Category Archives: Literature

2020: My Year of Books

Books are an important part of my being, I would even say I define myself through them. Not only have I enjoyed reading since my early youth, but I’ve also been writing books for almost two decades, on average one a year.

For the past two years, I’ve been keeping my own list (as a Google Sheet and now also on Librarything) of what books and magazines I’ve read. In 2019, I came up with 216 books, comics, and magazines, organized by category: 117 comics (mostly French) and 56 nonfiction, a few biographies, picture books, and even children’s books. I read most of them on my travels, and there were quite a few in 2019. I’ve been to Europe a total of 10 times, and on each trip I managed to read two to four nonfiction books. And yes, I really do lug the books around with me in print form, not digital. And they grace my apartment. I probably have close to 3,000 volumes spread over seven shelves in two rooms.

As a writer, books are also working materials and inspiration. Just as a filmmaker watches films, and artists themselves visit galleries and performances, so too must an author read. I myself read between two and four hours a day, and i spend the same number of hours writing every day. Under normal circumstances, I would be a coffeehouse literate, reading and writing books in the coffeehouse. This year, that was only possible from home, but I still maintain the coffeehouse vibe with proper preparation of my coffee, Viennese style.

Café & Literature (Instagram)
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In Sherlock Holmes’ Mind

London in the 19th century must have been a cesspool of sin, where murderers and manslayers and other dark criminals must have met. At least that’s what the crime literature of the time tries telling us.

But luckily, the city of London accommodates the impersonation of the bad boys’ nightmare, and this is well known to us. Sherlock Holmes with his sharp logic and his somewhat simple-minded sidekick Watson – a doctor, no less – put a stop to the scoundrels in many stories.

No wonder that more than 130 years after the first appearance of this duo, penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the stories are still fascinating audiences worldwide and produce new interpretations. The comic album In Sherlock Holmes’ Mind (original title: Dans la tête de Sherlock Holmes) introduces the reader to the character in a different way. We can literally see the thought processes of Holmes in his head and how he analyzes and solves the Case of the scandalous ticket on the basis of the evidence.

Album cover of Dans la tête de Sherlock Holmes
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The master of the carpets

The Orient and Dark Russia come together in this delightful comic album about the aging carpet dealer Fedor, who travels through the vastness of a country that modern times have not stopped at. The modern age has moved into homes in the form of parquet and wooden floors – a development that is slowly making carpets that protect against the cold of stone or clay floors obsolete.

But Fedor is even more worried: he feels his age and is worried that he has no successor for his profession. Then young Danil runs in front of his sleigh while fleeing from the henchmen of the boyar Nazar Alymoff. Because he has killed the ruler’s favorite greyhound, the death penalty is awaiting him. Fedor reacts instinctively, prepares a flying carpet and escapes with Danil – leaving his other carpets behind.

Album cover for Le maître des tapis
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The incredible adventures of the swindler Pablo of Segovia

One would hardly like to believe it, but it was to take 150 years until religious texts or pamphlets were finally replaced by secular printed matter in the size of the edition. Since the invention of letterpress printing by Johannes Gutenberg, the Bible and Martin Luther’s pamphlets have been among the best sellers. Luther was so popular that at that time a third of all printed matter was written by him.

At the beginning of the 17th century, a new type of writing began to establish itself, namely the novel. The first fictional bestseller in printed book history was Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. The sad hero of the story, with his struggle against the windmills and his faithful servant Sancho Panza, is still well known to us four centuries later.

El Buscón

Cervantes novel inspired a number of authors and in 1626 the History of the life of the Swindler, called Don Pablos, model for hobos and mirror of misers (original title: Historia de la vida del Buscón, llamado Don Pablos, ejemplo de vagamundos y espejo de tacaños) was published in Spainby Francisco de Quevedo.

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Midi Pile – An Enchanting Story In Scissor Cut

Occasionally, a work falls into your hands that you only want to touch with reverence and fingertips, and that tells a story that touches with great sensitivity. In the children’s book department of the Librairie Kléber bookstore in Strasbourg, Alsace, I came across the children’s book Midi Pile, which tells the adventures of the little rabbit Jacominus Gainsborough.

Rébecca Dautremer is the unique narrator and artist behind Jacominus’ experiences and has already introduced us to her in her first children’s book, The Rich Hours of Jacominus Gainsborough. With Midi Pile, she takes readers by the hand in a wonderful continuation of his adventures. The book is in coloured silhouette throughout and leads us through the story from the perspective of the little bunny.

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My Pile of Books 2019

In addition to writing, talking to people, listening to podcasts and giving lectures, one of the most important activities of an author and speaker is reading. And that is reading a lot.

Already as a child, I buried myself in comics from the 2nd hand comic store and in newspapers, even though I wasn’t officially allowed to read the latter. My father initially didn’t want me to read them, but my mother always secretly slipped them to me. Until the day when my father officially handed me the newspaper for the first time and I was no longer forced to read it in secret.

No wonder that in the family apartment we moved into in Vienna in the early 80s, the bookshelves and family books suddenly found their way into my room. Collecting books did not stop, and has even gained more momentum over time. Today I have a library that certainly contains around 3,000 books. There is not much order, but at least I have been maintaining an online list for a few years now, which probably contains about one third of my books.

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Mata Hari

I have been reading and collecting comics for years. It began – as usual – in childhood, when we were allowed to go to a comic exchange store once a week and exchange ten old comics for ten other old comics for 10 Austrian Schillings (less than a dollar). I had devoured most of the comics on the same day.

What I didn’t understand at the time was that many of the comics exchanged were actually comic books, where only a few pages of a comic album were printed. So instead of a whole Smurf story, it was just four or eight pages from a typical 40-60 page album.

But reading comics stopped when I was a teenager. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I came across a comic book store in Orleans, France, which to my surprise was not frequented by children, but mainly by adults. I flipped through a series of albums until I stumbled across a page that I knew from my French class in high school. A double spread of Marcel Gotlieb, originally printed in the legendary comic magazine Pilote, was there in a complete edition of his work.

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