This page lists books suggested for our BookClub. Click on Edit this page or Diese Seite bearbeiten at the bottom of the page to edit it.
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Help to rejuvenate this list! If you add new book suggestions (and please do), mention the date so we can weed out from time to time those hoary entries that never got picked.
History Hour: I’ve started a section ‘past & current reading’ at the bottom of this page, where you’ll find title and a link for each book that we’ve read, or selected for reading. Have a look.
The Matrix is a world within the world, a global consensus- hallucination, the representation of every byte of data in cyberspace . . .
Case had been the sharpest data-thief in the business, until vengeful former employees crippled his nervous system. But now a new and very mysterious employer recruits him for a last-chance run. The target: an unthinkably powerful artificial intelligence orbiting Earth in service of the sinister Tessier-Ashpool business clan. With a dead man riding shotgun and Molly, mirror-eyed street-samurai, to watch his back, Case embarks on an adventure that ups the ante on an entire genre of fiction.
Hotwired to the leading edges of art and technology, Neuromancer ranks with 1984 and Brave New World as one of the century’s most potent visions of the future. (Source: goodreads.com)
First suggested: May 2013
Supportes: Rene, Adrian, Leon(?)
Among the non-fiction books I read recently I found this one, which was first published in 2011, most interesting. In a way, the author states obvious things - we all know that there has been a lot of progress in history, torture and slavery have been abolished, and wars are not regarded as a normal means of politics any more to such a degree as in earlier century. But Pinker claims based on a lot of data and facts that this progress is probably much more pervasive than many people think. Over the last few centuries murder rates in civilized societies have dropped very sharply, and today the highly developed societies in Europe and East Asia may be among the least violent ones in history. If we look at measurable facts, many indicators suggest that people today are generally more enlightened and more rational than in past centuries; this may have contributed to the sharp decline in violence in recent human history.
From the Amazon page http://www.amazon.com/Better-Angels-Our-Nature-Violence/dp/0143122010: Believe it or not, today we may be living in the most peaceful moment in our species’ existence. In his gripping and controversial new work, New York Times bestselling author Steven Pinker shows that despite the ceaseless news about war, crime, and terrorism, violence has actually been in decline over long stretches of history. Exploding myths about humankind’s inherent violence and the curse of modernity, this ambitious book continues Pinker’s exploration of the essence of human nature, mixing psychology and history to provide a remarkable picture of an increasingly enlightened world.
From a review by the philosopher Peter Singer in the New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/09/books/review/the-better-angels-of-our-nature-by-steven-pinker-book-review.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0: The central thesis of “Better Angels” is that our era is less violent, less cruel and more peaceful than any previous period of human existence. The decline in violence holds for violence in the family, in neighborhoods, between tribes and between states. People living now are less likely to meet a violent death, or to suffer from violence or cruelty at the hands of others, than people living in any previous century. […] It’s not only deaths in war, but murder, too, that is declining over the long term. Even those tribal peoples extolled by anthropologists as especially “gentle”, like the Semai of Malaysia, the Kung of the Kalahari and the Central Arctic Inuit, turn out to have murder rates that are, relative to population, comparable to those of Detroit. In Europe, your chance of being murdered is now less than one-tenth, and in some countries only one-fiftieth, of what it would have been if you had lived 500 years ago. American rates, too, have fallen steeply over the past two or three centuries. Pinker sees this decline as part of the “civilizing process” - a term he borrows from the sociologist Norbert Elias, who attributes it to the consolidation of the power of the state above feudal loyalties, and to the effect of the spread of commerce. […] Pinker argues that enhanced powers of reasoning give us the ability to detach ourselves from our immediate experience and from our personal or parochial perspective, and frame our ideas in more abstract, universal terms. This in turn leads to better moral commitments, including avoiding violence. It is just this kind of reasoning ability that has improved during the 20th century. […] “The Better Angels of Our Nature" is a supremely important book. To have command of so much research, spread across so many different fields, is a masterly achievement. Pinker convincingly demonstrates that there has been a dramatic decline in violence, and he is persuasive about the causes of that decline. But what of the future? Our improved understanding of violence, of which Pinker’s book is an example, can be a valuable tool to maintain peace and reduce crime, but other factors are in play. Pinker is an optimist, but he knows that there is no guarantee that the trends he has documented will continue. […]
From a review by David Runciman in The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/sep/22/better-angels-steven-pinker-review: […] The real fascination of this book is how we got from being a species that enjoyed the spectacle of roasting each other alive to one that believes child-killers have the same rights as everyone else. As Pinker shows, it is both a long story and a relatively recent one. […] In the final section of the book he moves from history to evolutionary psychology to show that human beings are always torn between their inner demons and their better angels. What decides us between them is not virtue or vice but strategic calculation. We resort to violence when violence seems the better bet. We resist it when it seems riskier than the alternative. That’s why violence can be self-reinforcing - as in the tit-for-tat world of the hunter-gatherers - but it’s also why peace can be self-reinforcing - as in the love-bomb world we inhabit now. Pinker is adamant that we should not be complacent about the decline of violence: the inner demons are still there. But neither should we be fatalistic: as things stand, our better angels are a truer reflection of who we are. […]
First suggested: May 2013 (Adrian)
There was a review of this book in the paper these days which sounded weird enough in a good way (or good enough in a weird way?) to attract my attention – and a quick search tells me that it just won the 2013 Pulitzer prize as well, so it’s not just our reviewer here. The protagonist grows up as an orphan in North Korea, and is dragged through all the hardship and all the absurdity the author, an American, could come up with to describe a not-so-ordinary life there. Sounds dreary but obiously isn’t: “What we have here are the ingredients of an across-the-board smash hit: sympathetic characters, an exotic, unknowable setting and a plot that will carry you along more convincingly than any of the fictions used by the Democratic Peopleâs Republic of Korea.” (The Telegraph). Anyone else intrigued?
First suggested: May 2013
Supporters: Uli, Rene
The novel concerns a young priest, Amaro, who serves as diocesan administrator at Leiria. Amaro lacks a vocation, having been pushed into the priesthood by his aristocratic patrons, the Marquesa de Alegros and, later, the Conde de Ribamar, and, owing to the vow of chastity he was obliged to take, is obsessed with women and deeply sexually frustrated. Upon arriving in Leiria, he falls for AmÃ©lia, the beautiful daughter of his landlady, a pious widow and the mistress of his superior, Canon Dias. After AmÃ©lia’s fiancÃ©, JoÃ£o Eduardo, publishes an exposÃ© of the local clergy’s venal habits in the town’s newspaper under a pseudonym, Amaro and his colleagues and parishioners expose JoÃ£o Eduardo as the author of the piece, pressure AmÃ©lia to break off the engagement, and drive JoÃ£o Eduardo out of town. Amaro begins a sexual relationship with AmÃ©lia, meeting first in his coal cellar and then in the bell-ringer’s house, using charitable visits to his bedridden, mentally disabled daughter as a cover. His love affair with AmÃ©lia ends in tragedy when she becomes pregnant, and is forced to seclude herself in the countryside for the duration of the pregnancy in order to prevent a scandal. JoÃ£o Eduardo returns to Leiria, and there is talk of convincing him to marry AmÃ©lia and hence make the child legitimate, but this does not come to pass. Amaro and his maid, Dionisia, who also acts as a midwife, find a wet-nurse who, it is implied, kills babies in her care. AmÃ©lia gives birth to a healthy boy, who is handed over to the wet-nurse by Amaro and killed. AmÃ©lia suffers complications after the birth and dies of a burst aneurysm, or so the doctor tells everyone. She was in good health immediately after the birth, but became hysterical when she was not allowed to see her son. The actual paternity of AmÃ©lia’s child, while the subject of gossip, never comes to light, and Amaro moves on to another parish. The novel leaves him in Lisbon, discussing the events of the Paris Commune.
First suggested: May 2013 (Dominique)
Description by Amazon: After years teaching Romantic poetry at the Technical University of Cape Town, David Lurie, middle-aged and twice divorced, has an impulsive affair with a student. The affair sours; he is denounced and summoned before a committee of inquiry. Willing to admit his guilt, but refusing to yield to pressure to repent publicly, he resigns and retreats to his daughter Lucy’s isolated smallholding.
For a time, his daughter’s influence and the natural rhythms of the farm promise to harmonise his discordant life. But the balance of power in the country is shifting. He and Lucy become victims of a savage and disturbing attack which brings into relief all the faultlines in their relationship.
First suggested: May 2013 (Richie)
Supporters: Richie, Nela, Adrian
Description by Amazon: When Tom Courtenay left his home in Hull to study in London his mother Annie wrote him letters every week. In them she would observe the world on her doorstep. A world of second-hand shoes and pawnshops, where all the men worked “on Dock” and Saturday nights were spent down the Club. It was a world in which Annie often felt misplaced. Having always longed to write, the letters to her son gave Annie a creative means of escape. “It’s after tea now, your father is examining the bath, I’m awaiting Ann and outside it’s India”. Like his mother, the young Courtenay also felt he was supposed to be elsewhere. Unlike his mother, he was given the opportunity to educate himself and chase his dream. In Dear Tom: Letters From Home Courtenay intersperses recollections of his days as a student actor in the early 1960s with his mother’s engaging and enchanting correspondence. Raw but real, her prose not only paints a graphic and gritty picture of everyday drudge, it displays an inquisitive insight into a life that denied a fishwife her dreams. In a world where working-class women learnt to make do, Annie felt at odds with her artistic aspirations. “Just lately I have had the feeling that I am more than one me. It is very strange. There’s the me that goes careering off writing, thinking, Then there is the ordinary me that mocks the writing me and thinks she is silly and a boring fool”.
After his mother’s untimely death, her letters became Tom Courtenay’s most treasured possessions. Dear Tom: Letters From Home is a memoir of a mother’s love that pays posthumous homage to a creative spirit stifled by circumstance. “What magic if, after all these years, people read her letters and are affected by them”, writes Courtenay. It would be impossible not to be. A beautiful book that won’t fail to touch.
Christopher Kelly This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
First suggested: May 2013 (Richie)
Supporters: Richie, Rene
Description by amazon: The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. The black sign, painted in white letters that hangs upon the gates, reads:
Opens at Nightfall
Closes at Dawn
As the sun disappears beyond the horizon, all over the tents small lights begin to flicker, as though the entirety of the circus is covered in particularly bright fireflies. When the tents are all aglow, sparkling against the night sky, the sign appears.
First suggested: February 2013 (Dominique)
Description by amazon: When Harold Fry nips out one morning to post a letter, leaving his wife hoovering upstairs, he has no idea that he is about to walk from one end of the country to the other. He has no hiking boots or map, let alone a compass, waterproof or mobile phone. All he knows is that he must keep walking. To save someone else’s life.
First suggested: February 2013 (Dominique) Supporters: Dominique, Rene
While Italo Calvino 2010-10 Book Club and Umberto Eco 2012-07 Book Club both drew limited enthusiasm at our respective meetings, maybe this Italian author will appeal more to our taste? Certainly less of a high-brow reputation here … and this book, warmly recommended by an Italian colleague of mine, is apparently a most readable one. Check out the reviews of The Guardian or The New York Times for a taste of it.
First suggested: August 2012
Supporters: Uli, Andrei, Dominique, Nicole
Description by Goodreads.com On New Year’s morning, 1975, Archie Jones sits in his car on a London road and waits for the exhaust fumes to fill his Cavalier Musketeer station wagon. Archie – ÂÂworking-class, ordinary, a failed marriage under his belt – ÂÂis calling it quits, the deciding factor being the flip of a 20-pence coin. When the owner of a nearby halal butcher shop (annoyed that Archie’s car is blocking his delivery area) comes out and bangs on the window, he gives Archie another chance at life and sets in motion this richly imagined, uproariously funny novel.
Epic and intimate, hilarious and poignant, White Teeth is the story of two North London families – ÂÂone headed by Archie, the other by Archie’s best friend, a Muslim Bengali named Samad Iqbal. Pals since they served together in World War II, Archie and Samad are a decidedly unlikely pair. Plodding Archie is typical in every way until he marries Clara, a beautiful, toothless Jamaican woman half his age, and the couple have a daughter named Irie (the Jamaican word for “no problem”). Samad – devoutly Muslim, hopelessly “foreign” – weds the feisty and always suspicious Alsana in a prearranged union. They have twin sons named Millat and Magid, one a pot-smoking punk-cum-militant Muslim and the other an insufferable science nerd. The riotous and tortured histories of the Joneses and the Iqbals are fundamentally intertwined, capturing an empire’s worth of cultural identity, history, and hope.
Zadie Smith’s dazzling first novel plays out its bounding, vibrant course in a Jamaican hair salon in North London, an Indian restaurant in Leicester Square, an Irish poolroom turned immigrant cafÃ©, a liberal public school, a sleek science institute. A winning debut in every respect, White Teeth marks the arrival of a wondrously talented writer who takes on the big themes – faith, race, gender, history, and culture --ÂÂ and triumphs.
First Suggested: February 2013
Supporter(s): Nela, Amy
Some months missing for 2005 … sorry …
… The beginning of this branch of our book club!