Book-a-Day-Challenge Day 24


In this classic 1905 Christmas story, one of O. Henry’s most famous, we meet Della and Jim, a young married couple who are as poor as church mice.

„The Gift of the Magi“ is a short story, written by O. Henry (a pen name for William Sydney Porter), about a young married couple and how they deal with the challenge of buying secret Christmas gifts for each other with nearly no money. As a sentimental story with a moral lesson about gift-giving, it has been a popular one for adaptation, especially for presentation at Christmas time. The plot and its twist ending are well-known, and the only time one can possibly endure this much sentimentality is probably at Christmas 😉

I loved the illustrations of Ulrike Möltgen in this edition of Insel Bücherei.

Check out my favorite x-mas story „A Christmas Carol“ by Charles Dickens. Which one is your favorite?

Book-a-Day-Challenge Day 23


Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. Far too many memories are haunting her of the beautiful farm where so many terrible things happened. Her new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.

A book filled with bitter poetry and suspense „Beloved“ is the master piece by Nobel Prize Winner Toni Morrison.

Long overdue for a re-read – what is your favorite Toni Morrison book?

Book-a-Day Challenge Day 22


For the longest time I somehow merged Richard Brautigan and Kurt Vonnegut into one person. Even after reading „Slaughterhouse Five“ I could never really make two different people out of them in my mind. They were somehow located in the somehow 1960s department of may brain that also occupied Grateful Dead, Frank Zappa, Betty Friedan and other mysterious people I only know by name.

The only thing that finally managed to successfully seperate them, was finally also reading a book by Richard Brautigan.

And boy was a in for a ride. This certainly was one of the weirdest books I read this year.

„In Watermelon Sugar“ is an American post-apocalyptic novel by Richard Brautigan written in 1964. It is set in the aftermath of a fallen civilization and is about a commune that is organised around a central meeting house called „iDEATH“. In this world a lof things are made of watermelon sugar and the landscape is constantely in flux. Each day has a different colored sun which in turn created different colored watermelons.

The narrator writes a book about his experiences at iDEATH

It is said that in this book, Richard Brautigan discovers and expresses the mood of the counterculture generation.

I am sure that the experience of the book is greatly enhanced by the consumption of some mind-expanding drugs which were certainly used when writing the book 😉

This story seems to explode off the page and when I closed this small book I was pretty shaken and was not quite sure what the hell I had just experienced.

Do you know Richard Brautigan? Which books of his would you recommend?

 Check out Kurt Vonnegut’s brilliant „Slaughterhouse 5“ if only to make sure they really are two different people.

Book-a-Day-Challenge Day 18


Especially in times of the pursuance and killing of people of a different faith or of different ideas by fanatic Islamists on the one side and equally fanatic fascists on the other side Voltaire’s text is more important than ever.

No philosopher has fought for this ideal more than the French Enlightenment thinker Voltaire. His treatise “Über die Toleranz” is a timeless document that shows how important religious moderation is. It is a plea for humility against megalomania, and for humanity against dogmatism. Wherever religious fanaticism occurs Voltaire is having none of it:

„Mensch, du erhebst dich über Gott, wo du andere Menschen aufgrund ihres Glaubens richtest.“

Unfortunately he does not speak about non-religious fundamentalism which is based on class, race or a nation at all in his treatise and that certainly is a major shortcoming from the vantage point of the present.

Voltaire’s text is a reaction to the religiously motivated judicial murder of the Protestant merchant Johann Calas. Voltaire, who was mainly known in well-educated parts of society before he published this treatise, became very popular with the masses with his text. His text is not – as some people assumed – an attack on or a plan to abolish Catholicism (even though he seems to have a slight preference for eastern philosophies) his interest lies in a tolerant, enlightened spirituality.

His text was the main reason that Johann Calas was posthumously rehabilitated and the legal scandal publicly denounced. Voltaire continued the tolerance discourse of the Enlightenment which was amongst others triggered by John Locke.

Which philosophical texts would you recommend?

Check out Hannah Arendt’s “Die Freiheit frei zu sein“, Steven Pinker’s „Enlightenment Now“ and Manfred Geier’s „Aufklärung – Das europäische Projekt


Book-a-Day-Challenge Day 17


OK it looks to me as if Sorokin is the illegitimate brainchild of David Lynch, Dostojewski and Shirley Jackson. It all starts idyllic enough with a country doctor named Garin being stuck in a snowstorm in a little village without any horses for his vehicle. He is on his way to a remote village with some medicine for the people there who face an outbreak of a mysterious plague. But things quickly begin to take a completely different turn when Gorin and the naïve coachman Kosma meet dwarfs and giants on their sledge ride (pulled by tiny tiny horses), the plague turns people into Zombies, the radio is showing live pictures, a paste lets felt grow and more weird things are happening.

Sorokin created a fairy tale with some ingredients of a high tech science fiction world. He shows a grotesque imaginary Russia on the brink of times. An optimistic and at the same time highly disturbing book which I tremendously enjoyed.

“Vodka after tea keeps the soul frost-free!” 

Highly recommended and an especially great read if you are sitting on the train and there is a bit of a snow storm outside.

Have you read anything by Sorokin? What else could you recommend?

Check out Daphne du Maurier’s “Ein Tropfen Zeit“ which has an equally weird atmosphere and of course the master of the new weird genre Jeff Vandermeer with his Area X trilogy.

Book-a-Day-Challenge Day 16



Today I would like to enthuse you for one of my favorite books „Orlando“ – the longest love letter and the history of literature.

It’s difficult to imagine who forward thinking Virginia Woolf was to come up with this gender-society-time-bending story of the young Duke Orlando who is Vita Sackville-Wests alter ego. Orlando tells the high spirited adventures of a poet who changes sex from man to woman and lives for centuries.

„But listen; suppose Orlando turns out to be Vita and it’s all about the lusts of your flesh and the lure of your mind … Shall you mind?“

Vita didn’t mind, she was in fact thrilled and who can blame her? Orlando is a story about the life and development of a human being striving to become liberated from the constructs of gender and social norms of any kind.

If you live in Munich or plan a visit you should find the time to pop into the Literaturhaus where they are currently showing an exhibition with photos inspired by Sally Potter’s movie „Orlando“ and which was curated by Tilda Swinton.


Virginia Woolf described the writing of this book as taking holidays from being a writer and it is possibly her most lighthearted book.

Check out Vita’s love letters to Virginia in „Geliebtes Wesen„, Virginia Woolf’s famous feminist icon „A room of one’s own“ and the biographies of Vita and Virginia.


Book-a-day-Challenge Day 14


Another gem of the „Naturkunden“ series by Matthes & Seitz Verlag. At some stage I think I really want them all. I was never particularly interested in snails but that certainly changed after reading this funny, insightful and beautiful little book.

There is so much more to these fascinating creatures than their chalky little shells would make you believe. So let’s get closer to  dsiscover the creature that is hidden most of the time and let’s carefully open up the entrance so we can carefully and slowly ever so slowly sneak into the entwined coils to have a proper look.

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We admire the snail for its beautiful spiral shell, we laugh about their slow method of locomotion are disgusted by their slimy body but enjoy eating them with garlic butter. We have a highly ambivalent relationship to the snail so it was high time to get closer to it and better understand this highly fascinating creature.

Florian Werner takes up it’s trail from an cultural-historical point. He visits the World Snail Racing Competion in England, an eco snail farm in France and he explains the virtuosity of snail sex. He is not only checking out the outstanding position the snail had in the history of Architectur or movies he also looks into their participation in founding the financial system and brass music.


Maybe the tenacity and persistance of the snail is the perfect antidote for our hectic and restless times.

You can really tell that Judith Schalansky has a hand in this series and I highly recommend to check out her books for example her beautiful and interesting „Verzeichnis einiger Verluste“ or her „Atlas der abgelegenen Inseln“ that I introduced here a few days ago.

Can’t wait to read another one from this series, I am quite keen on „Korallen“ and have high hopes to read one about the „Octopus“ or about „Jellyfish“ pretty soon.

Have you read any of the titles? Which one would you recommend?

Book-a-Day-Challenge Day 13


Diesen Roman hatte mir meine sehr belesene Chefin schon vor Ewigkeiten empfohlen und ich habe nicht die leiseste Ahnung, warum es derart lange gedauert hat, bis ich ihn endlich in Angriff nahm.

Die Anthropologin Margaret Mead stand Patin für diesen Roman, der auf ihren Erlebnissen am Sepik Fluß in Neu Guinea basiert, wo sie mit ihrem Ehemann Reo Fortune und dem britischen Anthropologen Gregory Bateson, der später ihr zweiter Ehemann wurde, die Eingeborenenstämme untersuchte. Die Geschichte selbst ist allerdings von der Autorin frei erfunden, auch die im Roman genannten Stämme. Dieser Roman vermischt ganz meisterhaft genaue Recherche, Phantasie, Leidenschaft, Zurückhaltung und Abenteuer zu einem grandiosen Leseerlebnis.

Schon in den ersten Absätzen schwingt eine gewisse leise Bedrohung in diesem fast klassisch anmutenden Abenteuerroman. In den frühen 1930er Jahren fliehen Nell Stone, eine amerikanische Anthropologin und ihr australischer Ehemann Fen vor dem aggressiven Mumbanyo Stamm. Die Mumbanyo werfen ihnen etwas hinterher, doch Nell kann nicht erkennen, was es ist, da Fen in einem Wutanfall Nells Brille zerbrochen hat und sein hingeworfenes „wieder ein totes Baby“ ist unglaublich herzlos, wenn man später erfährt, wie sehr Nell unter ihren Fehlgeburten und etwaiger Unfruchtbarkeit leidet.

Keine glückliche Ehe, die die beiden führen.  Beide sind begabte Anthropologen, doch Nell ist die deutlich erfolgreichere, die die den Ruhm und das Geld nach Hause bringt und das nagt immens an Fen. Sie beschließen, Neu Guinea zu verlassen und in Australien die Aborigines zu studieren, als sie auf Andrew Bankson treffen, einen Engländer, der ebenfalls seit Jahren als Anthropologe am Sepik Fluß lebt und den Kiona Stamm untersucht.

Bankson ist durch den Tod seiner Brüder, seiner ihn erdrückenden Mutter und vor Einsamkeit am Rande des Selbstmords, als er das Ehepaar trifft und er versucht alles, um sie an „seinem“ Fluß zu halten und verspricht zu helfen, einen spannenden Stamm zu finden, den sie erforschen können. Sie geben Bankson eine Chance, er findet den Tam Stamm für sie und sie lassen sich dort nieder und beginnen mit ihrer Arbeit. Hatten sie anfangs noch Sorge vor einem Konkurrenzkampf mit einem anderen Anthropologen ,werden die drei innerhalb kürzester Zeit zu einer intellektuellen Menage a trois.

Die Erzählung ist aus Bankson’s Sicht geschrieben, Nells in der dritten Person. Die wechselnden Stimmen, Zeitsprünge und Rückblicke erhöhen die Spannung und Bankson deutet immer mal wieder an, dass etwas schlimmes passiert ist, aber die Autorin offenbart immer nur gerade soviel, dass man das Buch nicht weglegen kann und man in dieser schwül-fiebrigen Atmosphäre festhängt, bis man zu spät zur Arbeit kommt, weil man nachts viel zu lange gelesen hat.

Die drei Anthropologen entwickeln ein ziemlich geniales Koordinatensystem, in dem sie sämtliche menschlichen Kulturen einsortieren, sind aber komplett unfähig, ihre eigenen Emotionen zu verstehen.

Lily King beschreibt geradezu genial, wie die drei westlichen Forscher mit einer ihrer Unwissenheit geschuldeten Arroganz die Rolle der Wissenschaftler einnehmen und ihre Versuchsobjekte unter die Lupe nehmen. Die Anthropologie ist zu der Zeit eine noch neue Wissenschaft, die sich noch beweisen muss und die drei sind ganz scharf darauf, große Entdeckungen zu machen und sich in ihrem Forschungsgebiet einen Namen zu machen.

Lily King hatte wohl Unmengen an Recherchematerial zusammengetragen, sie hätte locker einen Riesenwälzer füllen können, stattdessen hat sie ein perfektes kleines Buch geschrieben, vielleicht gerade aufgrund dieser Zurückhaltung. Sie hat ein exzellentes Buch geschrieben, das in meinen Augen das weibliche Pendant zu Conrads „Heart of Darkness“ ist.

Book-a-Day-Challenge Day 10


Lord of the Flies is one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever read. It was certainly disturbing when I read it the first time and it still is. With a group of innocent schoolboys who are stranded on an island, the author portrays very realistically human behavior in an environment where civilization no longer has any meaning. At the rate we are going at the moment, this might were we are heading.

The book was published in 1954 at the time Britain faced the harsh reality which the country blissfully ignored before that it is not, actually the centre of the universe. The British Empire was actually  transgressing the freedom and the rights of other human beings. In the past British colonialism was often justified in a very self-righteous way to educate and modernise foreign „savages“. So this book was somehow an interesting deconstruction of white, Western supremacy.

There is of course a lot of racism in this book which makes modern readers often cringe.  You have Ralph who is presented pretty much from page 1 as the perfect white, blonde and blue-eyed guy from a private school.  I hope I’m not mistaken that I always saw it as Golding challenging the idea that the savages are the dark-skinned, uneducated people from rural areas who need to be rescued by superior western whites. I thought Golding was trying to show us how these private school boys with silver spoon up their arses are in no way better than the so called savages.

“I agree with Ralph. We’ve got to have rules and obey them. After all, we’re not savages. We’re English; and the English are the best at everything. So we’ve got to do the right things.”

The scary thing about story is how real it feels. The Lord of the Flies is brilliant dystopian fiction with a bunch of very real human characters that show you what might happen when they are thrown into a desperate situation. The line between humans and monsters gets very blurry. Golding shows us that we are not so far away from our primal nature and that it needs only some difficult situation and a little push to wake our darker side.

The story itself can sometimes be a bit confusing, many of the children don’t have distinct personalities, and little character development.

But if you want to read a really good book and are not afraid of being haunted by it for a while after you finish it, this is your book either to read it for the first time or a re-read after some time.

The book was published in German as „Herr der Fliegen“ in Fischer Verlag.

Has anyone seen the movie that was made in 1990? Is it any good?

Book-a-Day-Challenge Day 6


This groundbreaking essay was hard work for me and it took me a while and a second and third reading to be able to somewhat summarize my takeaways. It explores how in the age of mass media audiences can see a work of art or listen to music repeatedly and what the social implications of that might be.

Benjamin questions the notion of art, connecting the meaning and the value of it with the conditions in which it was produced, distributed and received.

Benjamin applies some of Karl Marx ideas by showing how the devaluing of an art work as a unique object in time and space might cause alienation in the artist and the viewer as a result.

There were a lot of interesting ideas especially with regards to film theory but I had the impression the book ended a bit abruptly so I felt a bit hanging there at the end.

“One of the foremost tasks of art has always been the creation of a demand which could be fully satisfied only later. The history of every art form shows critical epochs in which a certain art form aspires to effects which could be fully obtained only with a changed technical standard, that is to say, in a new art form. The extravagances and crudities of art which thus appear, particularly in the so-called decadent epochs, actually arise from the nucleus of its richest historical energies.”

In general reading Walter Benjamin felt to me like trying to catch soap bubbles. Oh and interesting idea, oh no it spins off in all direction, I try to catch it but it’s really hard to keep up 😉

I personally take away from the book as a consumer to fully engage with all the art that I consume.

Definitely not an easy read but definitely worthwhile. What other books by him would you recommend me to read?