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Map of the 1858 Atlantic Cable route Bildinformationen anzeigen
 guest talk by Gary Younge, June 12, 2018 © Adelheid Rutenburges Bildinformationen anzeigen
Dirk Night with Armani Cotton Bildinformationen anzeigen
Transatlantikdampfer "Berengaria" (1920); Route: Liverpool-New York-Liverpool. Bildinformationen anzeigen
Erstsemesterbrownies, April 2018 Bildinformationen anzeigen
guest talk by Gary Younge, June 12, 2018 © Madita Oeming Bildinformationen anzeigen

Map of the 1858 Atlantic Cable route

Foto: Von Unbekannt - Howe's Adventures & Achievements of Americans; en:Image:Atlantic_cable_Map.jpg, Gemeinfrei,

guest talk by Gary Younge, June 12, 2018 © Adelheid Rutenburges

Dirk Night with Armani Cotton

Foto: Miriam Jassmeier

Transatlantikdampfer "Berengaria" (1920); Route: Liverpool-New York-Liverpool.

Foto: Wikimedia Commons

Erstsemesterbrownies, April 2018

Foto: Madita Oeming

guest talk by Gary Younge, June 12, 2018 © Madita Oeming

Book of the Month

September 2019
© Jonathan Cape

Rachel Kushner: The Mars Room (2018, Jonathan Cape)

“Another sign, NO TANK TOPS. Under it, typically, an entire three-generation family, all in tank tops, flesh spilling. And what was it about shoulders? What was law enforcement’s fear of shoulders?” This is how protagonist Romy Hall shows us around Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility with a hint of irony.

In her most recent novel, The Mars Room, Rachel Kushner not only introduces us to Romy’s story but also to her fellow inmates’ fates, their past, what they miss and do not miss about their lives outside of prison. We meet people like Laura Lipp, who suffers from bipolar disorder. Conan London, a transgender man who was transferred from a men’s to the women’s facility. Gordon Hauser, who teaches English at Stanville. Doc, a former police officer who now serves time himself. And Kurt Kennedy who stalked Romy. When we hear their stories, the narrative voice changes from Romy’s first-person to a third-person perspective opening up many different versions of the prison experience.

When talking about mass incarceration, we mostly think about men. Kushner offers us the less often represented perspective of female offenders – an eye-opening read!

– recommended by Miriam Jaßmeier, student assistant at our department

August 2019
© Pantheon Books

Ali Smith: Spring (2019, Pantheon) 

“What unites Katherine Mansfield, Charlie Chaplin, Shakespeare, Rilke, Beethoven, Brexit, the present, the past, the north, the south, the east, the west, a man mourning lost times, a woman trapped in modern times?”

In Spring, the latest novel from her ‘Seasonal Quartet,’ Ali Smith once again manages to connect seemingly disparate things to create a coherent whole. In the tradition of the ‘condition-of-England novels,’ it offers a topical and reflective view on contemporary British society, but it also functions as a counter-narrative to divisive and nostalgic tendencies in Brexit-Britain.

Rather than illustrating the political issues concerning Brexit, Spring focuses on individual characters as well as the general state of the nation. Follow the gripping story of the chance encounter between ageing film director Richard, Brit, a security officer in an Immigration Removal Centre, and Florence, a young refugee. Spring features a new set of characters, so don’t worry if you haven’t read Autumn or Winter! If you have, enjoy some subtle references and connections to old friends. Smith’s fresh, witty and unique writing style makes the novel a perfect read for your summer holiday.

– recommended by Dennis Henneböhl

July 2019
© Vintage

Marjane Satrapi: Persepolis (2007, Vintage)

What’s it like to spend most of your childhood in the midst of a revolution and its aftermath? How do you see the world if you’re always surrounded by war and oppression? Persepolis is an autobiographical graphic novel about an outspoken girl growing up in Iran in the 1980s. The intellegent daughter of upper-class communist parents, Marjane begins to question the world around her from an early age. With brutal honesty, cutting wit, and a healthy dose of self-reflection, the author tells us how she navigated her childhood, teenage years, and adult life in countries both foreign and familiar.

Oppression, feminism, homelessness, sex, family, drugs, death – Persepolis touches on all these topics and many more. The novel is as entertaining as it is educating, but no one should feel obliged to take a history lesson before diving in. I knew very little about the Islamic Revolution when I picked up this book, but it manages to paint a vivid picture for uninformed readers and history buffs alike. Heavily influenced by Art Spiegelman’s critically acclaimed Maus, it is a must-read for fans of graphic novels, in particular.

– recommended by Jan Fieseler, B.A. student in our department

June 2019
© Penguin Books

Gerd Gigerenzer: Risk Savvy – How to Make Good Decisions (2015, Penguin Books) 

This is a book on "how to pick 'em." In less flippant terms, it is a pop science approach to probabilistic thinking – yes!, but in perfectly accessible and non-technical terms.

More specifically, it is about (a) how the ability to think in terms of probability can make people's lives better and (more importantly) (b) how it is woefully underdeveloped not only among the general populace, but also – and even more woefully – in places where it counts, such as your GP's office hours, politics, slot machines, and the (social) sciences. ESPECIALLY the social sciences.

Gigerenzer's "trophy case(s)" are breast cancer or prostate screenings. Should you do it? A lot of doctors say "yes," Rudy Giuliani says "yes." And nothing can go wrong just looking at things, right? Wrong. Why? Gigerenzer will talk you through it!

He does a great job at illuminating the carry-over effects of basic probabilistic thinking to other fields of empirical interest and investigation – and: your private life. This book is a potential lifesaver. Read it!

– recommended by Christian Langstrof

May 2019
© Penguin Books

Jonathan Safran Foer: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2006, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) 

Step inside the complex mind of a nine-year-old trying to process his father’s death in the attacks of 9/11! Jonathan Safran Foer’s moving novel takes you on a journey with little Oskar, who found a mysterious key in his dad’s belongings and decides to go on a secret mission to find the matching lock. Travelling across New York City, he meets many different people with unique, incredible stories, who help him with his task in one way or another. If, eventually, he succeeds in piecing the puzzle together, you’ll have to find out for yourself…

Personally, I think the book’s ability to enthral its readers lies in Foer’s way of approaching a traumatic collective event through the eyes of a single intelligent and amiable child, thereby creating a heart-breaking, amusing, and intimate story. The reading experience is enriched by multimodal elements, further permeating the characters’ thoughts. Between the lines, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close asks gripping questions about life, death, and – most importantly – love, which reverberate for a long time after finishing the book.

– recommended by Jana Schwede, B.A. student in our department

April 2019
© Dialogue Books

Saskia Vogel: Permission (2019, Coachhouse Books)

With the mind-blowing success of 50 Shades of Grey, both in book shops and on the screen, the term and aesthetics of BDSM – short for bondage, discipline, domination & submission, sadism & masochism – made its way into the mainstream. The story’s complete lack of female agency, its faux consent, its heteronormativity and pathologizing lens, however, left a whole subculture feeling misunderstood and misrepresented.

Now comes Saskia Vogel to set the record straight! Her debut novel Permission, praised as “a mature, feminist spin on BDSM literature” by The Guardian, takes readers into a kinky Los Angeles love triangle. Its delicate minimalist prose and mix of narrative perspectives have us grieve with a young woman, crawl around in the skin of a male sub, and find comfort in a nurturing dominatrix. Instead of clichés, it gives you the rough and tender complexity of intimacy and explores how we can heal through sex.

Enjoy losing yourself in its many pleasures!

– recommended by Madita Oeming

March 2019
© Flatiron Books

Meredith Russo: If I Was Your Girl (Flatiron Books, 2016)

"I thought of that poor girl pretending to be a boy who tried to kill herself and I wanted her to see this, to feel this, so she could understand that one day she might not just be okay with her body but would be able to feel things … inside of it."

Amanda’s dad is angry with her because she is a girl. This is because Amanda was born as Andrew. She is transgender. If I Was Your Girl portrays Amanda’s path and her struggles in an extremely touching and capturing manner.

I could rave endlessly about why you should read this book, but as a soon-to-be teacher I especially want to recommend taking it to the classroom. It raises awareness without being too explicit, but is still explicit enough to evoke strong emotions and make us learn, teachers and students both.

Never have I read a book that challenged the concepts manifested in my mind –– and probably in your mind, as well –– about gender (identity) and sexual orientation as successfully as this one. In my opinion, this is something we should teach ourselves and our students: to reflect on the concepts established and accepted by our culture and modify or extend them with our new knowledge.

– recommended by Virginia Rittinghaus, M.Ed. student

February 2019
© Mcgraw-Hill

Steven Pinker: The Language Instinct (McGraw-Hill, 1994)

A once most unattractive beast becomes a life-long love! Is that possible? That is the story of linguistics and me. The Language Instinct is an example of a book that can effect such change.

Over forty years ago, linguistics began for me with dry-as-dust structuralist strictures on how sentences should be dissected and compartmentalized. It was dull and surgically removed from everyday reality. Then came Chomsky and the link between our minds and language. His brilliant analyses, were no less attractive than perfect pirouettes in dance. Labov came next, reflecting profound insights into our nature as social beings.

The excitement that Chomsky and Labov created among linguists by has been transmitted to a wider readership by Stephen Pinker. A best-seller since it first appeared, The Language Instinct is undoubtedly a modern classic. Pinker’s simple premise is that using a language is “taking part in one of the wonders of the natural world.” This sense of wonder, running through the entire book, tantalizes and challenges readers in amusing, informative and evocative ways.

If you want to fall in love with linguistics - either for the first time, or all over again - this is possibly the best book for you!

– recommended by Vijaya John Kohli

January 2019
© Seren

Zoë Skoulding: The Museum of Disappearing Sounds (Seren, 2013)

With your notebook right beside you, you start reading Zoë Skoulding's poetry collection The Museum of Disappearing Sounds. You write down a favorite passage:  "It's here that everything / is happening twice / once in the body / and once in the words for it." And then another one: "I am speaking I am walking I am / eating I am sleeping I am writing only I / could have written this only you will read it." And another one: "language spattered all over / his t-shirt." Just when you think you know that these are the lines you like best, you get caught up in the next poem. At some point you stop taking notes because you're too close to copying the entire book.

This January, we will have the great pleasure of welcoming UK poet Zoë Skoulding to our department. She will read from her poetry on Monday, January 14 and will conduct a creative writing workshop for our students on Tuesday, January 15. So, to use her own lines, Zoë will be in Paderborn "once in the body / and once in the words for it." And we're very much looking forward to both.

– recommended by the Department of English and American Studies


December 2018
© KiWi

Peter Littger: The devil lies in the detail (Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 2015)

Highly entertaining and, at the same time, utmost useful for language learners and teachers alike – a must-read in the truest sense of the word! The book is based on Littger’s popular and humorous takes on “English made in Germany” published in the “Fluent English” corner at Spiegel online. Through the eyes of a native speaker of German who went to school and studied in England, he gives his readers a tour on a broad variety of striking phenomena of everyday English and the way it is (not) used. His 23 enjoyable chapters include typical linguistic blind spots and conspicuous similarities between English and German, as a result of which “I flip out when you spritz around with water” constitutes a perfectly well-formed English sentence even though it sounds so horribly wrong. Told in a light-hearted manner and spiced up with cultural and linguistic bits and pieces, his stories also make reference to people filling their linguistic gaps with unintentional wit, like someone asking for “ice-balls” at an ice-cream van, or those putting their foot in their mouth when they turn up on somebody’s doorstep after they were told that they must come for dinner sometime (who would have thought that it is just polite conversation and not an invitation?). Buckle up for some memorable and lively language lessons!

– recommended by Dominik Rumlich

November 2018
© Flamingo

Dalrymple, William. City of Djinns: a Year in Delhi (Penguin,1993)

William Dalrymple is a historian who knows how to tell a story.

His part-travelogue, part-novel, part-history book, City of Djinns, is a captivating account of a year spent in Delhi, the capital of India. While reading the book, it is hard not to feel transported directly into the city and feel like you are talking to its remarkable personalities, walking through its numerous ruins and exploring its wide, tree-lined avenues, all the while discovering how intrinsically the Delhi of today is connected to its deeply layered past.

It is a city, in Dalrymple’s words, in which "different millennia [co-exist] side by side." A city whose history has seen the rise and fall of dynasties and innumerable conquests by ruthless invaders, but which has always risen like a phoenix from the ashes, as if it were protected, as the local legend goes, by its doting supernatural residents, the Djinns.

– recommended by Tanya Matthew

October 2018
@ Anchor

Ali Smith: Autumn (Hamish Hamilton, 2016)

"This isn't fiction, the man [behind the counter] says. This is the Post Office."

Written with stunning precision and fluency, this work, in all probability, constitutes the first 'great' Brexit novel from Britain. In contrast to many other responses to the topic, the author does not concentrate on the political procedures surrounding Brexit. Instead, she is interested in the numerous exclusionary processes and ever-growing divisions in a kingdom that has not really been 'united' for a long time.

The novel portrays these developments with regard to the (significantly named) protagonist Elisabeth – a young art historian in a precarious job situation. Smith's approach is often oblique or metaphorical but always maintains a pronounced personal touch, which allows readers an immediate connection with the text. Despite its overall negative diagnosis of the situation in Britain, Autumn still also conveys hope of a more constructive future and a possible new sense of cohesion. Key sources of such positive energy are nature, art and creativity in general, as well as all genuine human relationships, especially where they transcend conventional boundaries of age, social class and sexual orientation.

– recommended by Merle Tönnies

September 2018
© Melville House

James Baldwin. James Baldwin: The Last Interview and other Conversations (Melville House, 2014)

Rereading James Baldwin’s powerful creative nonfiction over the summer, my admiration of his work is ever-increasing. James Baldwin: The Last Interview is the perfect place for  your first encounter with him. In four magnificent interviews with literary legends spanning a period of more than twenty-five years, it invites you to meet Baldwin the novelist, the anti-racist activist, the cultural critic, and, above all, the person.

Thirty years after his death, Baldwin remains one of the most influential black voices in America. In his last interview, only a few weeks before his passing in 1987, Baldwin comments on what Reagan represented to white America, anticipating what would much later emerge as the academic field of Critical Whiteness Studies: “Ronald Reagan represents the justification of their history, their sense of innocence. He means the justification of Birth of a Nation. The justification, in short, of being white.” There is a precision and honesty to Baldwin’s analyses and prose that speak to the present moment – more so, possibly, than we are willing to admit. If you are looking for a quick but moving read, I full-heartedly recommend giving this one a shot.

– recommended by Alexandra Hartmann

August 2018
© Random House

Firoozeh Jazayeri Dumas. Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America (Random House, 2004)

"For my American friends, 'a visiting relative' meant a three-night stay. In my family, relatives’ stays were marked by seasons, not nights."

Funny in Farsi made it to the bestseller lists of The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and The San Francisco Chronicle – not least because of its ingenious humor. As part of a new wave of autobiographical writing by diaspora Iranian women, this collection of related short stories comically revolves around the cultural and social peculiarities of the author’s life, who moved from Iran to Whittier, California with her family in 1972, when she was just seven years old.  

It describes her gradual adjustment to a different culture and simultaneously tells the stories of her extended family, most of whom had also moved to the US. Firoozeh’s wry sense of humor does not try to cover up the difficulties of the immigrant experience but manages to find funny moments within it. The book is recommended not only for those interested in transcultural literature, but also for anyone looking for a good laugh! 

– recommended by Azra Ghandeharion, visiting scholar from Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Iran 

July 2018
© Write Bloody

Andrea Gibson: The Madness Vase (Tennessee: Write Bloody, 2012)

“My mouth is a fire escape.­

The words coming out

don't care that they are naked.

There is something burning in here.”

If you have forgotten how to enjoy poetry, start here! Andrea Gibson is an American LGBT and political activist and a (spoken word) poet whose poems remind us that the personal is political – just as much as the political is personal. This selection of poems is going to leave you amazed at what Gibson can do with words: Gibson’s poetry is honest, surprising, hilarious, painful, and relatable; and it is going to make you feel both comfortable and uncomfortable in all the right ways. The images they (Gibson’s pronoun of choice) paint linger long after you have closed the book, their urgency and vividness will make you want to revisit them like old friends.

My personal favorites are “Ashes,” “I Sing the Body Electric, Especially When My Power’s Out,” and “The Nutritionist.”

– recommended by Silvia Sporkmann

June 2018
© Guardian Faber

Gary Younge: Another Day in the Death of America (New York: Guardian Faber, 2017) 

It’s almost impossible to add original lines to the praise that reviewers have heaped on Gary Younge’s Another Day in the Death of America. The Sunday Herald called it a “magnificent piece of reportage.” Claudia Rankine named Younge’s book a “harrowing account” and praised its “sensitively researched portraits of virtually unknown victims and their grieving families.” Anita Sethi encountered “immensely moving chapters.” Irvine Welsh found Younge’s book “all the more daring and subversive for its controlled and mannered tone.” Naomi Klein saw it as a “book to be read through tears.” And Martin Amis appreciated Younge’s “formidably intelligent and tenacious” reporting. 

We agree! Another Day in the Death of America is one of the most powerful books we’ve read in a long, long time. It’s hard to imagine a more nuanced and a more gripping account of America’s gun crisis. We are delighted that its author will join us for conversations and a reading on June 12, 2018. Thank you, Gary  – for this book and for agreeing to come over to Paderborn.

– recommended by the Department of English and American Studies

May 2018
© Faber & Faber

Jeet Thayil: Narcopolis (London: Faber & Faber, 2012)

“Bombay, which obliterated its own history by changing its name and surgically altering its face, is the hero or heroin of this story”

In her long-awaited novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy asked: “How to tell a shattered story?” There could not be a better answer than Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis

Its shattered stories take you into the opium dens of Old Bombay, through the oppression of Maoist China, and back to the streets of what is now Mumbai, a metropolis that has exchanged its freedom for Hindutva ideology. The nexus which holds these shattered stories together is the hybrid narrative voice, a synthesis of the character Dom Ullis and the Chinese opium pipe that clouds his mind. It is the latter which turns Narcopolis into an addictive hallucinatory trip that is by no means inferior to its Western counterparts from Burroughs to Welsh. 

This book is a postmodern exploration into memory, narrative (un-)reliability, and the fluidity of (sexual) identity, which leaves you with the sour taste of capitalist patriarchy that can only be washed away by more of this novel’s true drug. Narcopolis is dark, dusty, and disillusioning, but it immortalizes a city which lost its spirit; the first and last word of this novel: Bombay. 

– recommended by Andreas Schwengel, MA student and passionate (Pader)Born 2 Read Book Club member

April 2018
© Vintage

Ted Chiang: The Story of Your Life and Others (New York: Vintage, 2016)

Author Frederic Pohl famously stated that “a good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam.” Ted Chiang’s stories neither care about cars nor traffic jams. Their  curiosity is aimed at the frightened people trapped inside the vehicle. They explore what lies beyond the icy peak of the Tower of Babel. They marvel at indifferent angels visiting earth . And they depict the effects of immersing oneself in the swirling languages of alien heptapods.

Until their twisted endings, Chiang’s stories, collected in The Story of your Life and Others (2016), take their premises as seriously as they take the readers. Chiang is cerebral without pretentiousness and he is entertaining without gimmicks or gadgetry. Most importantly, he always finds the uncanny inside of human nature rather than a vessel in the void beyond the stars. 

– recommended by Christoph Singer

March 2018
© Hodder&Stoughton

Stephen King: On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft  (London: Hodder&Stoughton, 2000) 

Ever wondered how to become a writer when you are just a kid with a dream? Stephen King will show you how! This part memoir part writer’s guide takes us along on the bumpy ride from his childhood to the publication of his first novel Carrie.

With overwhelming honesty, the tough-minded veteran of a bestselling author provides the toolkit you need for good writing while sharing jokes, anecdotes, and experiences laced with f-bombs and sh-grenades. The plot-writers and over-analysts among us, however, may miss the transparent yet boring structure of a microwave manual and instead find their confused thoughts wandering off the beaten paths into the scary darkness of a world where “stories are found things, like fossils in the ground.” Still, the funny and witty first person narrative voice talks to us like a friend; one who is brutally blunt but also encourages us to enjoy the ride, no matter how bumpy. “Super Douper! Pow!” 

– recommended by Yvonne K. Jende , MA student

February 2018
© Penguin Books

Yaa Gyasi: Homegoing (New York: Penguin Books, 2017)

 “Whose story am I missing? ...You must find that story too.”

This is a story of restlessness; of the burden of remembrance which plagues the soul, plunging it into aimless wandering; of the journey on the ever-winding course towards home.

In telling this story, Gyasi follows in the steps of many Greats before her. The spirit and orality of Chinua Achebe rattles between the lines when she writes about the native Ghanaian tribes just like Toni Morrison’s characters resonate in the text. One thing that the author does unfailingly well is pull us into each character’s world – worlds plagued with the inevitability of the present but tempered with the certainty of the future.

It is a story too often left untold; the story of the ones who remained, their complicity in the slave trade, their agency in opposing external domination, and the veracity with which they tried to hold on to their customs.

It is a story worth reading.

– recommended by Boluwatife Marie Akinro, MA student

January 2018
© Puffin Books

Peggy Rathmann: Good Night, Gorilla (London: Puffin Books, 1994)

This book is the perfect gift for the youngest readers among us. They will appreciate its skillful handling of point of view, denouement, poetic justice, and irony. Set in a zoo and exploring complex issues of surveillance, power, and agency, Good Night, Gorilla seems to require a Foucauldian reading. Surprisingly, though, most 2-year-olds will opt for a different theoretical perspective

– recommended by the department's newborns

December 2017
© Wiley Blackwell

Sali Tagliamonte: Making Waves -The Story of Variationist Sociolinguistics (Malden/Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2016)

With his work on language use on Martha’s Vineyard and on the Lower East Side in New York in the 1960s, William Labov revolutionised our understanding of language variation and change. In the sixty years that have passed since then, the quantitative analysis of language variation has become highly influential in linguistics.

Sali Tagliamonte – herself a leading figure in the area of quantitative sociolinguistics – recently published a book which revisits the beginnings of the field by conducting sociolinguistic interviews with sociolinguists who provide personal insights into the early stages starting with William Labov, but also with second and third generation linguists such as Penny Eckert, Walt Wolfram and Peter Trudgill. They talk about how they experienced the advances in the field and how ideas developed into influential research projects. The book is accompanied by a website featuring 400 audio clips from the interviews.

– recommended by Sandra Jansen

November 2017
© Penguin UK

Virginia Woolf: Mrs. Dalloway (London: Penguin UK, 2003 (1925))

It took me thirty years to discover this novel. I had heard people sing its praises, but I felt sure Mrs. Dalloway didn't have enough heart and plot to pull less cerebral readers along – folks just looking for a satisfying read on planes and beaches. Then, desperate for a book to read on my next flight, I grabbed a copy. 

Read it on the plane. Submerged myself in a novel filled to the brim with hyperaccurate observations on human failures and human beauty, a work achingly poetic and modern, intellectual and emotional, and always right about every person it explores. It's the strangest of creatures: an avant-garde experiment that makes you want to cry. Finished it on the plane. Touched down in Lisbon. Got on a bus. Went to the beach. Took Mrs. Dalloway along. Read it again. It was even more satisfying, more heart-breaking the second time around.

Will keep reading Mrs. Dalloway for the rest of my life. 

– recommended by Christoph Ribbat

October 2017
© Penguin Books

Lan Cao: Monkey Bridge (New York: Penguin, 1997)

“This was my realization: we have only to let one thing go — the language we think in, or the composition of our dream, the grass roots clinging underneath its rocks — and all at once everything goes.”

What exactly is it that you have to let go of when forced to settle in a foreign country? Artfully depicting the struggles of a Vietnamese refugee family in the United States, Lan Cao’s Monkey Bridge remains without doubt a significant contribution to Vietnam War representations. Inspiring to question commonly accepted perceptions about the war, Cao’s narrative reconceptualizes loud, Ramboesque battle-field-spectacles and uncovers instead the no less tumultuous inner lives of two women —mother and daughter— at war with their own identities in an alien surrounding.

But Monkey Bridge is not a moralizing lecture about times desperate for a different perspective. And it refuses to define change and cultural adaptation strictly as the loss of a former self. Instead, the novel invites to build bridges —not tear them down— between shores, ancestors, mothers and daughters, selves and, of course, between strangers. 

– recommended by Stela Dujakovic

September 2017
© Penguin Random House

Philip Roth: The Plot Against America (New York: Vintage, 2004)

What would American fascism look like? This question guides Philip Roth’s alternate history, in which the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh defeats Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential elections.

It’s a question that seems more pertinent today, seven months into the presidency of Donald Trump, than it has in many years. In the novel, Lindbergh signs a non-aggression pact with Hitler and remains silent when racist mobs attack Jews in the South. The parallels astonish. Trump’s adoption of the slogan “America First,” popularized by an organization that counted Lindbergh as its spokesman, adds to this feeling of uncanny repetition.

The invention of “alternative facts” has been a feature of the Trump administration thus far. Roth’s thought experiment reminds us that fictions need not be lies but may imagine the world as it might have been, or what the world might become.


– recommended by Alexander Dunst

August 2017
© Harper Collins

Thomas C. Foster: How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines (New York: Harper Collins, 2014)

Ever wonder why so many famous literary characters – Oedipus and Milkman Dead, for instance – literally limp through their stories? Or why so many stumble about blind, impotent, or scarred? With his engaging book, How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Thomas C. Foster helps readers become more adept at decoding “the grammar of literary language.” 

Targeting foremost the uninitiated reader, be that college freshmen or middle-aged members of book clubs, Foster provides “a broad introduction to the codes and patterns that inform our readings.”  Yet, even for the literary scholar, Foster’s book offers fun and intellectually satisfying romps through chapters such as “If She Comes Up, It’s Baptism” or “It’s My Symbol and I’ll Cry If I Want To.” References to many canonized literary texts and tell-tale snippets from pop culture favorites dovetail nicely with aspects from our own department’s Intro and Survey literature courses. 

Reading Foster’s book will help you master lit/cult’s “analytical apparatus” and in an entertaining way increase your understanding of Richard III’s twisted back, Oedipus’s sore feet, Jake Barnes’s wounded weenie, and, yes, even Harry Potter’s lightning-bolt scar.

– recommended by Andrea Krause

July 2017
© Random House

Teju ColeKnown and Strange Things (New York: Random House, 2016)

It is always beautiful, and often painful, to look at the world through the eyes of Teju Cole – be it by means of his curious camera lens or his poetic prose.

After his award-winning novels Open City and Every Day Is for the Thief, the Nigerian-American author has written another masterpiece which defies categorization as cleverly as its creator himself. Known and Strange Things is a collection of more than fifty essays – previously published in, among others, The Atlantic and The New York Times – that range from literature to photography to travelling, from high to low culture, from James Baldwin to Instagram, from Lagos through Brooklyn to Leukerbad. Cole skillfully combines a wide-angle and macro lens to make us see familiar things in a strange light, and the other way around. 

This book is an idiosyncratic yet accessible snapshot of our confusing times. Dare to take a closer look!

– recommended by Madita Oeming

June 2017
© Saraband

Graeme Macrae BurnetHis Bloody Project (Salford: Saraband, 2015)

Graeme Macrae Burnet’s second novel His Bloody Project relates the peculiar case of Roderick Macrae, a seventeen-year-old ‘murderer’ of three, from a remote crofting community in the northwest of Scotland. The tale of those gruesome killings committed in the summer of 1869 is told through a series of supposedly ‘found’ documents and predominantly revolves around the question whether or not the boy-culprit can be deemed sane in the eyes of Scots Law of that time. It is, in essence, a novel about a crime, but by no means is it merely a crime novel.

In short, it is a psychological inquiry into the very nature of truth, authenticity and authorship. What I love most about this remarkable example of non-linear epistolary metafiction are the numerous nods to its predecessors in Scotland’s literary past, its highly complex unreliable narration, and its beautifully crafted dialectical reader manipulation. The preface, in particular, is a masterpiece in its own right, and the respective 19th century registers and writing styles are second to none. If you think that this is laying it on a bit thick, don’t just take my word for it: His Bloody Project was shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize.

We are thrilled to have the author himself come visit us all the way from Scotland to read from and discuss his work at the Studiobühne on July 1, at 7.30. 

– recommended by Robert Wirth

May 2017
© Salt Publishing

Alison Moore: The Lighthouse (Cromer: Salt Publishing, 2012)

Hiking in southern Germany, 40-something Futh reflects on his life and childhood. His mother left him and his father when Futh was twelve years old - and that is the traumatic loss he has never come to terms with. When Futh stays at a hotel in the Koblenz region, a series of unfortunate events leads to a catastrophe that neither Futh nor any reader might have expected.

I loved reading The Lighthouse for (at least) two and a half reasons: From the very first page, it is clear that Futh is ill-fated. An uncanny atmosphere looms over the novel, but it is difficult to put your finger on what precisely generates this sense of impending doom. The Lighthouse is a good read because of its very rare co-presence of brevity and depth. The language is easy to understand and at the same time creates passages of intense beauty. I discussed the novel with university students, and they were no less fascinated than were my high school students. When they sent an email to Alison Moore, she replied promptly, sending us detailed answers to our questions. (And this is reason two and a half.) 

– recommended by Peter Hohwiller

April 2017
©BlazeVOX [books]

Elizabeth Hatmaker: Girl in Two Pieces (Buffalo: BlazeVOX, 2010)

Elizabeth Hatmaker’s poetry collection Girl in Two Pieces circles around a 1947 murder case in Los Angeles. The victim, Elizabeth Short, also known as "the Black Dahlia,” has inspired a host of films, novels, and popular histories. But none of these narratives shows as many nuances and as much elegant toughness as Elizabeth Hatmaker's version. “A girl is no poem,” she writes in Girl in Two Pieces. Nonetheless, it is the uncanny closeness between the poems and their protagonist that makes her book so powerful. 

Elizabeth Hatmaker passed away on March 3rd, 2017. She was an instructional assistant professor at Illinois State University. In the summer of 2011, the Department of English and American Studies at the University of Paderborn had the great pleasure to host Elizabeth Hatmaker as a guest professor. We will remember her as a marvelous teacher and poet. 

– recommended by Paderborn American Studies

March 2017
© Simon & Schuster Books for young Readers

Kenneth Oppel: The Nest (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015)

This book was given to me as a present – and what a treat it was, indeed (thanks again, Eva)! It is not often that I, as an adult reader, am so enthralled by a children’s book: I simply could not put it down…

Written by Kenneth Oppel and skilfully illustrated by Jon Klassen, The Nest is a multimodal book about a family with a sick baby. There are things going on in their house that cannot be explained logically. They circle around the baby, Theo, and the oldest brother, Steve, from whose perspective the story is told. The mysterious incidents force Steve to face his fears, take on responsibility and, eventually, put his own life in jeopardy to protect his baby brother. In the end, the interplay of the supernatural and the fictional world leaves the reader dazzled. 

I highly recommend The Nest to readers of all ages who enjoy a suspense-packed read or appreciate multimodality; and to future English teachers I say: read it, enjoy, and use it in class! 

– recommended by Ivo Steininger

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