from the two authors about the book, how it came to exist and about each other. Yesterday, I read the book. Today, I write down my thoughts on it, or rather on how it came to be.

“Good Omens” is entertaining enough to warrant the million of copies it sold to some less millions of people. Reviews of it can be found almost anywhere, so if you simply want to know whether you might enjoy reading the book, look for them instead of looking here. Here I will talk more about the process of writing a book or rather how to write this book.

Apparently, Pratchett and Gaiman have a vastly different approach to writing. It is said that Pratchett wrote 400 words every evening when he still had a “real” job. When he finished a novel and still had 100 words to go, he just start the next one. Gaiman is or at least was the more chaotic of the two. By the time they wrote “Good Omens”, they both were making a living with what they were writing, but instead of writing together, they would each write at home. Gaiman would write at night and wake up at midday to find his answering machine filled with messages from Pratchett to finally get up, because he had been writing all morning. Then, in the afternoon, they would share what each had written, talk about what they were doing and sketch out where the book was headed. They would send their drafts to each other through snail mail since this was a long time before e-mail was readily available. An attempt to use a modem to share the data was abandoned after they realized that the postal service was faster. At the end they got together to do the final edit and congratulate each other on their good work, only to realize that there were some things in the book they were both sure not to have written.

Apart from these anecdotes being rather amusing (more so when told by them then when amateurishly retold by me) they give some insight into the creative process that is writing. There are many writers who need the strict discipline that Pratchett enforced on himself, while others work best at night, possibly being slightly drunk and very chaotic. In general, the more chaotic the work of a writer seems, the more organized he is. Most writers are highly individual people, selfish, arrogant and always right. They are hard to tolerate at the best of times and nearly impossible to work with. Yet when they do, they create something that is somehow bigger than they themselves are. Of course this can be said for a lot of artistic work, but with collaborations these is even more true (just think of movies).

I guess what I am really trying to say here is: Does anybody want to be the Terry Pratchett to my Neil Gaiman?

Book Review – Atonement

Mittwoch, November 14th, 2007

In the wake of the release of the film adaptation of Atonement (Watch the trailer!), I felt it was about time to polish and hone my “British literature of the late 20th century” knowledge a bit. So for a couple of days, “Atonement” by Ian McEwan was collecting dust on my book shelf while I dreaded actually starting to read it, fearing it would be both dull and lengthy. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Even though it is not a short story, it has many qualities of one, but never gets boring. The novel is divided into three parts plus a sort of epilogue, with the first part easily the longest. But although it lasts for half the book, the first part only deals with the events of one day. The other parts are similar, taking still photographs in a story that lasts from 1935 to 1999.

This means that the writing is very attentive to detail as well as often showcasing the thoughts and memories of the protagonists. The novel starts on a hot summer day in 1935, when the 13-year old Briony witnesses a scene between her older sister Cecilia and the charlady’s son Robbie. As the events of the day slowly unfold, shown from the perspective of several characters, the vivid imagination of the writer-to-be Briony coupled with tragedy create a catastrophe that will change all their lives forever.

The second and third part deal with Robbie’s way in the war and Briony’s atonement respectively, before the epilogue, set in 1999, gives a new spin to the events that makes the story all the more real as well as terrible. The second part, set immediately before and through the British evacuation of continental Europe in 1940, is a haunting war story in its own right. Even though I have read many stories about war as well as seen countless movies dealing with the inhumanity and cruelty of war, McEwan manages to show effectively the horrors of that first year of World War II, both on an individual level and on the greater scale of the millions of people affected. This alone makes the book worthwhile, the backstory of the love between Cecilia and Robbie, of the betrayal of Briony and her atonement for it make this novel truly great. McEwan manages to tell their story with loving detail, yet keeps a certain distance to all characters to allow the reader to see events from several points of view. The only thing that the books suffers from is a certain tendency, especially in the first part, of McEwan to go off on to many tangents and use unnecessarily long sentences. But apart from that I would recommend the book to anyone who is not afraid to be absorbed into the sordid lives of its protagonists.