Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Reading Firsts


‘Tis the season to be unbelievably busy and my attention span for reading is like that of a fruit bat in an apple orchard. I’m swooping from one thing to the next, discarded books in my wake (first 20 pages of The Finkler Question, opening paragraph of C, first half of a Phillip Kerr) and a strong sense of dissatisfaction. It’s a bit like being faced down by a plate of Christmas cookies: everything looks delicious but nothing I eat can placate my appetite.

Until my 10-year-old handed me a book. ‘Here, Mummy,’ she said. ‘Please read this. I think you’ll enjoy it.’

My history with German books is not good. I have read the first couple of pages of Der Vorleser and the first chapter of a Charlotte Link novel, but I gave up through sheer laziness. Reading in German is work and I like my reading to be pleasurable. However, when a book comes with L’s strong recommendation – it being one she selected and bought with her pocket money and during the reading of which she made happy noises – I had to give it a go.

Luckily, Als die Steine noch Vögel waren is a slender book, coming in at 122 pages. Marjaleena Lembcke tells the story of growing up in Finland, as one of seven children in a household that struggled to make ends meet. One of the children is Pekka, who loves everything: his bed, the moon, the smell of his mother and all the birds of the world. Pekka believes that all stones were once birds and could one day fly again so he spends much of his time throwing them, hoping to encourage them to fly once more.

Pekka was born mentally and physically disabled and spent the first two years of his life in hospital, having multiple operations. When he finally joins his family, he has to learn how to walk and speak. When he does, however, the family find a joyous soul bursting with love.

But Pekka didn’t just love us, he loved everyone and everything. When people came to visit us, Pekka would sit opposite the visitor and watch him carefully for a while. Then he would say, ‘I love you.’ Our guests would either be embarrassed or would feel as if they were melting. They couldn’t know that Pekka loved everything. He loved the chair on which he sat. He loved his bed, his socks, the carpet and Grandmother’s apron. He loved Mother’s smell and Father’s beard. (My translation)

Pekka’s joy infects his family and sister’s story. He views the world differently and his alternative philosophy helps the family keep their spirits up when money is tight and Father considers emigrating to Canada. He is also a survivor, who emerges unscathed from a choking incident, being knocked out several times and having a bout of leukamia, which turns out to be wrongly diagnosed anaemia.

This is a lovely, gentle, sweetly written book which I enjoyed immensely. It was a light and satisfying read and a perfect antidote to my reading troubles. A cucumber soup, perhaps, to those heavy and overly sweet Christmas confections.

So, I’ve read a whole novel in German! And in October, I read my first e-book. I have yet to devise an e-book strategy, but I thought for my first experience, I had better select a page-turner to ensure that I actually read the thing. I choose Belinda Bauer’s Blacklands, a much-acclaimed crime debut, and while it was a great read, I now feel a sense of sadness that I don’t own the physical book. I feel cheated.

Despite the instant gratification of selecting an e-book and downloading it on the spot, at the moment I have no great desire to read another one. I have friends who travel frequently and download books for their journeys, and  I can see the logic and convenience in that, but right now my life doesn’t require huge travel (though I live in hope). Some of my Litopia pals have published e-books and I plan to read them over the holidays, but let’s just say that for now, I’m not convinced.

Do you have an e-book reading strategy? Are there books you need to see on your  bookshelves and others you are happy to have as digital copies only?

Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

12 thoughts on “Reading Firsts

  1. Yay for reading in German! When I read the title I couldn’t make sense of it – stones? birds? the subjunctive? I thought, my god, my German is worse even than I think it is. And then I went on to read your description and was a little comforted. I don’t have an ebook strategy. My brother-in-law showed me his kindle when he last came to visit, and I took one look at the sludgey grey screen which resembles the sunless wintry sky outside right now (it’s raining, too) and I thought yuk. But I can see that they are good for travel.

  2. Yay for reading in German! I hope your good experience will open new reading horizons for you and that we can hear about many more German books! I had this goal for 2010 and I read a YA biography in German during summer. I also started an adult book but couldn’t finish, I had problems with vocabulary and style. I’ll take it again in 2011.
    How great that your daughter recommends you books. I can’t wait till my son recommends books to me too!

  3. Litlove, I think the iPad on which I got to read my first ebook is a little prettier. But it is still a screen and not a book and for me, just not addictive.

    Smithers, you’re right! This book should be about three reading firsts, one being my taking a book recommendation from my kid. As for German books, I’d read another if it was as simple as this one …

  4. I was very smitten with the idea of a Kindle, but then I read about the digital ownership thing and became much less smitten. The books you buy never belong to you and can’t be given away. It makes it a bit less attractive somehow.

    Well done on the book in German! I can read in Dutch, but I tend to read magazines rather than books as I don’t have the concentration span for a whole book.

  5. Congrats on reading in German, Charlotte. I still owe my Spanish husband a reading of La Sombra del Viento by Zafon. In Spanish. Not likely. I’m with you – reading can’t be that much work or I space out. On the e-book thing, I JUST got a Kindle for my bday last weekend and while reading some Stephen King, I actually caught myself reaching up to the corner of the thing to turn the page! You can forget about the actual device if the book is good enough. My main reading focus on it now is “sampling” books so I can read different authors and voices, especially ones that I consider in my ‘competitive set.’ You can do this free on Kindle, about the first 50 pages of any book. I love doing this!

  6. I hear you about reading in a second language being work. I get so frustrated reading in Spanish, because it’s slow.

    As far as e-books… I have Kindle for PC, mostly to get access to all those nifty free books on Amazon. And most books are cheaper in the electronic version. I still like real books better, but I can see the e-reader’s place in my life.

  7. I am onto book #20 or so on my iPad, and well and truly in love with the medium.
    1. Satifies my impatient nature. If I finish a book at midnight, and need a new one, it takes one minute to choose and download – and I don’t need to get out of bed.
    2. Cheap as chips – books in SA cost a fortune. We have 100% import duty. (I know; it’s absurd in a country with such low literacy levels.) eBooks on Amazon cost me less than half if I’d bought in my local book store
    3. Comfort – no more sore thumbs from holding open a tome; or having to put down your glass of wine/ tea or muffin to turn the page. I have perfected the art of holding and flipping the ePage with one hand!
    4. A happy sleeping partner – no more grumpiness cos your bed side light is keeping him awake while you read deep into the night. Light off, iPad on.
    5. I can take more than 10 books on holiday with me and if none of them are working, I download another.
    Cons (yes there are some):
    1. No book sharing. This is breaking my heart.
    2. My daughter thinks you can turn books on
    3. No lovely new book – or even old book smell.
    4. Not great for summer holidays – can’t read on beach or in sunlight next to pool. Indeed may be better suited to the grey skys of Europe.
    5. Don’t you always examine other people’s bookshelves? The contents of bookshelves tell you so much about a person. Do eBooks augur the end of bookshelves? Next step is for people to publish their eBookshelf on their Facebook page and you can check it out before you go for dinner – or decline!

  8. Oh my goodness, so many things I love in this post, relate to, swoon over.
    1) I am enamored with your cucumber soup comparison.
    2) I too have not always fared well with German books. Even Kafka’s Metamorphosis’ shapeshifting cockroach yarn, a book many consider his opus (and a novella of only 70-ish pages), didn’t garner 5 stars from me.
    3) I love that your daughter gave you a book rec. (my daughter is 15 and often does the same. oh how I love this.)
    4) I will never be an e-reader. For all the cons listed above and many more (reading in the bathtub, for example). Call me a romantic, or an old fashioned Luddite, I am and always will be smitten with tangible books. I love looking at my book shelves and noting which books are threadbare, pages falling part like overcooked meat off the bone, embedded with my DNA and pizza grease fingerprints from being read so many times. I love writing little notes to myself in the margins.
    It’s not that I don’t see the upsides of e-books and I certainly respect those who love them, but I will never be that girl.

    Thanks for a lovely post.
    I hope you have a delightful weekend and Happy HoliDAZE!

  9. It sounds like a wonderful book–is it available in English?

    I’m planning to get a kobo after Christmas. And like you, my intention is to start with a page turner (I have one in mind)–downloaded from the library. Since library books have to go back anyway, there is no loss in that. And the one I have is a heavy tome, which I just got from the library in 3d too–to compare the form. My main interest is in library books and books that are out of print. There was a 19th c novel I wanted to read, recommended by one of the book bloggers I follow, that the library has only a single reference copy of. I could download it for free online if I had a reader.

  10. Blacklands is a great book. I have a Kobo, its a great device. I was hesitant on making the switch from physical books to e-books as well…but once you do, it’s so much easier.

  11. my e-book strategy? None whatsover, I’m just not interested. I like my books to be books! I actually have a visceral reaction to the whole e=book thing which I won’t clutter your blog with right now…I wouldn’t mind one down the line to manage blog reading, magazine and newspaper reading but I cannot imagine ever really reading a book on a screen – it seems like it would take so much away from the reading experience, at least for me.

  12. I dither about the ebook thing. As a gadget fan (“I am GADGET BOY!”), I pine after the new Amazon reader or an iPad. But as a reader, I’m unconvinced.

    I think the real killer for me, though, is that you can’t lend ebooks to people. What’s the point of a book you can’t lend?

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