The Art of Reading


In the sixties, when I served my apprenticeship in one of the biggest German bookstores in Hanover, Booksellers had to deal with the fact, that only five percent of the German population could be considered as steady readers. Although serious surveys arrive at the result, that the reading behaviour of the Germans since fifty years stick nearly at the same level, the rate nowadays may amount to only a half percent, concerning fiction books and including, that big readers consume more and more literature, whilst occasional readers hardly pick up a book anymore.




Ever since I can remember, German booksellers have been attributed with the ambiguous reputation, to belong to an elitist club, whose members are willing to sell all that makes money. Or they belong, on the other hand, to a small group, feeling personally obliged ostensibly to campaign for the so-called superior poetry. What means sometimes, that they may look down on clients who prefer pulp fiction. Ha! part of the caste of poets since Goethe and Schiller thereon is not completely guiltless. Poets who wish to dissociate themselves from those colleagues, not caring a fig about the artistic guidelines, which, following a rigid interpretation, determine how literature should be written.


The question what good literature is and which criteria separates it from shoddy writing, is since the year dot under a discussion, which is contended in the Anglo-Saxon countries much more relaxed than in Germany or perhaps in France. As a practitioner, who concurrently is producer and consumer of the belles lettres, I should stay away from any taking of sides. However, life has taught me, that the way down from Parnassus into the gutter is short, and that gutter experiences could be much more entertaining than coffeehouse circles with bloodlessly high-flown dialogues. In so far, I give preference to a fascinating story, whoever has written it and which theme he picks up, against those stuff, which trots along in the track of sublime literature and whose originator ogles to literary awards.


Three protagonists from Snakiestory, who devour yet in early youth all the books, they could lay their hands on, appoint themselves to be a triumvirate of incorruptible young censors who decide, what is literary garbage or what shall persist, what good language and style is or what is bad quality. They seldom reach a unanimous verdict for the simple reason that they draw upon very personal and subjective considerations. Nevertheless, the three youngsters have one thing in common: A sure feeling for quality, as it can only be developed in the course of reading books continuously year by year. It is the only way to acquire discernment and to know which writings in the final analysis meet all the artistic and universal requirements.


On Sabine’s and my page a small selection is presented as a proposal to interested readers, which title they could chose, if they are looking for high quality literature. Several favourite writers are listed as well. Over them watches on Sir Schnurrli. Who gets it through our head, to quote Claude Levy-Strauss, that the occasional conversation with a cat leads to more understanding than anything else. *


* Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques, Collection Terre humaine, Plon, Paris 1955                                     






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