Author Archives: admin

About admin

"Origin, resume - all nonsense! We all come from some small town Jüterbog or Königsberg and in some Black Forest we will all end" (Gottfried Benn) Therefore just a stenogram: Thomas Huebner, born in Germany, studied Economics, Political Science, Sociology, German literature, European Law. Consulting firm in Bulgaria. Lived in Germany, Bulgaria, Albania, Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Indonesia and Jordan. Now residing in Prishtina/Kosovo. Interested in books and all other aspects of human culture. Traveler. Main feature: intellectual curiosity

Why I rarely publish negative reviews

Since I started this blog, I have reviewed approximately 120 books here; I share these reviews also in Goodreads and in Facebook. But I read much more books, which means that I am by far not writing about all the books I am in fact reading.

The reasons for this are mainly the following:

Reviewing takes some time; if you want to write something more than just a few superficial remarks, something meaningful, you need to spend a comparatively big amount of time – time I sometimes don’t have, or time I prefer to invest in something to me more valuable in that moment – for example in reading, travelling, working on my actual book project, or spending quality time with people that matter to me! And imagine, I have a job too, haha.

Furthermore, a lot of the books I am reading are not really creating this urge in me to write about them. Maybe it’s just me, or maybe the book is kind of dull and boring, or it is more or less ok, but nothing special and I have already forgotten the plot after a short time, or the topic is too special to be of any interest for a wider audience. So what’s the point to bother someone with my thoughts in such cases?

A special case are awe-inspiring books, books where I feel that at this moment they are beyond my capacities as a reviewer – recent example: Dostoevsky’s Demons. I would need to write a 10,000 words text if I wanted to review it, otherwise I would have to neglect important aspects of the book as I understand it. And if I will ever be able to express my limitless admiration of and fascination with Hans Henny Jahnn’s strange behemoth of a novel River without Banks – a book that literally changed my life and my view of life in general – in an adequate way remains a big question for me. (I reviewed the first part here; the biggest part of the novel was never translated in English.)   

The fourth category are the hopelessly bad, crappy, worthless books that you come across sometimes. I am not particularly inclined to write reviews about books I didn’t enjoy or that I even strongly dislike. In general, I prefer to be silent in such cases instead of wasting valuable time to indulge in negative feelings. In general, I believe that I am usually much better in positively raving about the qualities of a book than to give it the thump-down. Therefore, only about 5% of my published reviews so far are negative; if I would write a review about every single book I am reading, this percentage would be much higher, maybe more like 25-30%.

So, in which cases of this fourth category I am nevertheless making the effort to publish my negative opinion about a book? There are of course, as I see in retrospect now, a few reasons:

There are books and authors that have acquired the status of a “classic”, or at least of being extremely popular. While I have no problem with popular books and authors in general, I have experienced a couple of times the situation that I read a book that was praised as a “masterpiece”, or even as “one of the best novels of the 20th century” – and it turned out to be awfully bad from whatever standpoint you look at it. That’s what I call the “Emperor’s-New-Clothes syndrome”, and in such a blatant case as this one I feel obliged to raise my finger and voice my objection. This specific book and author get in my opinion much more attention than would be deserved if we look just at the – according to me hardly existing! – literary quality of the work; it is more a result of the successful efforts of the author during his lifetime to turn himself into a brand, than of the genuine quality of his writing that he occupies such a prominent place in literary history, and this book is praised by so many people although it is obviously no good at all (admittedly not all books by this author are as bad as the one I reviewed). The purpose of my review is to be a small contribution to a re-assessment of this specific book, and thus maybe also to a re-assessment of other, much better novels published during that period by authors who were not so good in self-marketing, but maybe better writers with some meaningful message in their works, written in a much better prose.

Another category of books are those by contemporary authors, who – supported by an aggressive marketing, a devoted group of friends in the media, and a similarly devoted crowd of “groupies” in social media – blow the horn and thus make a lot of noise around their silly, shallow, obnoxious books and turn this kind of attention into a mass phenomenon, and in extreme cases even into a movement that shares certain elements with a sect. That’s what I call the “One-million-flies-cannot-go-wrong syndrome”, and again I find myself every now and then in a position that I simply must voice my objection against such a book, and may it even be in a very succinct way, like in this case. (This review by a fellow book blogger sums it up very nicely in more detail what is wrong with this book and its author.)

Closely related to the last category are books that are lacking a basic quality a book (and its author) should have in my opinion: intellectual integrity. When the content and the message of a book is in stark contrast with the personal behaviour of its author, it is clearly a case of hypocrisy and lack of integrity. Intellectual impostors like the author of this book, should be always exposed.

Some books simply make me angry. A lot of people like this book and similar one’s by the same author – but to me it is obvious that the book is just an alibi for something else. This author makes his living by providing arousal templates for the needs of a very “special” audience. His sick anal-sadistic torture fantasies are poorly written, and as a reviewer I really hope that I prevent a few readers from exposing themselves to this revolting stuff.  

Very young and inexperienced authors will be usually treated with kindness by me; most bad books I read by such authors will be never reviewed here. In exceptional cases, when for example the publisher is to blame for not editing a book by an inexperienced author at all (and thus doing him a very bad service), like in this case, I will make an exception. Not because I want to slam the poor author for his shortcomings, but because I find it unethical when some publishers don’t protect authors from seriously damaging themselves.

Another exception are cases (like this one) in which a young author who in my opinion lacks literary talent is “made” by a publisher, in co-operation with key figures of the literary scene; a system that manipulates the public, arranges that such an author gets literary awards, and plenty of media attention that will in turn help to generate additional money and influence for this person in the literary scene, damages the chances of other young authors with real literary talent (but maybe with less talent for self-promotion), and even corrupts the readers and potential young authors, because a system that systematically ignores literary merit must in the long run have negative repercussions on the literary life in general, especially when the book market in that country is very small. Also in these cases, a reviewer should speak out and make it clear when such a “hyped” book has no literary value, and is obviously more a media or lifestyle phenomenon than serious literature.  

Hey, before I forget it – I know some authors personally. Some of them are nice people, others not so much. It is just like in all other spheres of life. Would the fact that I am in good or maybe not so good terms with someone influence my judgement (as imperfect as it may be) regarding the quality of their respective writing?

The answer is obvious: never!

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-7. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Asymmetry

One reads often about the so-called swarm intelligence. The opposite phenomenon, swarm stupidity, is in reality much more often to observe, but remains a strangely unexplored occurrence in media and public discussion. 

Discuss!

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-7. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Another case of the “Emperor’s new clothes”

Even a well-meaning reader can hardly consider this book as something else as an immature and narcissistic collection of clichés and of not very cleverly disguised and recycled “findings” from the works of other poets (and songwriters). I feel pity for the young author. If his aim was to make himself a name as a poet, then he was obviously ill-advised to get this rather embarrassing book published at all.

I wouldn’t have bothered to comment on this book if it wasn’t for the extreme media hype around it and its author in his home country. Another case of the “Emperor’s new clothes” in my opinion.

Нощта е действие

Илиян Любомиров: Нощта е действие (Iliyan Lyobumirov: Noshtta e dejstvie), Janet-45, Plovdiv 2014

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-7. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without  expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The horror! The horror!

153 of my Facebook friends “like” the official FB page of #PauloCoelho.

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-7. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Man lernt nie aus…

Wie soll man sich eigentlich mit Populisten in einer Diskussion auseinandersetzen? Eine wichtige Frage, und von daher ist ein Buch wie “Logik für Demokraten” von der Themenstellung her sehr interessant. Interessant ist allerdings auch, wie der Autor dieses sehr hochgejubelten Buchs selbst diskutiert. Ein kleines, aber typisches Beispiel aus einem einzigen Kommentarthread zu einem Artikel, der sich mit dem unsäglichen Herrn Gauland befasst, und in dem der Buchautor sich logisch-argumentativ mit einigen mir politisch sehr fern stehenden, aber durchaus nicht übermässig aggressiven, teilweise sogar ausgesprochen höflichen Zeitgenossen wie folgt auseinandersetzt:

“halbstark…Maulheld…Phrasendrescher…ideologische Masturbation…Novizin in Sachen Urteilskraft…auslaufendes Geseiere…Kaskaden prasenhafter Adjektive…beleidigt passiv-aggressive Wortspiele…Pseudoempirismus und verachtenswerte Faulheit des Denkens…Bullshit-Manöver…dumm…selber doof… es scheint seinen Horizont zu sprengen…ist das denn gesund für jemandem in Ihrem Alter…assoziativer Wortdurchfall…es geht nicht in Ihren blonden Schädel hinein…” usw.

(Das ist nur eine kleine Auswahl logisch-argumentativer Höchstleistungen des Buchautors, sozusagen ein “best of” aus einem – ich wiederhole mich – einzigen Kommentarthread!)

Unter “Logik für Demokraten” hatte ich mir bisher etwas anderes vorgestellt, aber man lernt ja nie aus…

Daniel-Pascal Zorn: Logik für Demokraten, Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 2017

s.a. hier

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-7. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

An abandoned book review

The book has a nicely designed cover.

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© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-7. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Contempt

Riccardo and Emilia are happily married for two years in post-war Rome. While Riccardo, the intelligent and likeable, though slightly narcissistic and delusional narrator, works as a journalist writing film critics to make a living, his dream is to become a serious writer and novelist. His beautiful wife Emilia, coming from an impoverished family, dreams on the other hand of living in their own house and of creating a comfortable nest for them, something much better than the rented room in which the financially struggling couple lives. When Riccardo is offered work as a screenwriter by the film producer Battista, he decides to accept despite serious reservations. He considers this kind of work as a waste of time and talent, but since it is comparatively well paid, he can fulfil his wife’s dream and buy a small flat; at a later stage, also a car, another sign of his growing success in the eyes of society. But on his way upward in the social hierarchy, something happens to the relationship between Emilia and Riccardo: Emilia becomes reserved and grows cold toward her husband, love turns into indifference and even into hatred and contempt. Contempt is also the title of the novel by Alberto Moravia that I am reviewing here.

Moravia has been praised for his elegant prose, and I can see why, even when I read the book in German translation. The prose is flowing effortlessly, the dialogues of the tormented Riccardo who wants to find out the reason for the growing alienation between him and his wife, and Emilia sound very real and convincing. Another thing I admire especially in this book is his talent to keep the reader’s interest in a seemingly rather trivial story of alienation and estrangement between husband and wife by adding some other interesting aspects. 

One of the issues that play a major role in the novel, are the relationship between success and money, and the real needs and wishes of people; the characters are forced to do things that are in contrast with what they really want in order to make a living, or to satisfy the (vain) dreams of their partners, or to be perceived as successful and dynamic in a capitalist society. That’s not only true for Riccardo and Emilia, but also for the other two major characters of the novel, Battista and Rheingold, a German film director who is commissioned by Battista to make a monumental movie adaptation of The Odyssey. (In Jean-Luc Godard’s film adaptation of the novel, this character is played by Fritz Lang!)

Battista and Rheingold have strongly opposing approaches to the movie and Homer’s epic. While Battista wants to produce a monumental adventure movie, Rheingold on the other hand is only interested in the psychological conflict that he sees as the reason for Odysseus (Ulysses) participation in the War of Troy, and his delayed return to Penelope. According to his Freudian reading, Odysseus participates in the war because he wants to escape an unhappy relationship: he feels not loved by his wife. For the same reason, it takes him many years to come home. While Riccardo rejects Rheingold’s in his eyes simplistic psychoanalytic approach to Homer’s work, he understands reluctantly that what Rheingold says for the relationship between Odysseus and Penelope is like a mirror regarding his own and Emilia’s relationship and the reason for the obvious alienation between the partners may be a very similar one.

While Moravia is showing us a rather bleak picture of the modern Western world, where money, success, and sex serve as substitutes for a more meaningful existence, his reference to Homer seems to say that it has in principle been always like this. Emilio’s (and Moravia’s) membership in the Communist Party may be more inspired by a vague Utopian hope of a better future than by a real wish for a social revolution or dictatorship of the proletariat. In the meantime, it is best to acknowledge the mechanisms of the inherent contradictions of capitalist society. If Riccardo would have had more time to resolve the basic conflict and predicament of his life with Emilia, it would have been best to divorce and focus his future life on what he really aspires to be, a novelist and serious author. A sudden blow of fate spares him from actively taking this decision on his own.

Moravia knew the film business well; he worked also as a script writer and met probably people very similar as those described in his novel. Contempt describes an at that time thriving film industry in Italy as he experienced it, and the picture he is painting is not a particularly flattering one. Moravia had also a house on Capri similar as the one owned by Battista in the novel, where the final crisis takes place (the Godard movie was shot partly at the Casa Malaparte, another rather famous villa on Capri). And it is also known that at the time he published Contempt, his own marriage with novelist Elsa Morante was in a crisis that ended in divorce a few years later. So, while the novel is not a strictly autobiographic one, Moravia knew about what he was writing and was able to transform this into a rather short, fascinating novel. While some other so-called “existentialist” novels have not aged very well, Contempt was a surprisingly fresh book to me, and I guess I will soon read more by this author.

A word about the movie Le Mépris by Godard, which I have mentioned above: overall a good movie in my opinion, and the fact that Godard made a few major changes compared to the novel doesn’t distract from the quality of the film. The setting, particularly the scenes at the Casa Malaparte, is next to perfect for this movie. However, I had the impression that Brigitte Bardot and Jack Palance were not really the right choices for two of the major roles (while Michel Piccoli is brilliant); therefore, it is for me a good movie, but not the masterpiece it could have been with a more adequate cast of characters.

Contempt was also published in English as A Ghost at Noon.

Alberto Moravia: Contempt, translated by Angus Davidson; with an introduction by Tim Parks. New York Review Books, New York 2004

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-7. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 


“Logic for Democrats”?

The title (“Logic for Democrats”) makes you curious. The discomfort, however, begins when you read the author’s name.

The author of this book has so far been mainly “well-known” for his frequent rude troll attacks in social media – one of his victims was recently Sascha Lobo, one of Germany’s most well-known bloggers and journalists -, often stirred up by his adlatus, an influential, but mediocre journalist in the literary sphere, and by a few articles in a magazine (whose title “Hohe Luft” means “High Air” – although “Heisse Luft”, i.e. “Hot Air” would be more suitable considering the quality and writing style of many essays in that journal).

In his essays in above mentioned magazine, the author frequently falls into exactly those logical fallacies and Kategorienfehler that he likes to attack with inquisitive eagerness and great philistine arrogance, when he has – allegedly! – discovered them in the writing and thinking of others, even intruding again and again the privacy of those who don’t agree with him, despite their warnings and pleads to refrain from that. A virtual stalker and Rechthaber of the most unpleasant category.

That a FB troll of all people feels entitled to write a book on how to discuss political issues with a certain group of people (the populists that are a phenomenon in most Western countries again) came not only to me as a big surprise. It is precisely this subject for which the author is self-evidently not at all equipped, as is obvious from his behaviour in public discussions. There is a lack of basic qualities, such as a minimum of respect for the opponent, or the understanding that sometimes even an opponent may be right, a thought that as it seems would never occur to the author of this book, judging from the verbal crusades and pogroms he is waging on people who haven’t even addressed him in a discussion or with a simple statement. And if the author seriously believes that his book will help in any discussion with populists, then he is completely delusional.

A pity that a renowned publisher gave this author a big stage, and that this book, written in a very blurred style that clearly aims at deceiving the reader regarding the rather poor content is now praised by a part of the German media as a great achievement; that tells me something about the actual state of intellectual life in Germany, I am afraid. 

“When the sun of culture stands low, even dwarfs cast long shadows.” (Karl Kraus)

Image result for logik fuer demokraten

Daniel-Pascal Zorn: Logik für Demokraten, Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 2017

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-7. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Business Trip to Sweden

“Since he had to go on a business trip to Sweden anyway, he decided to use this opportunity to finally get rid of some rather annoying obligation, and to pick up that silly medal from those pedantic academics who were permanently pestering him on the phone and via the media…”

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-7. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Literarisches Quartett: Einer fehlt!?

Hier und da lese ich, wie sehr manchem Maxim Biller beim Literarischen Quartett fehlt bzw. fehlen wird. Also, mir fehlt er nicht, und das ist gar nicht böse gemeint. Eine Literatursendung, bei der vier Kiepenheuer & Witsch-Autoren erstaunlich niveaulos und platt über vier Bücher reden, die bei Kiepenheuer & Witsch erschienen sind, wird mir nicht fehlen, Maxim Biller hin oder her.

(So war’s zumindest, als ich mir diese Sendung zuletzt angetan habe. Erinnerte mich an die “Schimanski”-Schleichwerbung für Lutschbonbons im “Tatort” in meiner Jugend, die allerdings viel subtiler daherkam.)

 

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-7. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.