The Story of an (un)healthy obsession

August 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Imagine you came home and found your friends and family gathered in your living room. What you think is a surprise party turns out to be an intervention. They tell you that you can’t go on like this. That you might need professional help. That you are addicted to books, even obsessed with them. Of course you immediately rush to the closest bookshelf, grab a dictionary and look up obsession: “obsession, fixation – an unhealthy and compulsive preoccupation with something or someone”, the dictionary says.
Both Anas and I are obsessed with books and literature in general and with one book in particular. Each of us has one book that is the sun of our literary solar system. Anas is obsessed with Roberto Bolano’s 2666. Juli Zeh’s Spieltrieb is the heroin I inject into my bookworm veins. There are a number of questions now: Where does a literary obsession come from? Why exactly that book? And, is it really unhealthy to be obsessed with a book?

Spieltrieb, in my opinion, is the perfect novel. But does that justify an obsession with it? Yes, yes it does. I remember reading the book for the first time back in 2007 when I was 15 years old. I was doing an internship – in a bookstore, of course – and took the tramway there every morning which gave me a lot of time for reading every morning and afternoon. As soon as I opened the book, I was absorbed into a different world, far away from the commuters’ chit-chat. What was it that made Spieltrieb so special for me?
What impressed me the most was Ada, the novel’s female protagonist. She’s still one of the few characters in fiction that I have been able to identify with. Ada and I were about the same age and shared quite a lot of physical features and character traits. Yet, Ada was different from me. She felt like a cooler version of me, the badass girl that I so badly wanted to be back then. Ada, this has to be said, turns out to be a foolish teenage girl who is weaker than she appears to be, but I admired her nevertheless.
Of course, this is not enough to cause a true book obsession – imagine a book with a great main character but a terribly weak plot and horrible style. When it comes to novels, I’m a “classicist” (ask Anas). I don’t mind the occasional postmodern, fragmented novel, but I like a handy, compact and mostly linear plot. Zeh’s novel combines this structure with a very refined style and a simple, yet captivating plot, thereby creating my favourite novel of all times.

Now, what does that mean, “favourite novel of all times”?
First of all, this means that I compare every. other. novel. that I read to Spieltrieb, even novels that in their style or plot have absolutely nothing in common with Zeh’s masterpiece. Spieltrieb has set my personal benchmark for novels so that I am now constantly comparing other works of fiction to it. And since I found my own perfect novel, everything else that I read is a minor disappointment for me. But I’d never give up reading novels just because I’m convinced no other book will be as great as Spieltrieb – literature offers a ton of other good and not-so-good books that I wouldn’t want to miss. Here my obsession differs from the kind of fixation a “twihard” might be experiencing. For her (or much less likely, him), all other books aren’t even worth looking at because apparently all that counts is a 100-year-old sparkly virgin. Girls, here’s a piece of advice: Read, and you’ll discover other awesome universes!

Then, it means that I talk about Spieltrieb a lot. But I don’t shove it into other people’s faces, and I don’t recommend it to anyone. It’s something precious to me that I want to share with special people who mean something to me and of whom I think that they might appreciate the novel. The climax of my obsession is my project of translating it to English, a task unaccomplished so far, so that Anas would be able to read it.

The new Juli Zeh novelThe dictionary definition says that an obsession is an “unhealthy preoccupation” with something. Can a literary obsession be unhealthy? Until yesterday I thought it couldn’t. I thought my frequent preoccupation with this single novel was totally harmless. But yesterday in the bookstore, I saw a sign advertising the new Juli Zeh novel, Nullzeit, and in my excitement my pulse started to rise, I tripped at the end of the escalator, fell and broke my reading arm.
The second part of the last sentence is a downright lie, but I am pretty sure that it could have happened. Apart from that, a book obsession is a funny little quirk that is completely free of health risks.

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