For the last three months, my writing productivity has gone up, but it’s been at the expense of my reading. Additionally, I’ve successively embarked on three huge reading projects–Ulysses, The Magic Mountain, and The Man Without Qualities–that all entailed spending two or more week on one book. Given that, I’ve felt a bit unproductive as a reader lately. Well, that’s all changed. In the week since finishing The Man Without Qualities, I’ve read a Robert Zweig collection, Sandor Marai’s Embers, Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, Thomas Mann’s Tonio Kroeger, Theodor Storm’s The Rider On The White Horse, and, now, Hans Fallada’s Little Man, What Now?
Many of those were pretty short volumes, so it’s not like this is some massive accomplishment, but it feels good to be picking up the pace again. There’s something to be said for reading something new every few days. A big volume can be good, but, of necessity, it needs to be read across a variety of settings and moods. You can’t have that brief, intense fling with it.
Also, it’s a lot easier to find things to blog about now that I’m reading a greater variety of books. I realize that my book blogs don’t necessarily have the same mass appeal as ones about writing or life in general, but they were (for many years) the primary thing that I wrote about on this site. Reading is such a private activity. That’s actually a large part of its appeal. It’s something you don’t need to share with anyone else. I’d actually quite dislike it if reading was social in the way that television-watching or movie-watching or even music-listening are social activities. However, when you do a lot of reading, so much of your emotional and intellectual life becomes wrapped up in books, and it’s a part of your life that is almost wholly walled-off from the rest of your life. Personally, I never take peoples’ book recommendations, so it’s understandable that few people take mine, but still, it can be weird to spend a whole day thinking about a book and then to realize that you don’t know another person who can understand this thing that’s a major part of your life.
And that’s why it’s fun to be able to write about them.
I just started reading Fallada’s Every Man Dies Alone, and although I’m only 15% through, I can tell you that it is insanely gripping. It’s about everyday life in Nazi Germany, behind the front lines, amongst the factory workers and mailmen and all the other ordinary people who’re left behind. And it was told by someone who was there! Fallada, famously, refused to leave Germany even though there was a boat waiting on standby to whisk him to Britain. I’ve read plenty of dystopian novels that featured these situations and characters, but I’ve never read one that was set in a real time and place (well, except maybe Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon–which is also an excellent book).
The novel also shows lots of the influence of crime novels. It very much has that thrillertastic structure to it. Of course, like all good crime novels, we know it’s all going to go to hell in the end. The earnest resisters are going to be caught and executed. All their work will come to naught. But it’s still fascinating to see how they try to go about it.