Discussion · English Review/Post

My Love for Literature & Languages

Disclaimer: I apologize in advance. This post is going to be a rambling mess, but I can’t seem to get it better, so please bear with me.
Let’s play a drinking game. Take a shot for every time I say ‘different’ in this post. Actually, don’t do it. Don’t want you to poison yourself. 

I love everything that has to do with words. Literature, Lettering, Languages. Over the years I learned more and more about it, I study different languages, love to learn about grammatical curiosities, untranslatable words and just everything. And I started to notice a few things. How differently I respond to each language, for example, the way my thinking changes, my voice changes and most importantly (for this post) my feelings.

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I’m currently trying to make a personal rating system along the lines of G’s CAWPILE. You can watch her video where she explains everything but basically, every letter stands for something she thinks is important in a book and should, therefore, influence her rating. C-Character, A-Atmosphere, P-Plot, L-Logic etc.
I tried to use her system because I want to get more consequent with my ratings, but I haven’t yet found the right way for me. I’ll have to adapt and change her system a little for me to work.

But while debating about what I think makes or breaks a book for me I came across the letter W – Writing Style. A while ago I don’t think I would have included it, because honestly, most of the time I don’t really notice anything specific about it. I only comment on it if it was either really amazing or really rubbish and/or hard to read.

But it got me thinking about what emotions the different writing styles can evoke. Of instances where I really loved the writing style. Where it might have been the reason why I loved a story as much as I did.

I’ll give you a few examples so you know what I’m talking about. Let’s, for example, talk about Laini Taylor. She wrote the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy as well as the currently really popular Strange the Dreamer duology.
I’ve only read Daughter of Smoke and Bone, but from what I heard it’s a similar situation in StD. She just has a way with words. Her writing is simply beautiful and makes you fall in love with the words, the sound of them, the feel of them, maybe even more than with the story itself. At least that was the case for me. And it made me more lenient with certain tropes I usually can’t stand. The dreaded and much-hated Instalove! Daughter of Smoke and Bone definitely has instalove, but I was okay with it. It didn’t even really register until after I’d finished the book. People don’t mention it often, just because she hypnotizes the reader with her stunning prose.

Or, Agatha Christie’s ruthless way of describing characters. Tolkien’s long, looong descriptions. Those are things I do notice. I remember them, and they have an influence of high I rate a book.
I need to read one sentence and I know it’s written by Cornelia Funke. I would recognize Maggie Stiefvater’s writing anywhere etc.

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And now to the actual point of this blog post. Translations.

I’ve first started thinking about this topic when I noticed the difference in the reception of Kerstin Gier’s books. They’re very popular and well-loved in Germany. I’ve seen all kinds of people read them. I loved them, my mom loved them, my best friend (who usually hates anything that has romance in it) and a random guy in his 40s on a train loved them … you get my point.
They actually got translated into English but haven’t been that well-received. Not by far. At first, I was perplexed. But then I analyzed what made me love them that much. The writing style. It’s just so cozy and comfy. And funny. That seems to have gotten lost in translation.

It’s hard to translate a book. Not only must the words be translated, but the atmosphere, the feelings and everything that makes a story come alive.
The example of Kerstin Gier is also the reason why I don’t usually recommend some of my absolute favourite books because I think they would be especially hard to translate. Walter Moers is another one. He plays with words like a composer does with notes. He uses the feel on your tongue when you pronounce a word, the meaning, the weight of a word. He creates new words that allude to other ones, uses anagrams for names etc. His books have to be a nightmare to translate.*

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In this picture you can see all the booklings (creatures who devote their entire life to one author and are named after said author) with their names. Ojahnn Golgo Van Fontheweg is one of them. (Anagram: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)
*One day, I’ll pick the English version up just, so I can finally shove it down everyone’s throats without having to say ‘But I don’t know how well the translation is’.

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Nowadays, I love reading books in English. I actually prefer it. (Same with listening to audiobooks.) So much so that it takes me a while to get used to reading something in German again.

Now, why that?

Well, the obvious reason first: A lot of popular books are written in English. All the new releases I hear about on Book Twitter, Booktube or read about on blogs. While sometimes they translate books ridiculously fast (Like seriously, one time a book written by an American author was published in April in Germany and in July in the US and UK … ???) I don’t want to wait. Also, it helps me get better at English (I learned much more through reading books and watching Booktube than in school, honestly).

And now, I actually find it easier to enjoy a book written in English. I debated for a long time why that is. Is it because my English is still so basic that I don’t really notice the nuances in writing style, word choice etc? These types of things would obviously be easier to notice, or rather harder to ignore, in my native language.
But while this is probably a factor I think it’s more than that. It’s the feeling I get when reading, listening or talking in a language. I almost feel a tiny bit like a different person depending on which language I’m speaking.

English is lighter and just flows better and is a lot more low-key. Meaning is more noticeable than the words. It’s the other way around in German. The words are more noticeable somehow. The writing style itself is heavier and more on the forefront. While in English I feel like the writing style is a tool to convey the story, the pictures, emotions and everything, in German I feel like the writing style is the story. Does that make any sense?

I really came to realize just how different English and German make me feel when I read a book that was originally written in German. Murphy. I loved the idea of it, the characters were cool, the plot was entertaining but I just didn’t like the writing style. At all. It was written in a lighthearted, easy to read, funny and quirky way. And I hated it. It felt so wrong. Silly and clownish and robbed the novel of all deepness. (Can you say it that way in English? Sorry, my brain is mush)
I’ve read countless English novels with the exact same writing style and not only did I not mind it, I actually really liked it and noticed it in a positive way. I never thought them to be silly, I never felt like the author talked to me like I’m a little kid or anything. They didn’t lose any deep or meaningful undertones.

So, English for me is much more suited to that writing style. The softness of the words, the intonation of a sentence and everything. German feels more serious in a way. A little more distant. Heavier.
That, of course, doesn’t mean I’ve never read and enjoyed a funny book in German or that English isn’t suited for dark, gritty fantasy books or anything.

It’s most definitely possible to write anything and everything in both languages, but some things are infinitely more difficult to pull off in one language than the other.

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What I wanted to say is this: Reading in different languages leaves me with a different taste in my mouth. Evokes different emotions and is, therefore, fit for different stories. I’ve had this unarticulated feeling for years now, that it is just different to read in English. First I thought it was because of translations just not being good. But that’s rubbish. Some translators are geniuses. In non-English-speaking countries, it’s rather popular (at least in my generation) to prefer to read the original because it’s easy to miss what was being conveyed by the author. Basically, you experience the story through the filter of another person. Depending on how they interpreted the story, what they deemed to be the underlying message and tone, influences how they translate the book. It can ruin a book. But I’ve also read some absolutely fantastic translations where I really didn’t even notice which language I read the book in, where I could switch effortlessly between the original and the translation because they felt exactly the same. Same atmosphere and all.

There is this saying in Germany that translates to: ‘You always have to wait for the translation. You lose so much in the original.’
This talks about Harry Rowohlt, a very famous translator here. He was absolutely fantastic. Seriously. He took a book and made it better by translating it.

I especially loved his translations of Philip Ardagh’s A House Called Awful End. It’s completely absurd and quirky. So much fun and yes, it worked in German. No problem.
He added his own little footnotes and things and it was hilarious.



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I hope this post made any sense at all. I tried to get all my thoughts in an order that was understandable and logical but I struggled a bit. Sorry!

Does anyone else experience this difference between languages and the feelings you get while reading?

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22 thoughts on “My Love for Literature & Languages

  1. Ahhh, I never met another person (besides my cousin) who has read Philip Ardagh! Love his quirky little stories.

    World literature sounds like such a fascinating study. And yes, I’m also trying to learn more languages because of that. Great motivation 🙂
    And thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is such a lovely post. I completely agree that the whole translation issue is a fascinating one for literature. When I was studying world literature it was one of my favourite topics. My foreign language skills aren’t great but one of my motivations to practice is being able to access more texts in their original languages.

    It’s also the first time in a long while that I’ve seen Philip Ardagh’s name – I used to love his work when I was growing up!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Oh yes, especially puns and jokes (that play with the sound or the specific meaning of a word) are very difficult to translate!
    I’m really fascinated by the difference languages can make and that not all languages work for the same kind of humour. That’s the reason why I’m so awed whenever I read a translated book and later the original and they have the exact same feeling. I had that with Maggie Stiefvater’s books, which is very curious because her writing style is one thing I particularly enjoy about her books. I read the first Raven Cycle book in German and switched halfway through the second to English and it really didn’t make any difference at all. It actually took me a while to register that I was now reading in a different language which is wild!

    I didn’t know that about Chinua Achebe! that’s so interesting!!
    But I have a similar feeling when I’m writing. Some stories I can only really tell in English while others are so much easier and impactful in German.

    (P.S. Sorry for the really late reply. Your comment got lost somehow and I just now saw it)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think what you’re saying here makes perfect sense. Once when I was visiting a friend in Switzerland, and we were walking around town conversing in English, I said something, a slight play on words, that I considered mildly amusing but that she found hilarious. Later that night she relayed it to a group of friends in Swiss-German, and they didn’t laugh, so she said, “No, wait, it doesn’t work in German. Let me tell you in English.” When she relayed it in English, they all burst out laughing. Of course, I don’t know German, so I can’t tell you WHY it was so much funnier in English, but they did all comment to me that they couldn’t twist the words around the way I had because German didn’t work that way. That was the first time I understood that language actually makes a difference to content.

    Also, Chinua Achebe wrote his books about Nigeria in English rather than his native language because he could not express the depth he wanted to portray in his language. He said in so many words that this was because the written form of his language was invented by missionaries who were looking for an efficient way to combine dialects and as a result stripped all the poetry out of the language.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. This is such an excellent post, Nora! As a bilingual reader and speaker, I never really thought about the impact of language on literature that I read, but now that I read your post, I can started to understand why different language gave me a different vibe and eventually, different judgement on the book too.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Ah thanks, I’m glad to hear that my rambling made sense in the end! 😀
    That’s so cool! That was my dream job as a kid! If I would have studied that it would have been Spanish-German ^^ I’d love to talk more about it with you 🙂

    Yes, that’s so weird, right? I’m still not 100% sure why I feel so different when tlaking in different languages. But I certainly do. (That’s also part of the reason why I don’t let my family read my blog. I feel like it would clash with how I’m with them when I talk in German … )

    Oh yes, please do tell me your observations on the reading part. I’m really interested to see how other people see it in different languages. (And yes, old spanish classics and newer YA novels are a little hard to compare 😀 )

    Like

  7. Thank you! xx
    And that’s really cool that you’re noticing the same with Spanish and French! So afr I’ve only read Harry Potter in Spanish, so I can’t really say what’s the feeling of that language for me yet. But one day! (I hope :D)
    It’s probably the most challenging at first to accept that you can’t tranlsate everything word per word but that you have to not only rephrase but maybe change entire parts of a book to make sense. I know I struggled with that when I dabbled a little in literary translation!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh yes, childrens books are amazing to start reading in another language! (And woah, Japanese! That’s so cool. And not very easy, is it?)
    My goal is it to be able to read Harry Potter in every language I’m learning. So far I did Spanish. The other languages I’m still very far from being able to do that though 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  9. It must be amazing to be read and understand books in their native tongues. I’m in awe.
    When I learned Japanese I was thrilled to read The Hungry Cattetpillar and during French A level I learned Moliere but I’ve retained very little.
    Great post x

    Liked by 2 people

  10. This is such an interesting post! I study French and Spanish and have found that books are so different in those languages compared to my native English. I also find it fascinating how things are translated so won’t always be phrased the same so as to make sense to their audience!

    Liked by 3 people

  11. I love this piece and I completely agree with what you’re saying here! (And as a native English speaker, I can tell you that your words definitely made sense!) I’m in university now studying to be a literary translator (although my language pair is Spanish-English) so hearing anyone’s thoughts on translation in literature is really helpful to me.

    Plus, as I become more fluent in Spanish I notice more how my personally differs when I speak each language. It’s really strange and amazing how that happens. I feel like I can’t quite speak to the reading part of it yet because most of what I read in Spanish is old classics and most in English is more recent Young Adult/Teen novels, but I’ll get back to you on that 😅

    Cheers!

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Fantastic post and so interesting! I’m a native English speaker and have noticed that some books can be so stiff when translated in English, particularly Scandinavian languages. One series that I’ve really enjoyed is the Inspector Montalbano which is translation Italian and really makes me laugh out loud.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Ah that’s good to hear! I’ve read and edited this post so many times that I don’t know what it says anymore. My brain just noped our at some point 😂

    And yes! I love English, too! Some translations are brilliant but most of the time it’s just not the same.
    And thanks! xx

    Liked by 3 people

  14. I can really relate to everything you wrote about English and German books. My mother tongue is German too but I started to read English books when I turned thirteen and I never stopped. *lol* I love English as a language and I enjoy to read books in their original language. A lot gets lost in the translation and it always makes me sad. XD Great post! 😀

    Liked by 3 people

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