Hubby and I went shopping the day before yesterday and my feet are still aching after the trip. But now the bookcase is five books and one periodical richer. I don’t know how it is that I am not surgically fixed to the many good second-hand bookstores in Copenhagen, but I must count my lucky stars that I don’t live in the city, otherwise I would spare no expense and make no excuses whenever I walked by one of those homely smelling shops that are lacing the city center. Well, I would probably not go broke, since the last items I bought were a whopping DKK 5,- a piece, but due to this low prize hubby had to entice, scold, command and drag me out of the shop, fingers clawing at every protruding shelf and book in sight.
The spoils of the day
I am constantly amazed at the volumes and themes that fill these shelves – some are interesting and other’s make you wonder why on earth this made it through printing. On one of the shelves a 20 volume encyclopaedia in beautiful leather binding occupied most of the space with topics spanning from cattle breeding to the Hapsburg family tree. Outdated and almost redundant in these days of online information searches, for sure; but not without its charm and oh, the fragrance! However, on this particular day, I went for the small, but meaningful choices.
The faculty of humanities in Denmark has been under attack on several fronts these last years, one of which has been what the students are, or more importantly are not learning – with no shortage of indignation by various criers who cannot get over the fact that this or that branch of humanities does not know the great insert-name-here. That in combination with the canon of culture that was imposed upon the land some years ago led my eyes towards the little blue book from 1955 with the nice free birds fleeing the cover (ornithologists or twitchers may use the comment field to enlighten us non-bird people as to what sorts these creatures are). Titled “The book of literature”, works are selected, as stated in the introduction, to show the “riches we have in our classic literature” and to make “you into a reader” with works spanning from ballads to the early 1920s. And so Kingo, Johannes Ewald, Oehlenschläger, Grundtvig, H.C. Andersen and Johannes V. Jensen are shoo-in’s for the collection. What is interesting is that it is completely devoid of female participation. Whether it is for lack of trying or for the simple reason that maybe women pre-1920s don’t write, the editor’s do not say. And what exactly their definition of ‘reader’ is, is also not stated. But I am guessing that it is what you become if you read these texts.
Just before I was hauled out of the bookstore I managed to grab onto a periodical that screamed ’80s’ at me. Turned out to be quite an amusing piece of reading called HUG! no. 32, whose theme was “At the mercy of the big city” from 1981. It’s very fascinating to browse through since so much focus to this day is on the city, both architecturally and culturally speaking. There is even a 2-year interdisciplinary uni-education called 4cities that focuses on urban studies using Brussels, Copenhagen, Vienna and Madrid as a backdrop. Back in the periodical, one contribution is focused on the futuristic Copenhagen in the year 2000 with suggestions spanning from banning cars and, of course, a broad wish amongst the younger generation for the founding of the now much scolded and torn-down Youth House (which was realised a year later, in 1982). Then as now Danes’ fascination with Berlin is distinctive, which becomes obvious as I read the periodical. There is a short story and a feature on the city culture of West-Berlin by Carsten Jensen (who is also editor of HUG), a couple of subculture pieces (punk and skinheads) and a translation of Ulla Meinecke’s “Überdosis Großstadt”.
All in all I was quite satisfied with my loot and in the time to come I hope to do much more book(s)hopping in various second-hand bookshops – ironically, in the nearest future this will be done in Berlin If you have any good tips on Berlin bookshops I cannot go without seeing do comment.
When it comes to literature in digital media there is a lot going on – and especially for kids the playing field is fascinating. But that should come as no surprise since kids really are like sponges and much of the technology seems to be very intuitively adapted for point and play mode. YouTube has been overflowed with different kids playing iPads * taken and encouraged by proud parents (mostly dads) – and it is quite fascinating to see how quickly they pick up on the choices at hand, but I will not dare try to go into the debate on the cognitive benefits and learning curves. Suffice to say that the interactive literature the technology enables often seems to be targeted at children and young adults. Maybe it’s because the combination of reading with the rest of your sensory system is often thought of as a pedagogical tool for learning and when you are an adult the ideology becomes that you read not to learn but to reaffirm or contest what you have previously learned.
My latest encounter with interactive fiction is the wonderful world of Mr. Morris Lessmore (alas, only second-hand, as I have no iPad). I would love to hear from others who have actually tried it, from what I can gather it seems quite interesting.
“The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” is a short film and app by Moonbot Studios (although of course, the film is only available in US iTunes godblastit) and created through a combination of stop motion, 2D and miniature. Just like other narrated apps Morris Lessmore gives you different possibilities to explore like repairing books and flying through a world of words etc. It is literature in game play – however, the Morris Lessmore website says it ‘reinvents digital storytelling’, which I would call a smart-ass sales pitch, because from what I can gather the app stands on the shoulders of and joins in on the same track as other lit-apps before them. Think of “Alice in Wonderland” for example, restricted as it may have been in relation to Morris Lessmore, but still, reinvention is a big word.
And “Heart and the Bottle”, which seems to have gone in the same direction. Children’s literature publishers with a little money on the side and a tech-team must be having a literary orgasm at the new possibilities for increased revenues, since they now have the ability to take back some of the audience that was swiped away with TV and the internet.
The point I am trying to make with regards to literature is that full-blown creativity in play with the electronic devices seems much more fun and acceptable when you are working with children’s literature. There is the glorified goal of literacy ahead when it comes to kids, but what about adults? One need only think of the grown up solution, which is the e-book: talk about snoozefest. But when you think about it, there really is a world of possibilities for adult literature. In lieu of physical dictionaries, encyclopaedias, and notebooks you can combine all those things with image, video and audio supplements and make reading a multi-sensory event, just as one was used to as a kid. It’s not reading for slow learners or laziness – its common sense that incorporating several senses when taking in new information helps with the comprehension of said information. It’s sort of egomaniacal to think that all the required knowledge of a topic can be found in one book. Instead you could take informed reading to a whole new level. Is it very far off to read say Oksanen’s Purgeand get the historical background to Estonia, and its relationship to Soviet Russia, as well as extra material like interviews with Oksanen, an audio track to the Estonian and Russian words that the novel is laced with, and other information that could attach the narrative to the world and current events?
Some time ago I saw IDEO’s innovation video called “Future of the Book”, where they have ‘created’ three scenarios for the digital book: Nelson, Coupland and Alice. Three ways of gathering, reading and using information, literature etc. And I really hope that author’s as well as agents, publishers and sellers will embrace the idea of broadening the field of literature, so that the e-book can be supplemented with other tactile experiments and possibilities. I know a lot of people who deal with literature are cautious when it comes to all the gadgety tools that are moving in on their turf, many of whom don’t want literature to lose its elevated state and become one of many consumer product to the masses. But if you think about one or two of literature’s maxims ‘to make new’ or ‘to inform’, i.e. to push people’s boundaries of the already known, one would think that the implementation of other art forms and tools would be welcomed. I think it would be exciting to read a novel or poetry that did not solely rely on the normative style of reading but dared include other ways of telling narratives. A sort of fusion art. And instead of scaring off the literati with rallying cries that mark ‘the death of the book’, ‘dumbing down the contemporary readership’, and introducing ‘zapper cultures’, maybe we should let a little of our inquisitive nature take hold and explore new options for literature. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: a stagnant art is a dead art… or did somebody else say that?
* And other electronic devices, I’m sorry for singling out the iPad, it’s not the only choice out there.
Bárður Oskarsson, Faroese children’s book author and illustrator, has just published his fourth picture book in Faroese titled “Flata kaninin” (The Flat Bunny). It will be published in Danish later this year, but I do not know the specific date. The Flat Bunny is, to put it bluntly, hilarious and does its genre honour.
The Flat Bunny - Bárður Oskarsson
A dog, a Cat and a Mouse Oskarsson’s most famous book called “Ein hundur, ein ketta og ein mús” (A dog, a cat, and a mouse) was published in 2004 and quickly became very popular. The trio have declared a cease-fire in the beginning and as a result are driven up the wall of boredom. Tensions escalate until the dog can’t take it anymore and lets loose on the cat which sets off a spiral of mayhem. So now the question is, how do they restore the peace?
A Dog, a Cat and a Mouse - Oskarsson
It was awarded the West Nordic Children’s Literature Prize and a White Raven Special Mention in 2006 and is translated into Danish, Icelandic and French. It has been a part of Internationale Jugendbibliothek München’s travelling exhibition, Guten Tag, lieber Feind!, showcasing picture books that promote peace and tolerance. Furthermore, because of Iceland’s position as honorary guest at Frankfurter Buchmesse in October 2011, they have offered the Faroe Islands part of their space and Oskarsson’s picture book will be one of the Faroese contributions.
Picture book with a twist Enough with the prize name dropping. The new book is a humorous story about a dog and a rat who come across a flattened bunny on the road and team up to get her off the road. There is no explanation as to why or how the bunny came to be flattened, it just is. They discuss the options amongst themselves, one of which would be to place her in front of no. 34, which they reckon is her domicile. But this is quickly discarded because, “what would the people in the house think if they saw a dog and a rat bring home their bunny, and flattened at that? It could end up a right mess!”
The Flat Bunny
So the deliberations continue, until the dog comes up with the perfect plan and the dog and rat scrape the bunny off the road. It is a story of how you apply creativity to, and make the best out of an apparently unlucky situation, and doing so with great empathy and style. The ending is anything but predictable and puts a twist on the story leaving further contemplation up to the reader.
The interplay between text and pictures in this book – implementing subtle minimalist technique in both – is beautiful and I seriously haven’t been able to stop laughing every time I open the book. I know the target group is children, but I would not hesitate to recommend it to adults as well – you are never to old to laugh and contemplate life from a different perspective. There is innocence and playfulness abound and I think it would be really interesting to see how children react to/read the story.
If you know Faroese or Danish, you can read more about Oskarsson and his books here and here.
Oskarsson’s Faroese publishing house, BFL, also has a catalogue in English with a selection of their published material, including the books of Bárður Oskarsson – you can find it here.
Name: Jenny Johannessen
And: MA in Comparative Literature with electives in Communication and Journalism. Worked as a literary coordinator for FarLit, a project to promote Faroese literature at international book fairs.
Blogging: my way of verbalising and capturing a few of the neverending impressions books, and the world(s) of books, have on me. Feel free to stop by and read, share, comment on posts, or send suggestions to jenny (at) penciltwister (dot) com