Friday, June 30, 2017

Book Blogger Hop No. 4: A Book that Changed My Life

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This Week's Question

Name a book that changed your life.

(Submitted  by Kristin @ 

My Answer

There are many books I have read and loved throughout the years, but I can't really say that any of them have actually changed my life. They have, however, exerted an influence on me in certain ways. 

The very first book that comes to mind is one I read around the age of 9. I read it in Spanish, which was my first language as a child. It was a book of fantasy tales, whose author was the 19th-century German writer E.T.A. Hoffmann. The book's title, in Spanish, was (and is, because I still have this book) Cuentos Fant├ísticos (Fantastic Tales). 

For some reason, the name of the author on the book's cover is "F. Hoffmann". This is incorrect, as the author's name is indeed E.T.A. Hoffmann. I noticed this a few years ago, when I went looking for a newer copy, in English. Why this happened, I really have no idea. As far as I know, this book has been long out of print. A copy of it, if I were able to track it down today, would probably be very rare and very expensive.

This much-loved book (it's barely held together) made the trip with me and my family to the U.S. from Cuba, where I had received it as a present from my parents. Obviously, I love it not only for some of the stories inside, but also for sentimental reasons.

Although I was already familiar with several fairy tales, such as "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", "Little Red Riding Hood", "Cinderella", and the like, Hoffmann's collection of stories struck me as very different. Even as a child, I could sense that there was something deeper about them. Of course, at the time, I had no idea what that might have been. This "something deeper" simultaneously eluded and disturbed me. These stories fascinated me more than the fairy tales I had already read, precisely because of this "something deeper". 

I have not read this book since that first time, and would definitely like to do so again. I could re-read this copy, my childhood treasure, if very carefully. I would also like to read these stories in English. Actually, I did buy a collection of Hoffmann's best tales from Amazon -- in English -- a few years ago, but alas, I have never read it. I would have to buy another one now, though, as I believe this copy is in storage.

My beloved childhood copy was published in 1958, by Editorial Bruguera (Bruguera Publishers) a Spanish publishing company based in Barcelona, Spain. The founder's name was  Juan Bruguera Teixid├│. According to Wikipedia, the company "...was devoted mainly to the production of popular literature and comics. It was created in 1910 as El Gato Negro (The Black Cat)...." The name was changed in 1940. It was eventually succeeded by Bruguera Mexicana S.A., which currently publishes and edits books.

The book I own is part of a collection for children, which I find highly ironic, as Hoffmann's stories are definitely not the type of thing most children would or should read.They are really more appropriate for adults, with the exception of "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King", which is the basis for Tchaikovsky's ballet, "The Nutcracker". I LOVED this story as a child! It was definitely more along the lines of the typical fairy tales I was already familiar with, although, it, too, had some deeper themes running through it. 

The book has very detailed illustrations, 
like the ones shown here, 
every two pages. According to
the book's cover, there are 250 of them.

One very unusual story in the book, titled "El Caballero Gluck" ("The Gentleman Mr. Gluck", I guess would be the correct translation; I need to find out if this is in fact correct), is about a man who meets a very mysterious stranger in a Berlin park. The two strike up a friendship, based on their mutual love of music. This mysterious stranger later turns out to be the composer Gluck himself.

Another story, a rather haunting one, is titled, in Spanish, "El Consejero Krespel" ("Councillor Krespel"). It's about a man whose daughter, named Antonieta, has a lovely operatic voice. However, she has a very serious illness which threatens to kill her if she sings. Her father thus created a violin that, when played, sounds just like his daughter singing. So the young woman asks her father to play it whenever she wants to "sing". Hoffmann himself appears in this story, as Antonieta's suitor. But her father forbids the relationship because Hoffmann encourages Antonieta to sing for him, as well as pursue a career as an opera singer. This story obviously has a symbolic meaning. The ending is a tragic one. 

There are other fascinating, haunting stories in this book, such as the one about a man who went to Florence, Italy, on business, and lost his reflection in the mirror. Another man had lost his shadow. Later on, the two become friends, so the man without a reflection in the mirror provides a shadow for the man with no shadow, while that man provides a reflection for the man who lacks one. It was implied in this story that the man who had lost his reflection had done something bad, for which he was being punished with this strange curse.

The stories in this book have a rather surreal tone to them. The reading of this book, which, as I have stated above, disturbed me to an extent, also influenced my later love of fantasy, and the unusual. Now I realize that there was an undercurrent of horror to some of these stories, if in a subtle way. Some of them also have a dreamlike quality, and blur fantasy with reality.

This book shaped my lifelong love of fantasy to such an extent, that, to this day, although I do read contemporary fiction from time to time, it's the fantastical that I naturally gravitate towards. Furthermore, I am totally unable to read several realistic fiction books in a row. I always need to get "my fantasy fix"! Lol. At the time, I even wanted to believe, and DID believe, that these stories were true.

Through this book, I was also introduced -- although of course I was unaware of it then -- to the literary aspects of the 19th-century Romantic movement, of which Hoffmann was a part.

This love of the fantastic and unusual has also influenced my taste in book covers. I will always prefer those with fantasy themes. 

Summing up, this book actually laid the groundwork for my later reading tastes and habits. It didn't change my life in the sense that it didn't cause me to make drastic changes in my life. (Heck, I was only 9 years old. There wasn't much I could do about my life at the time, except escape into books! Lol.)

Reading these stories also laid the groundwork for my later love of SF. (I first encountered this genre around the age of 12.) Again, anything related to fantasy (and some elements of SF can be labeled as fantasy) was sure to get my attention!

Now what I need to do is not only to re-read this book in Spanish, but to get another copy of the English version, too. I think it would be fun to compare the two versions. That's how MUCH I love this book, in spite of its disturbing aspects!

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