Book of the Month
- March 2023
Anna Burns, Milkman (2018)
Milkman is told from the perspective of an 18-year-old girl in Northern Ireland. In addition to the usual struggles of growing up, she has to navigate the difficult political climate of the region, where every behaviour deemed to be out of the ordinary could get one into serious trouble. (Burns’ novel is part of a larger trend in Northern Irish fiction focusing on the 30-years long violent conflict between Protestants and Catholics colloquially known as the Troubles.) The protagonist is repeatedly stalked and harassed by the eponymous ‘Milkman’, an older man involved with a local paramilitary group.
Despite its bleak premise, Burns’ Booker Prize-winning novel tells a captivating and suspenseful story about a harrowing time in history. Milkman provides a brutally honest and scathing portrayal of the Troubles and serves as a warning not to return to the violence of the past.
Recommended by: Dennis Henneböhl, researcher in our department’s Jean Monnet Module project EU-IRL-CULT: Ireland, Europe and Brexit
- February 2023
TJ Klune, The House in the Cerulean Sea (2020)
Linus Baker is a perfectly normal case worker at the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He evaluates the well-being of magically gifted children in orphanages. One day he is summoned by Extremely Upper Management. They have a very special and highly classified assignment: he is to investigate the orphanage that houses the Antichrist. But Lucy, as the Boy-Antichrist is called, is not the only surprise waiting for Linus ....
The House in the Cerulean Sea is a feel-good, queer fantasy novel that left me feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. Truly a wonderful read! One of the passages that resonated with me in particular is this: “Hate is loud, but I think you’ll learn it’s because it’s only a few people shouting, desperate to be heard. You might not ever be able to change their minds, but so long as you remember you’re not alone, you will overcome.”
Recommended by: Stefan Pape (Linguistics).
- January 2023
M.L. Rio, If We Were Villains (2017)
If We Were Villains challenges one of Shakespeare’s most famous dictums: ‘A man can die but once.’ It is a thrilling love story, drama, and murder mystery surrounding Oliver Marks, a former actor at the fictional Dellecher Shakespeare conservatory. Oliver’s classmates embody the stereotypes we so often find on stage: villain, hero, tyrant, temptress, jack-of-all-trades, and ingénue. Their roles shift and switch, ironically mirroring their respective development, and they accidentally get too involved in several plays as they are staged. As an unforeseen shift of power happens (and a lot of alcohol is involved), one of the group members falls under “the gloomy shade of death.” The murder mystery begins. I can’t recommend this novel enough, especially, if you’re into Shakespeare and/or enjoy crime fiction.
Recommended by: Mattea Jolmes, M.A. student of English and American literature and culture
- December 2022
Lisa Jewell, The Family Upstairs (2019)
Wouldn’t it be nice to wake up on your twenty-fifth birthday and inherit a mansion in London? It's what happens to Libby Jones in The Family Upstairs. Libby thinks she can finally find out who she is. Instead, she ends up owning a house on the banks of the Thames which is home to secrets, mysteries, and crimes. The novel explores the family drama of the Lamb family. Twenty-five years earlier, the police discovered three bodies at 16 Cheyne Walk with a hastily scrawled note next to them. Four children were missing and a ten-month-old was left crying in the bedroom upstairs.
The Family Upstairs is a compelling novel which has a new plot twist waiting for you when you'd least expect it. It keeps you guessing till the very end. I really enjoyed reading this book. And to understand the entire family history and uncover all the secrets, I highly recommend reading the sequel: The Family Remains.
Recommended by: Sophie Gördes (M.Ed. student of English & Religion)
- November 2022
N. Scott Momaday, The Way to Rainy Mountain (1969)
The Way to Rainy Mountain is a book about journeys and stories. Momaday narrates a pilgrimage made on the occasion of his grandmother’s death, traveling from the Black Hills in South Dakota to Rainy Mountain in Oklahoma by following the path of his Kiowa ancestors. Momaday’s grandmother was the last living Kiowa born to the plains and the traditional Kiowa way of life before broken treaties and the near extinction of the bison forced the people into subjugation and reservations. Momaday’s book is at once an elegy for his grandmother and his ancestral way of life.
But The Way to Rainy Mountain is no ordinary novel. A mixed media mélange of narrative fragments and visual art, its form is innovative, challenging, and exhilarating. Fragments of personal stories, memories, family stories, myths, Kiowa history, encyclopedia entries and more are arranged on the pages in a distinct but cryptic pattern. There is no one way to read this powerful book, and this quality mirrors the adventurous nature of journeys: though one may walk the same road a second time, and the trips might be similar—even familiar—each one is always unique.
Recommended by Ryan Slesinger for Native American History Month. An Assistant Professor at Oklahoma State University, Ryan Slesinger has been teaching online courses in our department since 2020.
- October 2022
Bina Shah, Before She Sleeps (2018).
Bina Shah’s novel Before She Sleeps paints the picture of postcolonial, post-pandemic Green City. The futuristic country is scarred by an uncontrollable virus outbreak that results in an oppressive dystopian society which is governed by discriminatory policies against women in an oppressive society obsessed with fertility. In the wake of atomic detonation, a human papillomavirus has selectively killed most of the female population through cervical cancer but left men unharmed. Polyandric marriages are imposed on women to rebalance the gender ratio, and women are forced to deal with a abusive society and a tyrannical government.
The author effectively draws close parallels to the current problems the world is facing through the eyes of oppressed women, and gives insights into the role of pandemics in a society already diseased with misogyny. In times like these where transformative action and liberation are more important than ever, this novel is a must-read.
Recommended by: Alexandra Diekhof (student of English)
- September 2022
Beverley McLachlin, Truth Be Told: The Story of My Life and My Fight for Equality (2020).
Born and raised poor in rural Alberta during the late 1940s and 1950s, Beverley McLachlin eventually became one of the most influential people in modern Canadian history. As the 17th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and the first-ever woman to serve in that office, McLachlin has presided over (and decided) cases debating fundamental principles of the sociopolitical makeup of the second-largest country on earth.
In her autobiography, McLachlin reflects on her childhood in a remote prairie town, the challenges of being one of the very few female students of law during the 60s, the hardships of being a female lawyer in the 70s, a woman judge in the 80s, a wife, a mother, and – temporarily – acting Governor General of Canada. With honesty, compassion, and wisdom, she recounts a life of exclusion, sexism, and personal tragedy. However, discussing topics such as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, euthanasia, or same-sex marriage, McLachlin reminds her readers that fairness and integrity are our only hope for a better, brighter Canadian future.
Recommended by: Yvonne Jende
- August 2022
Etaf Rum, A Woman is No Man (2019)
As the young Palestinian Isra enters an arranged marriage and moves to Brooklyn, she hopes for a better life. Instead, she finds herself in a tiny dark flat, obliged to obey her mother-in-law and abusive husband. When Isra’s child Deya is ‘unfortunately’ born a girl, things take a turn for the worse. 18 years later, Deya finds herself forced to follow in her mother’s footsteps. But instead of doing what is expected of her, she sets out to find the author of a mysterious letter uncovering her family’s deepest secrets.
This debut novel of Palestinian-American author Etaf Rum tells the stories of two women struggling to find their own voices in the diaspora they live in. Rum explores religion, culture, gender and nationality with astonishing artistry, all while engaging the reader in a heart-wrenching and gripping story. This novel is a wonderful can’t-put-it-down read. You might even be surprised to find pieces of yourself in its multi-faceted characters.
Recommended by: Noa Ibrahim, B.A. student, English Linguistics & English and American Literary and Cultural Studies.
- July 2022
John Green, The Anthropocene Reviewed (2021)
How are teddy bears a symbol of our power and why are Canada geese not that different from us?
A colorful mix of interesting facts, John Green’s first work of nonfiction covers a broad variety of seemingly unrelated topics: Haley’s Comet, Diet Dr Peppers, Velociraptors, CNN – just to name a few. But it presents far more than just a collection of ‘fun’ detail. Green manages to show a connection between all his topics, namely: humans. He explores our short time on this planet, our achievements, our quirks, faults, and creativity. He does not forget man-made catastrophes. Green rates each topic on a scale from one to five stars.
In 45 short essays, Green gave me a feeling of “Hey, maybe this whole humanity thing wasn’t just bad”. Especially in times like these, we tend to forget the magnificent achievements of humanity amidst all our faults. I recommend it to every aspiring know-it-all and to people who need a bit of a cheer up.
Recommended by: Anne Kremer (B.Ed. GyGe, English & Art)
Book of the Month: Archive (2019-2022)
- June 2022
C. Pam Zhang, How Much Of These Hills Is Gold (2020).
The Western genre evokes images of cowboys, rugged landscapes, and, all too often, antiquated gender roles. C. Pam Zhang’s debut novel marks an exciting departure from these traditions. How Much Of These Hills Is Gold follows a family of Chinese migrants to California during the Gold Rush. Siblings Lucy and Sam struggle to make a life in America, facing hunger, discrimination, and the vexing question of their own cultural and sexual identity. Ranging from abandoned mining towns and wind-swept mountains to San Francisco’s underworld, Zhang combines elements of the Western and coming-of-age novels while managing to tell an entertaining story in poetic and intimate prose.
Recommended by: Alexander Dunst (for LGBTQ Pride Month)
- May 2022
Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides (1993)
Words have the magical ability to capture what lies beyond our limited perception of the world. In The Virgin Suicides Jeffrey Eugenides accomplishes just that. He pieces words together and creates a hauntingly peculiar mosaic that makes readers feel as if they just walked in on something too raw, intimate, and real to accept as the truth.
The five teenaged Lisbon sisters wear modest clothes and vacant expressions, but when the first one is found in a blood-cloudy bathtub, her blue fingers are wrapped stiffly around a picture of the Virgin Mary. A group of neighborhood boys tell us the story of the Lisbon sisters – or at least they tell us their version of the girls’ mysterious lives, woes, and secrets. Trying to uncover the inexplicable reason behind the suicides of the five Lisbon sisters, the neighborhood boys reveal to us the angst of boyhood, the hazy secrets of youth, and their sly observations of the five mysterious girls across the street. The Virgin Suicides will force your eyes open to recognize the world for what it is – unfathomable and delusive.
Recommended by: Lorena Sagel, BA student of English linguistics and English & American literary and cultural studies
- April 2022
Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman, Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (1990)
The Apocalypse is only a couple of days away and the Antichrist is not where the forces of Hell had intended to put him. None other than a satanic nun is behind this accidental and yet comical mix-up that leaves the forces of good and evil in a fuss. In the midst of this, Aziraphale – an uptight angel – and Crowley – a not so evil demon – try to save the world because they’ve grown to like it a bit too much....
Good Omens is a humorous story of misunderstandings, mix-ups, and unusual friendships. The book offers a phenomenal range of characters, puns, and even philosophical conversations between the oddest pairs of friends. This fast-paced novel is a light and fun read, but it also raises questions of what good vs. evil and right vs. wrong means.
Recommended by: Carolina Niss, B.Ed. student of History and English
- March 2022
Ilya Kaminsky, Deaf Republic (2019)
A poet born in Odessa, now Ukraine’s third largest city, writes a book about a military invasion and about a community’s subversive acts against aggression. In these times, how could we not turn to Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic? Then again, because Kaminsky’s such a marvelous poet and storyteller, his book contains so much more than reflections of war and occupation. Deaf Republic meditates on community, pain, language both spoken and signed, on family, childhood, love. The poem “We Lived Happily during the War” seems most relevant now, particularly its lines “And when they bombed other people’s houses, we / protested / but not enough”. And there’s so much more to discover in this American poet's work – and in his first collection: Dancing in Odessa.
Recommended by: UPB American Studies.
- February 2022
Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain, Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019 (2021)
To commemorate four hundred years of African America, Four Hundred Souls collects the voices of ninety contemporary Black scholars and poets to recover, reframe, and reimagine African American history. The collected essays challenge many of America’s founding myths around meritocracy, equality, and freedom. More or less explicitly, they all argue that anti-Black racism has been essential to the American project.
The book opens with Nikole Hannah-Jones’ essay on a moment systematically silenced in most US history books: the forced arrival of Africans in 1619, a year before the Mayflower. The volume concludes with Alicia Garza’s essay on Black Lives Matter, the movement’s founding, and its vision. Complementing the scholarly essays on history and culture, pieces by writers like Kiese Laymon and Robert Jones, Jr. imagine the lived experiences of those whose voices were never recorded.
Four Hundred Souls is a people’s history. Editor Ibram X. Kendi calls it a “communal diary.” The book offers moving meditations on African American history at 400.
Recommended by: Alexandra Hartmann (for Black History Month)
- January 2022
Ben Aaronovitch, Rivers of London (2011)
Take the magic of Harry Potter, add a dash of crime fiction, and top it off with a protagonist's slightly cynical (some would say pragmatic) view of the world. Sounds good? That’s the basic recipe for Rivers of London.
Young police constable Peter Grant is at the end of his probationary period with the Metropolitan Police at Westminster. He is looking at a future where the greatest threat he will ever meet is a paper cut. At a crime scene at Covent Garden, one of the witnesses turns out to be a ghost only Peter can see. This does not stop him from taking a statement, which brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Nightingale, who takes him on as the first wizard apprentice in decades.
Rivers of London is the first book in the Peter Grant series by best-selling British author Ben Aaronovitch. As of today, the series spans eleven books and novellas, as well as several graphic novels. I have a lot of reading to do...
Recommended by Stefan Pape
- December 2021
Andrea Levy, Small Island (2004)
“Give me a map, let me see if Tommy Atkins or Lady Havealot can point to Jamaica. Let us watch them turning the page round [...] to see if perhaps the region was lost on the back, before shrugging defeat. But give me that map, blindfold me, spin me round three times and I, dizzy and dazed, would still place my finger squarely on the Mother Country.”
A young Jamaican woman immigrates to Britain, expecting to finally find herself in the civilised English society her colonial education taught her about, but instead she is confronted with a cold, racially hostile reality. Expecting to have earned a place in society, a young Jamaican man returns to England after fighting alongside the British in World War II, but soon realises he won’t be accepted. An Englishman, who views the world through a lens smudged by racial prejudices, goes to fight in India. An Englishwoman marries her way out of the working class but "stains her reputation" by renting rooms in her home to people of colour.
Small Island follows the lives of four postwar characters. Told through the voices of four individuals sharing unlikely bonds, the novel confronts racial and cultural stereotypes.
Recommended by Natalie Holman, BA student of English Literature & Culture and Media Studies.
- November 2021
Layli Long Soldier, Whereas (2017)
All is experienced
somebody told me.
The debut collection Whereas by Oglala Lakota and US American poet Layli Long Soldier defies the rules of poetry writing. Each piece is a unique contemplation of the crimes committed against indigenous peoples through history. In the tradition of Native American writing, each poem also critiques the rules of language and literature.
Natalie Diaz calls Layli Long Soldier’s poems “radical in structure and constraint.” As demonstrated above, by "Dilate," her poems fill the pages in acrobatic ways. And readers are challenged to look beyond their ideas of the known and familiar, be it a poem—or “America."
Recommended by Stela Dujakovic.
- October 2021
A.J. Hackwith, The Library of the Unwritten (2019)
“We think stories are contained things, but they’re not. Ask the muses. Humans, stories, tragedies, and wishes—everything leaves ripples in the world. Nothing we do is not felt; that’s a comfort. Nothing we do is not felt; that’s a curse.”
The Library of the Unwritten explores all the stories that are unfinished and the potential these stories can have. Claire is the head librarian of the Library of the Unwritten, located in Hell, but technically not part of it. Here all unfinished books and stories are filed away. Together with her assistant and former muse, Brevity, Claire looks after the unfinished books, which tend to come to life in the form of one of the characters. When a Hero escapes from his book, Claire, Brevity, and Leto, a demon courier, have to visit Earth to bring Hero back. What starts as a simple retrieval mission ends up as a chase across realms in search of the Devil’s Bible to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.
Recommended by Lisa Scheiwe
- September 2021
Edmund de Waal, The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance (2010)
“How objects are handed on,” Edmund de Waal writes, “is all about the storytelling.” And what a story de Waal has to tell. After he inherits a superb collection of 264 netsuke— tiny wood and ivory carvings created in eighteenth-century Japan—de Waal sets out to trace how these objects came into his family’s possession.
In beautifully rendered prose, he explores the history of his large extended family: the Ephrussi, Jewish bankers and merchants.His quest takes him from the bustling markets of Tzarist Odessa to the salons of late nineteenth century Paris. We follow the netsuke’s and the Ephrussis’ fates as Europe descends into fascism, the family is scattered, their mansions and wealth expropriated and lost. The rescue of this one part of the family’s vast collections of priceless books, paintings, porcelain, and furniture is a remarkable story that traverses the globe from Europe to Japan and charts the tumultuous history of the early twentieth century and the Second World War. This is a tour de force of storytelling and a memoir of exquisite and often heartbreaking beauty.
Recommended by Jennifer Craig-Norton, Visiting Fellow, Parkes Institute, University of Southampton (UK) and a visiting lecturer in our department.
- August 2021
Leigh Bardugo, Six of Crows (2015)
“A gambler, a convict, a wayward son, a lost Grisha, a Suli girl who had become a killer, a boy from the Barrel who had become something worse.” This is how Leigh Bardugo describes the protagonists of her novel Six of Crows.
What might at first glance seem to be ‘just another YA novel’ spirals into a conflict of morality and amorality. The novel is set in the fictional city of Ketterdam, a place overrun by drugs, crime, and poverty. Beyond the horizon looms the war between the Ravkan people, the Grisha – the masters of the small sciences, magic, if you will – and the people of Fjerda who see those born with these powers as anomalies that need to be erased.
Our protagonists don’t care about the war. They aren’t heroes and they don’t ever pretend to be. They are a ragtag team of outcasts with a job to do, a morally debatable heist on a high security prison. This is not a story about right or wrong, but about those left to live in the ruins of a war they have no control over – about those who aren’t the chosen ones.
Recommended by Zoé Lickmeyer, B.A. student in our department
- July 2021
Paul Doherty, The Nightingale Gallery (1991)
1376. King Edward III has died, and his grandson and heir, the future Richard II, is a mere child. A power struggle seems imminent. Richard’s uncle, John of Gaunt, becomes regent until the boy is old enough to rule, but he has secrets – secrets that the wealthy merchant Sir Thomas Springall discovered. Before he can put his knowledge to use, Springall is killed in his bedroom at the end of the famous nightingale gallery, named so because the wood sings whenever someone sets foot upon it. Coroner Sir John Cranston and his scribe, the Dominican friar Athelstan, are ordered to investigate this locked room mystery...
This book is the first of The Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan. As the series progresses, the reader is drawn into the suspense-packed stories with their memorable characters, stunning and graphic descriptions of medieval London, and baffling mysteries which the political situation of general unrest is cleverly woven into.
Recommended by: Rebecca Krüll (Linguistics)
- June 2021
Matt Haig, The Midnight Library (2020)
The Midnight Library tells the story of Nora, whose life has been going from bad to worse. She is filled with regrets about things that she hasn’t done, from pursuing a professional swimming career to going through with marrying her boyfriend. At midnight on her last night on earth, she finds herself in a library that allows her to experience different versions of her own life.
This clever book examines what’s important in life. Whilst following the limitless possibilities that alter Nora’s existence, for better, or worse, it encourages the reader to interrogate their own regrets and desires. It also weaves in existential philosophical ideas about the best way to live, which I found very interesting personally.
A very talented author, Matt Haig conveys the beauty of an ordinary life. He manages to strike a balance, juggling deep sorrow with jubilation. He masterfully writes about the most melancholy parts of life, including death, loss, and poor mental health. And yet, his work makes you feel joyous and lucky to be alive.
Recommended by: Eleanor Harris (Aston University), English Language Teaching Assistant in our department
- May 2021
Nikita Gill, Wild Embers: Poems of Rebellion, Fire and Beauty (2017)
In a time when many young adults find poetry intimidating, it becomes increasingly important to rediscover enjoyment in the art form. But how does a poet reach those who shy away from poetry?
These days it is not unlikely to stumble across the work of Nikita Gill. The Indian-British writer is "Instagram-famous". She uses social media to share her words with millions. Therefore, I had already read many of her poems before even touching the book. I felt deeply moved by her words. Not only does she write in a comprehensible way. More importantly, she speaks about topics that matter to me.
Gill’s poetry questions traditions. She invites her readers to reconsider what one feels is ‘fixed’ about oneself and the world. Wild Embers is a collection of around 140 of her poems. Many of these deal with feminism, and with growing beyond darkness and pain into strength. The volume contains collections of poems that retell classic fairy tales or deal with the Greek goddesses. These poems represent women as independent and fierce. In the end, it is the empowering tone that makes Gill’s poetry so special and enjoyable to me and many other contemporary readers.
Recommended by: Sara Peine, B.A. student of English.
- April 2021
Lee Child, Past Tense: A Jack the Reacher Novel (2018)
“We all need Jack Reacher, a righteous avenger for our troubled times.”
Jack Reacher can’t stay in one place for more than a few weeks. In Past Tense, however, he doesn’t get far. On his way to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, he detours to the small town of Laconia on a mission to piece together his family history. Here, Reacher is drawn into a series of events that lead him to a local motel run by four men, among them his distant cousin Mark. As the target of a local farmer and a Bostonian crime cartel, Reacher tries to fight the corrupt mechanisms in his father’s hometown. In the process, he learns about the motel owners’ crimes and manipulations.
The multiple storylines of this twenty-third Jack Reacher novel make for a thrilling, fast-paced reading experience. While the trained "Reacher reader" knows how the story will unfold, author Lee Child manages to create suspenseful crime fiction that can easily be thrown in to break up a stretch of heavier readings.
Recommended by Katharina von Elbwart
- February/March 2021
Jasmine Warga: Other Words for Home (2019)
Other Words for Home is the story of Jude and her pregnant mother who leave their home country Syria for the US, leaving behind her brother and father - one to rebel against Assad’s regime, the other to protect his family’s livelihood from the destructions of the approaching civil war.
It's a children's book about leaving one place to be safe in another, about learning, and growing. It’s an American high school tale that remains largely untold: of a migrant, a refugee, a Muslim girl, traversing between languages and cultures in her brilliant turquoise hijab. And it’s a hopeful narrative that in one moment reads like a poem and in the next like a love letter to home.
One of my students made me aware of this book in my class on US immigration and it woke me up to the terrors that children on the run experience, terrors that most of them spend a lifetime trying to shed. Behind the luxury of my privileged skin and elitist grammar, the luxury of seamlessly fitting in, I cannot but recall that I, too, spent a childhood pondering that same question, if in other circumstances and another part of the world: “Why do they hate us?” Children’s books in particular often find simple and straightforward ways to make us aware of the ills in the world. And it remains to ask: What do we do with this awareness?
- recommended by Stela Dujakovic
- January 2021
John Lanchester: The Wall (2019)
The setting of Lanchester's 5th, and Booker Prize-longlisted, novel seems fairly simple: Large parts of the world are uninhabitable as a result of "Change" and desperate refugees, "the Others," try to escape poverty and anarchy in small boats. Their destination: an island surrounded by a high wall, guarded by "Defenders" who have the legal right to do whatever it takes to stop any trespasser. If these soldiers let just one get over the wall alive, they are stripped of their citizen right and sentenced to a life at sea.
Instead of the epic battles and stereotypical good-vs-evil characters you often find in dystopian novels, Lanchester has readers become part of protagonist Joseph Kavanagh’s long days on the wall. Having just started his two-year conscript service as "Defender," he experiences the cold, loneliness and endless boredom any soldier who has ever been on guard knows. Yes, there is the fear of missing a boat, of failing, but it is a rather abstract danger overshadowed by the soul-draining daily monotony of life on duty on "the Wall." Just as the unstoppable waves of the sea he watches hour after hour, day after day, Kavanagh is slowly dragged into a plot that will change his life forever – and makes for a compelling read!
– recommended by Dagmar Keatinge
- December 2020
Zelda Fitzgerald: Save Me the Waltz (1932)
“She felt the essence of herself pulled finer and smaller like those streams of spun glass that pull and stretch till there remains but a glimmering illusion.”
Zelda Fitzgerald is considered one of the first American flappers – a glamorous woman of the Roaring Twenties. While living a life full of amusement and consumption, the aspiring ballerina’s hopes and dreams were always overshadowed by her husband’s success.
Save Me the Waltz is Zelda Fitzgerald’s first and only novel, a semi-autobiographical account of her life in 1920s Paris. Just as F. Scott Fitzgerald in Tender Is the Night (1934), she fictionalizes their marriage – from her very own perspective. The protagonists are deeply in love with each other, but Alabama, like Zelda, is struggling. Trying to earn respect for her own accomplishments she follows her dream of becoming a dancer.
With bittersweet words and a bizarre honesty, Zelda Fitzgerald captures the spirit of an era and illuminates the people behind the larger-than-life legends. Save Me the Waltz tells the moving story of a brave and talented woman who is remembered for her defeats.
– recommended by Nadine Moschkelewski, student of Comparative Literature
- November 2020
Garrard Conley: Boy Erased (2016)
"An urgent reminder that America remains a place where queer people have to fight for their lives." (Garth Greenwell)
In his 2016 memoir Boy Erased Garrard Conley documents his traumatic experiences in a conversion therapy program and chronicles how he resiliently overcame the bigotry of his religious upbringing to eventually embrace his identity. The book relentlessly confronts us with the ongoing homophobia in the US and the existence of facilities designed to “cure” people from homosexual desires. Through his powerful, at times even poetic, prose Conley proves his striking ability to immerse the reader into his inner world. No matter whether you can actually relate to his struggle, you cannot help but identify.
I was profoundly moved by the courage, honesty, and vulnerability of this text and admire the compassion the author shows towards his former self, his family, and even his perpetrators. Boy Erased is an eye-opening but simultaneously heart-wrenching read that I would recommend to everyone who seeks to understand the twisted logic of the “ex-gay” movement and the inner conflicts of someone desperately trying to fit in. Painfully poignant, but truly important!
– recommended by Kristin Fiedler, B.A. student at our department
- October 2020
Philip Ridley: Radiant Vermin (2015)
Polymath Philip Ridley is one of contemporary British theatre’s most significant playwrights. In the 1990s, his intensely visionary and verbally sparkling plays kicked off the in-yer-face sensibility, and his controversial work has frequently antagonised critics while delighting fans.
His recent play, Radiant Vermin, is brilliantly provocative, wildly imaginative and highly enjoyable. It tells the story of a young couple, Ollie and Jill, who are expecting their first baby. Longing to leave their cramped flat in an impoverished area, they fanaticize about a dream home. When the possibility of this magically appears, they are told that they can have a new house for free if they undertake to renovate it. They agree and discover by accident that if they kill a homeless person in the property they can transform a drab room into a newly furnished one. As they lure more and more homeless people, they overcome their initial distaste for killing and create an industrial method of murder.
With its grim hilarity, this superbly crafted theatre piece speaks not only of the housing crisis and gentrification in the UK, but also offers a criticism of greed and the fetishism of material goods in consumer culture. It also shows how ordinary people can become complicit in genocide.
– recommended by Aleks Sierz, Visiting Professor, teaching In-Yer-Face Theatre in Contemporary Britain 1990–2020 next term
- September 2020
Octavia E. Butler: Parable of the Sower (1993)
Fire season has started early in California this year, but then again, seasonal expectations have become increasingly irrelevant as the climate trends toward hotter and drier summers here.
Fire weather is a salient feature of Parable of the Sower. When Octavia Butler published the novel in 1993, she set this dystopian masterwork in a then 31-year future Los Angeles, where a changing climate and privatized economy has plunged the city into radical dysfunction. The electrical grid has failed, public institutions have ceased to operate, and ordinary citizens cluster in gated communities, arming themselves against roving predatory hordes. A new and highly addictive substance has come to dominate the recreational drug scene: Pyro induces in the user a compulsion to set fire to anything that will burn for the orgiastic pleasure of watching it go up in flames.
Drawing on the traditions of the fugitive slave narrative and road odyssey, and speaking in the voice of young adult fiction, Parable of the Sower strikes the 2020 reader as prophetic in many ways. True, the novel misses a pandemic cruising unchecked through the national body, but in most every other respect Butler limns the world we very nearly occupy. For American citizens about to go to the polls, it should be required reading.
– recommended by William Merrill Decker, Oklahoma State University, a former DAAD professor in our department
- August 2020
Tommy Orange: There, There (2018)
Erased from textbooks, excluded from the literary canon, and systemically displaced across the North American continent – Indigenous communities have continuously endured unique hardships. At the same time, the discourse around them remains entrenched in the past and often reproduces stereotypes of one monolithic experience.
In his 2018 bestselling debut novel, Tommy Orange leaves the reservations and ventures into territory Native Americans are hardly ever represented in: There, There explores their urban realities in the American Southwest, spatially and temporally detached from their past. Told through the lens of twelve characters from urban Native communities it is a story about displacement, transgenerational trauma, memory, cultural heritage, and the ongoing renegotiation of tradition. It is a testament to the significance of storytelling, its healing qualities, and the ways in which it acknowledges the past and shapes the future. It asks the difficult questions of how to rekindle Indigenous cultures and nourish them in contemporary contexts.
This novel truly opened me up to the multi-faceted realities of Indigenous life today and the characters’ bold voices still reverberate in my mind.
– recommended by Miriam Vogt, B.A. student at our department
- July 2020
Maya Angelou: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969)
It is hard to believe that this book is actually an autobiography. Despite all the disturbing details it exposes, there is something about the narrative voice we encounter that radiates distance, indifference even. The short and simple sentences seem to have no other purpose than carrying the mere facts. There is no apparent effort to shock the reader through ornamented language or style and yet, it does leave us in shock. Taking us through a childhood in an African-American family in the 1930s, this masterpiece confronts us with racism, rape, selective mutism, and other hard-to-swallow topics.
Maya Angelou, mostly known as a poet and civil rights activist, wrote seven autobiographies altogether, filled with memories from her early childhood to the later years of her life. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is the first volume recollecting her childhood and coming of age up until she was seventeen years old. The simplicity of her prose is poetic and her voice is proud. In its very unique ways, this book will make you feel as angry as you should be – especially in times like these.
– recommended by Ružica Jozipović, exchange Master's student from the University of Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
- June 2020
Leah Remini: Troublemaker (Ballantine Books, 2015)
What comes to your mind when you think of Scientology? Money and power? Conspiracies? Maybe Tom Cruise or John Travolta? Our associations are, usually, quite superficial. Since those who leave Scientology are silenced, we know very little about their experiences. Until Troublemaker broke the silence.
Actress Leah Remini, known for her role as Carrie in the sitcom The King of Queens, never made a secret of being a scientologist. She joined at the age of nine with her entire family and spent millions of dollars and uncountable hours of her time to become a well-respected member. Through her outspoken nature, as we know her from TV shows or interviews, she became infamous in the Church, however, when she started asking questions about the disappearance of certain people. In retrospect, this was the beginning of the end of her being a part of this group. At some point she realized: “As long as I was a Scientologist, the Church told me what to do and what not to do in almost every aspect of my life.” When she finally broke free in 2013, her family decided to support her and leave with her. This gave her the strength to speak up, even though the remaining members tried hard to make her life miserable. In Troublemaker, she tells her story before, while and after Scientology – funny, eye-opening, and straight from the shoulder.
– recommended by Maike Bauer
- May 2020
Roxane Gay: Difficult Women (2017)
Probably best known for her essay collection Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay has become a key figure of a contemporary popular feminism that emphasizes intersectionality and contradictions. Difficult Women is her first collection of short stories and it clearly bears the imprint of Gay’s intellectual concerns. The eponymous women that are at the center of these quirky, dark, sometimes realist, sometimes surreal, stories, struggle with issues of race, class, and sexuality. Recurrent topics are relationships to men, the intense bond with other women, sex, often linked with masochistic and self-punishing tendencies, violence, sexual abuse, body issues, miscarriages and lost children.
Some stories are stronger than others. While the preoccupation with certain themes may feel a bit redundant at times, Gay manages to reframe her central concerns in ever new ways, embracing different generic conventions, different narrative voices, and different women. Most of the stories are deeply affecting, their unflinching depictions of often traumatic experiences and the ways in which Gay’s female characters cope with these, do not make for an easy read. Instead, this collection asks for a slow read, one or two stories at a time. It is messy, disturbing, maybe even provocative – powerful stories that truly haunt their reader.
– recommended by Heike Steinhoff
- April 2020
Sara Pennypacker: PAX (Balzer + Bray, 2016)
In these times of social distancing and pandemic anxieties, the best thing to do is spend time reading a splendid book. A New York Times bestseller and longlisted for the National Book Award, Pax by Sara Pennypacker is a heart-wrenching masterpiece that focuses on the love between a seven-year-old boy called Peter and his fox Pax.
“We all own a beast called anger. It can serve us: many unjust things are made just. But first we all have to find out how to civilise it.” In our modern, globalised world, there are so many things we take for granted – such as: the Internet! Knowledge is available everywhere and at any given moment. Precisely amidst such overstimulation, the fox Pax shows readers pf all ages that sometimes it feels good to step back for a second, slow down, and savour some food for thought. It illustrates in a touching way that every tomorrow should be shaped by our imagination.
– recommended by Maria Lurie, MA student at our department
- March 2020
Charles Dickens: Hard Times (1854)
How would you define a horse? Perhaps you would refer to how you can ride it, what it smells like, or how strong it is. Wrong. The correct answer is: “Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too.” Sounds boring? That is exactly what it should be. According to Mr. Gradgrind, only facts matter!
As usual, Dickens surprises readers with a funny and exciting novel that is full of wit, and determined to criticise the devastating consequences of industrialisation that many wished to ignore. Mr. Gradgrind, who is true to his name in proper Dickensian manner, has taken it upon himself not to tolerate any expression of creativity, wonder, or aesthetics, but to ‘grind’ it out of his pupils and his own children with determination. Seemingly devoid of emotion, it is not unreasonable for him to marry off his daughter to his friend, Mr. Bounderby, who is as old and rude as he is industrial, effective, and rich. However, as entitled as Mr. Gradgrind and his friend believe themselves to be, life dares to interrupt their industriously crafted plans with tales of love, disappointment, poverty, friendship, death, and a circus that harbours everything they deplore.
– recommended by Nadja Fakha
- February 2020
Lucy Maud Montgomery: Anne of Green Gables (1908)
Semester break is here, so why not treat yourself to a trip to Prince Edward Island, the epitome of idyllic countryside life? Throw some stones into the Lake of Shining Waters, where an unfortunate Lily Maid nearly lost her life (and dignity), walk down Lover’s Lane through 'the glittering fairy arch of the Lover's Lane maples' and visit the wood nymphs who are said to live at Dryad’s Bubble. Dare to take a night walk into the Haunted Wood, where the ghost of a little murdered child creeps up behind you and lays its cold fingers on your hand! Become friends with Anne Shirley, whose life transforms from a perfect graveyard of buried hopes to SPOILER ALERT one of the stories that you might never let go of and that will possibly never let go of you.
For generations, Lucy Maud Montgomery has inspired – no, bewitched! – children and adults alike with the delightful stories of the little red-haired girl whose scope for imagination allows us to take a fresh look at the world we are living in. I dare you to become a ‘kindred spirit’!
– recommended by Julia Schneider
- January 2020
Kevin Powers: The Yellow Birds (2012)
"Fiction is the lie that helps us understand the truth." - Tim O’Brien
The Yellow Birds is Kevin Powers’ response to the never-ending question of what war is like. Instead of presenting a mere account of his own time with the military in Iraq, he chose to go the extra mile and create a work of fiction which enables readers to feel what it is like to participate in a war and to come back alive.
Powers tells the story of Pvt. John Bartle, a young soldier whose reasons for enlistment are less heroic than expected, and his friendship with Pvt. Murphy for whom he feels responsible. The narrative switches between life in the combat zone and the burden of being back home. Skillfully depicting the struggle of transition from military back to civilian life, the novel explores the physical and mental strain war leaves on soldiers and their families alike. The masterful combination of personal experience with powerful descriptions and raw emotions allows readers to experience the horrors of war, the numbness of trauma, and the reality of human connection.
– recommended by Elena Moor, M.A. student at our department
- December 2019
Bryan Stevenson: Just Mercy – A Story of Justice and Redemption (2015)
Despite having an alibi that can be confirmed by nearly a dozen witnesses, Walter McMillan is on death row, waiting to be executed for a crime he did not commit. McMillan also happens to be black. His story and those of many others unjustly sentenced to death is told by Bryan Stevenson. As a young lawyer based in Montgomery, Alabama, he founded a non-profit organisation that aims to defend people like McMillan – people who cannot afford legal assistance. As Stevenson describes how he tries to challenge the wrongful sentences, it becomes crystal clear that the skin colour of those who receive them is no coincidence.
As inspiring as Stevenson’s tireless efforts to help these people may be, Just Mercy is one of the most devastating reads you will encounter. It becomes even more heart-wrenching when you are forced to remind yourself of the fact that all these stories are true. Despite the agony the book evokes, this New York Times bestseller is a must read. It gives the victims of racism names, faces and stories. Stevenson is not only a dedicated lawyer, but also a compelling writer who does justice to the people he meets – not just in the book, but also in real life.
– recommended by Charlotte Hahn
- November 2019
Daniel T. Willingham & Cedar Riener: Cognition – The Thinking Animal (2019)
How does the human mind work? Willingham and Riener provide a both fascinating and entertaining introduction to the core issues of the scientific study of human cognition, such as attention, memory, language processing or general problem solving.
The textbook explores key questions such as ‘Can we focus on more than one thing?’, ‘Why do we forget?’, ‘Is language particularly human?’, ‘What makes language processing difficult?’ or ‘How do we make decisions?’. The authors succeed at presenting complex theoretical approaches and experiments in cognitive psychology in a reader-friendly, accessible way by drawing on many relatable real-life examples. Written in a narrative prose that is witty and accurate at the same time, this book is clearly not only for students of cognitive psychology but offers an engaging and informative introduction to the topic for everyone.
– recommended by Anke Lenzing
Book of the Month: Archive (2017-2019)
- October 2019
Gordon Thomas & Max Morgan-Witts: Voyage of the Damned (1974, Stein & Day)
A ship full with refugees, looking for a brighter future. Many of them gave their last penny to book a passage. When they have almost reached their promised land, the ship is denied entry to the safe haven. Sounds familiar?
What seems like an item on the daily news which we have got too used to in 2019, is actually an 80-year-old story. It is the “true” story of the St Louis, a German luxury liner, which, on the eve of World War II, crossed the Atlantic to Cuba with 937 Jews aboard. They had given up pretty much everything to be on this ship, be it worldly possessions or loved ones like parents or children. Some had barely just escaped a concentration camp. They believed they were finally safe, visas in their pockets. Little did they know, they were actually on a voyage of the damned.
Based on (partly reprinted) documents from 1939, this historical “novel” gives us a good sense of what it could have been like aboard the St. Louis. Definitely not a light read, but in times like ours maybe a necessary one. Then as now, saying we did not know is not an option.
– recommended by Markus Freudinger
- September 2019
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Teju Cole: Known 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
Graeme Macrae Burnet: His 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
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
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