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Can I Read 26 Books This Year? (with January 7th addendum from Cologne)

January 6, 2014 by Reader's Connection

Of course I can, and I’m already on it. As soon as I finish with this blogpost about my first book of the year, I’m going to link to it on Twitter, and I’m going to include the hashtag #Read26Indy.

#Read26Indy is a Twitter site created by Indianapolis Star reporter Michael Anthony Adams. He wants Hoosiers to use this site to report on the books they’re reading, with the thought that others might get ideas about books to read.
Here’s his article about the idea. He is also getting a Goodreads site started.

My first book for 2014? Eva Menasse’s novel Vienna. You might be thinking, Wait a minute, you were reading that book in 2013, and did a blog post about the One Book, Two Cities shared reading that we are doing with our sister city Cologne, Germany.


But I had stalled out, less than halfway through the book, and when some of the noble citizens of Cologne sang us some carols on the Sister City Blog, I was moved to make an honest response:

Thanks so much for the holiday greeting! Frohe Weihnachten und ein glückliches neues Jahr! I hope Google did all right with that translation.

You have inspired me to begin reading Vienna again. I had read about half the novel, and then had to read other things for my blog. To be honest, the narrator’s apparent dispassion toward her family gave me problems.

This could be a midwestern American’s desire to have his emotional triggers pulled (I don’t think that’s it), or it could have something to do with our English translation, or perhaps I need to finish the book and experience its full sweep.

In any case, I’m going to get my paperback off the shelf and begin again as we head into 2014, Happy Holidays, and thanks again for the caroling!

ViennaI started re-reading the book, from page one, with the start of the new year, and I can honestly say I’m enjoying the thing. I have come to love the narrator who is (1) sitting at a table, drinking coffee, telling us about her half-Jewish family and its fracturing during World War II, but who is also (2) psychic, or an omniscient third-person narrator, however you want to say this.

She is able to read the minds–or feels free to speculate about what’s going on in the minds–of her family members, and of people she’s never met, like the “woman official” who turns away the narrator’s grandfather at the Victims’ Welfare office.

On my first attempt, I encountered some passages and thought, That really should have been moving. But now that I have come to love this narrator’s voice, these passages have come to life. The uncle’s end of World War II, on the rubber plantation in Burma, for example, and this description of how the narrator’s father, a great soccer player, has problems with his non-athletic children.

He was stunned when he realised that his son had no talent for football, but just stumbled short-sightedly about on his big feet. He shook his head in despair when my tiny sister, aged four and delivered up to a terrifying, clattering ball machine armed with nothing more than her cut-down tennis racket, mis-hit many of the balls mercilessly racing toward her. But each of us had a year’s luxury on reaching eight; at the age when my father had once been obliged to leave his parents, we were all lovingly permitted not to be instantly perfect at something.

So here we go. Even if I had to approach the book twice, I can honestly recommend it, and I’m sending the news to #Read26Indy. Have a good year.


In a paragraph above, I had goofed and written, The grandfather’s end of World War II, on the rubber plantation in Burma. Of course it was the uncle who spent time in Burma, not the grandfather. Don’t know what got into me. I’ve corrected the error.

Ordinarily, I would tiptoe away, hoping that no one had noticed, but the grandfather is especially on my mind, today, because Ute Küsgen, of our sister city Cologne, has written a fascinating comment about the grandfather on the Sister Cities Blog.

She writes as though she were the narrator of the novel, explaining the troubles she had, getting to the truth about her grandfather and his experiences as a Jew in Vienna during the war. Even with some Google Translator switches in word order, Ute’s article is fascinating.


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