Thursday, 31 December 2015

My Year in Books: 2015

My target this year was 45 books, which I exceeded by two! It's fewer than the 83 books I read last year (taking into account I was unemployed for most of that year), but still quite a lot. Reading is damn important to me. It feels wrong if I go out somewhere for the day and don't have a book in my bag. I use my commute time to read, I read before I go to sleep.

With one exception, I've given the books ratings out of 5, sometimes with a link to the review/reasoning for my rating. A friend pointed out recently that it was easier to review books if you didn't like them much, because humans love to criticise.

If you'd like to keep up-to-date with what's currently sitting on my nightstand - or just want to judge each other's book taste - add me on Goodreads!

  1. Emma Donoghue - Stir-Fry (2/5)
  2. Shane Jones - Light Boxes (3/5)
  3. Joan Didion - The Year of Magical Thinking (1/5)
  4. A.S. King - Ask the Passengers (2/5)
  5. Wolfgang Herrndorf - Tschick (3/5)
  6. Jason Lee Norman - Beautiful Girls & Famous Men (4/5)
  7. Djuna Barnes - Nightwood (4/5)
  8. Julia Engelmann - Eines Tages, Baby (4/5)
  9. Hannah Kent - Burial Rites (4/5)
  10. Juan Pablo Villalobos - Down the Rabbit Hole (3/5)
  11. Adi Alsaid - Let's Get Lost (3/5)
  12. Siri Hustvedt - The Blindfold (4/5)
  13. Paula Hawkins - The Girl on the Train (3/5)
  14. Warsan Shire - Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth (4/5)
  15. Kathrin Weßling - Drüberleben: Depressionen sind doch kein Grund, traurig zu sein (5/5)
  16. Leigh Matthews - Don't Bang the Barista! (4/5)
  17. Anna Friedrich - Holly: Die verschwundene Chefredakteurin (1/5)
  18. Catherine Lacey - Nobody Is Ever Missing (2/5)
  19. David Wagner - Berlin Triptych (3/5)
  20. Hélène Kohl - Une vie de pintade à Berlin (3/5)
  21. Jonathan Franzen - How To Be Alone (2/5)
  22. Marina Keegan - The Opposite of Loneliness (3/5)
  23. Cristina Henriquez - The Book of Unknown Americans (4/5)
  24. Raymond Queneau - Zazie in the Metro (2/5)
  25. Aliza Licht - Leave Your Mark: Land Your Dream Job. Kill it in Your Career. Rock Social Media. (3/5)
  26. Gaston Dorren - Lingo: A Language Spotter's Guide to Europe (2/5)
  27. Tiina Walsh - Fine-Tuning Hanna (3/5)
  28. Anna Winger - This Must Be the Place (1/5)
  29. Lydia Davis - Can't and Won't (4/5)
  30. Rory MacLean - Berlin: Imagine a City (3/5)
  31. Kate Zambreno - Green Girl (3/5)
  32. Sophie Senoner - Nachtaktiv (4/5)
  33. Louise Erdrich - Four Souls (3/5)
  34. Máire T. Robinson - Your Mixtape Unravels My Heart (4/5)
  35. Erica Fischer - Aimée & Jaguar: Eine Liebesgeschichte, Berlin 1943 (3/5)
  36. Haruki Murakami - Kafka on the Shore (2/5)
  37. Jana Frey - Schwarze Zeit (3/5)
  38. John Darnielle - Wolf in White Van (5/5)
  39. Máire T. Robinson - Skin Paper Stone (4/5)
  40. Kim Thúy - Mãn (3/5)
  41. Patricia Highsmith - Carol (3/5)
  42. Maxine Beneba Clarke - Foreign Soil (3/5)
  43. Patti Smith - Just Kids (4/5)
  44. Rut Hillarp - The Black Curve (no rating)
  45. Rachel Hills - The Sex Myth (4/5)
  46. Carrie Brownstein - Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl (3/5)
  47. Dean Garlick - Chloes (4/5)

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Christmas, home

I hadn't spent Christmas in the UK since 2012. In contrast to the stress of last year, the Vorweihnachtszeit (Christmas run-up - though that's hardly an elegant translation) in Berlin has been really nice; I visited four markets and enjoyed the general warm spirit around the city, although I wasn't exempt from that tiring end-of-year-rush feeling that comes with it.

It had been nine months since I'd last been in the UK and I hadn't even realised it. My life in Berlin has changed a lot since my last visit and there are many great people I know there now whom I didn't know back then.
All in all, Christmas has been rather good this year; this probably has a lot to do with the fact it's the first one where I've had a salary and therefore actually been able to get people gifts (which I really enjoy doing, by the way). In general, I am glad it comes once a year and lasts for one day. Feels about right.

When I was eight, I had a few pen pals. I had put an ad in Girl Talk magazine (now unrecognisable from what it used to be, btw) and got, no joke, 20 replies. I had to make that my after-school project for a couple of weeks - replying to all my letters. At the zenith of my pen pal career, I had about six regulars. By the age of 15 or so, the number had petered out to two or three. I'm no longer in contact with any of them, but I am pretty sure this set the ball rolling for hiding out on the internet, making friends on there and even meeting them in real life, long before this became more widespread and socially acceptable in the past couple of years.
Anyway, each year, I would of course send them all Christmas cards. In my early teens, after Christmas, I would follow up my cards with a letter listing all the presents I got. I'm not really sure why I did this, apart from to seek validation from faraway peers. It reached its peak when one pen pal and I, whom I felt a particular kinship with, swapped Bang On the Door for Emily the Strange, and got into pop-punk. We discussed how annoying people at school were and related our CD collections and wishlists to each other.

You know what? I don't know if I can quite say I am less materialistic now, 10 years later. For sure, I love stuff. Not the kind of stuff that's flashy, takes up a lot of physical space and that you need a warranty for, which I think is what most people are talking about when they say the word "materialistic", but bits and bobs that make me feel like home. Books, for example. I do have a Kindle, which I enjoy a lot, but I'm never going to fall out of love with books.
When I was moving about a lot in my first months of Berlin life, it was important to have things on hand that would help me maintain a sense of consistency and at least pretend to feel at home. I bought a lamp in the shape of an owl and my own duvet cover set that would help me feel settled no matter where I laid my head.

In the months since I had last been in the UK, I had been grappling with my feelings about this country whose latest developments I now basically only heard about over Twitter - things that felt surreal but also weren't exactly surprising (5p for plastic bags, Cameron and pig, floods). Berlin is an extraordinary place in several respects, so you can't really compare it to certain countries as a whole. My experience of Germany would be quite different if, say, I was somewhere in Saarland.

To quote a Neko Case song, 'I've lost my taste for home, and that's a dirty, fallow feeling'. I've no desire to return to live in the UK, but my connection to it can't exist without my family, and vice versa. There have been certain things that I have appreciated during my days here over the festive period: cooking with my mum; affordable and tasty hummus in supermarkets (sorry, but it's just not the same in Berlin); free cash withdrawals; cashiers greeting you while they're still scanning stuff from the person in front (this took me by surprise and I'm not even one who grumbles about the mythical rude German customer service).

More recently, I've begun to recognise aspects of Berlin that get on my nerves. I've discussed them with others at length and it has been validating to know that I'm not alone. Still, I realise I am the mistress of my own destiny and it's up to me to make changes that will make me feel less annoyed in the New Year.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Albums of 2015: part 2

(Curious about my favourite albums in the first half of the year? Here they are!)

Joanna Newsom - Divers

Beach House - Thank Your Lucky Stars

Majical Cloudz - Are You Alone?

Grimes - Art Angels

Schnipo Schranke - Satt

Cœur de Pirate - Roses

Safia Nolin - Limoilou

Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

John Grant - Grey Tickles, Black Pressure

You might notice that a lot of this stuff happens to be from Montreal/Quebec. Keep an eye out for a post I'll make about the coolest current artists from there!