A New Way to Read


Yesterday was a big day for me in a very small way. For the last months I’ve been clearing out the relics. All that remains of upward of 20 boxes in the garage are three bins of stuff and three boxes of books. I think I could go out there today and dump the bins into the trash can, but I won’t. Still, after loading a friend’s car with boxes of books to take to a bigger city to sell or donate, I don’t want more books in my life. I still have plenty that I could box up and donate or sell, but as they’re in shelves and not bothering anyone, I’m leaving them be.

Then I learned yesterday of a new biography of Goethe, GOETHELife as a Work of Art By Rüdiger Safranski, translated by David Dollenmayer

The NYT doesn’t give the book a glowing review — Anglo-centered wretches that we are — saying:

“Safranski’s book (a best seller in Germany) is aimed squarely at a German readership of Bildungsbürger, educated and tolerant of abstractions and paraphrases. It doesn’t feel the need to locate Goethe for a non-German readership. Safranski is an energetic writer, without much refinement or subtlety. Dozens of obscure names scoot past the reader’s eye with nary a word of introduction or presentation.”

BUT I could not read that review yesterday because the NYT shut me out for not subscribing. I went on Amazon. There was the book in Kindle and as a hardback book of nearly 700 pages. All I could think of was, “Damn, another book,” and that far outweighed (ha ha) my desire to read it. I put it in my “cart” without buying it and went on with my day, but, but, but…

Later I thought, “What if I had a Kindle?” I went back to Amazon and priced Kindles. I didn’t want to spend $80 for the lowest priced eReader then I thought, “Wait. I have an iPad.” It might be nearly 10 years old, and I might not use it very much, but I do have an iPad. And, for the first time made the conscious decision to read that way. I downloaded the book and, so far, I like it a LOT. Exactly what annoyed the NYT reviewer makes me happy. Another reviewer wrote that the book is not great for someone who doesn’t know Goethe’s oeuvre, which sounds slightly obscene, but I am familiar with Goethe’s work as would be many of the German readers of this book (for whom it was actually written), so I’m happy. The author relied on primary sources, letters, Goethe’s own work and I like that, too. Anyway, the author’s unrefined, energetic prose captivated me and the fact that it will not go on some shelf in this house was a relief.

Reading the review this morning I was struck by the fact that this reviewer thinks it’s a bad thing to assume one’s readers are, “…educated and tolerant of abstractions and paraphrases…”



11 thoughts on “A New Way to Read

  1. He seems to be known as Rüdiger Sanfranski in the german speaking world. I had a look and if I would download the book onto my Kindle, then probably in the original german version, although I am not really a Goethe fan, although you never know. There is a Kindle app and I often use it when Mr. Swiss has a book on his Kindle account as he has two iPads so I can read it at his cost.

  2. Loving the way that you write, the style that you have is aesthetic. Really love the way that you bring out this post. Hope to see more from you. Have hope, write on!

  3. And this is exactly why I never pay much attention to any kind of reviews. What in the heck do they know?! Glad you are liking it, Martha. That’s what matters.

  4. I have a Kindle Fire, it’s old but works great and connects to internet so I can go online and get email when traveling. I borrow books free from the local library . . . just saying

  5. With this post you made me think about my tendency to red only fiction when I know I would enjoy books like the Goethe book you describe. I studied his works in a college course and haven’t thought about him since. Really, there are too many fine books to be read. I can’t spend every minute of every day reading, though I’d like too

    • I’m happy I didn’t meet Goethe until I was in my 40s. It was the perfect time for me and we ended up “friends.” I hardly ever read fiction. Since I write it, I find myself more aware of how the author is writing than I am of the story — except one writer, Jane Gardam. I discovered her about 5 years ago and I think she’s great.

  6. I got my kindle years ago and none of the new ones is as good as the once I bought back then — and it wasn’t new when I bought it new, which is to say unused, but two years old. MUCH cheaper! For me, the greatest thing about reading on a reader (an iPad is just fine!) is the light. You don’t need a night light. You can carry your whole library wherever you go.

    I have a feeling I’ll never make it all the way to Goethe. I’m having such a hard time reading anything that’s in print. But if i can find some of his stuff on Audible, I might just give it whirl. Any suggestions for a “first timer”?

    • If you can read him without thinking of “Oooh, Goethe, Shakespeare of Germany,” you can enjoy anything.

      A really good way to see something amazing and get a touch of Faust is by watching Mephisto with Klaus Maria Brandauer. Based on a true story about a German actor who believed the Third Reich was irrelevant to art, his acting. It was written by Thomas Mann’s son and the “real” Mephisto was married to Thomas Mann’s daughter. It’s incredible in so many ways, first because of the acting, second because, apparently without knowing it, the Brandauer character makes a (losing) pact with the devil. It’s one of my favorite films.

      The first thing I read by Goethe was Italian Journey. It’s the full Goethe as a Human Being and I fell in love with him reading that book. Ultimately, it is Goethe, his ideas, his eclecticism and his foibles I admire most. You can get the first part of that book in audible. Translated by Auden. You’d know then if you wanted it badly enough to go for print… :p Most of Goethe’s books available for audible are in German…

      My favorite work to read for pleasure is Wilhelm Meister’s Journeyman Year. I like the translation by Thomas Carlyle because, besides it being good and readable, they were epistolary friends and their letters are lovely, friendly, just great. So reading that, you read a little more than just the novel Goethe wrote.

      I have realized that I have a little library of obscure books and I will ask to be buried with them …. 😀

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