Sunday, July 15, 2012

English titles at my German library

Let's not ponder too long what makes for a gap of many months in the posts of a blogger (if I can call myself that). November to July? OK. I've had a few suggestions. Maybe Facebook is what happened. Yes, maybe. In any case, I'm pleased to be inspired to toss something out today, a sunny/rainy Sunday in quiet Flein.

I went to the library yesterday afternoon with Miriam. It's become a habit, one that is prescribed somewhat by due dates. For example, a "new" film on DVD can be checked out for one week only and always costs € 1.50. So, when we've borrowed a movie, we have to show up to return it to avoid late fees. Our most recent was an Adam Sandler/Jennifer Aniston goofy comedy called Just Go with It. It's always amusing, if not nauseating, to see how films are retitled in German. In this case: Meine erfundene Frau (or My Invented Wife). An all-time favorite (=nauseating) re-titling is a 1986 Robert Redford/Debra Winger movie called Legal Eagles. Granted, the rhyme and nuance of the original are hard to duplicate, but how about this: Staatsanwälte küßt man nicht (You don't kiss district attorneys).

We often have good, if very random, luck searching the DVD collection at the library. Because the German norm is to dub foreign films, we can't watch English movies in the original language in theaters (unless we travel about an hour to Stuttgart or Karlsruhe), so we rely on the marvel of the DVD. The newest films offer the soundtrack in dozens of languages. Stunning, really. Television in Germany is always dubbed, and SOMETIMES we can stand watching Tom Hanks or Meryl Streep spout rather neutral sounding German, but mostly we go to the library for DVDs and gratefully select English as the language before we press "play". Mind you, none of us is opposed to watching movies in German if they were made in German. It's just the slapping on of translated language that bugs us, that and seeing familiar actors with the wrong voice. In defense of the dubbing practice, German speakers have told me, "But they always use the same German voice every time it's John Wayne or Gary Cooper." How can you ever replace something that iconic?

The challenge of the DVD collection at the library in Heilbronn is that the discs are filed by director. How impossibly non-commercial. I was trained at Blockbuster and Hollywood to search by film title. Weren't you? So, browsing my library here goes a little like this. Hmm, no one's standing in front front of the "L" section. I'll flip through those. Do I know any directors? Oh, yeah, George Lucas. What did he direct? (Not very erudite, eh?) Then I remember the other directors whose names I know: Eastwood, Allen, Spielberg. Mostly it's an exercise in random flipping and everything seemingly mixed together: Japanese, French, German, British, American, and more. Currently, we've got American Beauty, Death of a Salesman (with Dustin Hoffmann and John Malkovich--never heard of it before), Woman of the Year, and Walk the Line. I do not know who directed any of them. Miriam is happily working her way through season two of Glee.

Before hitting the DVDs with Miriam, I habitually check in with the English language book section. There are about 8 shelves, 12 feet wide, filled with English titles. The first segment is exclusively "Crime Novels". The remainder is everything else that's in English, by author. I've been genuinely pleased at what I can find in the library. Last year I read Marilyn Robinson's Housekeeping, and I was thrilled to pull both Gilead and Home from the shelf in Heilbronn. My reading continues to be driven by what I can find there. Joan Didion's recent Blue Nights is on my nightstand stack. Right now I'm partway through Don DeLillo's Falling Man, which seemed to be the only title of his there (not in translation), and I'd grown curious about this author.

But it's a funny place to browse, the English collection. It puts Stephen Hawking just down the shelf from Ernest Hemingway. Yesterday I noticed a novel by Joyce Carol Oates right next to two nonfiction books by Barack Obama. Another interesting sequence: Alice Sebold, David Sedaris, and pretty close by, William Shakespeare. My favorite sighting, however, was several novels by Philip Roth followed by, what? The Harry Potter series. Of course, Rowling.

I love reading. And, all fun-making aside, I love libraries and especially the chance to find books in English at my local library. I see it as an interesting selection to work with. Once I've read what's here, I can find interlibrary loan or buy used on Amazon. Meanwhile, I've got plenty to read. Here's what jumped off the shelf and into my hands yesterday: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. Check back with me on that one (1000 pages, 400 Wallace-style footnotes, we'll see).