Not-too-easy/Not-too-hard German books
July 17, 2013 12:31 PM   Subscribe

Question for German speakers: I would like some reading material to improve my German. I've studied it for a while and have passively absorbed many words, but usually in the context of vocabulary lists and such. I don't want anything really easy however.

Children's books are too simplistic, but Die unendliche Geschichte, is just past the level of my ability. I can read it...slowly, and with a dictionary nearby (which I try not to use because words often become clear after the second or third use), but it's frustrating enough that I avoid doing so. Anything thing I've found labeled as a children's book has been to easy though, and I feel a waste of time. Bonus internet points if such material is somewhat interesting.

I feel like this is a plateau, that once overcome, will allow me to really progress (in reading, at least...).

*Also I guess it doesn't really have to be a book, but that format has the least potential for distraction.
posted by polywomp to Writing & Language (21 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
How about the Harry Potter books? Very simple language in the original version so I'm assuming that the German translation would be the same.
posted by Ferrari328 at 12:42 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

How about folk tales?
posted by No Robots at 12:45 PM on July 17, 2013

I second the Harry Potter books, very readable, I did the same thing myself.
posted by sockpuppetdirect at 12:49 PM on July 17, 2013

Check out the work of Heinrich Böll. I find his work quite interesting, but his style is quite simple. In fact, according to the Wikipedia article, "[h]is simple style made him a favourite for German-language textbooks in Germany and abroad."
posted by trip and a half at 12:50 PM on July 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

For A-Level german we read Die Wolke. I think it's probably a "young adult" book, not sure if that means it will be too easy or not. It's about two children trying to deal with the aftermath of a nuclear accident, I enjoyed it.
posted by gregjones at 12:51 PM on July 17, 2013

I found this difficult too. I'm not sure having a dictionary nearby really helps because it is too easy then to look up every single word you're not certain about which totally disrupts the flow. I tend to just plough on unless not knowing a word is completely critical to my understanding of the narrative.

I would recommend something by Judith Hermann. She uses fairly simple language without too much complicated description. Sommerhaus, später and Nichts als Gespenster are books of short stories which are good because I find reading German to be exhausting so it helps if it's broken up. I liked them as books too but YMMV.

It also helps to have a native speaker you can ask about stuff. You'll come across things in books by German authors set in German speaking countries which dictionaries might not be able to completely explain.
posted by neilb449 at 12:57 PM on July 17, 2013

Harry Potter in German is astonishingly boring, at least if you've read them before. They're pretty slow books, but you don't notice in English because you read them so fast.

It seems like the classic books that get assigned in German courses in the third/fourth semester (as in my dad was assigned them 30 odd years before me) are Der Besuch der alten Dame by Dürrenmatt and Die Verwandlung by Kafka (which, if you aren't good at reading relative clauses now, you will be after that). Certainly there's a dual language edition of Die Verwandlung out there.

This feels like an off the wall suggestion, but Nietzsche writes really clearly. We read some Nietzsche in either my third or fourth semester of German and it was definitely easier than Dürrenmatt or Kafka.

To be honest, I read a lot of the newspaper online. It helps if you're interested in sports, as those articles are probably the most predictable. (Weird side effect of reading sports news: random body part vocabulary from reading about injuries.)
posted by hoyland at 12:59 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Since it doesn't have to be a book, I recommend online newspapers and magazines. The articles are short and you get pretty easily look up unknown words with an online dictionary.

I recommend that after a person has a firm foothold in a language, they dump the beginner stuff and just read what is interesting to them. So, read online magazine and newspaper articles about things that are interesting to you - entertainment, politics, whatever.

If there is a German microblogging site, join that.
posted by Tanizaki at 1:02 PM on July 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

I taught myself to read German with Der Spiegel.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:06 PM on July 17, 2013

Asterix in German. Böll is düll.
posted by runincircles at 1:07 PM on July 17, 2013

We read Herman Hesse's Demian and Siddhartha in my high-school German Classes. I would read one chapter in German & then the corresponding chapter in an English translation to see if I'd understood it.
posted by belladonna at 1:19 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Dürrenmatt is a usual onteefiate author. I read Der Richter und sein Henker in hs, and Der Besuch Der alter Dame in college. I hated the depressing content, but Borchert's short stories are at that level also.

I highly recommend the precious stones books by Kirstin Gier;YA time travel. Not difficult to read and fun!

Hesse's Siddhartha is reasonably easy.

If you're good at picking up archaisms, definitely read Grimm!
posted by lysimache at 1:22 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Der Weg zum Lesen was my 2nd year reading. Lots of great, fairly simple contemporary short stories.
posted by seemoreglass at 1:31 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Asterix in German. Böll is düll.

Seconded - I'd guess there's a lot of Franco-Belgian style comics and indie comics written in German or translated into German.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:48 PM on July 17, 2013

Best answer: Actually, to add on to Tanizaki's excellent suggestion, I'd suggest articles at Deutsche Welle. They have stuff at various levels, and because everything's relatively short, you get to absorb a satisfying amount of information each time.

Zum Beispiel:

Deutsch Aktuelle
Deutsch im Fokus

Bonus: most of these are actually transcripts of audio segments, so you can ALSO use them to practice listening.
posted by kristi at 2:22 PM on July 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Once upon a time, a complete collection of Kafka's short stories was on my assigned reading list. It's a great book for independent reading: Kafka's stories are generally quite short and (in my opinion, at least) certainly very interesting and thought-provoking.

I also bought myself an anthology of German poems (like this one), and tried to read through one a day (with dictionary at my side). I found that really helpful for building my vocabulary, and ~20 years later I can still remember some of the poetry.
posted by sueinnyc at 4:48 PM on July 17, 2013

Der Weg zum Lesen is an excellent book.

The texts progressively increase in difficulty, and there are margin notes about the more essoteric vocab.
posted by colin_l at 5:22 PM on July 17, 2013

... Also, Remarque's classic is a great read, though you'll need a *really* comprehensive dictionary.
posted by colin_l at 5:23 PM on July 17, 2013

Best answer: I wouldn't read Harry Potter. I say this as someone who cut her teeth on Harry Potter and went to every book and movie midnight release. This is a great opportunity to actually learn about German culture, and embrace the fact that the entire world does not revolve around Anglophone culture.

Plays are good reading - you can work on the dialogue, mostly, and the stage directions won't matter much. In much of my advanced beginner/intermediate German courses, we read plays. I understand reading plays to advance comprehension is common practice in language courses.

I really recommend the works of Friedrich Duerrenmatt, who is an incredible author writing semi-surrealist plays, as some have mentioned above.

I adore:

Der Besuch der alten Dame

Die Physiker (I can't vouch for the quality of the English portion of this version.)

Viel Glück! Feel free to message me. German's a great language.
posted by Unangenehm at 7:37 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have two recommendations:
The 'Herr Lehmann' trilogy by Sven Regener. You can watch the Herr Lehmann movie to accompany the first book. My favorite is Neue Vahr Süd. The last book isn't bad at all.

I also enjoyed the collected columns from Wladimir Kaminer called Russendisco in which he describes his experience as a Russian immigrant in Berlin. Kaminer's language is simple, easy to read and he is extremely funny.
posted by jazh at 6:53 AM on July 18, 2013

I forget about Russendisko! jazh is right, it's very good and is broken up into short chapters, all the better for language-learning purposes. (I think they're nominally short stories, but they're more like vignettes.) Also, it seems to be a book public libraries in the US buy, as I've found it in two, if not three, libraries (can't remember), so it's easy to get your hands on a copy.
posted by hoyland at 1:21 PM on July 18, 2013

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