Thursday, April 09, 2009

Myself as a reader

*check the footnotes for a greater experience while reading my essay ;)

A bit more than a year ago. Room 60 of the PWSZ Dormitory in Wloclawek, Poland. My room!

It’s small but cozy. Streaks of morning sunlight sneak between the curtains pulled over the windows, colouring the room in warm pastel tones. Fresh cool breeze is whiffling through the slightly opened door of the balcony. On the drawler near the bed there’s an unwashed bowl with dark spots from the chocolate cereal and milk I had for breakfast. Next to it is the Star Wars mug I got some weeks ago at the Empik store – with Chewbacca and Tarful on the outside and some fresh orange juice on the inside…

Aaah! A perfect Idyll!

I’m on my bed, comfortably covered with soft black cotton with printed Angelina Jolie/Lara Croft on it – the kind of warmth that just doesn’t let you go out of the bed even when you’re already wide awake.

From where I sit I can see my “Sweeny Todd” and “National Treasure 2” posters, but on the walls around me there are also “Beowulf”, “Invasion” and “Terminator 3” plus plenty of cut-outs from the cinema booklets I used to collect at Multikino.

I guess that there was some of the typical dorm noise coming from down the corridor and maybe a lawnmower rattle outside at the yard. But I couldn’t hear any of this. I was all inside the book. In my hands I was holding Wilhelm Hauf’s “Fairy Tales”.

(It was one of the three books I took with me from Bulgaria when I left. The other two were the complete edition of Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”). You’re never too old for fairy tales, especially when it comes to Wilhelm Hauf. It’s not your usual kid-friendly-bedtime-stories-with-talking-animals-and-faity-godmothers kind of thing. These are not the tales that will put you to sleep. These are the tales that will keep you awake, hiding under your blanket, afraid to cross the darkness and go to the toilet! The kind of tales that will make you ask for more terrific adventures night after night, no matter how scared you got with the previous one. The kind of tales you just gotta love!

Wilhelm Hauf died way too young, he was just 25 when fever took him away, but he defeated death with the stories he left behind - exotic adventures in faraway Orient take turns with dark Gothic chillers, blazing deserts and stormy seas, glamorous castles and lurid dungeons…

My first encounter with Wilhelm Hauf was back in the days before school, when I could hardly read, but I had plenty of audio cassettes with taped audio dramas. “Little Mook” was bright and funny, “Caliph Stork” was mysterious and enchanting, “The Ghost Ship” I wasn’t allowed to play, because my sister was terrified to death by it, and “Dwarf Long-Nose” still gives me the creeps!

Back in those days I also got on board of “Espanola”, set sail for the Treasure Island and spent much of the trip hiding from the pirates under the table… I mean in the cargo hold. Way before I read the book itself I had seen the Russian animated version, “Остров Сокоровищ” (1988) which as goofy as it is, is preserved in my memory as wild cartoon adventure and my very first touch to Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic. I was so into it, that I asked my aunt to make me one of those “triangle pirate hats with a skull and crossed bones on it”, and I used a backgammon chip as the black spot. When I got the book itself, they made me like 10 copies of the page with the map, and I was so damn proud that I own a real genuine pirate treasure map!

“The Treasure Island” influenced me a great deal along with the first books I read at primary and secondary school. Gianni Rodari’s “The Cake in the Sky” was the very first big book I read completely on my own, followed immediately by “Gip in the Television” and I think “Fairy Tales Over the Phone” – all three books in one cover, I borrowed them from my first grade class teacher, Mrs. Dusheva (I can’t possibly thank her enough!). Another one of my favourites was Eno Raud’s Estonian cult classic “Muff, Halfshoe and Mossybeard” (my own rough translation of “Маншон, Полуобувка и Мъхеста брада”). I greatly enjoyed Erich Kestner and I simply fell in love with every single Astrid Lindgren book I could get my hands on (by the way they published her biography last year and I’d strongly recommend it to anyone, for fans especially it’s a must).

Some may regard my taste as “childish books with huge font, a lot of pictures and no more than 200 pages”, but I think that the most important things in life are the simple things.

In secondary school I just hated my literature teachers, who were so fascinated with the so called Bulgarian classics and forced us to read crap like Elin Pelin’s “Angelinka” – I still can’t believe that the same guy who wrote the glorious “Yan Bibiyan” also came up with this slobberblob (Hey, I just coined a brand new word! It must be some Roald Dahl influence on me! It sounds like “BFG” language. I think that a Slobberblob is something gruesomely terrible and oversantimental in a very unpleasant way). The highly overrated “Under the Yoke” was kinda OK, it was action-packed and patriotically-charged and everything, but come on – kill all the good guys after some 500 pages!! I felt so cheated that I read the full version and not some of the short “demos” some of my schoolmates used. Come on, give me a break, what is this? Kill the heroes and push this book to 5th graders?! Damn you!

In high-school it was even worse – we started with some absolutely loathsome bullshit piece of writing by our highly acclaimed Nikolay Haitov – “Dervish’s Seed”. What the f**k!! What kind of sick education system we have, to put this hardcore Balkan redneck porn in 8th grade textbook!?! Well I don’t know about the girls, but at this age we boys were more interested in wrestling and video-games than in losing virginity, and this twisted mind-f**k about kidnapping girls, first wedding night, broken noses and blood on the sheets left me scarred for life and almost made me turn asexual!

During these years I had the feeling that there is no room for individual thought in literature classes, I hated the boring stuff they wanted us to read, and I hated even more the critical writings in the text book that were trying to put you in the path beaten by the generations before and impose their way of thinking on you. Nobody paid any attention to Jules Verne or H.G. Wells. Nobody cared about Arthur Conan Doyle or Jack London. Sci-fi, fantasy, horror, western, adventure – these topics were taboo in the literature classes. My interests were disregarded, so I felt as an underdog and in return I disregarded Balzac and Hugo, like they weren’t already repulsing enough with all that tragedy, social injustice and misery all over their pages.

Unfortunately in the University things turned out to be quite similar and instead of “Frankenstein”, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, “War of the Worlds” or Orwell’s eye-openers “1984” and “Animal Farm” we spent weeks and weeks on tons of pages of Victorian drama crap and dealt with misunderstood fruitcakes who spent their lives writing poetry in the attic room and hiding it under the bed so their relatives can find it after their die at the age of 30 just because they never went out, not to mention suicidal feminist lesbian bitches, snobbish gay opium addicts and stuck-up incest-oriented aristocrats and their friends who go drown themselves, so they can be called “lake poets”. Thanks, but if that’s your profound intellectual classic cannon literature, just leave me to my pulp fiction and comic books!

I will read the things you don’t want to teach. Books are a riot!

Rebel against reality!

* Check out the Bonus features for a greater experience while reading my essay:

Welcome to my lair – a video documentary on my room in Poland -

Wookies rule! – a photo of my Star Wars mugs I got in Poland -

Wilhelm Hauf at the Gutenberg Project -

Wilhelm Hauf tales in English -

The complete Russian “Treasure Island” cartoon on YouTube -

Essay soundtrack:

Guido and Maurizio De Angelis – “Trinity Stand Tall” (from “Trinity Is Still My Name” OST) –

1 comment:

mimz said...

Хаха напълно съм съгласна с написаното за литературата в гимназията. Нямам търпение да се махна вече и да не се занимавам повече с тези произведения. Единствения лъч светлина беше в 10 клас, когато учихме повече чуждестранни произведения, които бяха що-годе интересни и не се налагаше да зубриш тъпи анализи и пак да не можеш да изкараш 6.

From where I sit I can see my “Sweeny Todd” and “National Treasure 2” posters, but on the walls around me there are also “Beowulf”, “Invasion” and “Terminator 3” plus plenty of cut-outs from the cinema booklets I used to collect at Multikino.
Мисля, че имаме нужда от ново видео на стаята, тъй като в първото тези май не присъстват (дано не се лъжа).

А, и почти си уцелил Маншон, Полуобувка и Мъхеста брадата - Muff, Halfshoe and Mossbeard, английското заглавие на книгата е "Three Jolly Fellows". Ммм, още май си пазя една касета на Джани Родари с "приказки по телефона".