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Book Meme
Fun meme. And i get to preach, too!

What is on your nightstand now?

"Paradise Lost" by John Milton and "The 5th Empire" by Victor Olegovich Pelevin.

When and where do you like to read?

Evenings, at my desk.

What was the last truly great book you read?

All of them. :P Last book was "The Iron Heel" by Jack London, which explains London a lot.

Are you a fiction or a nonfiction person? What’s your favorite literary genre? Any guilty pleasures?

Both. I read fiction if it has to tell me something and non-fiction for the same reason. I want to learn. For genre, i like certain sci-fi stuff (Stanislav Lem,  f. ex.). I like to read philosophical ideas, societal reflections and political ideas. As for guilty pleasures? Why, BtVS (and it's fanfic) of course! :D

What was the best book you read as a student? What books over the years have most influenced your thinking?

Uh, i've read so many books as a student. Maybe "The Loyal Subject" by Heinrich Mann? Or, or Elfriede Jelinek's "Children of the Dead". On the other hand, there's "Politics" by Aristotle and "The Capital" by Marx. Hm...

I think i have to go with Aristotle's "Politics". That opened up a whole world to me at the age of 17. It started my fascination with the organization of human society which i am still obsessing over, decades later.

I think there are maybe 150 really important books if one wants to understand European (i use the term loosely here, including Britain, USA and Russia) culture, history, politics and society. Some authors worth reading:

(Heraclitus. Socrates.) Plato. Aristotle. Epicureus. Sun Tsu. Thomas Aquinus. Machiavelli. Dante Alighieri. Michel de Montagne. Descartes. Locke. Hobbes. Voltaire. Rousseau. Adam Smith. Immanuel Kant. Hegel. Nietzsche. Marx. von Clausewitz. Proudhon. Bakunin. Kollontai. Wittgenstein. Einstein. Georges Lukacs. Sartre. Simone de Beauvoir. Horkheimer & Adorno. Hannah Arendt. Noam Chomsky. Foucault. Judith Butler....

...Homer. Vergil. Nibelung Song (too many authors). Boccaccio. von Grimmelshausen. Daniel Defoe. Stephenson. Diderot. Casanova. Stendhal. Gogol. Heinrich Heine. Dostojevsky. Tolstoj. Flaubert. Bataille. Edgar Allan Poe. Hans Christian Andersen. Victor Hugo. Turgenev. Emile Zola. Oscar Wilde. James Joyce. Kafka. Bertholt Brecht. Marquez. Jelinek.....

Fortunately, that's not too much to read in one lifetime. :)

(Time to get off my soap box, now...)

What is your ideal reading experience? Do you prefer a book that makes you laugh or makes you cry? One that teaches you something or one that distracts you?

All of the above. I want to be able to engage with the book/author, discuss stuff in my head. I want to be moved, mind and heart.

What were your favorite books as a child? Did you have a favorite character or hero?

I loved Irish/Gaelic sagas. So much magic. And my favorite hero(ine) was "Brunhilde" from the Nibelung Song. So fierce. Such will.

What are your reading habits? Do you take notes? Electronic or paper?

Electronic notes, if i want to put ideas by different authors together. Or trying to read original and translation. I have a friend who conjures different authors up in his mind and let's them have a go at each other. "The Gay Necromancy", as he calls it.

Read any good memoirs recently?

Nelson Mandela's memoirs. Fascinating insights. Well worth every page.

What’s the best movie based on a book you’ve seen recently?

Well, maybe there are good adaptions out there - but i just don't know them?

What do you plan to read next?

Well, re-learning Russian and then reading Dostojevsky again! :D For the books alone it would be worth it to know all the languages of the world (well, there's also all the people. Communicating with them should be great, too!). I want to get into all the literary cultures i missed so far. More English&US-American literature. More South American magic realism. Arabic stories. Chinese philosophy. African politics. I guess i have to invent longevity first to have all the time to do it, though.

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How's The Fifth Empire? I loved Pelevin's The Helmet Of Horror, but I've never delved further...

Also, hell yes to most of your list of quintessential authors (though there's a bunch I haven't read yet). And I need to read more Jelinek. What the hell is up with Austria to give us both Jelinek and Haneke?

Re: Irish/Gaelic sagas, have you read Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds? If you like Joyce and sagas, you should love that one...

And re: African politics - read Ngugi wa Thiong'o's Wizard Of The Crow if you haven't already. Basically a fiercely marxist (though less card-carryingly Marxist than his earlier work) Bulgakov/Márquez-style satire of supposedly-post-colonial Africa - hilarious and furious at the same time.

"The Fifth Empire" is kinda mandatory for us: it is about vampires! ;-) I don't know any other books by him and only know Pelevin because me well-read and super worldly friend Julia brought some culture from Moscow to the province (and i mock her to no end that she fell in love this far away from her home in the middle of nowhere...).

No, i haven't read O'Brien at all: 20 years ago, i bought a book by O'Brien, just after i read Joyce. Natural, right? My then-girlfriend saw the book, snatched it - and promptly broke up with me. The length some people go to get their hands on a certain book...

So thanks for reminding me of O'Brien! Will seek out!

Sadly, i know next to nothing about African literature. What you write about that book sounds really great! So, i think it is time to remedy my ignorance. :)

The Helmet Of Horror is kind of relevant too - it's basically a re-telling of Theseus and the Minotaur set in an online chatroom. Maybe. :)

Here's a list of the 100 greatest African books of the 20th century if you want a starting point. Some really great stuff on there.

Oh, thanks a lot! Bookmarked for the summer vacation (another month of work, then 4 weeks for me!).

I think i will get my grabby hands on everything Pelevin has written - "5th Empire" is good.

Jelinek and Austria. I think it is a glitch! ;-) Jelinek doesn't live in Austria anymore, after a very dirty news campaign against her, blaming her to foul her own nest (Austria).

I have this theory (well, idea ;-)) that a strict conformist and oppressive society will birth a genius every so-many years or so. A push back, if you want. Amidst all the oppression and ignorance a sole flower of brilliance, a mind able to actually see the world, fueled by the spirit of truth in a sea of lies and deception...

..ahem. Got carried away. :D

But i wondered that myself, how 19th century Germany brought forth so, so many great thinkers - while the society and state as a whole were so, so ignorant and oppressive, brutal and war-mongering.

Which language do you read Jelinek in? She's so... German in her language, that it is hard for me to imagine to translate what she's written. And, she's very German/Austrian in her themes, too. And her merciless, dissecting malice is German, too. She is the mirror for the murderers and the children of the murderers.

What have you read by her?

I have this theory ...

Yeah. Which is a long and complicated issue, but I just wanted to post this which is tangential to that. I'm just now reading Herta Müller's Herztier, about life as a dissident in Ceasescu's Romania, and there's this passage (quick translation):

And I thought that anything's good as long as it hurts the people digging cemeteries. That Edgar, Kurt and Georg are hated by those who dig cemeteries, because they write poetry, paint pictures, hum melodies. That this hatred hurts the guards. That bit by bit, all the guards and eventually the dictator himself will lose their heads over this hatred.
I didn't know yet that the guards needed this hatred for their daily bloody work. That they needed the hatred to pass judgment to earn their pay. They could only judge their enemies. The guards proved their reliability by the number of enemies they could create.

The only Jelinek I've read so far is Die Ausgesperrten (in Swedish; I've tried reading her in German and it's hard). And I came away from that one really needing a shower. I think I'm about ready for another go.

Ha! "Die Ausgesperrten" was my first book by Jelinek, too! (and i agree on the shower-needing...) :)

And, yes, i can imagine how hard it must be to read Jelinek in German when that's not your mother language. Jelinek is perhaps the fist author to extensively use a computer to write, which is evident in her repetitions and iterations of text. "Die Kinder der Toten" (Children of the Dead) is truly mind blowing and a lot more advanced then "Die Ausgesperrten", while still describing the same class. It is also very sad, and funny-in-a-not-so-funny way. If you have the time and patience to read that one - i highly recommend it (my first edition has 666 pages - no coincidence!).

About that quote by Müller:

You know, i very often defend the Bolsheviks against all the anti-communist propaganda which is main stream "opinion" today. But - that all the Bolshevik inspired states and societies were so, so brutal and non-democratic breaks my heart (and also poses a true dilemma: "What is to be done?" Well, what? Lenin's ideas crashed with Stalinism).

For U.S. authors, I'd say James Baldwin is pretty much fundamental. When I taught U.S. Lit this past spring, my students universally adored him. Great list anyway :).

Essayist, novelist, playwright -- I'd recommend starting with this iconic essay, which is about his time in Switzerland.

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