Lost in the library: what to read next?
Updated: Apr 29, 2020
Writers of Fame and Honor
Big libraries can be intimidating, the quantity of books overwhelming. Yet I find peace amidst books and could lose myself in a library. Over the years, books have helped me dream, nourished my curious mind, let me visit exotic places, taught me about history and diverse cultures. In my youth, growing up in post-World War II Germany, I hoped to read every volume in my hometown’s small library. Then one day I realized that, even if I borrowed two per week, it might take years before I could read them all. When I left home, my passion for books remained. As I moved from one country to the next, books were my trusted companions and still are today.
Times were different when I grew up. Reading was a pastime before the information age, with Cable TV, video games, the endless choice of entertainment on electronic devices, and the Internet. For multitudes, bookstores and libraries have lost their appeal, and even become places where so many people end up feeling lost. They wonder what to read and where to start.
What is my advice? Ignore the latest bestseller. Search for one of the Nobel laureates in literature. The coveted prize, first awarded to the French poet Sully Prudhomme in 1901, has since honored 116 writers from forty different countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Americas.
You may be familiar with the British Rudyard Kipling (1907) and John Galsworthy (1932), or the American Pearl S. Buck (1938) and Ernest Hemingway (1954). Even Boris Pasternak (1958) and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1970) of the Soviet era might be known names. But some foreign works might be unknown to you. Two Scandinavian female writers have intrigued me. As a child I learned about nature in The Wonderful adventures of Nils by the Swedish Selma Lagerlöf (1909). Later I read the historic novels of Norwegian writer Sigrid Undset (1928). In her books she described Nordic life during the Middle Ages. A favorite author of mine is the German Thomas Mann. He received the Nobel Prize in 1929 for The Buddenbrooks, a novel about the rise and fall of a 19th century merchant family in Lübeck. And I suggest reading Billards at Half-Past Nine by Heinrich Böll (1972). I admire this writer who exposed the aftermath of the Nazi regime in Germany. Or check out the Hungarian concentration camp survivor, Imre Kertész (2002). He wrote about a person’s helplessness against a totalitarian regime. Among French authors who received the Nobel Prize, I would select François Mauriac(1952) for Thérèse Desqueyroux, and Albert Camus (1957) for L’Étranger (The Stranger).
Literature, like all the arts, follows what Germans call Zeitgeist; and time’s spirit teaches, provokes, entertains. No reason to feel lost in a library. Look for a Nobel Prize winner.