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Dr Hans Schneider talks about his life and favorite books – Page 3

Hans Schneider’s favorite books…

READERSVOICE.COM: How did you come to live in Australia?
HANS SCHNEIDER: In 1970, I passed my doctoral thesis at the University of Bordeaux.
On my return to Chile, I was offered a research and teaching position at the Chilean State University and while at the International Geographic Union’s conference in Montreal, 1972, met the Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of New England (Armidale) who suggested I apply for a visiting lectureship there.
My intention then was to stay in Australia for one year only but the military coup and subsequent repression in Chile made us look for a way to stay here.
For a many months I applied for jobs and amongst the possible places, Sydney was the most attractive.
So, when the UNSW had an opening, I jumped.
RV: How did you learn computing?
HS: Computing came via interests in electronics, mathematics, calculators; I had a large number of statistics to work out during my studies.
I first used a slide rule and later, a HP scientific calculator, then I believe the most advanced hand-held calculator available.
In the early 80s, I only ever had used computers at Uni, from mainframes to the Geography Dept.’s card reader and digitizer.
All this was rather cumbersome so when the first PC came on the scene, I spent more time in the computer lab.
A friend came back from the USA with a portable PC, the Osborne.
It had a tiny screen and not much memory but came with quite a bit of software.
My friend couldn’t make it work so he asked for help and soon I had borrowed it and was hooked.
At that time, every manufacturer had an operating system tailored to his hardware but the appearance of IBM and Bill Gates’ DOS on the scene changed all that.

I soon became familiar with the hard and software.
Especially the power to manipulate large volumes of various types of data with dBase interested me, I joined the user group and eventually became its mode rator for a number of years while writing programs for a range of applications, including seminar and conference scheduling, property management, music exams, art galleries, payrolls and also running dBase courses.
For quite a few years I assisted the Dept. of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Sydney with computing applications and maintenance of computer facilities.
Now, I spend a lot of my time on the Internet and once or twice a week help to maintain computing facilities at a medium-size manufacturing company.
RV: What are some of your favorite books of all time, and can you say a bit about why you liked them?
HS: I guess I am going to disappoint you with my selection but these are some of the books I go back to again and again since I first read them together with a little background.
Giacomo Casanova, Memoirs: I learned to read when I was 4 and for a while whenever we had visitors, I was shown off, reading from the newspaper.
At home, books were kept under lock and key but I soon discovered that the key was kept on top of the bookcase, easily reachable with a chair.
When I was a little older, I would wait till my parents had gone off somewhere and get a book, any book, to read in bed. Casanova’s Memoirs were a set of 4-5 volumes and would not have been very easy to understand for a 7-8 year old, but the many adventures that include the escape from Venice’s Leads prison enthralled me.
Since, I have read again and again passages to discover new and fascinating aspects of this 18th century man who was familiar with almost every person of importance or facet of knowledge and life.
James Joyce, Ulysses: For a weekend job in a small town, some 4 hours from the city where I lived, I travelled every weekend for many months.
I had bought a copy of the book, a Spanish translation that has just been published, the translator explained that it had taken close to ten years to complete his work; it took me several months to read it.

At the time, my English was not too good, but the translation was great, how great I only came to realise when I read Ulysses in the original many years later.
What draws me back to the book is Joyce’s universe: the enormous canvas of people, events, historical allusions, all crammed into one day of Bloom’s life; the inventiveness of the language, with so many words I don’t quite know what they are supposed to mean, and giving the reader some flexibility for her or his own version…
Cao Xueqin, The Dream of the Red Chamber: It is surprising that this great Chinese novel in 120 (!) chapters was written before the ‘Roman des Moeurs’ (Social novel) became fashionable in Western literature.
The central figures Romeo-and-Julieta-like Bao-yu and Dai-Yu and their destinies are embedded in the daily lives of a great Chinese clan, made rich and powerful as servants of the Manchu Emperors in the 18th century.
Reading it makes you feel like living under their roof and sharing their fortunes in success and disgrace.
Other social novels I love: Roger Martin du Gard, The Tibaults; Thomas Mann, The Buddenbrocks; John Galsworthy, The Forsyte Saga; W.G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn and Austerlitz.
Sebald only came to my knowledge shortly before his untimely death in a car accident in 2001.
Reading a review of his work in the newspaper, I went to the nearest bookstore and found The Rings of Saturn in its English translation; the attendant had never heard of Sebald and had no idea the book was there.
I became so drawn into Sebald’s world that I ordered all I could find on Amazon.com.de in the original German versions.
Since then, his writings and images with their often dreamlike excursions into the deep recesses of memory and recent history never leave me.

-story by Simon Sandall.