Books | So Far in 2018

Books | So Far in 2018 | No Apathy Allowed
Via Goodreads

We’re more than halfway through 2018, so it’s about time to share the books I’ve been reading so far this year, right?

My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante (***). I have so many friends (mostly those who read the German translation) who have fallen head over heels for this series of Italian books about two best friends. This is the first in the series and begins with their friendship as young girls in Naples during the 1950s. The author does not shy away from the brutality of the time, touching upon issues that were part of everyday life and did not necessarily carry the labels they do today: domestic abuse, child abuse, sexual assault, mafia violence. Maybe for that reason, I found the storyline quite harsh and had a hard time really sinking my teeth into it. I don’t know — should I continue with the series? Should I be reading it in German instead of English?

The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls (*****). Funnily enough, this book dealt with equally harsh topics and yet it was one of my favorite books so far this year! It is the memoir of a woman who grew up with eccentric and nomadic (to put it nicely) parents and plenty of adventure, which was sadly counterbalanced by abuse, alcoholism, neglect, and extreme poverty. In the end, the author and her siblings were able to escape to New York one-by-one while they were still teenagers and have created successful lives for themselves. A truly incredible story.

Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng (****). I enjoyed this book, but I didn’t *love* it the way so many others did. The story takes place in a town where everything is predictable, orderly, and (from the outside) perfect — and centers around an unconventional woman and her daughter who arrive one day. Definitely entertaining, and probably a good beach read. (Though I haven’t admittedly been to the beach yet this year!)

Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid (*****). A cleverly written story about a young couple who escape their war torn country after a discovering a “door” leading to a safer place. Ultimately, they find themselves having to make their way through several doors, and are greeted with varying degrees of welcome, safety, and stability each time. A beautiful book offering such an accurate portrayal of the state of our world at the moment.

No One Is Coming To Save Us, by Stephanie Powell Watts (****). This is a modern day take on the Great Gatsby, and although it was entertaining enough, it wasn’t really my favorite.

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle (*****). After hearing about the recent film remake of one of my favorite childhood books (though I think I preferred A Wind in the Door at the time), I immediately reread A Wrinkle in Time. Though first published in 1962, the story touches on so many important themes that are still relevant for today. What a nostalgic read!

Hunger, by Roxane Gay (*****). 2018 seems to be my year for reading memoirs. With Hunger, Roxane Gay offers a difficult and unapologetic look at her relationship with her body. “I ate and ate and ate in the hopes that if I made myself big, my body would be safe. I buried the girl I was because she ran into all kinds of trouble. I tried to erase every memory of her, but she is still there, somewhere. . . . I was trapped in my body, one that I barely recognized or understood, but at least I was safe.” Roxane definitely doesn’t have it all figured out, but she is candid in a way that demonstrates a self-awareness that many of us will never possess.

Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee (*****). This is hands down my favorite book so far this year. Covering multiple generations of a Korean family living in Japan, it is such a beautiful story about  culture, identity, and duty. In telling the story of this family, Min Jin Lee offers fascinating insight into a piece of history that I had no idea about — namely the Japanese occupation of Korea, as well as its aftermath. I couldn’t recommend this book more!

The Residue Years, by Mitchell S. Jackson (****). While not a memoir in the strictest sense, this novel is heavily influenced by the experiences of Mitchell Jackson growing up. The book alternates between the voice of a young black man who’s a successful college student at Portland State University (as well as a successful crack dealer on the side) and his crack-addicted mother who was just released from rehab and is trying to stay clean. The disconnects in their lives are powerful and ring so true that you wonder how either of them ever made it to the other side.

The Keeper of Lost Things, by Ruth Hogan (****). An entertaining story that I tore through rather quickly.  Unfortunately, due to the heavy weight of the three books I read just prior to this one, it came off in places as a bit trite and predictable. Probably a good beach read though.

Ellbogen, by Fatma Aydemir (****). This is a novel that I picked up randomly from a box of books that a neighbor had put out on the street to give away. For whatever reason, I’ve had a hard time recently finding contemporary German novels that capture my attention (if you have any good recommendations, please let me know!), but I really enjoyed this story from the perspective of an angry and misunderstood Turkish-German teenage girl growing up in Berlin. About halfway through the book, she ends up fleeing to Istanbul, but discovers that she doesn’t fit in there anymore than she did in Berlin. It’s a fascinating look at this dichotomy that exists so starkly in modern-day Germany. I expected more from the ending though, which is why I ended up giving it only 4 stars.

So that’s it! I honestly wasn’t expecting to already have finished 11 books by this point in the year, so I just started a nice long one (752 pages of A Book of American Martyrs by Joyce Carol Oates) that should carry me through the rest of the summer.

What are your favorite reads so far this year? Any recommendations for me?

Travel | A Few Days in Vienna

Vienna | No Apathy Allowed
The main entrance to the Hofburg Palace

Can you believe that in all my 10 years in Germany (click here for my very first post from Hamburg), I had never made the journey across the border to Austria? To make up for that, I spent my 10-year Germanniversary in Vienna, and it ended up being a fantastic trip! There are so many centuries of European history contained in this one city, and I knew there would be absolutely no way to see it all in five days (including the train rides), so I just decided on the things that really interested me the most: palaces, views of the city, and art. Ok ok…so in Vienna, that doesn’t really narrow things down much, but I did try!

Vienna | No Apathy Allowed
Schönbrunn Palace

So much history

Probably the biggest highlights were the Hofburg Palace and the Schönbrunn Palace: the former homes of the emperors and empresses of the Habsburg Empire who ruled large parts of Europe for many centuries. I still have vivid memories of my 10th grade social studies class and my teacher telling us about the assassination of Franz Ferdinand which ignited World War I — Mr. Ames pronounced Habsburg with such great relish that spit would often go flying towards any student sitting in the first row. Anyway, if you’re a history buff, Vienna is definitely the place for you!

Vienna | No Apathy Allowed
The view from the North Tower of St. Stephan’s Cathedral

Views from above (and below)

I also took the 343 steps up the spiral staircase of the South Tower of Stephansdom for fantastic views over the city. Definitely not recommended for claustrophobics or anyone anxious about falling down stairs. The stairs made a tight spiral the entire way up, no handrail whatsoever, barely enough room for foot traffic going both up and down, and quite narrow steps. I nearly had a panic attack on my way up, and got dizzy on my way down from the constant spiraling. In contrast, I absolutely loved the view from the slightly lower North Tower  — because from there you can admire the beautiful shingle designs on the roof of the cathedral!

If you want a great view from above of the interior, check out the Domschatz exhibition in the West Gallery. You’ll escape the crowds and get a wonderful bird’s eye view of the tourist masses swarming through the cathedral.

However, if you’ve visited the catacombs in Paris (which still house the bones of six million Parisians!), you can skip the mostly empty and definitely less impressive catacombs underneath the Stephansdom.

Vienna | No Apathy Allowed
View from a rainy window at the Oberes Belvedere

Museums galore

Of course, checking out the Klimt collection at the Oberes Belvedere is a definite must for art lovers. But my favorite was actually a small exhibition of street photographer Vivian Maier at WestLicht. It was a perfect coincidence that I discovered the exhibition while searching for a way to take a break from the tourist hordes. Her portraits and her story have fascinated me for a long time.

I also traveled a bit outside the city center to visit Freud’s former apartment, waiting room, and office where he treated his patients. While it was pretty cool to see the original rooms, the museum is in dire need of an update, which it will apparently receive in 2020. Most of the original furnishings and property of the Freuds are located in the London museum, where the family fled in 1938 after the Nazi annexation of Austria.

Vienna | No Apathy Allowed
Vienna | No Apathy Allowed
The Prunksaal of the Nationalbibliothek

There is a lot more I could add, like the Hundertwasserhaus, the Prunksaal at the Nationalbibliothek, eating Schnitzel, drinking a Kleiner Brauner at a cozy coffee house, having lunch at the Naschmarkt, and just wandering to my heart’s content.

But I think I will end here anyway — for many more photos, check out the Flickr album!

What are your favorite spots in Vienna? (I’m already making a list for my next visit!)

My Instagram Takeover of Mein Bremen

Mein Bremen Instagram Takeover | No Apathy Allowed

Friends, I can hardly believe it’s been a whole three months since I’ve been in this space. The year very literally started off with a flu diagnosis, then got swallowed up by jet lag, long work days, intense deadlines, and half-marathon training (Heidelberg in a few weeks!). On those evenings when I didn’t have to hit the gym, I was working late, and then on the weekends I tended to avoid my laptop as much as possible. Quite honestly, that probably won’t be changing much in the immediate future, but this post counts for something, doesn’t it?

So let’s get on with it! A few weeks ago, I was super excited to be invited to do a week-long takeover of the Mein Bremen (My Bremen) Instagram account, tasked with sharing my own perspective of the city.  I’ve only done one other Instagram takeover before this (LOVEBREMEN), but I knew it would be a lot of fun to interact with nearly 8 times as many followers as I have on my own account! It was definitely something of a time commitment, since I wanted to make sure to share my best photos with my own unique perspective. Plus my captions and comments were in German, which just took me a bit longer to write and proofread than when I write them in English. Plus I was spreading the love as often as possible in the #MeinBremen community, adding to the InstaStories, and keeping up with my own Instagram account. But I loved every second of it!

Since I’m most in love with the city’s architecture, that’s where I took my inspiration from for the week. I highly encourage you to take a look over at Mein Bremen to see my photos (and everyone else’s!) in all their glory — but here are a few of my favorites from the week.

Mein Bremen Instagram Takeover | No Apathy Allowed

Mein Bremen Instagram Takeover | No Apathy Allowed

Mein Bremen Instagram Takeover | No Apathy Allowed

Many thanks to Mein Bremen for the invitation! It’s actually quite appropriate that my first blog post in months is about Instagram, since it’s basically where I’ve been micro-blogging anyway all this time. :)

Happy Easter to everyone who celebrates, and happy April to all!

Books | The Rest of 2017

Books Read in 2017 | No Apathy AllowedBooks Read in 2017 | No Apathy Allowed

It’s nearly the last day of the year, so it must be time to take a look at the books I read in the second half of 2017 — here’s a peek back at the first half of the year, if you’re curious.

The Idiot, by Elif Batuman (****). I really enjoyed this book! It so much reminded me of my first year of university in the mid-1990s…the sometimes pointless documentation of everyday observations and little details that an 18-year-old obsesses over sounded so much like my own journal writing at that age and time. I would have given it 5 stars, but it felt a bit too long at times.

Marina, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (***). I received the German translation of this book for my birthday and saved it for my evening reading at home. The story is based in Barcelona and centers around around two adolescents solving a fantastical mystery.

You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, by Sherman Alexie (*****). If you’re a fan of Sherman Alexie, this book will definitely give you some insights into the author and his writing. It focuses on Alexie’s complicated relationship with his mother who recently passed away, and is told in a very circular fashion, always returning to the beginning just when you think it has reached the end. It is a heartbreaking read of a very difficult life, but definitely worth the effort.

The Pearl Thief, by Elizabeth Wein (****).  If you liked Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, then this (comparatively) lighthearted prequel might also be for you. Set between the World Wars in Scotland, 15-year-old Julia Beaufort-Stuart and her crew solve a local mystery. I preferred the first two books, but this one was also pretty entertaining.

Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown (***). “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; . . . who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” This Teddy Roosevelt quote is the premise of this book. While there were interesting kernels here and there, I would have liked something a bit more meatier.

Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders (*****). This is a book that seemingly you either love or you really don’t — and I fall into the former category. Towards the beginning of the US Civil War, one of Abraham Lincoln’s sons died, and Lincoln reportedly returned to his son’s grave several times to visit his son’s body. Lincoln in the Bardo tells this story through the voices of all of the spirits stuck in between life and death in the graveyard, fighting over the soul of Willie Lincoln. Unusual and captivating, if you are willing to think outside of the box of the traditional novel.

Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward (*****). Without even intending to, the last book I finished reading in 2017 also had to do with spirits stuck in the in between, but this time in modern day Mississippi. The story is narrated by an adolescent boy, his meth-addict mother, and a ghost from his grandfather’s past. The long lasting effects of poverty and racial injustice drive the story, as do the enduring ties of family. While told in a very straightforward manner, this one definitely pulled at my heart strings.

Both Lincoln in the Bard and Sing, Unburied, Sing tie for my favorite books in the second half of 2017 — moving and unusual in their own unique ways, they really captured my whole attention. Next up for 2018 are No One is Coming to Save Us, Exit West, and Little Fires Everywhere.

What were your favorite books of the year?