Autobiographical Essays

Beate Caspari-Rosen, MD (1910 - 1995)

Reading Habits

A few weeks before Christmas I went to the Yale Co-Op to buy presents for the holidays. To my surprise I found long tables filled with books in front of the entrance to the store. Who can resist such riches. I found some detective stories on the table marked  $1.00 and Elizabeth Bowen’s Heat of the Day. Years ago I had enjoyed her novel Death of the Heart and never forgot it. In the evening I looked forward to reading her book. and here I ran into a problem I did not know existed. I had not realized how my reading habits had changed. Since I learned how to read I was always what you call in German a “Leseratte” (a reading rat), the equivalent in English of a book worm. No book was too long or too thick. I would read from cover to cover and those nineteenth and twentieth century German novels were certainly heavy reading. As I reached my teens, I discovered the Russian authors-- Tolstoy, Pushkin, Golgol, Gorki, among others, and they became fodder for my reading mania. No public libraries existed in Berlin, nor were there any school libraries. My friends and I exchanged books among and books were the most desirable presents to receive. I realize now, that of course many of the books were much too complicated and complex for me to understand. For example, I did not really understand Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain; thus I  promised myself that I would reread it when I was more mature.

I knew little about American literature, though I had enjoyed reading Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis. His other novels I read very much later in English. I had difficulty understanding Main Street and his other novels that describe typical American life. Only after I lived in America for some time did my eyes open to the richness of American  literature, to mention only a few: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Upton Sinclair, Dos Passos, Edna Ferber, among others. Whatever book I got into my hands was read from beginning to end; I would never have thought of "browsing" through the contents or just looking at the ending of an especially boring book. However, the endless field of detective stories has spoiled my stomach. They are usually connected within an exciting story, lack long convoluted description, and have a neat denouement. I must admit that now at my ripe old age I am able to dismiss a book when it bores me or just read the ending of an endless story.

And now I return to my find of Elizabeth Bowen’s novel. After I had read ten pages I nearly gave up.  What long descriptions, in convoluted English, almost nothing, it seemed to me, happened. But then I become stubborn. I am getting used to her style and the underlying plot has caught my interest. I read it before I go to sleep. It is holding my interest, but it is not hard for me to put it down when I become sleepy. The story does not follow me into my dreams, though that may happen yet, for it turns out, that in a most sophisticated way, it is a spy story, or is it?


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