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Book destroyment

Destroy + enjoyment.

These are my favourite books from when I was a child, and remain among my favourites even now. Sadly, they look terrible.

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Of course our parents told us not to damage books, but what can you do. There is a distinct correlation between the more a book was loved, the worse state it ended up in. I plan to replace them all one day, unless overcome by irrational sentimentality urging me to preserve these ugly editions.

I am really in two minds about this sort of active interaction with books.

When I was a full-time English student, I also enjoyed writing into books, underlining bits and arguing with authors if they irritated me. I’ve not been doing that at all any more because to the current me, it seems a shame to ruin books, it seems disrespectful. And yet, I found it fun to take a look at my old favourites and see what parts had resonated with me enough to underline.

Anne of Green Gables was the first book in English that I bought together with Oscar Wilde’s collected works. I have no memory at all what made me buy it, but it was to become one of the influential books in my life.

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I found no logic in the sentences I had underlined in my Anne, except that they refer to her imagination:

cookery

If you want a misery to pass faster, do like Anne:

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Next up is my Keats. He was my introduction to the Romantic poets and led me to see that there had been people who thought similarly to me. Of course, right now my take on the subject has become more nuanced, but at age 21, it felt like home-coming. My soul mates! Anne and the Romantic poets! It didn’t matter that they were fictional or dead. Not when you are used to thinking there is and never was anyone like you.

I think I was set on analysing Keats’ use of dreamy words and underlined all instances of “ethereal” and other words that sound distinctly dream-like, such as “eglantine”, “forlorn”, “myriads” “dryads” “nymphs” “gossamer” etc.

myriads of

ardent listless

I love those lines still. But my most favourite line by Keats is the following:

two luxuries real

It gave me such a chuckle. Keats seems completely oblivious to how amusing this pairing is, and that is why I love it the more. It was really his letters, rather than his poetry, that gave me this feeling of belonging with the Romantics

 

The following is a somewhat later extract from a biography of Patrick Pearse where I argue with the author. Excuse the handwriting. I can do better, but this obviously didn’t seem like the place.

pearse argue

 

I admit I found it fun to explore such books. Yet I still feel hesitant about taking up the habit again. I’m currently reading – took a break for a year – Jean-Christophe and often want to underline parts or comment on something, but I seem to have grown completely out of writing in books. I don’t want to ruin them. However, my Jean-Christophe is an absolutely ugly old edition I got for free, so maybe for ugly old editions or cheap new editions of no particular beauty I should take it up again. I’d definitely use a pencil rather than a pen, though.

Late night reading

This is great stuff:

Do not think of what will be in a year, or in ten years. Think of to-day. Leave your theories. /…/ Live in to-day. /…/ If you are good, all will go well. If you are not, if you are weak, if you do not succeed, well, you must be happy in that. No doubt it is the best you can do. So, then, why will? Why be angry because of what you cannot do? We all have to do what we can…. Als ich kann.”

“It is not enough,” said Christophe, making a face.

Gottfried laughed pleasantly.

“It is more than anybody does. You are a vain fellow. You want to be a hero. That is why you do such silly things.… A hero!… I don’t quite know what that is: but, you see, I imagine that a hero is a man who does what he can. The others do not do it.

“Oh!” sighed Christophe. “Then what is the good of living? It is not worth while. And yet there are people who say: ‘He who wills can!'”…

Gottfried laughed again softly.

“Yes?… Oh! well, they are liars, my friend. Or they do not will anything much….”

They had reached the top of the hill. They embraced affectionately. The little peddler went on, treading wearily. Christophe stayed there, lost in thought, and watched him go.

 

(From my favourite book)

I was disappointed by this English translation. I have an edition in my native language and this paragraph is much superior there. The above reads like something I might have written. I find it hard to resist improving it. But what can you do, I’m not going to type up this quote in my native language and I wanted to record that idea somewhere. It was at once new and instantly strikingly relatable.

Sunday

I must be getting old. Really old. My greatest dream is no longer an exciting and fun life, but one of peace and quiet. It feels bizarre to think back on this time last year and remember how I longed for exciting things to happen. Now, quite typically to any human, I long for nothing else but my release from such misfortune.

I was reading Hoffmann again. It so happens I’m foolishly in the middle of 5 books at the same time, so nothing ever gets finished. Hoffmann strikes me as one of those authors who is too rich to be consumed in one reading. He makes my head spin. His vibrant fantasy world is marvellous in small doses, but when I reach page 25 or thereabouts, I feel I need a break. Too much of the bizarre upon the bizarre mingling with the realistic. His writing reminds me of some very rich Baroque fabrics, with plenty of red and gold.

It is not a bad thing. Some books and writers are not suited for reading in one sitting. Typically the more philosophical and intellectual ones. I haven’t yet experienced it with a fantasy author, but I don’t often read fantasy either. Hoffmann just happened to bewitch me with his Cat Murr and his Romantic values. Continues to do so too, but I guess he is yet another author who is best read in small portions.

To hope and dream

God should honour the man who invented sleep, for he must have been a smart fellow; still more honour, however, should be paid to the inventor of the dream. Not the dream that arises from our minds only when we lie under the soft blanket of sleep — no, the dream that we dream our whole lives long, the dream that often lifts the oppressive burden of earthly cares upon its wings and silences every bitter woe, every dismal lament of disappointed hope, being itself a heavenly ray kindled in our bosoms both to inspire our incessant yearning and to promise its fulfilment.

(E. T. A. Hoffmann, Princess Brambilla)

It had never in my life occurred to me, before I read this, how fascinating, utterly wondrous, is our capacity to hope and dream. What survival advantage or psychological value could it possibly have? To hope and dream. No other creature hopes and dreams.

Book impressions: The Golden Pot

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E. T. A Hoffmann is a German Romantic author. If I had to compare him to another Romantic, it would be E. A. Poe. In particular, the imaginary world created in the Golden Pot reminded me of Poe’s The Domain of Arnheim. This is a lesser known Poe story about bliss, to put it in one word. It contains over-the-top dreamy descriptions of nature and landscape. Although not his most celebrated story, it’s the one Poe work that truly stayed with me, along with Landor’s Cottage.  One of the reasons was the beauty of the setting, the other the ideas in it. The author’s philosophy is that the attainment of true happiness is possible if we have something that is our life’s work. A project we can constantly add to and perfect, something that never runs out or becomes completed. In this story, it was a landscape garden. But it could be anything. A farm, an epic novel, a fantasy world, a sculpture. Something one creates. It resonated with me very much, as I too have experienced that “the only thing worse than not getting what one wants is getting what one wants”. Having everything you ever dreamt of has rarely made anyone happy long-term. There has to be something you spend your whole life walking towards, but I suppose, there also has to be belief in its final attainment. Otherwise, it cannot be a happy pursuit.

What connects The Golden Pot and The Domain of Arnheim is that they both describe a paradisal dream world and show imagination and creativity as the keys to the magic. But, cutting the idle meanderings of the mind short, on with Hoffmann only.

I really got into the novella when the allegory behind it revealed itself to me. It happened some time in the middle. At the beginning, I was unsure of who were the villains and who the heroes, whether the witch-applewoman was right and the salamander was up to no good with Anselmus, or vice versa. I also didn’t know what to make of Anselmus as he did seem quite unstable to me at the start. I mistrusted the salamander and had more faith in Veronika.

But then – the allegory unfolded itself to me – it was a battle of idealism and imagination versus rationalism and common-place living. Anselmus got shown the magic world because he was sufficiently pure-hearted and capable of believing in magic and love. When his faith waned, he was denied the entry, but since he could not exist in the ‘real world’ either, he regained his faith and was returned to magic and beauty.

What I consider praiseworthy and fresh is the portrayal of the down-to-earth people who have no faith in otherworldly things. Typically, in a story with such opposites, the fantasy world  is elevated and the ‘real world’ and its inhabitants are ridiculed and shown as inferior. In Hoffmann’s story, however, Veronika, her father and his friend are depicted more as distinct, but not necessarily lesser humans. Even Veronika’s love for pretty earrings and status didn’t strike me as a harsh criticism. She was very young, and young girls have silly fancies. She seemed quite brave to me in her efforts to win back Anselmus’ love (and possibly his sanity). So overall, I really this aspect.

Book inebriation

I didn’t touch Jean-Christophe for a while due to exams. Today,  I opened it again while passing the time by the river.

What a book this is and the things it does to me. I’m so grateful to the author for having written it and for the fact that it is three volumes of 600 pages each. I love, love this book.

I love it so much I feel our identities with the titular character are merging. I read it for 4 hours today and it has left a distinct mark on my mood and character. I’m highly strung and in a rather ‘passionate’ mood. I want to kick stuff, run around wildly, argue with someone or do anything that corresponds to the torrent of life that this book evoke.

Life.

Not the calm connectedness of my last post, with its pastoral tranquility, but a tempest of the heart. A wild, wild thing.

The joys of being a highly sensitive empath. I must ration my consumption of this novel. Right now, it has left me with a feeling that I experienced all these things myself, the tumultuous ups and downs of Jean-Christophe’s life. And I feel exhausted emotionally. And his neuroticism and passion have fused with my recently calmer moods and re-awoken the old haunts of the mind.

What a mood, what a mood. I wish I could take someone along who shared my intoxication (for life, art, or beauty) and we could drive off to some pretty private spot and read poetry. And throw dandelions in the air.

Thoughts on death

I spent this afternoon reading the first part of Jean-Christophe and his feelings about death resonated with me particularly.

It must be peculiar to relate to a young boy’s discovery of the full horror of death. He was only 11. And yet, it is the first time I see my own state of mind reflected. Now that the memory is no longer as fresh, it was comforting somehow. Like drawing strength from a shared sorrow and understanding. Sadly, one rarely gets to talk of death with their friends and family. Too morbid, I guess. But it is nice that books still talk of it.

Who sees it (the agony of dying) for the first time, realises that he knows nothing yet, neither of death nor of life.

(my back-translation of Rolland’s line)

I very much liked this line because that was how the experience of death at first-hand changed me. Fundamentally. I had been aware of death before, even experienced death of a close family member, but nothing had turned my world upside-down quite the same way the close encounter did. I have never even been able to talk of all that I felt, it would not be understood, so reading this book was like the first interaction on the subject, even if with a fictional character. Sensitivity connects.

I do wonder, however, whether I’m an anomaly for having realised the full horror of mortality only in my 20s. Or is it characteristic of our privileged European society where children are generally not exposed to death. Or is it also that a lot of people don’t realise it at all or at least not before their old age? One thing is certain: I took it like a child.

I look forward to reading how Jean-Christophe’s perception of death develops. Yet, and although I love epic novels, there is something sad in the finality of a biographical novel. You know how the story began and how it ends (if a proper biography) and it makes human life seem so small and insignificant. And sometimes, it is nice not to know the past or the future of a character. It is nicer to imagine that Holmes had a happy childhood than to know he did not. Or to assume Elizabeth and Darcy were happy in their future life.