Mandatory Reading: A Family History

My grandpa, who turned 90 this year, used to have a habit of reading all of the books on the “Spiegel Bestsellerliste”, which is the German equivalent of the New York Times Best Seller List. “Spiegel” is a weekly current affairs magazine, which means the lists (one for fiction, one for nonfiction) got updated weekly.

Sometimes, this led to some interesting pairings between my conservative, elderly grandpa and the book he was reading: I still remember how appalled he was about Charlotte Roche’s ‘Wetlands’ (which was on top of the list for weeks on end) and how amused I was when I saw it on his shelf.

On the other hand, however, I am still impressed by his ability to be so open as to give everything a chance, even ‘Wetlands’. I admire this and I have been thinking for a while about a way in which I, too,could widen my scope in terms of reading material and I think I have found it. Not so long ago I found out that Amitav Ghosh was nominated for the Man Booker International Prize 2015. I simply adore that man. The original Man Booker is not new to me either and many of my favourite authors were short or longlisted for it at some point.

So, here we go: From now on I shall read a work from every author

  • on the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize (6 books a year)
  • on the list of finalists for the Man Booker International Prize (10 authors every 2 years)

This way, I will stay on top of what’s hot in the literary world in a manageable way (6 to 16 books a year can’t be that hard, especially considering that I might also have read some of the authors before).

Of course, as I have only just vowed not to read any books that aren’t to my liking, I don’t have to read books I really don’t want to read (after all, my grandpa never finished ‘Wetlands’), which generally includes any kind of crime fiction.

Wish me luck (please, don’t let this become yet another empty promise to myself)!

B x

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Annoying Books I

Until a while ago I felt the compulsion to finish every book I started reading. And so I did. But somehow, these days, I think that is a waste of time. Surely, some books need a while to pick up the pace, but there are so many books that I can read and I won’t ever be able to read all the books I want to read. Why waste my time with a book that I don’t enjoy?

This development was a slow one. Especially when I was younger I felt an immense pressure to read ALL THE BOOKS. At that age I went to the library twice a week – Monday and Friday – and always left with a massive pile of books. Reading ALL THE BOOKS seemed like an achievable goal at the time and I was making good progress. Soon after I had read all the books in the children’s section that interested me and I started visiting other libraries in the area in order to widen the selection of reading material.

Then something happened. It wasn’t conscious but suddenly I felt the pressure to read books that other people liked. Still I did not even start reading them, but it felt more like I was putting off doing it until some day than like making a decision to just not read them. A massive amount of reader’s guilt has piled up ever since. Who cares if I will never read the Lord of the Rings or the final Harry Potters or God knows what. I just don’t care much for fantasy, however good it might be. Deal with it (this is mainly a command to myself).

After having set this straight, I can finally get to my actual point. Some books are just annoying. I like the idea and/or concept of them and I want to read them but they are just so annoying. I’ve encountered a fair few of them and here I will introduce you to the first two of them:

As part of my “Around The World Challenge” I vowed to read Paulo Coelho’s ‘The Pilgrimage’ to cover Europe. My vague interest in the camino got me excited about a work of fiction featuring it. When I started reading it, however, this enthusiasm soon died away. I can’t name exactly what it was – the overtly spiritual theme or the narrative style itself – but I knew that reading this book would be a long cruel journey. So I abandoned it. I deleted it from my ebook reader and moved on. Look at me, so grown up. Oh, and I found an even better book to replace its spot in my challenge: The Diary of Anne Frank!

Now all good. The second book is a little more complicated. It is Dan Kieran’s “The Art of Slow Travel”. There is no challenge to reading this book and I don’t dread it half as much as “The Pilgrimage”, but it does annoy me massively. It is the style. It is a style that is quite peculiar and somehow it is common among those around and including Tom Hodginson. I love the idea of idleness and celebrating it and slow travel and I would love to read about it, but not this way. Somehow it makes me picture them as the most self-centered, ignorant, arrogant people alive. I’m sure that these are false accusations, but their writing cannot convey it to me. Also, I love books centered exclusively around the author, so… But I want to read this damn book so I will. I’ll let you know once I’ve made it.

So anyway, enough complaining for now. Gotta leave some for the rest of the week, innit?

B x

Around the World Reading Challenge

Yes, another list with books on it, but I promise this one will be short: 6 books.

Inspired to do this by Booking It I chose 6 books from (well, more ‘related to’) 6 continents. Officially the challenge was set for all of 2015, so I could just look at the books I have read this year and tick some continents off the list. However, I chose to take the challenge as an inspiration to make a (very small) reading list.

Still, I will be posting my opinions and impressions about them here, as proof that I did it and of course to share my excitement, disgust and all the other emotions caused by some ink on some paper. Here is my list:

Africa: We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo – I’ve had this one on my ebook reader for a while now and have not yet gotten around to reading it. Now’s the time!

Asia: Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie – Also, I have to admit that I haven’t read a single book by Rushdie (although I have referred to his work extensively in one of my academic works… oops!). If you now rush to say that he lived most of his life outside of Asia, so be it, I’m reading this novel anyway.

Australia: Autumn Laing by Alex Miller – Australian literature is a true weak spot of mine. This too shall pass!

Europe: The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho – I know, I know, he’s Brazilian. BUT, the Camino de Santiago is quite clearly in Europe, so I win.

North America: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – Another supersupersuper well-known novel I haven’t read and it will also be the first book I’ll tackle in this challenge.

South America: Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa – I lovelovelove his other novels, so this one is a must.

B x

That One Particular Hardback

Taste is a peculiar thing. Let me just say this and then launch into my anecdote:

When I was about 13 or 14 years old, I grabbed a book in one of those sales tables. I bought this book, although I instantly disliked it. It was a proper book, bound in a fabric-y cover and all of that, which was probably the only reason I had for disliking it the moment I bought it (I’m devoted to paperbacks, you should know). Other reasons surfaced later: The reader’s guilt it gave me by just sitting on my shelf was one and also the fact that it was a translation. Translations themselves don’t bother me much, although of course it is never the same as reading the original and blah blah, but this one had a really clumsily translated title. I can’t remember the title as such, but I remember looking at the original title on one of the first pages on the left, you know – where they have the copyrights and first published and all that -, thinking ‘Oh dear’. Clearly, both the English-language author and publisher had thought to market the book as classy literature – a cryptic title, existential themes; somehow, German publishers did not. You know when you can tell by title’s font what kind of readers they want to attract? Well, these people clearly wanted leisurely readers without high expectations or knowledge of literature as an art form or academic pursuit.

After about half a year, I read this book. It was a short book and I finished it quickly – this was still at the time when I finished every book I started, out of principle (a habit that is incredibly hard to overcome, my struggles continue). There’s not much I can say to you about this book, except that there must have been a rather solitary male character at the centre of the narrative, and the only other thing I can remember is the description of a residential road in minute detail. Of course, it has been years. But nonetheless, still today I can feel the impression that I had just read a truly bad book like a bitter taste in my mouth (this analogy or whatever they call it did not work out, soz for that).

Now, (I’ll finally get on to my point, sorry again for the delay) imagine my astonishment when I turned the page (onto the ‘About the author’ section) to find out that this guy had won the Nobel Prize for Literature! I have no yet decided whether I will tell you the name of this writer, I feel it might be better not to.

Right in that moment, part of me decided that one should not trust in prizes ever again. It was a natural reaction, a reflex almost. I had just aged about three years in that one quick moment. Books where my life then, my sole purpose. Not as a writer, but as a reader. But I was young. I knew nothing and I knew that. ‘Great literature’ was something I respected, looked up to, and I trusted in time and prizes (Nobel, Pulitzer, Man Booker) to reveal what would be good literature, and what would be trivia. This judgement did not impact my choice of books, I read them both regardless, but I read them differently.

But there was also that other part of me that did not come to this conclusion. Instead of losing total trust in those literary institutions, I lost a little bit of trust in my own judgement. Clearly, this was great literature and there was something wrong with me that I could not appreciate it.

Maybe I should add some context: Although I might have been young, I knew what a good book was. I also knew what a bad book was. I had many examples for both. By this point, I had even read War & Peace from cover to cover (I had enjoyed it, although I did not pronounce it my favourite book of all times – I found the war bits to be too lengthy but interesting; and the peace bits entertaining but too dull). Books had made me cry and laugh and despair at times. I had developed an acquired taste, I knew what I wanted in a book: I wanted it to make me think, at least, and feel something (really, anything!), at best. By this time I had accepted that some of the books I enjoyed most were not necessarily enjoyable to read, although I still did not find faults in books that were enjoyable.

If you now ask me the more significant of those two reactions to this one particular book moment, I would definitely argue it is the second one. We lose faith in institutions and external beliefs all the time, whether it is the concept of Santa being real or the effectiveness of our government or whether we finally realise we will never need most of what we learned in school. This is normal. It is healthy, even. It prompts change, improvement. The other sentiment is less beneficial. Losing confidence in yourself is no small matter, and its consequences can be catastrophic.

So please, please have faith in your taste. You can only ever like the things you like. And regardless of what you yourself and others might tell you (including me!!): Your taste is just as valuable as anyone else’s. NO ONE HAS ‘SUPERIOR TASTE’. And if you think about it, concepts like ‘good taste’ and ‘bad taste’ are cultural constructs and don’t even exist. There’s only ‘your taste’ and ‘his taste’ and ‘her taste’ (and, of course, ‘my taste’, which is the best of them all!) – even an ‘our taste’ and ‘their taste’ cannot truly describe anything real.

B x

P.S. You might have noticed I have decided not to reveal the author’s name, cheeky me.

Reading And Sleeping And All That

Finally (FINALLY!) my internet works again. I shift from thinking “the regular internet-free time enforced upon me is an opportunity – no more distraction”, to being like “why, WHY do I have to live in a building where the internet regularly just stops functioning for days or weeks on end???!”. Probably, it has been both.

It stopped working last Saturday, in the morning. In the time from Saturday evening and Wednesday I have read four books. My usual average is a book a week (which I struggle to keep up with). So that is definitely a point for the “we should live without internet”, others supporting this view are the amount of time I wasted on Netflix (none), Facebook (none) or reading up on some obscure things that are of no importance or relevance to me (none).

There are, however, of course also some downsides to being offline. Making something as simple as a bank transfer suddenly becomes a considerable task (using the internet at the library, which is painfully slow, for something as sensitive as online banking always makes me a bit queasy, hackers and all that). Looking up the bus times is impossible (Maybe I should also add that I had already used up my monthly mobile internet allowance before Saturday… oops!), contacting someone ends up being a lot less casual (ugh, I hate talking on the phone!), and it does majorly inhibit the work I have to do for university. For example, I use Duolingo to help me learn my languages, and with it’s complex graphics and sound effects, it was impossible to use it over the library internet.

When it comes to entertainment and information, as well, I really only have books and the internet to rely upon: no TV, no newspaper, no nothing. And the gravest flaw when it comes to reading as entertainment and pastime, for me, is that I so easily fall asleep when doing it. And I don’t just sleep for, you know, 20 minutes or an hour: I wake up after four to six hours, completely disorientated with my contact lenses burning in my eyes. Not very nice.

In this particular case, additionally, the temporary absence of internet connection from my life meant that I was not able to blog (sorry, dear reader!). As an integrated part of our ever-reflecting society (I read Eat Pray Love at the tender age of thirteen), this stimulated my brain – was my life better/worse without me blogging every day? Well, it was certainly different. Not only because the reading and sleeping and all that, but while I did not miss blogging as such, I did notice some changes in my daily life. The days seemed to pass quicker. I was rushing from place to place, and fell into bed exhausted in the evening. And while I ticked off my resolutions chart every night, I did not think about happiness once. Not once. Although I’m meant to be in the midst of a happiness project. Scary.

But I will not dwell. The internet is back (for now) and I will be able to blog every day, reflect the hell out of my tiny insignificant life. Yay!

B x

Having The Wobbles And Inspiring Blogs (While Feeling Utterly Uninspired)

These days I seem to be having a day that I feel uninspired and tired and mushy (let’s not even get into the state of my hair…) pretty much every day. Can’t do much about it (well, I could: I could put on some music I know will cheer me up, plug in my daylight lamp, eat something, drink something and feel energized and positive in a minute – but I just don’t feel like feeling that way today).

So maybe for now while I sulk in my misery (there’s not actually any misery, I’m just being whimsical), I can still keep one single New Year’s resolution (it’s only day 14, for God’s sake!) and write a blog post.

And what do uninspired people do who are too uninspired to come up with their own topics for blog posts (well, I could of course refer to my long list of ‘things to blog about’, but I just don’t feel…, you get the gist)? They consult The Daily Post and, if they are incidentally also enrolled in their Blogging101 course, they just look at their daily task.

Which I have, if you haven’t quite caught my drift yet. But, I am a cheat (always have been, probably always will be) so I cherry-pick* what I like from it and ignore the rest (thank God I’m not a scientist). And all that jazz about finding new blogs and commenting sounds very much inspired, so not for me (plus, in this mood, I’d probably ruin someone’s day with my point of view, so no comments from me today, it’s for the greater good), but I can manage to list some blog I really like and scribble down something about why I like them (although it is likely to be less enthusiastic than usual, my apologies). Here we go.

Let’s start with one that comes closest to what the original assignment wanted: I literally just found this blog yesterday (or was it the day before?) and it is a true gem. European Travel Adventures is a very hands-on travel blog written by a British student, who caught my eye with travel tips about Budapest, a city I fell in love with last summer. What I like most (bit uninventive, but let’s roll with it) is how her travelling seems to be more like my kind of travelling, meaning not at all like in Eat Pray Love or any of the like: you don’t always look amazing, you don’t necessarily find yourself but you have lots of fun and it’s totally worth it.

Time for the second blog: My favourite mildly (ok, hugely) amusing blog is It’s Dolly Darling. Please, just read for yourself, this lady is hilarious. I loved especially her most recent post with little wisdoms that I guess Gretchen Rubin would call her ‘secrets of adulthood’ (you know when you have read too much of one author in too little time and it makes you nuts? Well, I do), but Dolly just calls ‘Dolly-isms’ (charming, isn’t it!).

Last but truly not least (Blogging101 wanted me to do 4, but 3 is a much more congruent number, plus ‘look at me, I’m a rebel’): My favourite blog about my favourite pastime (apart from eating and sleeping, but I haven’t quite taken to food blogs yet…): A Year Of Reading The World is based on an amazing idea: The blogger read a book from each of the 196 countries that are member states in the UN. Now, she did this a while ago, in 2012, but it is currently relevant in that her own book will be published soon. While I love reading about what she did (she also did ‘A Year of Reading Women‘ the year before),it also leaves me with what I call reader’s guilt: I could be doing a project like that, I should be reading all the books she reads, and more! But gladly, despite my misery and egocentricity, I do have a voice of reason that asks me: If I read everything that she read, would I still have the time to read what I read? No. But, literally, so inspiring. I can’t get enough of reading about all the exotic tales and will definitely need that book on my shelf once it is published (UK release date: February 5th, 2015).

Cheerio and very sorry about the aggressive bracketing,

B x

*this word I picked up from the book I am currently reading, Ben Goldacre’s ‘Bad Science’, which is one of the many many books I have started ages ago but never finished…

Leon, oh Leon…

Featuring today: The best ever cookbook(s) I have come across so far in my life. Woohoo!

We all eat. It is a necessity, yet it can also be a source of a lot of problems and issues. We eat too much or too little, we spend too much money on food, we don’t eat healthy enough, we don’t know how to cook, we never have the time and energy to cook, and then if we cook we always cook too much and don’t know what to do with the leftovers, … the list is bloody long. And we haven’t even started on actual eating issues.

Of course, now to expect a cookbook to solve all these problems would be foolish, but it can certainly help. More with the problems I mentioned earlier, but if you consider yourself to have eating issues and you consider to buy a cookbook, you’re certainly on a good way (or not, who knows). Anyway, I have found the ideal cookbook for myself, which helped (and continues to help) me out significantly in my day-to-day life.

Now maybe if I describe to you how and why this is true, you’ll also get to know some of the features of the book(s). As you have already established from the plural in brackets, there is more than one book. Basically, these books are written by some people who run a small chain of fast food restaurants in London. Their business idea was to make and sell fresh and healthy fast food that tastes delicious. So when they were successful with that, they decided to publish some of their tried and tested recipes in a book. And then another. And then another.

So, you now already know that these books help me solve some of my food-related problems: It is fast, fresh, (more or less) healthy and delicious. More importantly though: generally, the books feature quite simple meals. Simple not only in terms of making them, but also in terms of their style. For someone like me, who has the taste buds of a child, a lot of cookbooks are useless, because the meals they feature are waaay to fancy. Especially when people think that they should combine fruit with a savoury meal, they have lost me entirely. And this doesn’t mean I don’t love food, oh, believe me, I do. And my taste is very varied: I love classic dishes at home, Greek food, Italian food, Asian food, all of that. But rather rustic, please.

Then, the other major problem I have with cooking and eating is the effort. It just takes so much time till something is ready and so little time for me to eat is once it is ready, so why bother. Well, these books are beautiful. Like truly beautiful. And you don’t even have to be a bibliophile to notice it. Every recipe is elaborately illustrated, the entire book benefits from the ingenious graphic design and it is nice to look, even nice to touch. It all looks so delicious and easy to make that walking to the supermarket over the road and preparing a fresh meal feels like so much less of a hassle.

Now, I almost forgot mentioning the name, although you might have gotten that from the title. They are called LEON and so far five big books (one for vegetarian cooking, one for baking, etc., cost about £20 each) and several smaller books (for things like soups, breakfast and stuff, cost about £6 each – also make great presents!) have been published. This is the website, there are also recipes and videos online. I also know that some of the books have been translated into German, so chances are good they will be available in your language too (which might be more convenient with the measurements).

Please go to the bookshop closest too you and look at it yourself, this is not the kind of book you can check out on Amazon (unless you are absolutely certain that you want it and the purchase is just an annoying formality), you have to hold it in your hands.

Also, do share any cookbooks that lighten up your life day after day.

B x