Sunday, 14 January 2018

Writing Woes #1

What's it called when you poured your soul into an essay that an editor expressed interest in and you thought this was maybe going to be how all the emotional ping-pong of the past five years would finally pay off but then the editor killed the piece and so you tuck it away into the bowels of Google Drive and then a few months later you finally think you're ready to revisit it and revise it but you're really not and you wonder whether the moment to get it published is gone forever

Saturday, 30 December 2017

My Year in Books: 2017

Here are the books I read this year, some of them accompanied by my notes or reviews on Goodreads (linked). My overall top 5 (on the list in blue):

1. Zoe Whittall - Bottle Rocket Hearts (re-read) (4/5)
2. Carson McCullers - The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (2/5)
3. Lorraine Carpenter - The Dears: Lost in the Plot (4/5)
4. Jessa Crispin - The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats, and Ex-Countries (4/5)
5. Véronique Grenier - Hiroshimoi (3/5)
6. Lisa McInerney - The Glorious Heresies (3/5)
7. Sabahattin Ali - Madonna in a Fur Coat (4/5)
8. Leopoldine Core - When Watched: Stories (4/5)
9. Vickie Gendreau - Testament (3/5)
10. Rasha Abbas - Die Erfindung der deutschen Grammatik (2/5)
11. Ottessa Moshfegh - Eileen (4/5)
12. Elaine N. Aron - The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You (2/5)
13. Nikesh Shukla - The Good Immigrant (4/5)
14. Édouard Louis - En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule (4/5)
15. Sophia Amoruso - #GIRLBOSS (3/5)
16. Elliott Holt - You Are One of Them (4/5)
17. Chloe Aridjis - Book of Clouds (2/5)
18. Ruby Tandoh & Leah Pritchard - Do What You Want (4/5)
19. Lauren Sapala - The INFJ Writer: Cracking the Creative Genius of the World's Rarest Type (5/5)
20. Pajtim Statovci - My Cat Yugoslavia (5/5)
21. Fleur Jaeggy - Die seligen Jahre der Züchtigung (4/5)
22. Anita Brookner - Latecomers (4/5)
23. Claudia Larochelle - Je veux une maison faite de sorties de secours: Réflexions sur la vie et l'œuvre de Nelly Arcan (4/5)
24. John Darnielle - Universal Harvester (2/5)
25. Otegha Uwagba - Little Black Book: A Toolkit for Working Women (3/5)
26. Virginie Despentes - Apocalypse bébé (4/5)
27. Young-Ha Kim - I Have the Right to Destroy Myself (2/5)
28. Anna Stothard - The Museum of Cathy (3/5)
29. Fatma Aydemir - Ellbogen (4/5)
30. Stéphanie Neveu & Laurent Turcot - Vivre et survive à Montréal au 21è siècle (3/5)
31. Melissa Broder - So Sad Today: Personal Essays (2/5)
32. Ali Eskandarian - Golden Years (3/5)
33. Briohny Doyle - Adult Fantasy: Searching for True Maturity in an Age of Mortgages, Marriages, and Other Adult Milestones (4/5)
34. J.D. Salinger - The Catcher in the Rye (re-read) (4/5)
35. Fiona Mozley - Elmet (4/5)
36. Roxane Gay - Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body (5/5)
37. Susan Sontag - Reborn: Early Diaries 1947-1963 (4/5)
38. Meg Cabot - The Boy is Back (2/5)
39. Marie Luise Lehner - Fliegenpilze aus Kork (3/5)
40. Doree Shafrir - Startup (4/5)
41. Kate Tempest - Hold Your Own (3/5)
42. Ali Smith - Autumn (3/5)

This was the year I allowed myself to put books down. There were ones that I didn't particularly like but that I still kept at because they were short, or because they were so bad I couldn't tear myself away. Those are the ones with low ratings that still made it into this list. However, the ones that were just plain dull, or that I didn't have the energy to carry on with, were another story (hehe), and I put them down pretty quickly.

Example: towards the end of the year there were a couple of books in German that I started, that I liked the premise of, but forcing myself to continue reading them would have been an act of self-flagellation that would have only weakened my will to read anything in German ever again.
To be clear, these weren't tomes of Sturm und Drang, but modern literature and also factual-yet-informal books. I'm speaking German for 6+ hours a day now; as a result, it can be hard to admit that reading in it is sometimes not actually particularly conducive to relaxation and pleasure. And as a translator, regular exposure to English prose is crucial, otherwise you end up producing Denglisch sludge.

I decided not to do a Goodreads challenge in 2017, and in fact, I ended up reading just one book fewer than in 2016. I've been thinking a little bit about how I actually find out about new reads, and it goes something like this:
Passively - Twitter (I follow and am exposed to a lot of authors and publishing people.)
Semi-passively - Goodreads (I see what friends are reading, and for most books there is an if-you-liked-this feature.)
Actively - Lithub, Hazlitt (It's rare I'm really searching for something new, as my to-read list is already miles long. But if I just want to hit that literary spot, I go onto one of these sites, where I'm sure to find out about interesting authors who are new to me.)

All in all, this is some good advice: 'Don’t read anything you don’t want to read. Stop trying to impress the imaginary literary masses with your reading lists. There isn’t time.'

Saturday, 25 November 2017

When German Genders Screw You Over

You spend time learning the German genders, whether your preferred method is doing grammar drills or practising out in the wild. You get to a pretty good place with the endings, the cases, all that jazz. You've stopped stumbling so much and that fills you with confidence.
And then something comes up and flips the table over, erasing all your hard work.

Sometimes the grammatical genders totally contradict what you have learnt.

In a way, you probably already know to be wary. You've most likely noticed that the idea that all English loan words are das is a falsehood. There's no hard and fast rule, but often, you can think of what the "true" German word would be and then apply that gender to the loan word. (Example: die Party, because die Feier.)

So, to start off easy, here's a fun example of when genders aren't what they seem.
Balzac Coffee, a German café chain, are doing a seasonal macadamia latte. It's an absolute must: ein absolutes Muss!

Wait... that's not actually an "M" there, though. It's an "N", which means the word is in fact Nuss, the German word for nut. Nice pun.
But... it still looks weird because it's die Nuss, so it should be "eine absolute Nuss" instead. But yeah, it's a play on das Muss, so we disregard grammatical constructs.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. (Or the cream atop the macadamia latte.)

It becomes much more unpredictable when proper nouns and titles are involved. That's when things get almost existential.
In English, it's plain odd to refer to somebody as "the Sophie". I remember being weirded out the first few times I heard people say things like "die Sophie mag keinen Reis", or "kannst du das bitte der Sophie geben?". 
This is usually within a familiar context. Yet mentally keeping stock of German gender is a good habit for a learner to develop, because in the following examples, you really have to think about what something actually is, in spite of what seems to be logical (or simple).

Please forgive this sentence and instead consider the grammatical question it throws at us:

"Ich habe es in der Bild gelesen."

Wait, what? Surely it should be im Bild, since it's das Bild?
Well, no. If you think about it it this way, it makes more sense:

"Ich habe es in der Bild-Zeitung gelesen."

Die Zeitung is a feminine noun (die becomes der in the dative) and it gets omitted here because it's assumed that if you're talking in German -- and also, context -- you'll know that we're talking about the publication Bild, i.e. a proper noun. Not Bild as in an image.

"Ich war im Karstadt shoppen."

Now, if we didn't already know that Karstadt is a department store in Germany, we might assume that this sentence should read in der Karstadt, because die Stadt. But since the various words for "store" or "shop" in German are either das or der, we are going to stick to im Karstadt. And we are, after all, talking about a store, not an actual Stadt (city).
I guess there is also the option of just saying "in Karstadt" without an article, but now that I've heard so many native speakers use one when referring to establishments like this, it sounds flimsy without.

To round things off: this is what happened when I tried to ask my German boyfriend what the gender of Österreicher would be if you're talking about an Austrian restaurant, not an Austrian man:

I pushed it and he said he didn't know, maintaining that it would just be "Wir gehen zum Österreicher". This doesn't bring us any closer to knowing whether it's das or der, though. I mean, it could literally be either.
The case for das: it's das Restaurant.
The case for der: it's der Österreicher when you're referring to a person, so maybe it just transfers onto here as well?

I guess that until I find a definitive answer, I will just find ways to avoid saying it. Sort of like when I mumble a mixture of der and das when I say the word Kabel, because I can never remember that one.