Thursday 31 March 2016

Zweig, Stefanie "Somewhere in Germany"

Zweig, Stefanie "Somewhere in Germany" (German: Irgendwo in Deutschland) - 1996

Since I reread "Nowhere in Africa" last year, I wanted to carry on and read the sequel again. I would like to add a little more than a general description, so there might be spoilers. If you have not read the book before, I refer you to my review here.

The Redlich family has returned to Germany since Walter can only work in his country. Regina finds it very hard to adjust and it's not easy to return to a country that is torn by the war and where there are still a lot of people who would rather not have them there. This is something I really don't understand. How could people, after all this time, still dislike the Jews? Shouldn't they all have felt shame, at least those that supported the Nazis? Regina meets a lot of people and they all swear they didn't know about the Holocaust and/or told her how they helped the Jews. Awful.

Regina (well, this is an almost-biography by the author, so Regina really is Stephanie Zweig herself) grows up and becomes a journalist. It is really interesting to see the story unfold, see how Regina and Max grow up and their parents grow older. I will read this book again in a couple of years, of that I am sure.

Stephanie Zweig has written many other good books, none of them translated into English, unfortunately.

From the back cover:

"Somewhere in Germany is the sequel to the acclaimed Nowhere in Africa, which was turned into the Oscar-winning film of the same name. This novel traces the return of the Redlich family to Germany after their nine-year exile in Kenya during World War II. In Africa, Walter had longed for his homeland and dreamed of rebuilding his life as a lawyer, yet ultimately he and his family - wife Jettel, daughter Regina, and baby Max - realize that Germany seems as exotic and unwelcoming to them in 1947 as Kenya had seemed in 1938. Hunger and desperation are omnipresent in bombed-out Frankfurt, and this Jewish family - especially Regina, who misses Africa the most - has a hard time adjusting to their new circumstances. Yet slowly the family adapts to their new home amidst the ruins.

In Frankfurt, Regina matures into a woman and, though her parents want her to marry an upstanding Jewish man, her love life progresses in its own idiosyncratic fashion. She develops a passion for art and journalism and begins her professional career at a Frankfurt newspaper. Walter at last finds professional success as a lawyer, but never quite adjusts to life in Frankfurt, recalling with nostalgia his childhood in Upper Silesia and his years in Africa. Only his son Max truly finds what Walter had hoped for: a new homeland in Germany.

Although the Redlichs receive kindness from strangers, they also learn anti-Semitism still prevails in post-Nazi Germany. They partake in the West German “economic miracle” with their own home, a second-hand car, and the discovery of television, but young Max’s discovery of the Holocaust revives long-buried memories. Rich in memorable moments and characters, this novel portrays the reality of postwar German society in vivid and candid detail."

Wednesday 30 March 2016

Grass, Günter "My Century"

Grass, Günter "My Century" (German: Mein Jahrhundert) - 1999

Günter Grass is not really one of my favourite authors, not one of my favourite German authors or one of my favourite Nobel Prize authors. However, he is growing on me and has shown why he really deserved the Nobel Prize with this work. One hundred years in one hundred stories, told from different perspectives, from the rich and the poor, the left and the right, those that left and those that stayed. Men, women, children, everyone got the chance to tell their story that is so particular for that part of the century. If you want to understand what Germans went through and achieved in that time, this is a good point to start.

This is not the BIG book about the century, the book that tells us all how things happened, no, these are more little glimpses through the keyhole into the living rooms and into the hearts of all those Germans that lived in the 20th century.

I am not a huge fan of short stories, either. But this is so much more than just a collection of short stories. Many of them sounded familiar to me, either because I myself have lived or seen them, after all, I have seen almost half of that century, or because I have been told them by my parents and grandparents (some of them were even born in the century before). You cannot possibly agree with every single story because they are too different, they show a broad overview over every aspect of life, every political party, every personal viewpoint.

Certainly, there are stories that might need more explanation to someone who knows nothing about German history (besides that they started THE war) but I still believe that this book teaches us something, at least wets the appetite to know more about certain parts of the history.

Some stories are also personal, they are almost like a mini-biography of the author. If you know nothing about him, that might be hard to understand, just see it as part of the trial to bring one country's century into one book. Not an easy task but Günter Grass managed it quite well.

I read the German original of this book.

From the back cover:

"In a work of great originality, Germany's most eminent writer examines the victories and terrors of the twentieth century, a period of astounding change for mankind. Great events and seemingly trivial occurrences, technical developments and scientific achievements, war and disasters, and new beginnings, all unfold to display our century in its glory and grimness. A rich and lively display of Grass's extraordinary imagination, the 100 interlinked stories in this volume-one for each year from 1900 to 1999-present a historical and social portrait for the millennium, a tale of our times in all its grandeur and all its horror."

Günter Grass "whose frolicsome black fables portray the forgotten face of history" received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999.

I contribute to this page: Read the Nobels and you can find all my blogs about Nobel Prize winning authors and their books here.

Tuesday 29 March 2016

Ephron, Nora "I Remember Nothing"

Ephron, Nora "I Remember Nothing. And other reflections"  - 2010

Nora Ephron, may she rest in peace, always found the right words. She already mentioned to the world "I Feel Bad About My Neck", now she admits "I Remember Nothing". Reflections about growing older, losing your health, losing friends, your whole world is changing.

When you are in that position, all that is left some days is your sense of humour. And Nora Ephron helps you with it. She talks about growing up, her parents and her three sisters, about her marriages, relationships, her career as a journalist. All very interesting and completely hilarious.

You can tell from the book that Nora Ephron knew she wouldn't live much longer but she still took it with her usual sense of humour. I love her writings, "When Harry Met Sally" is certainly one of my favourite movies ever and I am going to watch more of her movies and read more of her books. Thank you, Nora Ephron. You have given me a lot.

At the end of the book, Nora Ephron adds two lists: "Things I will not Miss" and "Things I Will Miss". I love that she put "Pride & Prejudice" in the latter.

From the back cover:
"If there is any solace in growing older, it is that you will find yourself guffawing in hysterical recognition at the situations Nora Ephron describes, from the impossibility of trying to remember people's names at parties, to struggling with the new technology. You will find yourself rolling off the sofa snorting with laughter as she recalls with her signature clarity and wisdom everything she hasn't (yet) forgotten, including what it feels like to produce a flop - and you will swallow down a lump in your throat at the poignancy of her insights into the pain of losing friends, and the guilt of separation and divorce.

One thing is for sure, there is nobody else who can put her finger so very precisely, so beguilingly, with so much wisdom and with so much wit, on what we all struggle with as we journey into our later years."

Friday 25 March 2016

Book Quotes of the Week

"A book, too, can be a star, 'explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,' a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe." Madeleine L'Engle

"There is a wonder in reading Braille that the sighted will never know: to touch words and have them touch you back." Jim Fiebig

"No skill is more crucial to the future of a child, or to a democratic and prosperous society, than literacy." Los Angeles Times, "A Child Literacy Initiative for the Greater Los Angeles Area"

"There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all." Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

"A first book has some of the sweetness of a first love." Robert Aris Willmott

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday 24 March 2016

The "Piggybank" Challenge 2016

I have taken part in this challenge for two years now (see here my result from last year including a link to the previous one) and decided to carry on. Why? You will discover once you read this text:

This is a challenge idea by a German blogger. I have translated her text and you can find the original site here at "Willkommen im Bücherkaffee".

How long does this challenge last?
1 March 2016 to 1 March 2017

What goes into the piggybank?
For every book I've read - €2.00 into the piggybank
(Amount can be individually altered, of course)

• For every finished book, the amount chosen is inserted into the piggy bank/ money box.
• This money is then off limits until the end of the challenge, i.e. the piggybank stays closed.
• On 1 March the piggybank can be opened and you can go shopping extensively - or carry on reading and saving.
• Be consistent and put the money into the bank immediately, otherwise you will lose track easily. (Personally, I put the books I read right next to the money box  until I drop the money in, otherwise it gets forgotten very quickly. Only after that do i put the book back on the shelf.)
• A list of books read would be very nice because you can perfectly observe the savings success.
• In addition, it would be great if you post a challenge post on your blog. This way, everyone can follow the progress of the other challenge participants so much easier. If you don't have a blog, then just leave a comment here in the comments from time to time about your opinion or your progress.

Would you like to join us?
Go ahead! It is worthwhile in any case and you will certainly not regret it.

Just write in the comments or by email to and send your link to the post. You may use the challenge logo with a link to the challenge in the Bücherkaffee.

The hashtag for the Twitter exchange : # Sparstrumpf

Last year, I read 96 books in that timeframe which resulted in €192.

My progress (I add the German title, if available, for my German friends):
Abulhawa, Susan "Mornings in Jenin" (Während die Welt schlief) - 2010
Paluch, Andrea; Habeck, Robert "Der Schrei der Hyänen" [The cry of the hyenas] - 2004
Trollope, Anthony "The Way We Live Now" - 1875
Bryson, Bill "A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail" - 1998
Marini, Lorenzo "The Man of the Tulips" (L'uomo dei tulipani/Der Tulpenmaler) -  2002
Kulin, Ayşe "Rose of Sarajevo" (Sevdalinka) - 1999
Swarup, Vikas "Q & A" (Rupien! Rupien!) - 2005
Scott, Mary "What Does It Matter" (Macht nichts, Darling) - 1966
Hooks, Bell "All About Love: New Visions" - 1999
Filipović, Zlata "Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Wartime Sarajevo" (Zlatin dnevnik: otroštvo v obleganem Sarajevu/Ich bin ein Mädchen aus Sarajewo) - 1993
Mora, Terézia "Das Ungeheuer" [The Monster] - 2013
Stevenson, Robert Louis "Treasure Island" (Die Schatzinsel) - 1881/82
Zweig, Stefanie "Das Haus in der Rothschildallee" (Familie Sternberg #1) [The House of Rothschild Avenue] - 2007
Lafayette, Madame de (Marie-Madeleine) "The Princess of Cleves" (La Princesse de Clèves/Die Prinzessin von Clèves) - 1678
Grimm, Jacob und Wilhelm "Jorinde und Joringel. Acht Märchen der Brüder Grimm" [Jorinde and Joringel. Eight Fairy Tales] - 1812
Schwarzer, Alice "Lebenslauf" [My life] - 2011
Adorf, Mario "Der Dieb von Trastevere. Geschichten aus Italien" [The Thief from Trastevere] - 1994
Moran, Caitlin "How to be a Woman" (Wie ich lernte, eine Frau zu sein) - 2011
Scott, Mary "Yes, Darling" (Ja, Liebling) - 1967
Oates, Joyce Carol "The Man Without a Shadow" - 2016
Aboulela, Leila "The Kindness of Enemies" - 2015
Mitchell, David "Cloud Atlas" (Der Wolkenatlas) - 2004
McCall Smith, Alexander "Emma. A Modern Retelling" - 2015
Robertson, Adele Crockett "The Orchard: A Memoir" (Der Apfelgarten. Erinnerungen einer Glücklichen) - 1995
Mercier, Pascal "Perlmann's Silence" (Perlmanns Schweigen) - 1995
Landers, Brian "Empires Apart. A History of American and Russian Imperialism" - 2010
Joyce, James "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" (Bildnis des Künstlers als junger Mann) - 1916
Worth, Jennifer "Call the Midwife" - 2002
Ali, Sabahattin "Madonna in a Fur Coat" (Kürk Mantolu Madonna/Die Madonna im Pelzmantel) - 1943
Waters, Sarah "The Night Watch" (Die Frauen von London) - 2006
Joinson, Suzanne "The Photographer's Wife" - 2016
Obama, Barack "Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance" (Ein amerikanischer Traum. Die Geschichte meiner Familie) - 1995
Satrapi, Marjane "Persepolis. The Story of a Childhood" (Persepolis) - 2000
Sedano, Nina "Die Ländersammlerin" [The Collector of Countries] - 2014
Satrapi, Marjane "Persepolis. The Story of a Return" (Persepolis 2) - 2000
Bryson, Bill "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid" (Mein Amerika) - 2006
Scott, Mary "Strictly Speaking" (Das Teehaus im Grünen) - 1969
Eliot, George "The Mill on the Floss" (Die Mühle am Floss).- 1860
Perkins, Sue "Spectacles" - 2015
Grossman, David "The Zig Zag Kid" [יש ילדים זיגזג/Jesh Jeladim/Zickzackkind) - 1994
Shakespeare, William "Macbeth" - 1599/1606
Oates, Joyce Carol "Sexy" (Sexy) - 2005
Mak, Geert "De goede stad" [The Good Town]  - 2007
Aaronovitch, Ben "Whispers Under Ground" (Rivers of London 3) (Ein Wispern unter Baker Street) - 2012
Brownstein, Carrie "Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl" - 2015
Alexijewitsch, Swetlana (Alexievich, Svetlana) "Second Hand Time. The Last of the Sovjets" (Время секонд хэнд/Vremja sekond khend/Secondhand-Zeit: Leben auf den Trümmern des Sozialismus) - 2013
Rushdie, Salman "Midnight's Children" (Mitternachtskinder) - 1981
García Márquez, Gabriel "The General in His Labyrinth" (El general en su laberinto/Der General in seinem Labyrinth) - 1989
Mantel, Hilary "Bring up the Bodies" (Falken) - 2012
Adams, Douglas "The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (Per Anhalter durch die Galaxis) - 1979
Maalouf, Amin "Samarkand" (Samarcande/Samarkand) - 1988
Obama, Barack "The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream" (Hoffnung wagen: Gedanken zur Rückbesinnung auf den American Dream) - 2006
Zweig, Stefanie "Die Kinder der Rothschildallee" (Familie Sternberg #2) [The Children of Rothschild Avenue] - 2009
Wolfgang Borchert "Schischyphusch oder Der Kellner meines Onkels" [Shishyphush or my uncle's waiter] - 1947/2016
Pye, Michael "The Edge of the World: How the North Sea Made Us Who We Are" - 2014
Scott, Mary "Haven't We Met Before?" (Hilfe, ich bin berühmt) - 1970
Grass, Günter "Beim Häuten der Zwiebel" (Peeling the Onion) - 2006
Atkinson, Kate "Behind the Scenes at the Museum" (Familienalbum) - 1995
Štimec, Spomenka "Kroata Milita Noktlibro" (Kroatisches Kriegsnachtbuch) [Croatian Nocturnal] - 1993
Arnold, Catharine "Globe: Life in Shakespeare's London" - 2014
Angelou, Maya "Mom & Me & Mom" - 2013
Oates, Joyce Carol "Carthage" - 2014
Nguyen, Viet Thanh (Việt Thanh Nguyễn) "The Sympathizer" - 2015
Konar, Affinity "Mischling" - 2016
Zeh, Juli "Unterleuten" - 2016
Plath, Sylvia "The Bell Jar" (Die Glasglocke) - 1963
Kostova, Elizabeth "The Swan Thieves" (Die Schwanendiebe) - 2010
Coates, Ta-Nehisi "Between the World and Me" (Zwischen mir und der Welt) - 2015
Scott, Mary "If I Don’t, Who Will?" (Oh, diese Verwandtschaft!) - 1971
Pamuk, Orhan "Cevdet und seine Söhne" (Cevdet Bey ve Oğulları/Cevdet Bey and His Sons) - 1982
Fredriksson, Marianne "Simon and The Oaks" (aka Simon's Family/Simon och ekarna/Simon) - 1985
Ephron, Nora "The Most of Nora Ephron" - 2014
Bâ, Mariama "So Long a Letter" (Une si longue lettre/Ein so langer Brief: Ein afrikanisches Frauenschicksal) - 1979
Hochschild, Arlie Russell "Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right" - 2016
Scott, Mary "First Things First" (Verlieb dich nie in einen Tierarzt) - 1973
Bohjalian, Chris "Midwives" (Das Tagebuch meiner Mutter) - 1997
Witzel, Frank "Die Erfindung der Roten Armee Fraktion durch einen manisch-depressiven Teenager im Sommer 1969" [The Invention of the Red Army Faction by a Manic Depressive Teenager in the Summer of 1969] - 2015
Hansen, Dörte "Altes Land" (This House is Mine) - 2015
Lamb, Wally "I'll Take You There" - 2016
Modick, Klaus "Konzert ohne Dichter" [Concert without poets] - 2015

I read 81 books in this timeframe which resulted in €162 to spend on something nice. :-D 

Wednesday 23 March 2016

Smiley, Jane "Early Warning"

Smiley, Jane "Early Warning" (Last Hundred Years: A Family Saga #2) - 2015

I like Jane Smiley. I have read quite a few of her books (which you can see here) and was really excited when I noticed that she'd written a trilogy about the last century.

After having read "Some Luck", I already knew that this was more or less a book about the last century in the United States of America, not as much into international politics as Ken Follett's "Century Trilogy", so don't start comparing.

I'd call this more a family saga, and I like them, as well. It is good that they included a family tree but I also would have liked a short introduction, a short retelling of the first book, especially since I couldn't read it right away. I hope she will introduce this in the third part "Golden Age" since there are so many more characters now than there were after the first novel.

I still like this book, mainly because of Jane Smiley's style which I think is always a good read. However, as I said above, I expected something else, more outside of the family, more history and politics. The previous book was announced "The first novel in a dazzling, epic new trilogy from the winner of the Pulitzer Prize; a literary adventure that will span a century in America". It didn't say it would only spin a century of ONE family in America. I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more if it had been announced as a family saga and nothing else.

From the back cover:

"1953. When a funeral brings the Langdon family together once more, they little realize how much, over the coming years, each of their worlds will shift and change. For now Walter and Rosanna's sons and daughters are grown up and have children of their own. Frank, the eldest - restless, unhappy - ignores his troubled wife and instead finds himself distracted by a face from the past.

Lillian must watch as her brilliant, eccentric husband Arthur is destroyed by the guilt arising from his secretive government work. Claire, too, finds that marriage is not quite what she expected it to be.
In Iowa where the Langdons began, Joe sees that some aspects of life on the farm never change, while others are unrecognizable. And though a few members of the family remain mired in the past, others will attempt.

In Iowa where the Langdons began, Joe sees that some aspects of life on the farm never change, while others are unrecognizable. And though a few members of the family remain mired in the past, others will attempt to move beyond the lives they have always known; and some will push forward as never before. The dark shadow of the Vietnam War hangs over every one . . .

In sickness and health, through their best and darkest times, the Langdon family will live and love and suffer against the broad, merciless sweep of American history. Moving from the 1950s to the 1980s, Early Warning is epic storytelling at its most wise and compelling from a writer at the height of her powers."

Tuesday 22 March 2016

Camus, Albert "The Stranger"

Camus, Albert "The Stranger" (aka "The Outsider") (French: L'étranger) - 1942

Before I go into the book, let's just have a look at the title. "un étranger" in French is "a foreigner", someone who is not a citizen of the country in question. You don't have to be a linguist in order to see the similarity between "stranger" and "étranger" but if you were you would know that mostly, the "é" in French is a lost "s" from the Latin, so, the foreigner becomes a stranger.

I like this dilemma, it shows how difficult it is to translate a word like this. Who is a stranger, really. And, now we get to the book, why do we exist? And this is really the question of this story, a philosophic one, even though you can read it as a novel, as well.

There are a lot of other literal allusions. The name of our protagonist, Meursault, could mean "Meurs, sot!" Which translates into "Die, Fool!" Another reason why I like this book.

Camus' style of writing is more simple than anything else but it makes everything so true. The way he talks, you just have to believe what he's telling you. His characters come to life through their simplicity. The meaning of life becomes clear though the simplicity. The story becomes believable through his simplicity. We explore many parts of life, death, love, crime, trial, foreign life, life in the sun, relationships, all through the simple life of a young French-Algerian.

It is a sad book because Meursault doesn't really care for anything, he has no idea why he or anyone else is on this earth, whether it's worth living or not. So very sad.

The books by Camus are both easy to read and full of meaning, full of depth. I have read "The Plague" before and loved it very much.

Comment by another member:
  • To me, Meursault felt like he was a bystander to life. He had no moral scale and followed life without any kind of input from himself. Society, religion, meaning of life, were all indifferent. Not bending to the expectations of the society and law court by lying to say he was sorry, I saw not as a virtue of honesty, but as the fault of indifference. It would in my opinion nowadays get a personality disorder diagnosis and not be read as a positive comment towards the absurdity of life. The world was different in the 40s and more.
  • I obtained and read The Stranger by Albert Camus and yes, I did read it around 50 years ago. We studied The Myth of Sisyphus in University and the play Caligula in high school and I must have liked the challenge of his thinking and the quality of his writing even that long ago. Beautiful writing! I recall that at that time I considered Meursault`s indifference and denial to be symptoms of deeply felt but unexpressed grief at the death of his mother. I`m sticking to that opinion. When I experienced the deaths of those close to me I suffered some of the same thoughts and sensations. BTW, Camus was anything but indifferent and in his life found meaning in his passionate politics and quest for justice. I truly believe that life is filled with all the meaning you can handle even if you do have to make it yourself.
Good points for discussion.

We read this in our international online book club in June 2021.

I read this book in the original French language.

From the back cover:

"Meursault will not pretend. After the death of his mother, everyone is shocked when he shows no sadness. And when he commits a random act of violence in Algiers, society is baffled. Why would this seemingly law-abiding bachelor do such a thing? And why does he show no remorse even when it could save his life? His refusal to satisfy the feelings of others only increases his guilt in the eyes of the law. Soon Meursault discovers that he is being tried not simply for his crime, but for his lack of emotion - a reaction that condemns him for being an outsider. For Meursault, this is an insult to his reason and a betrayal of his hopes; for Camus it encapsulates the absurdity of life."

Albert Camus received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957 "for his important literary production, which with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times".

I contribute to this page: Read the Nobels and you can find all my blogs about Nobel Prize winning authors and their books here.

Monday 21 March 2016

Scott, Mary "It’s Perfectly Easy"

Scott, Mary "It’s Perfectly Easy" - 1963

There are books by Mary Scott that I remember almost verbatim and I can tell you every little episode that happens in just that novel. This is not one of them. I had a vague memory of the story and the characters but that was about it.

However, I found it wonderful that I could re-read this book and it was almost like a new one to me. I have no idea why I forgot so much about the story because it's perfectly charming, just like all the other novels written by one of New Zealand's greatest writers.

Unfortunately, Mary Scott's books are out of print and only available second hand. I have heard in the meantime, that you can buy some of them as eBooks.

From the back cover (translated):
"It's perfectly easy, to establish a campsite in the countryside with a lot of enthusiasm but little money. But of course, things turn out differently than Helen imagined everything.
How lucky that besides her sick brother and a huge Danish Dane, Helens also counts Trina to her household, her lively, bubbly girlfriend. With her disarming, infectious cheerfulness, Trina copes with even the most difficult guests. And even a small flood disaster cannot tarnish Trina's vitality.
After all, you can survive everything with humour ..."

Wednesday 16 March 2016

Anonymous "Lazarillo de Tormes"

Anonymous "Lazarillo de Tormes" (Spanish: La vida de Lazarillo de Tormes y de sus fortunas y adversidades) - 1554

I found the title of this book in Jane Smiley's "13 Ways of Looking at the Novel" and thought it would be interesting to read.

And so it was. I have thoroughly enjoyed this book that was written almost 500 years ago, a great classic that you can read quite quickly because it is so short but there is a lot of action going on. This young, poor boy called Lazarillo, has to fend for himself, he has several masters and tells us his stories with them in this novel/novella.

I wouldn't exactly compare it to Cervantes' "Don Quixote" even though both books are only written about a hundred years apart and come from about the same area but there are some similarities. I loved the humour in this book, the humour you often find in those people who are less fortunate than others, who have to work hard for their living, who have no hope that it will ever get better. This is one such person and his humour does not leave him, no matter how hard the times.

The author managed to draw a very realistic sounding view of life in the 16th century, he was witty and intelligent, as is his protagonist Lazarillo. I just assume the author was a "he" because at the time, few women would write and they would probably have had totally different experiences,

A lovely book that introduces us to a genre that is called picaresque, novels that describe adventures of young boys of a lower social class. Some other books that belong to this genre, most of them are well known from television if people have not read the novels:

Berger, Thomas "Little Big Man"
Böll, Heinrich "The Clown"
Cervantes, Miguel de "Don Quixote"
Defoe, Daniel "Moll Flanders"
Eco, Umberto "Baudolino"
Fielding, Henry "Tom Jones"
Grass, Günter "The Tin Drum"
Grimmelshausen, Hans Jakob Christoffel von "Simplicius Simplicissimus"
Guareschi, Giovanni "Don Camillo and Peppone"
Hašek, Jaroslov "The Good Soldier Švejk"
Ilf, Ilja; Petrow, Jewgeni "The Twelve Chairs"
Jonasson, Jonas "The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared"
Mann, Thomas "Confessions of Felix Krull"

I think I need to put them all on my wishlist.

What a shame the author is unknown and there are not more novels by him.

From the back cover:

"Long considered by many scholars to be the first picaresque novel (or the precursor of all such novels), Lazarillo de Tormes made its initial appeared in Spain in the middle of the 16th century, on the heels of an era of novels of chivalry and romance. Despite the Inquisition's disapproval, this brief, simply told tale of a young rogue's adventures and misadventures became popular immediately and defied attempts to suppress it. Ever since, it has been recognized as one of the gems of Spanish literature, full of laconic cynicism and spiced with puns and word play."

Tuesday 15 March 2016

Steinem, Gloria "My Life on the Road"

Steinem, Gloria "My Life on the Road" - 2015

How can I start my year with one of my favourite books? What can get better in 2016? The story of a lady whom I knew vaguely by name. It probably is a name that every American knows, at least every American feminist but to me it was just one of many.

I chose this book because it was introduced into the Emma Watson Book Club. I thought it might be a good idea to read the books suggested there since I do admire Emma Watson for what she has done and that she takes a point and stands her ground for what she believes in. Quite refreshing for someone that young.

Gloria Steinem is a new hero for me. What she did at a time when most women could only dream of having a good husband and leading a quiet life, the things she fought for, brilliant. I am myself someone who probably would have achieved more had I been born a boy. Not everyone of us is born with a fighting mind like Gloria.

This book is full of wisdom, full of sentences I could quote for ages but this one really sounded so true to me, it could be a description of my life.

"Anybody who is experiencing something is more expert in it than the experts." This goes for any part in any life, not just for feminism, I had to think about the constant migraines I get and the sometimes very stupid recommendations I have to listen to like drinking a lot ...

And another favourite of mine: "If you want people to listen to you, you have to listen to them. If you hope people will change how they live, you have to know how they live. If you want people to see you, you have to sit down with the eye-to-eye."

Anyway, back to the book, Gloria seems to me a very caring lady who feels for anyone who is disadvantaged for whatever reason, gender, race, anything you can imagine. Her life is a lifelong struggle, a war against ignorance. It is definitely worth a read.

I see a huge parallel between her life and mine, between her life and that of many women, only that she stood up for what she believed in. A great lady and a great book about a goal worth fighting for.

From the back cover: "Gloria Steinem had an itinerant childhood. When she was a young girl, her father would pack the family in the car every fall and drive across country searching for adventure and trying to make a living. The seeds were planted: Gloria realized that growing up didn’t have to mean settling down. And so began a lifetime of travel, of activism and leadership, of listening to people whose voices and ideas would inspire change and revolution.

My Life on the Road is the moving, funny, and profound story of Gloria’s growth and also the growth of a revolutionary movement for equality - and the story of how surprising encounters on the road shaped both. From her first experience of social activism among women in India to her work as a journalist in the 1960s; from the whirlwind of political campaigns to the founding of Ms. magazine; from the historic 1977 National Women’s Conference to her travels through Indian Country - a lifetime spent on the road allowed Gloria to listen and connect deeply with people, to understand that context is everything, and to become part of a movement that would change the world."

Saturday 12 March 2016

Book Quotes of the Week

"Reading without reflecting is like eating without digesting." Edmund Burke

"Except a living man there is nothing more wonderful than a book! A message to us from the dead, - from human souls whom we never saw, who lived perhaps thousands of miles away; and yet these, on those little sheets of paper, speak to us, teach us, comfort us, open their hearts to us as brothers." Charles Kingsley

"Most books, like their authors, are born to die; of only a few books can it be said that death hath no dominion over them; they live, and their influence lives forever." J. Swartz

"Books are the glass of council to dress ourselves by." Bulstrode Whitlock

"Never read a book through merely because you have begun it." John Witherspoon

Find more book quotes here.

Wednesday 9 March 2016

Twain, Mark "The Innocents Abroad"

Twain, Mark "The Innocents Abroad" - 1869

This was one of the most boring books I have read in a long time. A lot of times I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, whether to consider this sarcastic or just plain stupid, arrogant and ignorant. I know Mark Twain was neither but his travel book seems like a satire about stupid, arrogant, ignorant and uneducated Americans who have nothing better to do than to look down upon any European who doesn't speak English perfectly, who doesn't have the same standard of living as they have ... I don't want to say these people don't exist in other countries, but this book has been written by an American about Americans abroad.

I was expecting a good travel book about a time long gone. I read a racist diatribe, a condemning monologue, a criticizing tirade instead.

Maybe this book used to be very funny, maybe there are books that don't stand the test of time, that are outdated after a certain timeframe. I think this is one of them.

I couldn't laugh about most of the stories he told, I found them often rude and condescending, maybe that's what an American thought about the world in the 19th century. Let's hope they don't do that anymore.

This is the story about close-minded people who go abroad only to compare everything to their country back home and discover, of course, that everything is better  at home. Why leave and try to explore the world if all you want to find is fault about other countries.

No, this book is not funny, not witty.

Why did I finish reading this? I never gave up hope that there could be something interesting around the corner, that there was something in the next country he would like. Unfortunately, he never did.

If you want to read a funny travel book, I recommend Bill Bryson who also happens to be American but with a much wider view of this world, a much bigger heart and real humour and wit.

From the back cover:

"One of the most famous travel books ever written by an American, The Innocents Abroad is Mark Twain’s irreverent and incisive commentary on nineteenth century Americans encountering the Old World. Come along for the ride as Twain and his unsuspecting travel companions visit the Azores, Tangiers, Paris, Rome, the Vatican, Genoa, Gibraltar, Odessa, Constantinople, Cairo, the Holy Land and other locales  renowned in history. No person or place is safe from Twain’s sharp wit as it impales both the conservative and the liberal, the Old World and the New. He uses these contrasts to 'find out who we as Americans are,' notes Leslie A. Fiedler. But his travelogue demonstrates that, in our attempt to understand ourselves, we must first find out what we are not."

Monday 7 March 2016

Perry, Anne "A Christmas Odyssey"

Perry, Anne "A Christmas Odyssey" - 2010

I have no idea why I picked up this book. I probably thought it might be a nice Christmas story. Boy, was I wrong. A Victorian crime story more like. Not uninteresting but also not my kind of genre. At all. And especially not when expecting a nice read for Christmas, something I hardly every read, I usually want challenging. This was neither nice nor challenging. Probably a nice "beach read", as some people might call it.

This was my first and probably also my last Anne Perry book. I think she tries to copy Dickens. Not my type of thing. I rather prefer the original.

From the back cover: "A festive story of hope and redemption emerging from the depths of Victorian society.

1864, and on a bitter December night in Victorian London, one man longs for a Christmas miracle. The city is preparing for the holidays yet James Wentworth is unable to focus on anything other than the disappearance of his wayward son, Lucien. In desperation, he turns to his old friend Sir Henry Rathbone for help.
Rathbone finds assistance in the shape of reformed criminal Squeaky Robinson and the enigmatic Doctor Crow and as the group's investigations take them deeper into the seedy underbelly of the capital they uncover a squalid world of illicit pleasures and a trail that leads them closer to the man they seek.
But as they get nearer to their quarry, tales also begin emerge of Lucien's violent tendencies, his consuming obsession with a dangerous young woman and the disturbing Shadow Man. Can they bring Lucien home alive and if so, will it be a grave mistake for all concerned?"

Friday 4 March 2016

Book Quotes of the Week

"Reading has given me more satisfaction than really anything else." Bill Blass, fashion designer

"Fluency is important because it provides a bridge between word recognition and comprehension." Kelly L. Briggs, "Reading in the Classroom"

"If the crowns of all the kingdoms of Europe were laid down at my feet in exchange for my books and my love of reading, I would spurn them all." François Fénelon

"We live in an age of science and of abundance. The care and reverence for books as such, proper to an age when no book was duplicated until someone took the pains to copy it out by hand, is obviously no longer suited to ’the needs of society’, or to the conservation of learning. The weeder is supremely needed if the Garden of the Muses is to persist as a garden." Ezra Pound, Chapter One, ABC of Reading, 1934
"Collect books: nothing is more important than an unread library." John Waters

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday 3 March 2016

Ulitzkaya, Lyudmila "Imago" or "The Big Green Tent"

Ulitzkaya, Lyudmila "Imago" or "The Big Green Tent" (Russian: Zelenyi shater/Зеленый шатер) - 2010

I love Russian literature. This is a new, modern author I discovered when I found the book. A brilliant book. The author describes life in the Soviet Union and begins with the death of Stalin and what it meant for the people and how their lives went on after that. I don't think it's a big spoiler if I tell you that it's not getting any better.

We learn about the lives of a group of friends, three boys who have a brilliant literature teacher and how he influences the rest of their lives, how they live or don't live with the inflictions put upon them by the regime of their country. The boys come from very different backgrounds but their lives in the Soviet Union all bring them the same kind of problems. And three girls, as well, their path crosses that of the boys later in life when they are older.

All of them love reading and there are many great books they mention in the novel (list follows at the end). I think most of them are really worth reading.

Whether you like big tomes (almost 600 pages) or short stories, this is a combination of both, although the short stories are linked to each other. A brilliant writer who explains life under the KGB to outsiders, us. A great storyline, carefully described characters, even any smaller character comes to life and brings in their own tragedy.

I am always on the lookout for new writers that I love and here I have found a real gem. A story you can't put down which will stay with you forever. A brilliant fiction book that explains history in a way no non-fiction book is able to.

I read the German translation "Das grüne Zelt" (The Green Tent)

From the back cover:

"The Big Green Tent is the kind of book the term 'Russian novel' was invented for. A sweeping saga, it tells the story of three school friends who meet in Moscow in the 1950s and go on to embody the heroism, folly, compromise, and hope of the Soviet dissident experience. These three boys - an orphaned poet; a gifted, fragile pianist; and a budding photographer with a talent for collecting secrets - struggle to reach adulthood in a society where their heroes have been censored and exiled. Rich with love stories, intrigue, and a cast of dissenters and spies, The Big Green Tent offers a panoramic survey of life after Stalin and a dramatic investigation into the prospects for integrity in a society defined by the KGB. Each of the central characters seeks to transcend an oppressive regime through art, a love of Russian literature, and activism. And each of them ends up face-to-face with a secret police that is highly skilled at fomenting paranoia, division, and self-betrayal. An artist is chased into the woods, where he remains in hiding for four years; a researcher is forced to deem a patient insane, damning him to torture in a psychiatric ward; a man and his wife each become collaborators, without the other knowing. Ludmila Ulitskaya’s big yet intimate novel belongs to the tradition of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Pasternak: a work of politics, love, and belief that is a revelation of life in dark times."

She also mentions so many other books - some of which I've read, others I have put on my wishlist - and authors that are certainly worth looking at:

Aksakow, Sergei Timofejewitsch " Childhood Years of Bagrov Grandson" (Детские годы Багрова-внука/Detskie gody Bagrowa-wnuka)
Arzhak, Nikolay (real name: Yuli Markovich Danie) "Report from Moscow" (Говорит Москва)
Dostoevsky, Fyodor "Crime and Punishment"
Herzen, Alexander
Kropotkin, Pyotr "Memoirs of a Revolutionist" (Записки революционера)
Nabokov, Vladimir (called Sirin in the novel) "Glory" (Podvig)
Pasternak, Boris "Doctor Zhivago"
Tolstoy, Leo "Anna Karenina"
Tolstoy, Leo "Childhood", "Boyhood", and "Youth" (Детство, Отрочество, Юность)
Tolstoy, Leo "War and Peace"
Yerofeyev, Venedikt "Moscow-Petushki" (or Moscow to the End of the Line, Moscow Stations, and Moscow Circles) (Москва - Петушки)
Zamyatin, Yevgeny "We" (Мы/роман)

Wednesday 2 March 2016

Bryson, Bill "The Road to Little Dribbling"

Bryson, Bill "The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes from a Small Island" - 2015

"Whenever I feel gloomy with the state of the world, ..." so starts one of my favourite Christmas movies (Love Actually) and it carries on with "I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport". I would end the sentence with "I pick up a book by Bill Bryson and the world is so much better".

As most of my friends know, I love Bill Bryson. My favourite book by him so far was "Notes from a Small Island", a book about the country we both love so much: Great Britain.

Now, he has done it again, he travelled around the island and wrote about the different kind of landscapes, people, funny encounters. It's tough not to laugh when in public, so if you are afraid people will look at you, don't read this when you're out and about. I don't care what people think about me when I read, so I took this book with me wherever I went and even laughed in the waiting room at the dentist.

What I loved about his new book, he grew older, the same way as I did, and the stuff that annoys him now that didn't annoy him twenty years ago, is the same stuff that annoys me now. Yes, we get grumpier and less tolerant of other people's intolerances. And nobody can describe this better than Bill Bryson. The author loves to make fun of his chosen country but he does it in a similar way as the British do it themselves. I have hardly ever met another nation that can laugh about themselves as well as the British. You just have to love that.

Bill Bryson is a grammar nerd, someone who can get upset if people don't use their language correctly, he moans about unnecessary expenses, people who litter any place they get to, stupidity, politics and what it has become, Tripadvisor, all the things that I dislike so much, as well.

But not only that, I love how the author seems to like Kylie Minogue's "talents" just as much as I do. ;) And how he points out that he is an immigrant, that there are highly educated people out there coming from other countries who made Great Britain their home and who hugely contribute to the success of the country and are still considered immigrants. Since I haven't lived in the UK for quite a while, I don't know how much of an issue it is at the moment but I remember someone telling me at the time we lived there that foreigners like us don't count as foreigners because we speak English and integrate well. I have lived in another country for ages, though, as well, and this is exaclty how I feel here.

Anyway, this is not just a funny book, there is so much information about history, geography, science, anything in this book. I have learned that even after living in England for decades, he still loves it as much as I do. It is always a pleasure to read Bill Bryson's books. And there are a few places he described that I haven't seen, yet, and still want to visit. My travel list is growing.

See more comments on my ThrowbackThursday post in 2023.

From the back cover:

"Twenty years ago, Bill Bryson went on a trip around Britain to celebrate the green and kindly island that had become his adopted country. The hilarious book that resulted, Notes from a Small Island, was taken to the nation’s heart and became the bestselling travel book ever, and was also voted in a BBC poll the book that best represents Britain.

Now, to mark the twentieth anniversary of that modern classic, Bryson makes a brand-new journey round Britain to see what has changed.

Following (but not too closely) a route he dubs the Bryson Line, from Bognor Regis to Cape Wrath, by way of places that many people never get to at all, Bryson sets out to rediscover the wondrously beautiful, magnificently eccentric, endearingly unique country that he thought he knew but doesn’t altogether recognize any more. Yet, despite Britain’s occasional failings and more or less eternal bewilderments, Bill Bryson is still pleased to call our rainy island home. And not just because of the cream teas, a noble history, and an extra day off at Christmas.

Once again, with his matchless homing instinct for the funniest and quirkiest, his unerring eye for the idiotic, the endearing, the ridiculous and the scandalous, Bryson gives us an acute and perceptive insight into all that is best and worst about Britain today.

Since he also mentioned a couple of books in his work, I shall list them here, as well:
Morton, H.V. "In Search of England"
Jennings, Ken "Maphead"
Dunning, David; Kruger, Justin "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments"

If you are looking for more of his funny works, have a look at my page about him: Bill Bryson - Funniest Author Ever

Tuesday 1 March 2016

Happy March!

It's the beginning of spring this month, so there's something to look forward to. Wishing you all a very very happy month with this calendar picture of Frank Koebsch's watercolour painting "Flight companions".

Same as last year, I'd like to share the wonderfu watercolour paintings from Hanka and Frank Koebsch with you every month. I have bought their calendar every year for five years now and have loved every single one of their pictures. I hope you enjoy them just as much as I do.  

You can find a lot more wonderful pictures on their blog here.