An autumn reading list

Berlin is one rainy, gloomy and caffeinated place at the moment and I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. If the days weren’t so madly packed, I’d finally have the perfect excuse to wile away in cafés and get lost in a book or two. The truth is though that since coming back from Interrailing, the only pages my eyes glanced over were the morning newspaper’s or a couple of magazines. So this is a bit of a subtle reminder for myself to make some more time for literary lovelies before bedtime. Here’s a list of books I’ve read while Serbian or Macedonian countryside rushed past, of audio books that helped me fall asleep (clearly not the purpose of an audio book, is it?), or heavier reads that I started six months ago and somehow struggle to finish. Nearly half of that stack is in German, so this will be a bilingual post (the first, I think?). Läuft bei euch.

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Tilmann Rammstedt: Wir bleiben in der Nähe

Tilmann Rammstedts Freitext Kolumne in der Zeit ist einer meiner Lieblingsorte in diesem Internet. Dass Monsieur auch Bücher schreibt war mir bis vor kurzem nicht klar. Oh Schreck. Zum Buch: Man kennt vielleicht das Gefühl, dass jemand, den man eigentlich ganz schön doll mag, neben jemandem aufwacht, den man nicht ganz so doll mag. Als dann auch noch geheiratet werden soll, haben Konrad und Felix die Schnauze gestrichen voll und entführen Katharina, das Objekt ihrer Liebe, ihrer Wut oder ihres Kopfchaos, manchmal verschwimmt das ja. Dann wirds kompliziert. Das Trio landet am Meer in Frankreich, wo es jeden Tag regnet, bricht Autos auf, schweigt sich an, schweigt sich noch mehr an und dann knallt es endlich irgendwann ein bisschen, aber immer noch nicht genug für meinen Geschmack. Man will schon nach dem ersten Drittel seinen Kopf gegen die Wand hämmern und die drei Protagonisten anbrüllen: “Ihr Vollpfosten! Trinkt Schnaps und habt euch nicht so! Liebt euch und hasst euch und macht euch Vorwürfe und lasst den ganzen Schmarrn mal raus.” Ich bin mir unsicher, ob die drei meinen klugen Ratschlag zu Herzen nahmen. Das Ende ist nämlich genau wie das echte Leben auch: irgendwie ungewiss, und mit einem leichten Hoffnungsschimmer versetzt. Vielleicht hab ich mir den aber auch nur ausgedacht. (Was die Buben an dieser lustlosen und möhrenverschlingenden Katharina so unwiderstehlich finden, entzieht sich meiner Vorstellungskraft hingegen völlig.)
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Carson McCullars: The heart is a lonely hunter

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is possibly the most beautiful book title there is, and the story itself isn’t any less remarkable. Back in 1940 when it was first published in the States (McCullars was 23 years old. 23! #goals), it caused a positive stir because it managed to “to rise above the pressures of her environment and embrace white and black humanity in one sweep of apprehension and tenderness,” as Richard Wright wrote. It’s a quiet novel, it demands a lot of attention and concentration (and therefore took me a long long time to get through, shame on me). But it’s worth sticking to because the characters have an incredible depth to them, you hardly ever fully ‘get’ them. They are a little weird, a little lost and very thirsty for beauty.

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Helmut Krausser: Einsamkeit und Sex und Mitleid

Ja, genau darum gehts. Eine Reihe deprimierender und amüsant-absurder Geschichten mehrerer Stadtmenschen vermischt sich hier. Die Damen und Herren verkorksen, schwängern und entführen sich gegenseitig. Das mit der Entführung geschieht ganz unerwartet und erwischt ein unschuldiges Mädchen. Und auch, dass da auf einmal der Prophet Jesaja im Park steht und ein – um ein Haar vom rechten Weg abgekommenes – Unschuldslamm rettet, ist eine ungewöhnliche Nummer. Ganz so aufbauend ist das Geflecht nicht, aber diese besonders aufmunternden Bücher – bestens auf amerikanischen Bestsellerlisten vertreten – sind meistens auch ganz katastrophale Angelegenheiten. Trotzdem sollte man den Schinken vielleicht nicht unbedingt lesen wenn der Lebensschuh gerade drückt. Just sayin.

Neil Gaiman: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The ocean in Gaiman’s masterpiece of a book isn’t an ocean (“Lettie Hempstock said it was an ocean, but I knew that was silly”), it’s a duckpond in Sussex, England. The pond is surrounded by strange and often creepy memories of the past that “I” thought were long gone, but they keep flooding back to the middle-aged protagonist like dark waves. See what I did there?! The past is made up of a mysterious suicide, a stunning and wise girl he couldn’t keep and never met again (Lettie) and her grandmother. They both used to live in the farmhouse by the pond. Gaiman said at the end of the book: “This is for anyone who has ever been seven years old”, and it reminded me of why coming across some darkness occasionally is so important: to remember and cherish the light and the hope that has to – and will – follow (promise!). Other than that, it’s just a pretty darn clever story.

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Harper Lee: To Kill A Mockingbird

To Kill A Mockingbird is a classic, I’ve read it before in school but didn’t grasp all of its nuances back then. Lee’s writing is beautiful, there are some sentences that I’d very much like to just print out and paste on my walls. Anyway, you’re probably familiar with the story, and if you’re not, get familiar with it and do it quick because you’re missing out on some quick-witted observations and a bunch of really wise remarks that seem to be just randomly thrown in. Prejudice, injustice, racism, the innocence of young children and the horror of having it taken away … all of these topics are dauntingly timely today, aren’t they?

Rebecca Martin: Nacktschnecken

Rebecca! Dein erstes Buch (Frühling und so) hab ich mit 14 oder 15 gelesen und stets unter meinem Kopfkissen versteckt, weil es um so schmutzige Dinge wie Herzklopfen, wilde Nächte und Blumenwiesen ging. Die Blumenwiesen haben sich übrigens bis heute auf meinen Kopfkissen gehalten. Nacktschnecken liegt gerade prominent auf dem Wohnzimmerboden rum und es scheint so, als seien wir beide ein bisschen erwachsen geworden. Jetzt gehts nämlich um eine Beziehung, nicht mehr um zehn. Diese Langzeitbeziehung zwischen Nora und Paul ist irgendwie nicht mehr so pralle, und die hormonelle Achterbahnfahrt mitsamt Schmetterlingskolonne ist auch Schnee von gestern. Aber vielleicht wäre das alles nicht so schlimm wenn da noch so etwas Telepathie übrig wäre, von dieser Seelenverwandtschaft, die einen am Anfang jedes Mal kalt und dann so heiß erwischt, dass der Körper bestimmt jeden Moment explodiert. Dann kommt da noch die Sache, oder sollten wir es besser Problem nennen, ja, das Problem mit der eigenen Identität hinzu. Ich meine, Nora, wer ist das eigentlich, und wieso ist das mit der Liebe so ein riesengroßes Chaos, und wieso haben wir uns verloren, Paul und ich, wiesowiesowieso, und wie geht man jetzt damit um, jetzt wo wir erwachsen sind und ein klitzekleinesbisschen Verantwortung für den anderen tragen? Ich sach mal so: langweilig wirds in diesem Leben wohl nicht mehr.

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Daniel Kahneman: Thinking, fast and slow

My head is a major source of confusion to me (and also to the people around me, sorry for that). Mr Kahneman’s mega bestseller is a bit like the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s also the complete opposite to the rest of my physical and virtual bookshelves. Oh those crazy scientists and their sober world views! The thing is, Kahneman is different. He writes about (and proves) how powerfully irrational our minds are, and how human nature is inherently flawed as a result. If we’re aware of these biases and “systematic errors” inside of us, we can look for and work towards becoming better versions of ourselves, he argues. In a nutshell, even if we always remain instinctive creatures, a good dose of self-reflection, education and enlightenment will help us in making more rational decisions. It feels a bit like a good vs. evil battle, nature vs. reason, and I’m not sure if life is as black and white as that. But then there’s also the economist Richard Thaler, who said about his friend Kahneman’s doubts: “He quit writing this book at least a dozen times. And I had to convince him not to quit, n+1 times. He genuinely didn’t think anybody would buy it. It was a biased forecast – he prides himself on being a pessimist. He was shocked that it did so well and he’s still in shock.” I love that.

David Nicholls: Us

Us reminds me of Us by Regina Spektor, and Regina Spektor reminds me of 500 Days of Summer, one of my all-time favourite movies (there aren’t many). They’ll name a city after us / And later say it’s all our fault (And it’s contagious). Anyway, David Nicholls’ writing is a bit contagious too, you know that if you read One Day. Sob. But what do you do if your marriage gets not just a little rusty and then your kid runs off to university and it’s just the two of you? And then what do you do if your wife tells you it’s over and you don’t want it to be? Well, you travel all across Europe (with your kid). The story is told from their son Douglas’ perspective, and it’s a careful and wise examination of what has gone wrong in their parents’ relationship and his own tender efforts of becoming a better version of his father. It’s a very, very, very moving read especially because Douglas inherited some of his father’s struggles of not being able to express emotions that well. Oh, and I didn’t even mention Amsterdam, Venice or Spain – some of the places the trio travelled through. But who needs Amsterdam, Venice or Spain when you’re that close to finding out how to stop having history repeat itself!?

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Tino Hanekamp: So was von da

Sorry werter Herr Hanekamp, aber ich schlafe bei Ihrem reizenden Hörbuch gerade ständig ein. Weiter als Kapitel 6 bin ich noch nie gekommen. Schande über mein Haupt! Dieser Schlafrhythmus ist einfach seit einigen Wochen im Eimer, eigentlich ist er sogar kopfüber in den Matsch gefallen, platsch. Deshalb brauche ich entweder Wellengeräusche (gibts in Berlin üblicherweise nicht so häufig, deshalb habe ich jetzt auch eine Geräusche-App für Babys, Sleepy Sounds, jaja) oder menschliches Gebrabbel, um einzuschlafen. Nun würde ich Ihre Stimme wirklich nie nie niemals als Gebrabbel bezeichnen, Herr Hanekamp, im Gegenteil! Ich versuchs heute Nacht noch mal, versprochen, Oskars tollpatschige und verstrahlte Art und dieses Hamburger Clubleben, das es offensichtlich faustdick hinter den Ohren hat, haben es mir nämlich auch nach mickrigen fünf Kapiteln schon angetan.

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Jamie Tworkorwski: If you feel too much

Ha ha. I started crying at the foreword of Jamie’s new book. Guess that says it all. The man himself, founder of To Write Love On Her Arms, is an absolute role model in spreading hope in the midst of depression. He is also among the most humble people I’ve (n)ever met. He has changed and encouraged so many young people’s lives and yet shares so many insecurities in writing and living out his convictions. That takes a lot of balls. And I love the e-mails he writes to his mum (they’re part of the book, don’t worry).

Caitlin Moran: How to be a woman

I first came across Caitlin Moran when I had just moved to London and studied The Times day in, day out. Her columns always made my day, so I knew How to be a Woman would go down a treat. Instead of being an actual guide, it lists dozens of hilarious and embarrassing situations she went through whilst growing up with a strange (euphemism!) sister and hippie parents who didn’t want her to grow up feeling pressured to represent a certain type of woman. She throws in a couple of really angry and witty feminist remarks and had me burst with laughter for all the inappropriate reasons on Austrian trains…

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William Lane Craig: A Reasonable Faith

Moving on to something a little more, er, meaty. Talking religion. I grew up assuming that you live your life based on either reason or faith, and that it can never be both. Pretty dangerous assumption, I know. Craig drew up a very long and not that complicated series of explanations why believing in a God actually makes a lot of sense from a scientific and historical point of view. I’m still fighting my way through the pages and by far don’t understand everything, but the way he draws connections between events that made it into history books and spiritual faith matters is astounding. These are possibly the least theological and most lofty words ever written about this book, whoops.

Graeme Simsion: The Rosie Project

I’ve been avoiding rom coms for a very long while now (they’re just always the same), but then The Rosie Project surfaced on friends’ Kindles and bedside tables, and I was intrigued. Don, a geeky professor with Asperger’s, draws up a 16-page questionnaire at the beginning to find “love” (or a wedding at least), but then Rosie happens. Rosie – the complete and confusing opposite of Don – fails miserably at the questionnaire – and took my heart by storm. And Don’s too. Although he has trouble admitting that. That questionnaire took all important factors into account after all! The Rosie Project was so good that I dipped straight into the sequel (The Rosie Effect). Something about the way the two interact is so pure and beautiful and made me think that sometimes, just sometimes, we should just say what we think, stop being scared about the other’s reaction and put it out there. Crazy idea, I know. (That isn’t to say that Rosie and Don have an easy time doing that, but watching the two get there is about as exhausting and entertaining as waiting for that bloody text from the boy or girl you met in a club last night and who you’re pretty sure will get to dance the crazy chicken dance on your 75th wedding anniversary with you.)

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Gary Chapman: The five love languages

This was one of the books that had a very prominent space in my parents’ bookshelf, and they always urged me to read it. But I was busy being a rebellious teenager and what do they know about love after all!? (A lot.) Anyway, the thing is, we’re all different, we all respond to things differently and we all feel appreciated and loved through different things (say what!?). If you know what love language the person you love speaks, you’ll have a much easier time making sure they know you love them, rather than just buying a bouquet of flowers when all they want is 30 minutes of your time or a really long hug. And obviously, when I talk about love, I don’t always mean lovelove, reading this book will probably change the way you think and maybe also the way you love. I must admit, I skipped the seemingly hundreds of success stories about how the author managed to save marriage after marriage through this tactic because I’d like to think that human souls are a bit more complicated (in a good way) than that…

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What books have made their way to your minds and hearts recently? Have a fantastic week. ♥

5 responses to An autumn reading list

  1. cfahrenbach

    came here for the beautiful story about you and your two new refugee friends. found this list. amazing stuff! would like to add one book that made my spring and still resonates with me and comes to mind every other day.

    it’s the story of four male friends, who move to new york after college, all trying to find jobs and make it in life. one will be an actor, one a lawyer, an artist and an architect. it’s really a huge book with around 700 pages, but about 70 pages in you sense that you got it: a nice upper middle class story of friendship over the decades. how wrong that is! the whole thing turns into an immensely touching meditation about the question if we can ever save someone who doesn’t want to be saved. and how much friendship can or cannot save us. it has many great observations, a perfect writing style, precise yet very artsy. it’s on the nomination lists of both man booker and the national book award in the us – and rightfully so. it’s called “a little life” and written by author hanya yanagihara.

    if you need a support group after reading, let me know.

    • Caroline Schmitt – Author

      Well hello, that sounds beautiful! I’m so adding A Little Life to my “read this urgently” list. Thanks so much for sharing it with me and thanks also for the kind words : )

      • cfahrenbach

        you’re welcome. don’t read too many reviews in advance, as i’ve felt that they give away a bit too much.

        it is at times very dark, but also has very light momenta. reading about 50 books a year, i became emotional and attached to it, like to no novel before.

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