Tag Archive: literature


Orwell –  a dystopian writer or a socio-realist?

Down and Out in Paris and London” was the first book Orwell ever wrote and therefore it demands some special attention. He wrote it in 1933.

penguin_down_and_out

Who was George Orwell? He was born Eric Arthur Blair 110 years ago, on June 25th 1903. He died on January 21st, 1950, some 46 years later. To me, Orwell has always been an important touchstone, a true pleasure to read since he is different in as much as he combines some traits I find important for any writers: will for social and political justice, very clear language, intelligence, sharp observation, wit and accuracy in the depiction of social realities.

down_and_out

I’ve read him ever since I was little and funnily enough, at school, we read 1984, just in the year of 1984, when I was 13. Yes, it did make a huge impact on me. I cannot say anything else. We discussed the book. We wrote essays on it. We saw the movie 1984. It was a blatant attack against totalitarianism. That much was clear. And for a classroom with a lot of rebellious hormones flying around, Orwell was just right in showing us what society would be if we allowed ourselves to be let astray. Everyone in class including the teacher was sure that there would never be any similar surrounding, that everything depicted in the book, was pretty much a dark pessimistic fantasy, way out, and that basically this was a dystopia which would never happen.

Now about 30 years later, I am not so sure anymore. I find that Orwell had the unusual talent of absorbing very slight historical tendencies and thinking them till the bitter end and turning it into fiction. Orwell’s fiction is never just fiction. It is a moral signpost that says “Don’t go there. It might happen if you don’t watch out.” On the other hand, he wrote a lot about what happened in real life. He was in no way a writer in his ivory tower. He was pretty much connected and set in the real life of his time and confronted with real-life problems. “His work is marked by clarity, intelligence and wit, awareness of social injustice, opposition to totalitarianism, and commitment to democratic socialism.” That’s what Wikipedia says, and I solidly agree with that.

Orwell. The dystopian writer, the social critic

George_Orwell_press_photo

There are many books by George Orwell, well worthwhile reading which are hard to come by because of course, 1984 and Animal Farm are the evergreens and the bestsellers that cannot be surpassed.

Retracing his steps, we find that he was basically a middle upper lower middle class son, who was born in India, grew up in Burma, living a privileged life within a well bred family. But as he grew older, and after having returned to Europe, he seemed to have been a wandering spirit. He tried out multiple ways in order to live, he had something inside him, a search of something else, a weariness of everyday life about him. Something that made him seek out adventures. He led an unusual life. Orwell wrote his first book with the title “Down and out in Paris and London” (1933) which I would like to recommend today with all my heart.

In a nutshell, it is a desolate depiction of what the social reality for poor people, for people out of a regular existence, jobless, homeless, sometimes vagabonds and basically impoverished people must have been like. The daily search to get by on a minimum of money is shown with a pinch of salt. It is not someone who is crying into his bowl of water-soup at the workhouse. There is nothing that resembles rage or an accusation against the state or the state of things in there. It just shows the reality of what things were like. Without commenting as much on it. That is Orwell’s English side. And this is what made me have goose pimples all over when I first read the book at 20. It was hair-raising. The cruelty and the sometimes really very harsh if not brutal realities are depicted in a very formal and sometimes offhand manner. It is something hard to digest at first. But that way, the reader gets to the bottom of things, to the places where Orwell leads him, to the darkest corners in pre-war Paris and pre-war London. The reader must ask himself what made Orwell endure all of this. He wanted to be a first-hand narrator. He did not want to narrate the hell of others, of vagabonds, he first wanted to endure it so he could write his books with a totally different stance. Today, we might call him an investigative journalist. Yes, but Orwell was more than that. He was a critic in his way not to criticize anything but depicting every cruel detail of what happens to poor people and what happens if you get to the point where you lose your job, you home and your social framework. Something which in the nineteen-thirties must have been something not so easy to endure.

Another very good book by Orwell is “Burmese Days” where Orwell actually lets us in on the secrets of his upbringing in the colonies. It is an eye opener. Truly recommended.

All in all, I can only recommend George Orwell again and again. I know, that 1984 is a must read for many classes (at school as well at university) but it rightly is so. As well as Animal Farm has become a total classic. However, Down and Out in Paris and London, as well as Burmese Days and his collected Essays should find more readers, the way I see it.

Orwell was a bright man, with a vision.

Ending this post, I would like to point out that in fact, the more I think about it, the more I feel that Orwell is a more than a modern classic, he is a post-modern writer, someone to foresee something sinister that was about to happen. Let’s us all see to it that we can make this dystopia stop before Big Brother and the thought police become reality.

I wonder what Orwell would write if he was alive today.

Advertisements

Ok. I am pretty new to the game. In my late twenties I did some half hearted attempts. But now I really mean it. My book is written. Now I need a publisher.
I got three letters of rejections this week.
I am really crushed. I feel done for. I don’t need much more of this.
Some don’t even state a reason.
And they don’t need to. As the decision itself shows that you as a writer did not cut it. That your book is presumably just garbage.
You end up feeling like you’ve fallen into a deep pit.

The silent treatment.
To me it’s the worst.
Bad for me.
Really bad.
Worst blow for a weak self-esteem.

I hope I will pick myself up again.
At some point.
Right now I just feel like … shit …suicide

the author who will never happen.

Let’s talk about SEX.

Sex has been in – excuse the pun – in everyone’s mouth. Ever since this book trilogy came out “The fifty Shades of Gray”… SM, role-playing, whips and chains seem to have become fashionable. I myself cannot say that I have read the book because it would simply not be true.

I did read other books, a long time ago and right now I don’t have the feeling that a lot is going on in the literature scene when it comes to erotic literatura, let alone the simple depiction of sex. Everything is either clean & airbrushed, or it gets really down and dirty. And in the second case, we tend to call it porno. So, when “Fifty shades of Gray” came out and it skyrocketed, it must have hit a nerve because so many women went out to buy this book. I can’t tell you which one, as it did not hit me as being a book I would need to read, but there seems to have been a huge public interested – to be fair and square… One must see that, like it or not.

sexy_pinup

alex-gregory-can-we-role-play-a-couple-who-are-too-tired-to-have-sex-new-yorker-cartoon

Women are so tired of the old clichés… And no, we don’t want new ones, new clichés. Neither do we want some book on our bedsit table that some might sneeringly refer to as “mummy porn”. No, but no thanks. I would much rather have some blue movies, sex books, porn magazines, some mental stimulus in an erotic story and please make it good ones which really deserve that name.

Why can’t we women have female porn too? The gay’s lib has been much more openminded about this issue than others care to dream about.

beach_dude_robachippen

Why can’t we women have dirty magazines with steamy pictures? I don’t really know if PLAYGIRL is still around. But I very much doubt it. And it is a shame.

When I was 22 (that’s twenty years ago), I bought my first ever PLAYGIRL magazine

playgirl_cover

… yes, it did exist, and it is what you think it is, you can check it!!!. It felt gand it was ground breaking. I loved reading it. It was full with nice looking guys, it even had a fold-out boy, and it was a big step in terms of equality of the sexes… as far as I am concerned. Of course, you don’t need to agree with me here, but I do like to look at half-naked specimen of the opposite sex. I am proud to say that. And I don’t think it is depraved or dirty. PS: Meanwhile PLAYGIRL does not seem to exist anymore. What a bloody shame… Here are some back covers to drool over… 😉

Playgirl_rob_lowe

Why can’t women bear sex and the desire for sex with some dignity? We can’t we show it as freely as men tend to do it – without being frowned upon?

Playgirl-1996-doug-supernaw-b074

playgirl_dark_dude

Don’t get me wrong… except for ROB LOWE, who is a sweetie, I am not really into the cover guys… but I wanted to give you some variety, something to get to know, and some food for fantasy… 😉

Isn’t it time that we women had the same right to silly, sexy, and really down’n’dirty behaviour as men? Why are we such awful hypocrites? On one hand do we applaud this behavior with a man, calling him Don Juan, patting him on the back, whereas a woman will be regarded a downright slut if she thinks / talks / acts sexually?

Take an example: How about shagging a secretary…? a male one, hand-picked obviously, half-naked on a sheepskin, in front of a fire-place… Having a quickie with a stranger somewhere in the dark, something like that anyway. Why do we believe that the woman will take control whereas the man and his secretary is an image clichéd but accepted… ??? I don’t get it.

SEX-EDUCATION-facebook

So… What has happened between 1993 and now?

One would think that we as a species were a bit open-minded and could grasp the idea that men and women basically tick the same way and they both sometimes want to “get down to brass tacks”.

Excuse me. But that’s a literary quote by the way. That phrase was coined by T.S. Eliot.

Why do we women always have to pretend that we’d be interested in flowers, the newest bikini diet, cooking recipes, and shit… Pretending to be bloodless creatures, immune to carnal desires.

I tried… I really did. I wanted to be more like that anemic ethereal being. It simply did not work out. My will to be me, to be alive, to be vital was stronger.

But if truth be told: I could not care less about who may be judging me.

Ok, that was technically yesterday. Nevertheless I thought about which ten books I really devoured as a child / teenager and why I would recommend them to others no matter what.

Here is my run down:

1) Der kleine Vampir by Angela Sommer-Bodenburg (The Little Vampire)

2) Die Vorstadtkrokodile by Max von der Grün

3) Die rote Zora und ihre Bande by Kurt Held

4) The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

5) Harriet the spy by Louise Fitzhugh

6) Die Abenteuer der schwarzen Hand by Hans-Jürgen Press

7) Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

8) Pippi Langstrumpf by Astrid Lindgren

9) The secret diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend

10) The hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy by Douglas Adams

11) The treasure island by Robert L. Stevenson

12) The three investigators by Robert Arthur

13) Das fliegende Klassenzimmer von Erich Kästner

14) Lord of the flies by William Golding

15) Le Petit Prince by Antoine Saint Exupéry (The Little Prince)

16) Winnetou I-IV by Karl May

17) Die unendliche Geschichte by Michael Ende (The neverending story)

18) The Third Wave by Ron Jones (Die Welle)

19) Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Caroll

20) The last man alive von Alexander Sutherland Neill (Die Grüne Wolke)

21) The catcher in the rye by J.D. Salinger 22) Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The listing from 1 – 22 does not represent any form of ranking, it’s just the order by which they came to my mind.

In case you don’t know these books and want to find out about what they are, just give me a shout, and I will expand on any of these.

vorstadtkrokodile

rote_zora

Der+kleine+Vampir

jack-and-friends

I have found other books that I quite liked for children. These ones here:

1) When sheep cannot sleep by Satoshi Kitamura 2) Hexi Lili by Knister 3) Am Samstag kommt das Sams by Paul Maar 4) Tintenherz von Cornelia Funke

When Sheep cannot sleep

I am sure there are still a lot I am missing right now. Plus I did not separate them regarding to their respective age groups. But nevertheless, whenever we remember how colourful we remember our first memory of children’s books, this is a tradition we should try to pass on to the next generation.

When you have children’s books I should know about, please comment here.

Thank you.

This wasn’t my first trade fair. But it was an interesting one. As much as I had wanted to go there, there was a lot of disillusion going through my head while being there. But hey, what am I saying? Of course it’s a business and the days of discussing things quietly in an armchair are definitely over.
So… How was Liber 2012 in Barcelona?

image

Let’s see some pictures first.

image

image

image

image

image

image

All in all, it was a good decision to muster the time and make the effort going there.
However, there are quite a few editors who make you wonder about a couple of things. If I have nto be brutally honest then I should say I could have gone after 3 hours. The atmosphere was non existent.

It felt like a supermarket. Too many fancy stands. No secluded areas to sit down and read or write.

I sat down somewhere (at a stand) and almost immediately I was being  asked who I was and what did I want… Ok. Message understood. Um… Just shuffle my papers and jot down a line or two… Well. The fair was exhausting. That much is true.

However, on the upside, I met by chance the colombian writer Roberto Gil de Mares. We had a wonderful chat and I will expand on him and his novel another time.

Basically, I was expecting an atmosphere very different from what I got. Very businesslike and not in the least representing an art which literature is.

Books no longer seem to be any different to a can of coke or to pair of jeans or the latest energy drink. It has become a product. The way you can buy them everywhere does little help here.

Nevertheless I can safely say that Barcelona is always worth a trip. And even when you come back disillusioned and think, ouch, that really hurt, you kind of know that accepting truths get you further than pretending that everything remains the same. Or pretending that books are exempt from being affected by the Euro and now worldwide crisis.

So? Any upbeat message at all?
I guess here I might quote a little saying

Better the devil you know

As much as it hurt to see that the golden years of publishing houses seem to be over, it was a good thing to see the movement on the market, to find out about the buzz.

There are interesting niche publishers but few of them are really interested in unknown authors. Most of those houses are struggling themselves. The most striking examples of heroic intention was Nadir editorial. This was something that really made me sad. Here was a man with good taste and a very unique affection for the small gems in literature. But inspite of his energy he could not achieve financial success. In the end, this spells let’s go back to being more comercial. Such and not otherwise is the message.

If you go to Liber to find out about the mechanisms of the trade, well that’s one thing you won’t feel deceived about, but the ones among you who harbour the hope of finding an editor… Um I don’t want to sound cruel or disheartening but I would say using the words of the immortal swan of Avon “love’s labor lost”.

Or even use a scene from Macbeth and the three witches:

When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning or in rain
When the hurly burly’s done
When the battle’s lost and won.
Where the place?
Upon the heath.
There to meet with Macbeth.
Paddock calls anon.
Fair is foul. And foul is fair.
Hover through the fog and filthy air.

I wish I could undo this knowledge. But I guess I can’t. So I have to go on like that and hope that one day I might meet a publisher who thinks in different matters and doesn’t look for another bestseller to hit the market.
There are days when I think “fuck it” I might as well pack it in. I am not one to make compromises when it comes to the contents I would like to write about. To anything I feel strongly about.

Artistic freedom?
Moral support?
Literary novelty?
You must be joking.

Literature has sold out. Books have become products. Why else do they sell them with a promo stand in gawdy colors? Depending on the sales units. Why do they promote themselves in a target group adapted manner? It is quite disheartening.

I want the time back when we ( a literary circle) would meet up in some seedy bars and discuss books nobody but just a few intellectuals had read and we would be sharing our interpretations with one another until dawn… That time is irrevocably gone. But the best was: Book shops back then were still bookshops and not merchandising hell like today. I cannot see Hannah Montana, Harry Potter or any such crap. Neither do I think that any bookshop should sell such crap like the 50 shades of grey. This is another means to decrease your iq. It is sad that nowadays nothing is sacred anymore. Books and their ubiquituousness are the new willing and inexperienced prostitutes of new dawning century of pseudo intellectualism. It is here and it has come to stay. The profundity, serenity of love for details of knowledge and of university or even secondary school studies are swept away. Every country gets the education it deserves.

Everything needs to generate profits. Capitalism for dummies.

Now… I admit it. With the last sentences I know I am kind of overreaching. But I’ll be damned if it isn’t true.

In one way it was good that I went there. In another way, I seriously wish to be able to erase some of the  sentences I overheard being said.

Fair is foul.
Foul is fair.
Hover through the fog
And filthy air.

Image

I read this book in the finals days of July I think and I must admit I have been wanting to write a review about it for quite some time. It is not a book one can read and just put away. This book gets you hooked. But at the same time, the book really defies being typecast, it is hard to place your finger on what it is. It is a very unusual book, quite different to anything I have read in quite a while. I picked it up again and again and really immersed myself in its otherwordly charme and recently re-read it.

First of all, it really contains ingredients for a pretty rough ride, and that’s what the story really is, at least for its protagonist, well, I would say for the reader as well. But that’s a good thing. It is a fast paced story, full of twists and turns, and it does not let you breathe properly until you know what the end is like. No spoiler alert here. To me, this is a mixture of genres, a horror story, set in present day, containing social criticism clad in the institutionalisation of “difficult teenagers” as well as a classical drama. On the surface, we are introduced into these summer camps, which are basically the cheap way out for rich parents not able or not interested in facing up to their own educational failures.  Here are a handful of teenagers locked up in the outward idyllic of a secluded college for socalled juvenile delinquents. But that is just the surface and the setting.

The author is particularly strong with dialogues. They are pretty short but very poignant. When you read passages like in the beginning the discussions between father and son, you get the idea that inspite of being set in an affluent family, this youngster Vicent has not so much he could laugh about. Of course, he is rebellious and you (as a reader) wish for this dialogue to continue in spite of the youngster being sent away. There is an undercurrent of father-son relationship gone really bad, there is a huge conflict going on there. That to me was a shame that this dramatic potential was kind of wasted. All the reader was left with is a sort of background information. But nevertheless, since the speed keeps you on the edge of your seat, this is not a major set back at all. The book is just really well written and you kind of wonder why the authors would not dig a little deeper here to make the character a little more emphatic and a little more three dimensional.

The central conflict of the book is the fight between the owner of this institution and Vincent’s daily trials he has too undergo which get more cruel, wicked and grim as the story progresses. Little by little the reader gets to understand that an escape may be the only possible solution left for him. There is a deep sense of enclosure in this book which I found amazing. Trapped in the woods with some ego tripping headmaster? But what can you do when even the inmates start to disappear and you hear howling sounds and inexplicable noises and see weird things that make you guess you must have dreamt.

Ullals (Fangs) is a book that teases the reader into believing it is very easygoing, it starts pretty offhand, almost lightly, it welcomes you, it offers you a chair, but then as the chapters progress, you feel that the climate gets rougher and rougher. This is a very clever thing I never saw before in a book. The way the book is written also reflects the situation of the protagonist at the same time. The story quite literally straps you onto the chair while you try to stand up and search the exit door. But hey, it does not exist. You are trapped as well. The reader gets to peak into a scenario that has pretty dark shades and sometimes Kafkaesque touches. It gives you access to a world unknown to most of us. The sheer physical violence of some scenes lets your adrenaline rush. A very clever thing is that the reader feels quite involved through the immediacy of the dialogues and that there is not so much in between left that could clear up or free you from the menace of the damocles sword, which is not only inside the instition personified through the headmaster but also outside, in the woods, through something else, something more ferocious even.

There is this trait in the book where you feel quite uncomfortable that you are witnessing something that really could have been avoided.

Even at the end when you think you already know the end, the author manages to insert an unexpected turn and you are left with eyes wide open, your pulse racing and possibly a hand clapped over your mouth.

The book won a Youth book prize in 2010. Absolutely deserved, I think. Ullals moves you. And it does a lot more than that. An intelligent, fast and furious book, a tour de force, lots of cinematic images, very well written. If you haven’t read it so far, go and buy it. It is a modern classic.

 As far as I know, the book Ullals is being turned into a movie and is currently in pre-production.

%d bloggers like this: