The Art of Reading


German booksellers have always had the dubious reputation of belonging to an elitist club in literary terms. Of course, for economic reasons they have to sell everything that makes a profit. But the black sheep among them see their real task in offering primarily "serious" literature, books that critics attest a high artistic level. Already in my apprenticeship I had to collaborate with fellows who sneered about clients who only were interested in trivial entertainment.





Ha! Some of the caste of poets since Goethe and Schiller are not entirely innocent of this. Poets who want to distance themselves from those colleagues, who don't give a damn about the artistic guidelines, which, follow a rigid interpretation, of how literature should be written. Gustave Flaubert is known for the agonising slowness with which his works (about 15 published) were written. His contemporary George Sand (about 180 volumes published) used to say of herself, she would finish a novel at one in the morning and begin the next one at half past one.


The question of what good literature is and what criteria distinguish it from trash literature has been for years the subject of a discussion that is much more relaxed in Anglo-Saxon countries than in Germany or perhaps in France. As a practitioner who is both a producer and consumer of fiction, I should refrain from taking sides. However, life has taught me that the way from the Parnassus in the gutter is brief, and that gutter experiences can be much more entertaining than coffeehouse circles with bloodless high-flown dialogues. In this respect, I prefer a thrilling story, whoever has written it and whatever theme he takes up, to that material which is trotting along in the footsteps of sublime literature and whose author is eager for literary prizes.


Three protagonists from Snakiestory, who devour all the books they can get in their hands on from an early age, appoint themselves a triumvirate of incorruptible young censors who decide what is literary rubbish or should remain so, what is good language and style or what is poor quality. They rarely come to a unanimous verdict because they base their decisions on very personal and subjective considerations. Nevertheless, the three young people have one thing in common: a sure sense of quality that can only be developed by continuously reading books year after year. Only in this way can one acquire a sense of judgement and know which works ultimately meet all artistic and universal demands.


On Sabine’s and my site a small selection is presented as a proposal to interested readers, which title they could chose as example quality literature. Some favourite authors are also listed. At Mr Schnurrli watches over them. This creature shows us, to quote Claude Levy-Strauss, that the occasional conversation with a cat leads to more understanding of the world soul than anything else.*


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





Details and more books on