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List of Open Books

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.

Most Wikipedia links are given for the English pages, even if the German equivalent has more info. Note the “In other languages” sidebar.

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.

Next up:

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

This was on the Amazon list of “100 books to read in your lifetime.” I thought it sounded interesting, based one what was written on goodreads.com: “On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. Sadly, she dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways. Clearly history (and Kate Atkinson) have plans for her: In Ursula rests nothing less than the fate of civilization.

Wildly inventive, darkly comic, startlingly poignant – this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best, playing with time and history, telling a story that is breathtaking for both its audacity and its endless satisfactions”

First suggested: February 2014

Supporter(s): Nadya, Rene

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Paris in the twenties: Pernod, parties and expatriate Americans, loose-living on money from home. Jake is wildly in love with Brett Ashley, aristocratic and irresistibly beautiful, but with an abandoned, sensuous nature that she cannot change. When the couple drifts to Spain to the dazzle of the fiesta and the heady atmosphere of the bullfight, their affair is strained by new passions, new jealousies, and Jake must finally learn that he will never possess the woman he loves. Powerful, intense, visually magnificent, Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises is the novel which established Ernest Hemingway as a writer of genius.

First suggested: September 2013

Supporter(s): Nela, Richie, Nicole, Matteo

What money can't buy by Michael J. Sandel

Michael J. Sandel teaches political philosophy at Harvard and in this book he looks at how market values have become common in a lot of different aspects of life. It sounds like a very tedious lecture, but it’s actually very easy to read because Sandel illustrates his philosophical ideas with a lot of different examples. Might be something different for the book club, but it’s worth reading (and very easy to read). From Amazon: ‘What Money Can’t Buy is the Top Ten Sunday Times Bestseller from ‘the superstar philosopher’, Michael Sandel. Should we financially reward children for good marks? Is it ethical to pay people to donate organs? What about hiring mercenaries to fight our wars, outsourcing inmates to for-profit prisons or selling citizenship? In recent decades, market values have impinged on almost every aspect of life - medicine, education, government, law, even family life. We have drifted from having a market economy to being a market society. In What Money Can’t Buy Michael Sandel asks: Isn’t there something wrong with a world in which everything is for sale? And how do we protect the things that really matter?’

First suggested: November 2013

Supporter(s): Christoph, Richie, Leon, Rene, Nadya

This Thing of Darkeness by Harry Thompson

As some one who likes to read history, I discovered this book a few years ago and keep hearing about it again and again since then in some or the other context (Darwin, Beagle, Meterology etc.) It is a story based on some real facts and very gripping. Was long-listed for the Long-listed for the Man Booker Prize 2005,

Amazon: This is an epic novel of sea-faring adventure set in the 19th century charting the life of Robert Fitzroy, the captain of `The Beagle` and his passenger Charles Darwin. It combines adventrure, emotion, ideas, humour and tragedy as well as illuminating the history of the 19th century. Fitzroy, the Christian Tory aristocrat, believed in the sanctity of the individual, but his beliefs destroyed his career and he committed suicide. Darwin, the liberal minor cleric doubts the truth of the Bible and develops his theory of evolution which is brutal and unforgiving in human terms. The two friends became bitter enemies as Darwin destroyed everything Fitzroy stood for.

First suggested: February 2014

Supporter(s): Richie, Leon

The signature of all things by Elizabeth Gilbert

Regardless of the popularity of her best seller ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ I feel E. Gilbert is an amazing writer. This book, SOAT, is a very feminine book and a jewel, I absolutely loved it. It is written on a Jane Austen-style. E. Gilbert said in an interview that she spent one year reading only fiction of the time to really adopt the language. An epic story that takes place mostly in the USA in Philadelphia in the 19th century, the heroine is not a pretty woman, in fact she is quite hopelessly ugly from birth. However, she is also hopelessly rich and intelligent. The story has some awesome twists. I’d love to see some men read this book ;-)).

First suggested: January 2014

Supporter(s): Maria Velasco, Leon

Archangel by Andrea Barrett

Looking at a review of the book above (The Signature of all Things), I came across another that’s also in a sense historical fiction, though with an approach that had me intrigued: Five long short stories, not on the people at the forefront of discovery but how their contemporaries try to reconcile the new theories with their existing view of the world. From said review:

“In her new book, Archangel, Barrett—who has already written a number of superb fictions involving the history of science, among them Ship Fever, The Voyage of the Narwhal, and The Air We Breathe —here offers a group of interconnected stories that take place in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, each of which centers around an event or moment in the history of science and technology. “The Investigators” gives us the 1908 flight of an airplane made by Glenn H. Curtiss, as seen through the eyes of a twelve-year-old boy. In 1920, in “The Ether of Space,” astronomers argue about the implications of Einstein’s theory of relativity; in “The Particles,” geneticists returning from a contentious conference in Edinburgh in 1939 are bombed by a German U-boat and forced into even closer quarters on a rescue ship. “The Island” concerns a young woman on a Cape Cod summer study program led by Louis Agassiz in 1873, when he began what later became the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. And “Archangel,” set in northern Russia in 1919, concerns medical science, as an X-ray technician copes with the implications of her work in a war that inexplicably drags on.

(…) Because Agassiz was such an important and serious scientist, the scene is as sad as it is funny. The resistance to new theories, the pain of change, is one of Barrett’s central themes. Like Henrietta, who eventually recovers, we see creatures in a new way—implicitly—as products of natural selection. While we do not regret the knowledge, we also know that every gain is also a loss, here the loss of the certainty that everything makes sense because it is all from the mind of the creator, arising from a single cause. Moreover, profound uncertainties about love, and about the possibility of happiness, beset the characters in these stories even as they search for clarity in new knowledge and understanding of science. Like Darwin, and Einstein, and all her other heroes, Barrett the storyteller pulls us relentlessly away from false comforts, into the dazzling, often chaotic, world as it really is.” (New York Review of Books)

First suggested: March 2014

Supporter(s): Uli, Rene, Leon

Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore

If we want to go for a change into poetry, I would highly recommend this one.

“Gitanjali”, or Song Offerings, is a collection of poems translated by the author, Rabindranath Tagore, from the original Bengali. This collection won the Nobel prize for Tagore in 1913. This volume includes the original introduction by William Butler Yeats that accompanied the 1911 English language version. “Gitanjali” is a collection of over 100 inspirational poems by India’s greatest poet.

About the Author:

“Rabindranath Tagore (7 May 1861 - 7 August 1941), also known by the sobriquet Gurudev, was a Bengali poet, Brahmo Samaj philosopher, visual artist, playwright, novelist, and composer whose works reshaped Bengali literature and music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He became Asia’s first Nobel laureate when he won the 1913 Nobel Prize in Literature. A Pirali Bengali Brahmin from Calcutta, Tagore first wrote poems at the age of eight. At the age of sixteen, he published his first substantial poetry under the pseudonym Bhanushingho (“Sun Lion”) and wrote his first short stories and dramas in 1877. His home schooling, life in Shilaidaha, and travels made Tagore a nonconformist and pragmatist. Tagore strongly protested against the British Raj and gave his support to the Indian Independence Movement and Mahatma Gandhi. Tagore’s life was tragic-he lost virtually his entire family and was devastated to witness Bengal’s decline-but his life’s work endured, in the form of his poetry and the institution he founded, Visva-Bharati University. Tagore wrote novels, short stories, songs, dance-dramas, and essays on political and personal topics. Gitanjali (Song Offerings), Gora (Fair-Faced), and Ghare-Baire (The Home and the World) are among his best-known works. His verse, short stories, and novels, which often exhibited rhythmic lyricism, colloquial language, meditative naturalism, and philosophical contemplation, received worldwide acclaim. Tagore was also a cultural reformer and polymath who modernised Bengali art by rejecting strictures binding it to classical Indian forms. Two songs from his rabindrasangeet canon are now the national anthems of Bangladesh and India: the Amar Shonar Bangla and the Jana Gana Mana.”


First suggested: February 2014

Supporter(s): Richie, Tom

Orient Express by John Dos Passos

The thing called work doesn’t permit me to travel half as much as I’d like, but how about another piece of travel literature? This one is from a 1921 trip that took the author from Istanbul to Damascus, by way of Anatolia, the Caucasus, Persia and Mesopotamia (or Iran and Irak, respectively) – and from before the author was made famous by Manhattan Transfer. It sounds like a beautiful way to read about a region that nowadays only ever seems to appear in public view together with ‘crisis’ or ‘war’.


First suggested: March 2014

Supporter(s): Uli, Richie

Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro

It should really be Richie suggesting something from the newest Nobel Prize winner… “…a sort of magic” is how Ali Smith describes Munro’s stories on the jacket of my edition. From Amazon: These are beguiling, provocative stories about manipulative men and the women who outwit them, about destructive marriages and curdled friendships, about mothers and sons, about moments which change or haunt a life. Alice Munro’s stories surprise and delight, turning lives into art, expanding our world and shedding light on the strange workings of the human heart.

First suggested: March 2014

Supporter(s): Dominique, Richie :-), Leon

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twang Eng

Synopsis from the Guardian: Self-exiled from imperial Japan after a dispute with his employer Emperor Hirohito, Aritomo settles in the hilltops of Malaya and begins to build Yugiri, a “garden of evening mists”. Into his life comes independent Yun Ling, daughter of a prosperous Chinese Malaysian family, and the sole survivor of a prisoner-of-war camp. It is 1951, and she is a prosecutor of war criminals and a hater of all things Japanese – except one. Her request to Aritomo is simple: build a garden for her sister who perished in the camp, and who loved the gardens of Kyoto. The taciturn Aritomo is not in the habit of pleasing anyone or apologising for his country’s crimes. Instead he offers to teach Yun Ling the art of Japanese gardening, for two years. Almost against herself, she becomes his apprentice, then his lover, and finally, the canvas for his masterpiece: horimono, a full-body Japanese tattoo. The chapters in which this redemptive relationship unfolds through the rich metaphors of gardening, tattooing, tea-ceremonies, and Zen philosophy are the psychological core of the novel. First suggested: March 2014

Supporter(s): Dominique, Uli

Past & current reading:

Some months missing for 2005 … sorry …

… The beginning of this branch of our book club!


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