Rayk Wieland: I Suggest We Kiss – Ich schlage vor, dass wir uns küssen (2009)


In this humorous book on the former East German state (GDR), the author has his tongue placed firmly in his cheek. He retells Proust’s famous Madeleine moment in detail, only to depict how an old bottle of Eastern Bloc red wine caused him to spew it out in an arc.


This book has you wondering whether the author is inventing something or telling an absurd historical fact. Far more than one may imagine is actually based on fact, the author’s own experiences serving as the starting point. This book is full of absurd ideas while still portraying everyday life. This is not the world of artists being surveilled, oppressed, and blackmailed all day long as in movies like “The Lives of Others”. The charm of the book is to portray everyday life and ordinary people. Even a small time crook involved in illegal gambling.

The protagonist receives an invitation to The Society of Unknown Underground German Authors. He isn’t a writer so he thinks they have the wrong person, or it’s some kind of joke. It turns out the East German secret police, the Stasi, intercepted his adolescent love poems to Liane, a girl in the West. Fraternizing with the enemy by letter was obviously highly suspicious.

“I Suggest We Kiss” by Rayk Wieland is in many ways a modern picaresque novel, known in German as a Schelmenroman. A genre name, derived from the Spanish word picaro (German: Schelm), meaning rogue or rascal, which began in the 16th Century. From what I can tell, German literature was early to pick up the genre from Spain. This might explain why the novel has been translated and published in Spain and Argentina.

Parody and biting political satire are firmly rooted in German speaking culture. Here, even the Kafkaesque use of W. is both playful and authentic since the Stasi reports refer to him only via “der/des W.”. The book may have you wondering why you are smiling so often in such a serious context. It’s not laugh-out-loud humor very often. It’s mainly subtle, absurd humor that creeps up on you as you realise the underlying references.

Some of the most hilarious dark humour is to be found in the novel’s appendix. This contains all W.’s poems to Liane which were intercepted by the Stasi. Each poem is commented by the officer scrutinizing every word for signs of enemy activity. Utterly banal things are totally misinterpreted by the paranoid police state.

Here’s an excerpt of one of W.’s adolescent love poems to Liane. The translation is mine and not very good. Translating poetry, even something simple like this, is tricky and requires a lot of time, but you’ll get the gist:

Und nicht nur küssen, meine Liebe.
Ich denke auch an andre Triebe,
Die, weißt du, weiter südlich liegen.
Ich dichte nur. Um dich zu kriegen.

And not only kisses, my Love.
I also think of other passions,
Ones which, you know, lie farther south**.
Poetry I only write. That I may get you.

** “farther south” is interpreted by the Stasi to mean possible escape with Western girlfriend to Portugal 🙂

Making light of a dictatorship may not be to everyone’s liking, but the author has a Stasi file himself and people deal with difficult times in different ways. In bad times, we often say “One day we’ll laugh about this.” Rayk Wieland does just that in this novel.

Amelie Fried: Schuhhaus Pallas – Wie meine Familie sich gegen die Nazis wehrte (2008) (The Pallas Shoe Store – How My Family Defended Themselves Against The Nazis)

Amelie Fried knows nothing of her family’s dark past because her father would never speak of it. In 2004, her husband takes part in the New York marathon. On the phone, after the run, his mind seems to be elsewhere. He asks whether she knows who Max Fried was, but she’s never heard of him. He tells her that Amelie’s grandfather and Max had the same parents, so Max was a great uncle of hers. What’s this all about? She wants to know.

Her husband had been to view the memorial book of Jewish Holocaust victims in New York, he explained. “You had to go to New York for that?” she chides, knowing the book had been compiled by archivists back home in Munich. Then he tells her…Max and his wife were both killed in a Nazi death camp. It’s a huge shock since none of her family had ever mentioned any of this. She begins researching her family history in detail.

“The Pallas Shoe Store” of the title, belonged to her grandfather. Fried explains the family shoe business and its place in the town of Ulm. There’s a second business though, her father’s newspaper. This very local nature, the detailed lives of two prominent citizens, her father and grandfather, in a smallish town is what sets this story apart. The book literally “brings the story home”. The bad guys of the town, use their newly gained power to personal advantage and against people they don’t like.

The Ulm chief of police, appears to have a personal grudge. What we learn, is all the little intricacies of various relationships between different people, friends and foe. What is remarkable, is how many years her father and grandfather manage to stay free and afloat, despite numerous conflicts with the local chief of police. Fried also traces some relatives who fled via South America. I’ll say no more to avoid spoilers.

This is not a novel, or a classic “Familienchronik”. It’s all fact, yet different to a report, because the story is so personal. Amelie Fried uses a journalistic style to describe the results of her investigations. This factual, sometimes distanced approach, is the book’s strength though. It makes the grave, emotional moments, of which there are many, all the more powerful.

The book contains photos and document facsimiles. I listened to the audiobook read by Amelie Fried herself, which creates more of a storytelling feel.

While we’re on the subject, a great song in this context is “Kristallnaach” by BAP. The lyrics are in Kölsch, Cologne dialect, which most Germans have difficulty understanding. It takes some practice. I couldn’t find an English translation, but the band’s website has a translation from Kölsch to Hochdeutsch. This is one of those songs where rock music is also highly literary. (Another really literary rock song of theirs, is “Bahnhofskino”, which is quite a challenge to wrap your head around, but worth it.)


You can listen to the song on Spotify with a free account, or search youtube. Here’s the Spotify link, which WordPress supports:

The Genesis of Podcasting

cartoon microphone

How Finnish inventor Ville Jäätölö, aka “Chilly Willy”, stumbled upon the sport of podcasting.

Interviewer: “Willy, how did a normal fishing trip lead to podcasting?”

Willy: “I was ice-fishing with a friend, enjoying bottle of Koskenkorva. Most popular Finnish schnapps. Fish were not biting and we got bored. We started casting, trying to hit a hole in the ice with our fishing hooks. I guess Koskenkorva was going to my head. I took big swing and we heard horrible scraping noise. I looked at chair and iPod was gone! It was sliding across ice.”

Interviewer: “Woah! But that was not the birth of podcasting, was it.”

Willy: “Five years later, I saw presentation of new iPhone and felt totally depressed.”

Interviewer: “Wait! You’re the first person I have ever heard say the iPhone was depressing.”

Willy: “That’s easy to explain. I was working for Finnish mobile phone company…”

Interviewer: “Okay, now I’m beginning to understand.”

Willy: “I saw amazing new design and just thought, oh sh**, we’re f*#!%$. Our phones seemed like from Stone Age now. After sharing bottle of Koskenkorva with my friend, we remembered iPod casting accident…”

Interviewer: “Rods, hooks, and iPods were soon flying through the air, I take it.”

Willy: “Then colleague made video. He emailed it to friends and somebody called it ‘iPod-casting’. Later, we changed name to pod-casting because of trademark.”

Interviewer: “When did other people start podcasting?”

Willy: “Videos were passed around in the company and other people began podcasting.”

Interviewer: “It’s now a very popular sport with international championships. For anyone wanting to try this at home, you don’t use a real hole in the ice. Just mark a round area on the ground. You also don’t need to use real classic iPods. Podcasters use dummies, simply known as ‘pods’, which have the same weight and size as a classic iPod. Willy, it must be a very strange sight, people competing to cast iPods through the air.”

Willy: “Hey, we have wife carrying and rubber boot throwing. Casting iPods is not strange idea at all. Drink some Koskenkorva and you will soon understand.”

* Note, Finnish language contains no articles.

Remixes welcome.

License: CC-NC-SA, Creative Commons Non-Commercial Share-A-Like License. Give credit to the original author when distributing.

Unless you have been living under the proverbial rock, you will be aware that: iPod and iPhone are registered trademarks of Apple Incorporated.

Speaking your blog or even a novel


Speech recognition has come a long way. You can talk your blog posts or even a novel into a microphone. I have used it to dictate 35,000 words of my current manuscript. It’s surprisingly good in my opinion.

Beyond reading the initial training text, I recommend spending some time correcting any recognition errors because the software has to learn your individual pronunciation and word usage. There will be errors, but I’d say 95-98% is correct. With a first draft you have to do a lot of editing anyway.

Even better, you can dictate into a portable recorder and have it transcribed later. You don’t need an expensive one either, just one with low noise (no “shushing”). I find it very useful not to have to sit in front of a PC. I have the small SanDisk Sansa Clip audio player which only costs about $35 and the voice recording quality is excellent. I plug that in, let Dragon transcribe the WAV files, and the text is typed.

The only thing to do is speak very clearly, as though you were a radio/tv news reader. Then it works great.

The techie stuff: Dragon Naturally Speaking by Nuance is the leading software. Get a previous version to save on the price. It’s available for Windows and Mac. On Linux I use Virtualbox to run Windows XP. Transcription from an audio file you recorded might require a premium version. The different versions can be a bit confusing, so read the exact specs before you buy. For example, some versions are multilingual so you can speak your texts in English and Spanish.

Awful ebook formatting and how to avoid it as an author

Ebooks are not printed books on screens. They are quite different and need to be formatted for screen reading.

Ebooks are not printed books on screens. They are quite different and need to be formatted for screen reading.
If you have read a few ebooks, chances are, you’ve been confronted by several awfully formatted examples. The kind which give ebooks a bad name. Ebooks with tiny print which cannot be made larger. Page widths so wide they don’t fit on your screen, forcing you to scroll each line as you read. And these are comparitively minor faults. What about the ebooks with only a few lines on each page, resulting in an ebook full of empty space and a page count ten times higher than it should be. The ebooks where the formatting is so messed up you feel duped by the author or publisher.

I would urge any author to test their ebooks in the most popular readers. Test on a Kindle and Nook device if you have one available. Amazon also has a free Kindle Previewer for desktop testing. It takes 5-10 minutes to download, then install and scroll through your ebook. Do the same in Kindle for PC and on your mobile phone or tablet. Then get the Nook apps and test there also. For EPUB and PDF, use Adobe’s Digital Editions and Acrobat Reader.

All these applications are free. Especially Amazon does a great job of providing free tools for authors and keeping them updated. These tools are specifically for ebook creation and testing.

When I produced my first ebook it was in order to test the mechanics of self-publishing. I manually wrote the HTML, then created a mobi file with Amazon’s “kindlegen” tool. This will not be for everyone, it’s quite technical. However, it gives you the most formatting control. Since I included images and fancy chapter headings, I needed to do that. It may not be necessary if your ebook is just plain text.

If you cannot create the source files yourself, which is quite technical, then you can hire a professional ebook formatter for under $100. That’s for an average length novel with plain text. Do a little research before hiring. Ask other authors who they used. You don’t want a lazy amateur trying to make easy money by using an automated tool which you could have used yourself for free. Make sure they manually edit the source files.

Most importantly, test the results in all the major readers, both devices and apps. Do this even if you have a publishing house doing this for you. Big name authors have had badly formatted ebooks created by their multi-million, or is that billion?, dollar publishing houses.

If unsure, you could ask the formatter to send you a 10-20% sample of your finished ebook for you to test, before paying them. That will sort out the wheat from the chaff amongst formatters.

If you don’t have the money to pay a professional, then learn how to format yourself. When you download Amazon’s kindlegen tool you will find source file samples. It won’t be easy going unless you have manually written HTML/XML before. You will need a few weeks if you are starting from scratch.

It’s up to you whether you spend your time or money. You just spent three to twelve months, or longer, writing a book. Why not spend 2-4 weeks making sure your ebook reaches the reader looking as closest to the way you intended as possible. If you don’t, you risk angry readers who never even get to comment on your writing because they are held up by the ebook’s formatting.

Do you frequently encounter badly formatted ebooks and how does it make you feel?

Sherlock Holmes And Dr. Watson On Screen – Part 1: Intro and comparison between the BBC’s Sherlock series and Guy Ritchie’s movie series

Sherlock Holmes (r) and Dr. John B. Watson. Il...

(cross-posted from cinesprit.com)

Sherlock Holmes and his companion Dr. John Watson are two of the most famous and long-lasting characters in fiction. They possibly have the largest number of on-screen interpretations of any literary characters…except for possibly Dracula?

This blog series is a look at some of the many interpretations of Holmes and Watson in movies and TV series. From the recent “Sherlock” with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, back to the classic Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce movie series of the 1940s. There are far too many versions to consider them all, but I thought it might be fun to look at the varied ways these classic literary characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have been brought to the screen over the years.

Not all have stuck to the original stories. In “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes”, Billy Wilder poked some fun at the Holmes myth. Another movie has Holmes meet Sigmund Freud in Vienna, and parallels are drawn between the two men. Even if one was fictional and the other real. In “Without a Clue”, Michael Caine plays a somewhat dull-witted Holmes who is all too full of himself, while Watson, played by Ben Kingsley is the real deductive genius in the background.

Amongst TV adaptations, Jeremy Brett’s Holmes is one of the most noteworthy and arguably the one most loyal to the literary creation (Btw, I spotted a very young Jude Law in one of the Brett episodes. He can only be about 16-18 yrs old?). Let’s dive in at the present day versions.

Continue reading “Sherlock Holmes And Dr. Watson On Screen – Part 1: Intro and comparison between the BBC’s Sherlock series and Guy Ritchie’s movie series”

A-Z Blogging Challenge 2012 Navigation Buttons

A-Z Challenge Navigation Buttons

The A-Z navigation buttons are back in 2012. A little late to the party, but with extra goodness: Snazzy colours, a “Loading buttons…” animation, and a counter so you know how many sites you’ve visited.

It’s difficult to navigate a list of nearly 2000 sites. So I created a widget with two simple buttons letting you easily navigate the long list of sites.

The “Next” button let’s you move along sequentially, starting at site 1, then 2, 3, etc. The “Surprise Me!” button (aka “Scotty”) will beam you to a random blog. I encourage using the “Surprise Me!” button because it is much fairer to all participants. Every site gets an equal chance at being visited!

Benefits of using the buttons

  • Quickly navigate the challenge without scrolling up and down a long page
  • It’s less daunting than looking at almost 2000 links and wondering how you could visit them all
  • The “Surprise Me!” button creates a level playing field for all blogs because sites are picked at random
  • A counter tells you how many sites you have already visited
  • The buttons should work until the end of the year so you can continue discovering new sites after the challenge has ended (if the linky list format changes and the buttons break email me about it
  • Easy to add to the widget. It’s just copy and paste
  • Non-Blogger users, e.g. on WordPress.COM, can use this dedicated page which also has the buttons

Blogger users can add the widget to their site following the instructions below.  Continue reading “A-Z Blogging Challenge 2012 Navigation Buttons”

Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris works because it unabashedly plays with all the romantic fantasies associated with Paris. Or more precisely, the Paris of Hemingway which he wrote about in “A Moveable Feast”. The film indulges us in a fantasy world made up of the artists of that period. Conjuring an illusion which is a joy and fun to watch.

Gil (Owen Wilson) is an American screenplay writer. Successful in Hollywood, but who’s real dream is to write literary novels in Paris. To him, writing for commercial Hollywood movies is not worth the same as literary fiction. Right here, is one of the major themes, and questions, of the movie. Are we ever satisfied with what we have, or the time we live in?  Continue reading “Midnight in Paris”

The Man Who Planted Trees – Small Changes Make The Difference

The Man Who Planted Trees DVD cover

(Cross-posted from cinesprit.wordpress.com)

“The Man Who Planted Trees” is an animated film by Frédéric Back based on the popular short story by Jean Giono. This beautifully animated film is about a shepherd living in the Provence region of southern France who single-handedly plants an entire forest, one acorn at a time. If you like impressionist paintings such as those of Claude Monet, then this film is for you.

“The Man Who Planted Trees” is a work of art in itself. It is a painting come to life. This film is not well know because it is only about 30 minutes. Hence it was never shown as a main feature film. I was fortunate to see this film at a university film society. At the time, there were no prints in the UK at all. The movie had to be shipped from the production company in Canada, but it was worth the cost and effort. Everybody I looked at after seeing the movie was awestruck by its beauty.

Amongst numerous other awards, this film won the Oscar for best animated short film, was nominated at Cannes, and won the Grand Prize at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival. Frédéric Back had previously won an Oscar for another animated short and that helped him realise this film.

The story of a very simple person with sparse means achieving so much, is universally inspriring. It is like the famous saying that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The shepherd patiently plants acorns, day after day for years as he walks around his mountain. In the beginning, the mountain is barren. After some decades, there is a huge forest. Continue reading “The Man Who Planted Trees – Small Changes Make The Difference”