Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2013: My Year of German Literature

One of my favorite professors at work was Max Aue who taught German.  I didn’t see him often but it was always interesting when he stopped by, usually for business but we often ended up chatting.  He even invited me to sit in on a class once because, in his phrase, it would be good to have another adult in the room.  Frequently what we talked about was how little Americans knew about German literature.  I told him to not worry too much because most Americans don’t really know anything about American literature either.  But his basic point was true enough and I’m an example.  Even though I've seen a bunch of German films, I’ve read only a few German books and most of those actually by Austrian writers or in one obvious case Czech (or Austrian-Czech or Austro-Hungarian-Czech or whatever is the appropriate pigeonhole).

Last August Max died in a traffic accident.  As a way of paying tribute I decided to read more German books in 2013 and came up with the idea of one a month.  Twelve isn’t very many and I already decided to go with twelve for the entire year because there’s no way I can follow a schedule.  At one point I considered doing one fiction book and one history because after reading Simon Winder’s Germania last Spring I realized I have a very spotty knowledge of German history between the Roman empire (or at least Arminius and Teutoburg Forest) and the 20th century.  But I’m going to be more lax about the history or I’d likely end up just reading war books all year.

I already have a list of about 40 titles but won’t post it because certainly I won’t read most of them.  After all Novalis may sound worth checking out (Borges seems to have liked him) but really how far am I likely to get past an introduction?  I'm not completely trying to fill in cultural blank spots but to find worthwhile books and writers so no survey approach.  And to continue overthinking what is basically a pretty modest project I’m going to mainly focus on Germany proper however confusing or improper or vague that might be but won’t worry much if something is from an Austrian or Swiss writer (if only because I’ve always planned to read Joseph Roth and this is as good a time as any). I'm still looking for travel narratives about Germany (Theroux seems to have skipped it) or from Germans (is there a German Toqueville or Custine?) as well as some less academic (ie narrowly focused) histories or biographies.

With any luck a post about the first book will appear in a few days.