Avid readers: Re-connecting with the mother tongue through reading

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

This week’s avid reader just finished an 1,180-page tome in the German language, and doesn’t seem to have suffered any ill effects.

“It’s on the Wars of the Roses, by Rebecca Gablé,” says Connie McWilliams. “Historical fiction.”

In fact it’s one of a series of very large books by the German author, covering a period of English royal history in the period of the Houses of Lancaster, York and finally Tudor.

“I learned lots about the British royalty,” she says.

As to how she came across the Gablé books, it was by way of an acquaintance in Slave Lake whose first language is also German – Herfried Schmidt by name.

“He’s a big reader of historical fiction in German,” says McWilliams.
For her, it’s a return to reading in her native language, after not having done it in quite some time.

“At first it was a bit difficult,” she says.

Growing up in West Germany, McWilliams was exposed to such authors as Wilhelm Busch, whose memorable books he wrote in verse and illustrated. Stories with a moral, she says, and “not always pleasant.” As she grew into her teens, “my siblings were a big influence on what I read.”

Examples of what she read in her mid-teens are some of the giants of German letters – such as Mann, Schiller, Goethe and Grass. But she was also exposed to British and American writers (in translation) in that period. These included Dahl, Hemingway, Poe and Steinbeck.

How she had the time for such heavy reading is explained by her daily routine in those years.

“I had to take the train to work,” she says. “An hour-and-a-half there and (the same) back.”

More recently, her habit in reading is to carve out a bit of time in the morning and evening of each day. She also listens to audio books, when cooking or doing homework.

“Lighter stuff, so I don’t have to concentrate too much. Crime, for example.”

Scandinavian crime has been a theme – both audio and in print. She gives Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbo as a couple of examples.

“I like to learn about other cultures,” she says. “And the style.”

Another recommendation from the ‘foreign’ crime genre is Robert Wilson, some of whose books are set in Seville in Spain.

Ideas for reading come from a variety of directions, besides the ones mentioned. She gets email updates from Goodreads, for example, belongs to a book club and keeps an eye out for the book sales at the library.

“I like it when I finish a book and I can say, ‘Wow! That was a great book!’ Where I feel that I got something out of it.”

Not all books fill the bill.

“I don’t like to waste time on a book if I don’t like it. I go on and find something else. Time is too short!”

Connie McWilliams

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