In 2017, I challenged myself to read a book every month. Despite of always lacking a bit behind, I managed to do it and hereby present you my favourite quote from and opinions on them.
January: Une femme au telephone
“To love is to suffer and I am too cozy at my age.”
This was one of the first books I ever read in French (that was not by Amélie Notomb). The idea is actually quite cool: you just see one side of the dialogue of a woman on the phone. Everyone who’s far away from someone they love will be able to relate to some of the scenes.
February: Our Game by John le Carré
“A dead man is the worst enemy alive … You can’t alter his power over you. You can’t alter what you love or owe. And it’s too late to ask him for his absolution. He has beaten you all ways.”
I don’t even know how I got to read this book, it was written in 1995. Maybe I took it as my free book at a WH Smith’s. However, it starts with a police interview of friend of professor Dr. Larry Pettifer: Tim Canmer, who was the professor’s handler when they worked for a British Intelligence Service. The atmosphere stays tense throughout, which I actually enjoyed more than I thought. The relationships and actions between the characters, especially Cranmer’s love interest Emma, were interesting to follow. What
March: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
“Better never means better for everyone… It always means worse, for some.”
A huge book this year as it was turned into a TV show and people found an access applicable to today’s time. I love dystopias, in this one we follow the journey of handmaid Offred (Of Fred, because they echo men’s names) through a brutally terrifying world. Women live to procreate and have little freedom, they are not even allowed to read. The most memorable scene for me was the description of how all of this started, when Offred thinks back to her old, free life with her husband and daughter and how quickly all of it changed.
April: On The Sublime Subject Of Ideology by Slavoj Žižek
“Ideology is not a dreamlike illusion that we build to escape insupportable; in its basic dimension, it is a fantasy-construction which serves as a support for our reality itself; an illusion which structures our effective, real social relations and thereby masks some insupportable, real, impossible kernel.”
I was kind of pulled into the whole Zizkek-versum earlier this year, first through his interesting presentation style (sniffing while talking) on YouTube and then through facebook groups that focus on memes about him. To give the whole thing a bit of fodder, I dove into the book. I’ll be honest, despite this allegedly being one of his easier books, it is sometimes quite difficult to follow. The tension is, however, regularly loosened by throwing in amazing pop cultural examples for the arguments he is making.
May: Birthday Girl by Haruki Murakami
“Bumpers are for bumps.”
(translated from German by me)
No year is complete without a Murakami, and as May was my birthday, it was a good occasion for this short beauty. If your mysterious boss offered to give you anything you wanted for your birthday, what would you wish for? A 20 year-old waitress tells the story of one of her weirdest birthdays to the first-person narrator in this short book. In a second part of the book, Murakami talks about his own birthday. Both parts are very different and equally enjoyable.
June: Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance
“The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads,”
I’ll be honest, I got this one because there was a free deal for the Kindle eBook. I am very glad, however, that I downloaded it on that day, because I like reading about contemporary figures. The whole book gives a good overview on how Elon got where he is and disenchants him a little, as the struggles are not left untold.
July: The Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth
“Poetry is much more important than the truth, and, if you don’t believe that, try using the two methods to get laid.”
Even though this book traumatised me a bit by teaching me about the etymology of avocados, it made my linguist heart bloom. I loved this book, because not only did I learn so many new things about words and the world (the true origin of the word Nazi), there also was barely any page that did not make me laugh or at least breathe through my nose a little bit. I recommend this to everyone who is slightly interested in words.
August: Swing Time by Zadie Smith
“Nostalgia is a luxury.”
I usually really like Zadie Smith’s characters, but in this one it didn’t really click. Yes, there is a lot of social commentary wrapped in a snappy way, but sometimes the characters behave a bit …out of character. We see the nameless (I actually had to look this up, but she doesn’t have a name) protagonist grow up with her friend Tracey in the tense field of family relationships. Their ways part when Tracey, who is a dance prodigy, goes to dancing school. We know little about what happens in between, but in her thirties, the protagonist becomes the manager of pop star Aimee. Aimee wants to build a girl’s school in West Africa in order to, as she says, do something good with her fame. The stories of home and being away, intertwined every now and then and relate past, present and future of the girls.
September: Frappe-toi le coeur by Amélie Nothomb
“To set up his reign, jealousy has no need for a motive.”
Amélie Nothomb is one of the reasons I learnt French. This year’s novel of hers is a very reverse Oedipus-tale about mother, daughter and jealousy. What I loved was probably also that I saw how much my French had improved and that I could enjoy how Nothomb plays with language.
October: Turtles All The Way Down by John Green
“Actually, the problem is that I can’t lose my mind,” I said. “It’s inescapable.”
As someone who lives on the internet, you cannot miss out on a John Green novel. Like John le Carre’s novel, the plot is driven by a missing person. Aza Holmes and her best friend Daisy hear about the disappearance of a billionaire. He just so happens to be the father of one of Aza’s acquaintances and love interest during the book, Davis Pickett. But Aza also struggles with OCD, she has a callous on her finger that she repeatedly re-opens to squeeze out a possible infection. What I especially enjoyed here were the lights and metaphors around them.
November: Hühner Voodoo by Hortense Ullrich
“Too bad, there are some things you just need to accept. But do you? No, you don’t!”
(translated from German by me)
Hortense Ullrich is one of the first people who really made me enjoy books. When I was a teenager I loved her “Freche Mädchen, Freche Bücher” books about the teenage struggles of a girl called Jojo. I was excited to finally read one of her adult novels, which has a title that translates to “Chicken Voodoo”. The quirky protagonist Gwendolyn Herzog has no more money – yet, she has life experience and neverending brazenness to get through life. Just some of the things she easily handles are: getting her unhappy wannabe-bride niece reasons to live, opening a psychiatric office, and removing a curse from one of her clients. A real page-turner and fun read, not least thanks to its witty dialogues.
December: Science in the Soul by Richard Dawkins
“Nature, fortunately or unfortunately, is indifferent to anything so parochial as human values.”
What can I say, I am a Dawkins fangirl. Since I finished all the greatest compilation videos of his debates (here are some of my favourites), I was happy this book was released earlier this year with 41 bite-sized writings, perfect to read on the go. Firstly, it was hard to choose a quote, because to me, Dawkins is infinitely quotable. Also, I love the alternation of difficult passages on evolutionary mechanisms and some easier-to-read bits, in a way interludes, ranging from anecdotal to sarcastic. Finally, I think this could be a good starter if you haven’t read anything by Dawkins and you want to read shorter bits (but if you have time maybe just stick to The Selfish Gene).