Archive for the 'good books' Category


Books I read in 2012

Another year is over, and once again I didn’t reach my goal of reading 24 books.  It’s just a goal, however, and you have to aim high, so I’m certainly not disappointed with how much I ended up reading. I count it as 12 books, even though technically there’s one book that’s a collection of three books/stories in one. Let’s start with that one, as it’s the first book I read in 2012:

  • Young Miles by Lois McMaster BujoldI read this book because it was recommended to me. I’m very picky when it comes to science fiction, but Miles Vorkosigan is a likeable character and the story is well-written. He’s essentially a royal cripple – a crippled young man lucky enough to have been born into royalty who tried to prove himself by going into the military. The first book was long but it was nice to learn more about this world and I’m curious to see what other adventures await the hero. The second story is quite short but essentially also has Miles try to prove himself.
  • Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi
    An autobiographical account of Portia de Rossi’s battle with anorexia. It’s pretty much only about the eating disorder she fought with for such a long time, so for anyone hoping to find out more about, say, her relationships, this book won’t deliver. At least not much. I’d still recommend it simply because it is such an honest account of anorexia that explains the sheer impact it has on a person’s life. For someone who never really knew much about this, I found it quite eye-opening. That poor woman! Luckily she finally got her life back on track and now seems to live a very happy and healthy life.
  • Fang Girl by Helen Keeble
    I don’t usually read young adult fiction, but let’s just say this author came highly recommended. I was very pleasantly surprised! This book tells the story of a 15-year-old who wakes up in a coffin one day after having been bitten by a vampire. She then has to evade a vampire hunter and also deal with her parents, who are understandably worried. The book is very witty and pokes fun at a lot of vampire clichés and I therefore recommend it as a quick but very entertaining read.
  • Dear Fatty by Dawn French
    I didn’t know very much about Dawn French before I read this and was mostly interested because a lot of reviews said this book was very fun, plus I decided to read more autobiographies. It was an okay read and certainly had some parts that stood out,  about her time at school, her father’s suicide, also about how she met her future husband, which I thought was a very sweet story. Then I found out that shortly after the book came out, they got divorced, and it bothered me somewhat in finishing the book because in it she professes his eternal love for him and also talks about how they always get over their differences, etc. etc. I guess this book must be much more interesting if you’re a fan of Dawn French’s. She breaks the book up with silly letters she writes as different characters, which were a bit too silly for my taste, so all in all I wouldn’t really recommend the book.
  • Just Kids by Patti Smith
    An excellent book, possibly the best one I read in 2012. When comparing this with the books by Dawn French or Portia de Rossi, this one really stands out as exceptional. It’s written beautifully and the world you get a glimpse into – an artist’s New York back before everything was so commercial –  is fascinating. Getting a glimpse into the lives of artists by itself is already fascinating, and Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe apparently were/are artists through and through. All I knew about Patti Smith was that she sang “Because The Night”, but I had no idea about the person behind all of this. Wow. Recommend this book wholeheartedly.
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
    This is undoubtedly the worst book I read all year, or to be more precise, the worst book I did NOT read. After about 50 or 60 pages I decided to stop wasting my life. I already wrote about this in my German blog , shortly before I did stop reading it. At any rate, the two main characters are very unlikeable, her style of writing is boring, all the characters talk exactly alike and in general you get the impression as though she self-inserted herself into this story as the female main character and wrote the other guy as her dream boyfriend. IT’S BORING! Bah.
  • The Burglar in the Rye by Lawrence Block
    You can’t go wrong with Bernie Rhodenbarr mysteries. It’s good and entertaining and I quite like the idea of having a hero who’s a burglar. Nice characters, funny conversations, what’s not to like?
  • Catch Me If You Can by Frank Abagnale
    I read this in my vacation on a hammock in the shade. A very good read! The interesting story of a con artist who pretends to be an airline pilot and forges cheques. I do recommend this book (I haven’t seen the movie), but the one thing that is slightly disappointing is reading later that not all of it is true and Frank Abagnale said the ghost writer was basically just writing a book loosely  based on his life.
  • Notes from a Big Country by Bill Bryson
    This book by Bill Bryson consists of short essays he wrote about life in the US in a British newspaper and I can very much recommend this book. I’ve been to the US a few times and I often found myself thinking: “This is SO TRUE!” He’s a funny writer and a keen observer and it’s a pleasure reading about the idiosyncrasies of life in the US.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
    This used to be one of my favorite books and I used to go around recommending it to people. I probably first read it about 10 years ago and whoever I recommended it to last has decided to keep my copy, apparently. So I re-bought it last year to give to someone to read and then figured I should read it again myself in time for the movie to come out. And I did. And I still like it, although probably a little less than I did the first time around. Maybe it’s age. To this day haven’t seen the movie because I worry that it might be awful – or rather, because I couldn’t find it in English in a cinema near me. I do still recommend the book, though.
  • The Passage by Justin Cronin
    I found this book very cheaply at the cool English bookshop in Frankfurt near Hauptwache that, sadly, had to close down and is now a rental car place. Because Frankfurt really needed another one of those… At any rate, I had heard of it before so decided to pick it up and was very much drawn in once I started reading it.  With over 800 pages, it’s a huge book, but the story is quite varied and tells a few different stories along the timeline of a very massive catastrophe. There were two things I didn’t like: Number one, that there were a few things that seemed to be unscientific when everything else seemed to be very logically explained. Number two, that there were so many characters that I lost track at some point and after some big revelation, I just thought, “Wait, who was that again?” Still, a good book.
  • Surviving the Angel of Death: The True Story of a Mengele Twin in Auschwitz by Eva Mozes Kor
    I read this in German (Ich habe den Todesengel überlebt: Ein Mengele-Opfer erzählt) because my father asked me to read it. Wow, what a horrible story. As these books go, it is excellent, but it’s still horrible to read. I think everyone who goes around denying the holocaust should be forced to read this. It’s completely shocking to read about how cruel people can be, from those that decided to make a perfectly friendly family into a family of outcasts, to those that participated in mass killings, to Mengele, who – under the pretense of science – sadistically tortured and murdered random people. Everyone should read this, really.

That’s what I’ve been reading in 2012, comments and suggestions are always more than welcome!


Books: Night Watch, The Clown, Lucky

It’s been a while since I’ve last written, and although I’ve been a bit distracted, I still managed to read three more books since my last entry. I finished A Confederacy Of Dunces, which was very good indeed.

After that I read The Night Watch by Sarah Waters, which was also quite interesting, especially since it’s not the kind of book I’d usually read. It’s also set in WW2, which I also usually don’t care to read about. And yet, it had some interesting storylines and characters. So all in all, I’m glad I strayed a bit from what I’d usually read.

Next I read Ansichten eines Clowns (English title: The Clown) by Heinrich Böll, which I thought was very interesting, too. Amusingly enough, although it’s a German classic, it had been loaned and recommended to me by a British girl. When I went home to my parents one weekend and mentioned I was reading this book, they told me they owned two copies of it. But what matters is that I read it now and I liked it, and it was interesting to read about a melancholic clown with a drinking problem who lamented the loss of his girlfriend to another man.

And finally, I read Lucky by Alice Sebold, the author of The Lovely Bones which I read last year and was very impressed with. Lucky is the autobiographical story of how she was brutally raped at 18, how that terrible act of violence affected her, how it affected her relationships, her family, her life in general. I thought the book was quite insightful.

I’ve read nine books this year so far, which is bad considering I was aiming for 24 books and it’s already August, almost. Then again, a lot can happen in five months. Certainly a lot happened in the last five. :)


Books: Summertime Sound, No One Here Gets Out Alive and A Confederacy Of Dunces

What better way to update my blog again by rambling about some of the books I read lately?

I’ve read Homicide by David Simon for a long time back in March or so. It took me forever, as the book has almost 700 pages in rather small print, and while it’s interesting most of the time, it’s not exactly a quick read. I was curious about this book because I read that The Wire (the TV show) is partially based on it or was written by the same guy. He spent time inside the police force as a journalist, observing them work, and everything that happens in the book actually happened, which is rather mind-boggling, considering how crazy some of those cases were. At any rate, I do recommend this book, but be aware that due to the sheer size of it, it’s quite a commitment. ;)

No One Here Gets Out Alive

No One Here Gets Out Alive

Next, I read That Summertime Sound by Matthew Specktor, which was recommended by Sara Quin of Tegan & Sara fame. There’s actually an audio file of Sara reading from That Summertime Sound, so that made me curious. However, I was not really that intrigued by the book when I finally read it. I feel the story goes in circles and I don’t care about the characters. The protagonist (= the author?) just comes across as whiny. So that’s not a book I’d recommend.

Then I read No One Here Gets Out Alive, which is Jim Morrison’s biography, Jim Morrison of course being the lead singer of The Doors. I really didn’t know much about him or The Doors when I started this book, but wow do I dislike him now. What a completely rude, irresponsible and narcissistic guy that was! Sure, he had a tough upbringing, but geez… I really don’t get why people worship him the way they do. Also, the authors of the book are both big fans of The Doors, and while they’re still rather critical of him, they do write about what an amazing poet Morrison was. I really don’t see it. He’s got nothing on Ani DiFranco.

Words and Music

Words and Music

Next I tried reading Words and Music – A History of Pop in the Shape of a City by Paul Morley, but after he rambled on and on about Kylie Minogue’s hair and endless lists of musicians I’ve never heard of and such for 40+ pages, I finally gave up. Maybe the book is simply too abstract for me, there are some people on who apparently loved it, but I simply couldn’t get into it.

So I moved on to A Confederacy Of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, which has been recommended to me more than once, and I’m really enjoying it. The main character is such a rude and awful fellow (kind of like Jim Morrison, hehe) and yet it’s so engaging to read about all the crazy things he does. The book is set in New Orleans and it’s fun to read the various ways of speaking the characters have. I’m almost finished with it and I do recommend it. Sadly, the author committed suicide at age 31. His books have always been rejected while he was still alive.

Please go here for a list of books I read, and go here to see the cover images of the books I’ve read. You know you want to.

So, what are you reading?


Books I Read in 2010 (Part 2/2)

And here’s part 2 of the list of books I read in 2010.

  • Abnormal Psychology by Gerald Davison and John M. Neale
    Another book I found at the Asylum Hostel in Sydney. It’s a textbook for psychology students, which I’m not, but it was still interesting to read about the different kinds of disorders out there and how psychology is attempting to cure them.
  • The Game by Neil Strauss
    I recently read that this book is supposed to be turned into a movie, so quick, read the book before the movie comes out so you can say, “Oh, well, the book was better.” Seriously, though, the book is not a must read by any standards, but it certainly has some interesting aspects. It’s about how Neil Strauss himself, once a geeky, shy and inexperienced fella, learned all about being a pick-up artist when he researched pick-up artists for a story.
  • Cause Of Death by Patricia Cornwell
    Another good Patricia Cornwell crime novel.
  • Romulus, My Father by Raimond Gaita
    I had never heard of the book or the movie adaptation with Eric Bana and Franka Potente, but I found the book in the hostel, so… Raimond Gaita is an Australian philosopher, and in this book he writes about his father’s life, how they emigrated to Australia and what their life there was like. It’s not a nice rags to riches story, it’s a dark story about poverty, suicide and mental illness. It’s still a good read, though, somewhat hopeful despite all the darkness.
  • Sofies Welt by Jostein Gaarder
    This book also showed up at a hostel. The English title is “Sophie’s World”, the original Norwegian title “Sofies verden”. I started reading this over a decade ago and put it down after 20 pages because it bored me. This time around I simply had nothing else to read so I read it, still thought it was pretty boring in parts. I have no idea why this book was so successful. Maybe it’s a neat idea but I’d have preferred to read all this stuff in textbook form. Dumb.
  • Blood Born by Kathryn Fox
    Kathryn Fox is an Australian medical practitioner and author of crime novels. She lives in Sydney, actually, which is where I found this book in a hostel, I think. But who can remember. At any rate, it’s a good read and it’s not bad as crime novels go, but I do prefer Patricia Cornwell’s books. Just because I like Kay Scarpetta more.
  • Evening in Byzanthium by Irwin Shaw
    Also from some hostel or another. It’s about this aging movie producer who goes to the Cannes film festival and is thinking about a new project to tackle. It’s also about his relationships and his life. It’s not about terrorists, however, which is peculiar because the movie based “loosely” on this book is about terrorists taking over the Cannes film festival. Weird. At any rate, I think the book is from the 70ies and it shows, and I liked it. The protagonist always mixed whiskey and water, if I remember correctly, and when a charming Israelian guy left a bottle of Jack Daniel’s in our fridge, I tried replicating this “recipe”. Pretty gross.
  • Lautlos by Frank Schätzing
    German crime novel, basically. Was okay.
  • The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
    Someone left this at the hostel, which made me particularly happy. I thought the translation into English was really strange and seemed to me like the translator’s first language wasn’t English. But apparently I’m the only one, as the guy even got an award for his translation. It’s a good read and I like the characters in it, so I might have to read the other two parts as well.
  • 01

    Books I Read in 2010 (Part 1/2)

    It’s that time of the year again! The end time. The time when we look back because before we know it, we’re head on into the next year with our good intentions and plans and projects that we try to complete before it’s that time of the year again, but next year. If you know what I mean.

    At any rate, here’s part 1 of the list of books I read this year. I’ve read 17 books in total.

    • The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza by Lawrence Block
      Quite entertaining as crime novels go. Especially because the protagonist is Bernie Rhodenbarr, a “gentleman burglar”.
    • The Pocket Book Of Short Stories by various authors
      A really old book that cost 35 cents when it first came out. I got it on eBay years ago for maybe 3 EUR including shipping and started reading it and put it away again. I figured it was a good book to travel with, because the stories are all different and I’d also not be too heartbroken to leave it behind once I read it. And I did leave it behind, I think at the King Street Backpackers hostel in Melbourne.
    • The Fellowship Of The Ring by JRR Tolkien
      This is a book I found at the King Street Backpackers hostel in Melbourne. It’s the first part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and I once started reading this in German but got bored after page 10. I never cared for Lord of the Rings, even though I did watch the movies, but when I found that book at the hostel, I decided to give it a shot again and to my surprise, I liked it a lot. It was easier to read in English I thought, plus they are travelling all the time, which I could identify with at that moment, too. I didn’t find the other two parts of the book, though, even though I know they’re not so much a trilogy as they are one huge book cut up into three, but since I know how it all ends anyway, I’m not too bothered.
    • Point Of Origin by Patricia Cornwell
      Another King Street Backpacker hostel find. I’ve read a few of Patricia Cornwell’s books already, they’ve always been quick and entertaining reads, and this one was no exception.
    • Out Of Darkness: A Memoir by Zoltan Torey
      Another one from the hostel in Melbourne. We stayed there for quite a while, you see. The memoir is by a Hungarian guy who escaped Hungary when the Russians came. He went to Australia, where he wanted to be a doctor or something like that (he wanted to explore human consciousness) but then he had a terrible accident in a factory in Sydney where battery acid splashed into his face, and so he became blind. Instead of stopping being a visual person, he became more of a visual person and just started imagining everything very vividly in his head. It was quite interesting to read about his life and determination and all of that, even though I didn’t care for his style of writing too much. But it was still a good read.
    • The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
      People have recommended this book for years now. It originally came out in 2002 and I knew nothing about it except that it was supposed to be good. This girl at the hostel in Melbourne had the book and I set my eyes on it and was going to ask her if I could read it after she was finished, but then from one day to the next the girl moved out of the hostel. Thankfully, she left the book behind! It might be the best book I read in 2010 and it utterly captivated me. It’s dark and violent sometimes and subtle and sweet at other times and I liked the premise of it and how it was written and you should read it if you haven’t yet.
    • Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction by J. D. Salinger
      I tend to attribute it to J.D. Salinger that I eventually became interested in reading again outside of school, even though that’s probably not completely accurate. But be that as it may, after reading “The Catcher In The Rye” one day, I became interested in Salinger’s work and read all the other books I could get my hands on. I never did find this one, so when I found it at the book sale at Federation Square in Melbourne, I had to buy it. With Salinger, I think the way his books are written are way more important and entertaining than where the actual stories are going. That’s also the case with this book. It’s not a particularly quick read, but it’s good nevertheless. After reading it, I googled Salinger and came to the conclusion that while he may have been a good author, he doesn’t at all sound like a particularly likeable man in general. Not that it really matters, though.
    • Open by Andre Agassi
      This book I found at the Asylum Hostel in Sydney. It’s Andre Agassi’s autobiography, and although I liked him without really knowing why, all I really knew about him was that he was a very good tennis player that was married to Steffi Graf. So when I read the autobiography, I was very surprised to find out what his childhood had been like, what his life in general was like, how much he hated tennis, etc. It’s a very good and engaging read, much better than I had anticipated, too. You’d think his recounting of tennis matches would be boring to read if you are not otherwise interested in tennis, but they’re surprisingly exciting to read, too. All in all a very good book that I recommend.

    Books: The Audacity Of Hope by Barack Obama

    I just finished reading Barack Obama’s second book, The Audacity Of Hope. It’s basically about his ideas on what politics should be, what policies he suggests that might improve all sorts of things, and it’s sprinkled with little anecdotes of his life.

    The book is interesting and so are his ideas and suggestions. If you have followed his “career” (for lack of a better term) since he announced that he was running for the presidency – as I have – some of the things in the book will sound familiar, since it’s basically what he’s been talking about in TV appearances and such. It gets a little repetitive in a way when he basically keeps describing how people are generally decent and good and just trying to make an honest living, and how the government should help. However, it is very well-written and so pretty enjoyable to read, even when you’re at a part where you know what he’ll say next.

    I did learn a lot about Mr. Obama through this book, though, and I still can’t help but wonder how such a decent, smart, self-reflecting guy managed to become President of the USA. (That sounds really offensive, but hey, it does feel kind of like bizarro world…) It will certainly be interesting to see whether he can manage to do a lot of the things he suggested.

    I found myself enjoying the little anecdotes about his life he told in this book and so I expect that I will enjoy his first book, Dreams From My Father, more than this one. I’ll report back on that, however, so watch this space.

    [The Audacity Of Hope by Barack Obama ** 364 pages ** Read in 19 days ** 18 Jan – 5 Feb 2009]


    Books: The Eden Express by Mark Vonnegut

    The Eden Express is a book by Mark Vonnegut, who will likely be forever known as “Kurt Vonnegut’s son”. I admit, that’s why I read it, too, and while it is – as I expected – not at all like a Kurt Vonnegut book, it is still well-written, interesting and has a point.

    The book starts with Mark talking about how he just graduated from college (in 1969) and was trying to figure out what to do next. He was a hippie and entertained the thought of starting a commune with some friends. So they did. They moved up to British Columbia and bought some property miles and miles away from civilization. It all goes well, until Mark suddenly (or not so suddenly) becomes mentally ill and needs to go to a mental institution. He’s schizophrenic.

    I very much liked the part where he described how they set up the commune and how people came and went and so on, but the important part of the book is his description of his mental illness, of the symptoms, of how he thought he had caused an earthquake in California, how he thought losing at a chess game would mean all of humanity was going to die, etc. It’s very interesting to read about his “insanity” from the inside, to see what it means to suffer from mental illness. His Wikipedia article states (albeit without actually giving any sources):

    The book is widely cited as useful for those coping with schizophrenia.

    Also interesting for Kurt Vonnegut fans is the occasional mention of Mark’s father, but he is never the center of the story and only appears as a side character.

    The impressive thing about Mark’s story is that he eventually overcame his mental illness, he’s dealing well with it now, and he went back to college to become a pediatrician. If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is.

    [The Eden Express by Mark Vonnegut ** Read in 11 days ** 7 Jan 2009 – 17 Jan 2009]