Ich brauche Bücher!
May 13, 2008 3:18 AM   Subscribe

What are some good books in German for a moderately advanced student of the language?

I'm a college student and I'm working my way towards learning German. I don't want to lose the progress I've made this semester over the summer and I think that I'm at the point where I could read books in German (novels, plays, short fiction and the like) and seriously benefit from it, both in gaining vocabulary and keeping fresh on the grammar, but I don't know what to read. I've read a few things of length so far in my studies (Die Besuch der Alten Dame, some short stories by Anna Mitgutsch) and I think that reading more would really help. I don't care if the books are translations or original german works, but I'd prefer fiction. Also, I'm in Vienna until the end of the week so if there are any good places to buy said books there, that'd be great to know as well (especially used books. I'm poor!).

I know that this has been tangentially covered in a few posts in the past, but I didn't see anything too closely related. Sorry if this is too much of a repeat. Thanks.
posted by pwicks to Education (17 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
No idea what you should read, but Vienna is full of used book shops, and most of the more generally oriented ones have baskets of one or two euro books for browsing. Your corresponding Google sesame is "antiquariat wien" (quote-less).
posted by themel at 4:02 AM on May 13, 2008

When I took college-level German sometime in the last century, we used Homo Faber by Max Frisch as our second semester/second year text. You can, of course,read a regular printing, but there are probably pedagological printings floating around.
posted by chengjih at 4:05 AM on May 13, 2008

It's not really clear what type of books you're into, so I'm just grabbing... Have you considered
  • Novels by Patrick Suskind, author of Perfume?
  • Bruno Heilig (lots of poli-sci type stuff about mid-20th century Germany)
  • Things on this list of novels that are most representative of each country

  • posted by whatzit at 4:31 AM on May 13, 2008

    I found the books in the Suhrkamp Basisbibliothek very helpful in this regard. The endnotes are particularly useful for older texts, because they explain unusual words/concepts; this will save you a lot of frustration trying to make sense with a modern dictionary.

    The ones I've come accross are mostly 20th century heavyweights; Homo Faber, suggested above sounds like a good idea.
    posted by ghost of a past number at 4:39 AM on May 13, 2008

    The following are books that I have read as part of my university course thus far (and should be suitable for moderately advanced readers...i.e. you will have to look up the odd word still!):

    Hermann Hesse - Demian.
    Thomas Mann - Der Tod in Venedig
    Hermann Hesse - Der Steppenwolf
    Ingeborg Bachmann - Das dreissigste Jahr
    Franz Kafka - Das Urteil
    Frank Kafka - Die Verwandlung
    Goethe - Faust (really not as bad as you might imagine)

    I would also recommend the Suhrkamp publications, though if you are wanting particularly cheap books, look no furthers than Reclam. These are small, bright yellow books, each usually around 2-3 euros.....most of them are fairly classic fictional works.

    Of particular note:

    Hoffmann - Der Goldne Topf
    Woyzeck - Buechner

    or for some poetry:

    Fuenfzig Gedichte der Romantik

    Or, if you are interested in psychology/psychiatry/psychoanalysis at all, you should try reading some Freud. Though he may have had some crackpot ideas, this makes for an interesting read, and his language is such that he is very straightforward to understand as a non-native student of German. A good starting point would be Abriss der Psychoanalyse - available in the Suhrkamp range.
    posted by farfaraway at 4:58 AM on May 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

    From someone who was at a similar level a year or so ago; here're some fiction that I've read since then that I've enjoyed, and been able to read:

    I found translations of Haruki Murakami ("Naoko's Lacheln", "Afterdark") and Ursula LeGuin ("Die Enteigneten") to be very readable: They both have relatively simple prose but captivating stories. I really enjoyed the translation of China Mieville's "UnLonDun" because of the word play - the translator must have had a great time working on it.

    I've recently read Catalin Dorian Florescu's "Der blinde Masseur" and Terezia Mora's "Seltsame Materie"; I've been working on Süskind's "Parfum" and have Ingo Schulze's "Simple Storys" and Stefan Zweig's "Meistererzählungen" waiting on my bookshelf. There are the classics too, of course, as mentioned above, (I've been particularly enjoying Hesse) but I often find it's nice to intersperse those with some slightly lighter reading. Oh, and definitely read the Grimm Brothers' fairy tales in the original!

    As a source of new books, I highly recommend New Books In German. They're English-language reviews of new German books, and are often a really good way to find new German-language authors you would have otherwise never heard about.
    posted by ubersturm at 6:04 AM on May 13, 2008

    Herman Hesse and Max Frisch are easy to read. Kafka and Goethe's Faust, not so easy. Also Birgit Vanderbecke writes some good novels nowadays ... I enjoyed "Das Muschelessen".
    posted by creasy boy at 6:20 AM on May 13, 2008

    Die neuen Leiden Des Jungen W by Plenzdorf was the book we read after Der Besuch der Alten Dame, which was really great. (Back when I was learning German in school.)

    Also, Grimm's Fairy tales auf Deutsch can be fun and relatively easy if you get a standard Hochdeutsch version, rather than one with all of the dialects.
    posted by kendrak at 7:02 AM on May 13, 2008

    since your poor ... might I suggest walking into a bookstore and asking for Reclam Heftchen? these are usually yellow or red little booklets featuring all the great standards that kids in school and college are required to read and mainly due to that they're cheap. I'd also recommend listening to radio stations like Deutschlandfunk, a public broadcasting network in germany akin to NPR. they'd be very likely to challenge your vocabulary with their excellent programming. try their website for streaming content and podcasts of programs. corso, a program about college life, might be up your alley.

    finally, not just because of fiduciary responsibilities, consider newspapers. germany and austria have amazing newspapers and you should be able to obtain a few at home as well. consider die Zeit, a weekly paper comparable to the new yorker or nyt (and be prepared for them challenging your vocabulary on an epic scale). consider getting your news in german first and avoiding english newspapers/radio programs/etc for a while. this will force you to figure out what's going on, which is pretty much how I learned english. other papers with great websites to consider would be die sueddeutsche zeitung or die welt or die taz. the latter is a left-leaning paper notorious for its bitingly satirical headlines (see wikipedia).

    you'll be comning across a massive number of book reviews this way. Deutschlandfunk has a dedicated half-hour book critisism show every afternoon and die Zeit has a massive literary section. you'll probably discover some great new fiction you'd never otherwise consider this way.

    hope this helps!
    posted by krautland at 7:08 AM on May 13, 2008

    You might try books you're familiar with in translation, for instance (taking a guess) Lord of the Rings or Alice in Wonderland. German titles easily searchable on amazon.de by entering author, or simply google "-title- german"

    It's very instructive to read books in translation, because you often get an interesting cultural lesson in seeing how they translate various passages.
    posted by nax at 7:20 AM on May 13, 2008

    I'll second nax on this one. While I was doing immersion language work in Berlin, I would borrow Harry Potter books from friends. I knew the originals well enough that the translations made sense, and I could figure out any weird words contextually (or write them down to look them up later).

    Read the newspaper as well - I read them both online and offline while I was living there, and that helped immensely.
    posted by SNWidget at 8:18 AM on May 13, 2008

    Siddhartha is an easy read. I think Hesse was aiming for a Hemingway effect, because there's a lot of short sentences and direct statements in there.

    also Die Roten Matrosen, which is a kids book, but I really liked it.
    posted by Ironmouth at 8:53 AM on May 13, 2008

    In addition to many of the authors and titles listed above, I really enjoyed short stories by Ilse Aichinger and Heinrich Böll. As a non-native speaker I found both authors relatively accessible.

    I also have and treasure a single-volume paperback copy of all of Kafka's short stories, many of which are very short indeed. It is great for brief dips.
    posted by sueinnyc at 9:05 AM on May 13, 2008

    Bernhard Schlink's Der Vorleser and Wolfgang Borchert's Das Gesamtwerk (a collection of short stories, poems, and essays, are both highly recommended.

    The Reklam Heftchen are somewhat classically oriented, but I remember that Rohwolt put out a series of small books (about 75 pages apiece) that were translations and original-language works and were GREAT. One of them I recall reading was a Dorothy Parker short story in translation. I really loved that series and you should still be able to find them in used bookstores if not the big stores.

    Ah, now I'm indulging in a sigh for the AMAZING bookstores in Germany!
    posted by mynameisluka at 10:29 AM on May 13, 2008

    I definitely second the idea of checking out translations of books that you've already read. (Or German books that you've read the English translation of.) Especially at first, being more familiar with the context can help you puzzle out words that would otherwise stump you. I've read a fair number of unlikely books in translation ("Catch-22", "Down and Out in Paris and London", and "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas", for example) for precisely this reason.

    (And good luck finding used books! I ran into a 2-paperbacks-for-the-price-of-1 sale in Munich last month and bought way more than I should've...)
    posted by ubersturm at 12:04 PM on May 13, 2008

    Seconding Woyzeck - Buchner!
    {sorry, I couldn't resist...}
    posted by mattbucher at 1:02 PM on May 13, 2008

    Thanks for all the great answers!
    posted by pwicks at 2:05 AM on May 14, 2008

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