The Reader

101299The Reader has garnished my shelves now for about three years and I have finally gotten a chance to enjoy it.  If anything it’s made me want to review all the unread books on my shelves and to get cracking on them.  This novel has been talked about here and there over the years but I’ve never heard any of my book buddies talk about it.  I feel it’s a hidden jewel that everybody should try to possess.

Michael Berg becomes ill one day on his way home from school when Hanna picks him up and cleans him off.  She is twice his age and he is only fifteen years old.  Michael continues to go back to visit Hanna and they carry on a love affair for a while.  As time goes on, the complexities of Hanna start to show, but Michael is virtually incapable of any analysis of this mysterious woman and her ways, who awakens his sexuality, his senses, as he becomes a man.

The novel is told in first person which makes it personal, as if a friend is telling his story.  The narrator is a very reliable source because he’s very honest about some very personal private emotions that sometimes aren’t too flattering.  The Reader is erotic, melancholic, hopeful, and infuriating.  I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that put me through so many profound emotions.  At times I felt like a voyeur.  Schlink was a master at writing this story because it contains all the aspects of what’s needed to make a perfectly balanced.  Nothing is done for sensationalism.  Every scene has its reason for existing.

Schlink also did an excellent job exploring how the generation of World War II born during or right after the war must have felt and how the collective conscience tries to adapt.  The guilt was terribly heavy and doubt was looming over friends but especially family – wondering to what extent they had participated in the war or to what degree did their silence cost lives.  It’s terrifying having had to face such heavy actions.  This theme is carried right through the book when Michael deals with different characters, his father included.

The Reader was translated into 37 languages and won a few awards including the Hans Fallada Prize (awarded every two years to a young author from the German speaking world since 1981) in 1988, while being the first German book to top the The New York Times bestselling books list.  The film adaptation lead to Kate Winslet winning an Academy Award for best actress for her portrayal of Hanna Schmitz.  Bernhard Schlink has written many books including non-fiction and crime novels.  He was born in Bethel, Germany in 1944 although he was brought up in Heidelberg and worked as a professor of law at the University of Berlin and later became a judge.  The Reader was his first novel that was translated into English in 1997.  Watch the link below to find out more about how and why he wrote The Reader.  He’s a very interesting speaker.

Title: The Reader

Genre:  Historical Fiction/German literature/World War II Holocaust

Published:  1995 – 1997 translated to English

Edition:  Vintage International

Pages:  218

Language:  English

My rating:  * * * * 1/2


Teacher Feature #4

Name: Wiebke Franke Image      

Nationality: German

How long have you been teaching?        

I have been teaching English since 2004.

What are you teaching? EFL/ESL?    

I teach ESL for adults.

What certifications do you have?    

I have a teaching degree for elementary schools (math and sports), and Magistra Artium in English literature.

How did you get into teaching English?    

While I was at university I was looking for something I could do with my English studies and somehow got into contact with people organizing presentations in English for ESL learners at adult education centers in Hanover. So I started giving slide shows in English and then took over a few evening classes.

Where are you currently working? country, school, companies, etc.            

I am currently working in Hanover, Germany, for an English Language School, Wall Street English. The school works with a combination of e-learning and teacher lessons.

What kind of contract are you working under?              

I have an unlimited 10h/week contract. But it comes with overtime, as we do not have regular classes but individual lessons that change every week.

How long have you been working there?          

Technically since 2006, however, I didn’t start as a teacher but as a personal tutor. I have been employed as a teacher there for 2 years now.

Where else have you worked?             

I’ve worked for adult education centers, and for a private vocational school. There I have been teaching English for students getting an education in hotel management and tourism.


Where do you prefer teaching English?            

Definitely at the language school. We don’t use exams and standard evaluation systems, like grades. Adult education centers are great, too, but people don’t often come regularly. I prefer working with adults who want to learn the language.

What do you love about teaching English?     

 I love the language and I think it is very important in today’s world. Teaching English gives me the opportunity to meet many people with varying backgrounds. I enjoy having conversations and discussions on various topics with them, this way I can learn something from my students, too.


What are the advantages to teaching for you?                

Like I said before, teaching English I meet many interesting people and I am not limited to one topic. To keep classes interesting I need to stay in touch with what is going on outside my little job bubble. Furthermore it never gets boring, although there is some routine, no class is like any other.

What are the disadvantages to teaching for you?          

 It is very difficult to find a job that is secure and supports you.

Do you like teaching English?  Why?                               

I like teaching English for the aforementioned reasons, it is always interesting and exciting. Plus I get the chance to work in a language I love.

Do you do another job?                      

Currently I also work in a cinema and am on a break from teaching aerobics classes.

I’d like to give a big thanks to Wiebke for sharing a bit of her English teaching in Germany.  You can also check out Wiebke’s very interesting You Tube channel called 1book1review where she reviews books and talks about other bookish topics. 

Graphic Novels #1

138398138396You’re probably wondering what drove me to pick up these two since they don’t really correspond to what I typically read.  I guess it was good old-fashioned curiosity.  I’ve heard so many things about Walking Dead that I had to give it a try.  It’s one of the hot American tv series at the moment and I tried that out too.  I only watched the first four episodes of season one to get an idea.  I left off where the guys saws his hand off to get out of some handcuffs.  I’m good.

Now I have to say I’m no zombie expert or anything but I found the graphic novels not so bad.  The story begins with the main protagonist Rick waking up in a hospital bed to find no living beings left there except some zombies in an enclosed operating room.  He then ventures out of the hospital searching for his wife and son. He grabs a bike and rides to his home which he finds abandoned.  As he leaves and is searching for anyone who can explain what’s going on he’s hit on the back of the head with a shovel and the post apocalyptic adventure begins.

I read these stories in French because I was enticed into buying them while in the manga section looking for a birthday present for one of my daughters.  I could read more of these but I’d really have to be in the mood, not to mention there are about 16 volumes in this series for the moment.  I’ll be hitting up my local library for the others at some point.  Reading Walking Dead in French didn’t change much to the story.  It read very much like a film.  However, they were extremely different from the television series.  In my opinion the graphic novels had a better story line, while the television series is more sensationalist and the characters are pretty despicable.  There is more emphasis placed on blood, guts, and shock value.  The graphic novels seem to study the aspect of survival and how people behave in these extreme situations.  Fidelity, love, family, and killing are other recurring themes.

The artwork in book one Passé Décomposé, which is called Days Gone By in English was beautifully executed.  The detail in the faces and shading in the scenery was fantastic.  It was a joy to look at.  As for the second book Cette Vie Derrière Nous, which is called Miles Behind Us, I had a lot of difficulty adjusting to the artwork.  All the characters from the first book looked different in the second one and some even looked older than what they were in the first one. The utilisation of black ink sort of made everybody look a little crazy in book two.  Walking Dead is written by Robert Kirkman who started in comics in the United States around 2000.  The artists for book one are Charlie Adlard, who is a British comic book artist and debuted his career in the 1990s and Tony Moore another American comic book artist who worked with Robert Kirkman on another project called Battle Pope.  The artistic combination was a success but in book two the artwork isn’t as personal and detailed as in book one, which is done solely by Adlard.

417d+cvNYUL._SL500_This next graphic novel was a real surprise.  I must admit that what attracted me to it was the beautiful cover and its title.  How could I pass on a story about Cairo, the place where I lived for three and a half years.  This is an adventure involving an Egyptian journalist, an American girl, an American/Lebanese boy, a hashish smuggler, a woman Israeli soldier, and a jinn.  There’s magic, humour, fantasy, adventure, and a bit of religion. The hunt for a magical hookah which can lead to immense power.  Cairo was cited as one of the Best Graphic Novels for High School Students in 2008, one of 2009’s Top Ten Graphic Novels for Teens by American Library Association and named one of the best graphic novels of 2007 by Publishers Weekly.

I found this story interesting and an extremely quick read.  I almost wished the story would have been a bit more complex and lasted a bit longer, maybe a part two.  I enjoyed the snarky personalities of Ashraf, the drug smuggler and Tova, the Israeli soldier.  The ambiance of the story was complete with references to Arabic literature and enough Arabic words to make you feel Egypt.  The artwork was beautifully detailed and loved the way the mis en page was done.  I liked the way there were some squares that were upside down.  That really added to the story.  M.K. Perker was the artist of Cairo.  He is Turkish and started comic book drawing at 16 years old.  He really does have a perfected technique that showed throughout the story.

G. Willow Wilson has written other graphic novels such as Air a four-volume graphic novel, Mystic: The Tenth wilson_1Apprentice, Vixen: Return of the Lion, Alif the Unseen, and The Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman’s Journey to Love and  Islam.  Wilson was born and raised in New Jersey.  She was studying Arabic and history at Boston University where she eventually converted to Islam.  She then moved to Cairo where she taught English and furthered her writing career.  At 21 years old, she was the first Western writer to interview the current Egyptian Mufti.  She was also longlisted for the Women’s Prize for fiction 2013 for her first novel Alif the Unseen.  It’s a story about a young Arab-Indian hacker who protects his dishonest clients. I suggest you check out something by G. Willow Wilson because I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more about her.


The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013 Shortlist

1579084251eP+WiFpiL12611253 So here they are.  The Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist was announced today at the London Book Fair.  The longlist was competitive and somewhat diversified, but the shortlist competition is even stiffer.  I was happily surprised to see that Where’d You Go, Bernadette made it to the shortlist, after having read so much about it not being serious enough to be nominated or win a literary prize because of its modern epistolary form.  If you read    135378911606173413507212my review you know I loved it and found it refreshing and well-balanced.  I haven’t read the others but they have all been moved up to the top of my TBR for 2013.  The only real disappointment with the longlist is that it didn’t contain more women writers of colour.  Although I was thrilled to see Zadie Smith’s NW on the shortlist.  I enjoy her “keep it real” writing.  I’m anxious to read this one since the reviews have been mixed.  I’m expecting NW to pull me completely out of my comfort zone.  I probably won’t get to Bring Up the Bodies this year since I haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading Wolf Hall.  It looks as if Mantel, Smith, and Kingsolver are the top contenders – Hilary Mantel for winning the Man Booker Prize in 2009 and 2012,  Zadie Smith winning the Orange Prize in 2006 for On Beauty, and Barbara Kingsolver winning the Orange Prize in 2010 for The Lacuna.  I imagine people are wondering why the Women’s Prize even exists since it doesn’t seem to be a necessity with all the other literary prizes out there that seem to be dominated by women.  In my opinion, women’s literary work is still by large ignored and not valued enough.  The Women’s Prize will continue to aid in spotlighting some of the best women’s literary work available as well as discovering new writers.  Good luck to all those that made the shortlist and may the best woman win.  So, what do you think of this shortlist?  Are you interested in reading any of them, if so which ones?  Check out the video below of the judges talking about the books on the shortlist. The judges are Miranda Richardson, (Chair), Actor, Razia Iqbal, BBC Broadcaster and Journalist, Rachel Johnson, Author, Editor and Journalist, JoJo Moyes, Author, and Natasha Walter, Feminist Writer and Human Rights Activist.  Ah, you can feel the suspense.  Happy reading….

The Personal History of Rachel DuPree

7935678It is 1917 and Rachel and Isaac have been married for fourteen years.  They left Chicago to settle in the South Dakota Badlands to farm a large quantity of land bought together.  Rachel and Isaac’s love and family grow through harsh winters, excessive droughts, and back-breaking chores while trying to raise children and make a living from the land.  This was not a typical lifestyle for African-Americans at that time.

Isaac is a strong terribly ambitious ex-buffalo soldier with an extreme hatred for the Native American Indian.  Rachel is a naive, worn down woman who is seeking love, family, and her own home.  They enter into their marriage as a contract both hoping to get what they desire, where the harsh South Dakota Badlands puts them both to the test.

The setting of The Personal History of Rachel Dupree is stark and lonely.  This black family is not only isolated by their location but by their race as well.  They are the only blacks farming in this area and their nearest neighbours are white and at least five miles away. Loneliness and isolation are omnipresent.  Weisgarber got the idea for this novel after seeing a picture of a black woman in front of a sod dugout during one of her trips through the Badlands.  She felt that it was disappointing that this bit of African-American history had been ignored and began writing The Personal History of Rachel DuPree.  This book has a myriad of themes running through it such as racism, feminism, farming life, family, marriage, and the list goes on.  It would make an excellent book club choice.  There is a lot to discuss.

The Personal History of Rachel DuPree was shortlisted for the Orange Award for New Writers and longlisted for the Orange Prize in 2009.  The Winner was An Equal Stillness by Francesca Kay.  The is was an excellent start for Ann Weisgarber as a first novel.  The topic was unusual and attempted in an interesting manner.  In spite of that, I felt that it was strange how I didn’t really feel much for Rachel or any other character in the novel.  I must admit I started to fill better about her by the end of the story.  The best described character in the novel was Mrs. DuPree, Isaac’s mother.  She was a stern, ambitious, mean-spirited, nasty piece of work.  She brought some life to the book though.  You could almost imagine what she looked like.  I enjoyed the chapter on Ida B. Wells-Barnett (the first African-American journalist writing articles defending blacks and women), which was an excellent way of Weisgarber setting Rachel’s standards and expectations of life.  It helped me understand more about why she made the quick decision in the first place to marry Isaac DuPree.  In the end, I was glad to have read it, but I felt as if this book was missing something that I couldn’t seem to put my finger on.

Ann Weisgarber was born and raised in Ohio.  She has a Bachelor of Arts and Masters in Social Work and Sociology. She lives in Texas.  She and her husband love the outdoors and visiting national parks.  Her second novel The Promise was just released in March 2013.  It is another compelling story with intriguing characters, love, and hidden secrets set in the midst of a natural disaster.

Title: The Personal History of Rachel DuPree

Genre:  Historical Fiction/African-American/Women’s

Published:  2008

Edition:  Pan Books

Pages:  307

Language:  English

My rating:  * * * 1/2



Poetry from Spine to Spine – I am Charlotte Simmons

Photo on 3-28-13 at 11.34 PM

I am Charlotte Simmons –

Loving Frank

An Accidental Affair –

Between Lovers

The Alchemy of Desire –

Perfect Chemistry –

Where’d You Go, Bernadette

12611253Ah Bernadette!  You have got to love her in spite of all of her faults.  She’s witty, intelligent, and an immensely creative architect.  Unfortunately, something has happened to her, making her anti-social and borderline argoraphobic.  This is a novel that explores what can go wrong with someone and how that person is perceived by others.  It also speaks of personal limits.  The reader can’t help but love Bernadette Fox because her rants are sometimes the ones we want to do ourselves, but prefer to do it in our heads.  Not doing her job as an architect for a long while, she tries to cope with being stuck at home because she hates going out, while trying to raise her intelligent precocious daughter Bee.  Meanwhile her husband, Elgin, is a big computer guru working for the omnipresent Microsoft or MS as the people call it in the book. He is the reason they have moved to Seattle.

The book is an amazing introspection on what is wrong in American society.  Maria Semple has found an ingenious way of critiquing that through the usage of the different types of correspondence used to tell the story of what happens to Bernadette.  The most original aspect of this book is that it is told from multiple perspectives, using letters, emails, faxes, doctors reports, and interviews.  Some may argue that it isn’t literary enough because of that but I disagree.  What better way to critique society while using one of its devil evils, emailing, etc.  It’s clear that Semple has taken a lot of care into weaving the story.  There are many issues that are developed such as husband/wife relationships, mother/daughter relationships, being wealthy, creating, socializing, integrating into a community, etc.  What I love the most is that it got me to laugh out loud quite a few times.  It is an entertaining and gratifying read.  It really made me wonder how I would react to some of the things that happened to Bernadette.  At one moment, there is a reference to a novel with a famous architect in it and Bernadette’s creativity rivals his ingenuity.  The only thing is Bernadette is human and that fragility is what makes the reader empathise with her.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is not Maria Semple’s first novel.  It was The One is Mine.  It is the story of a profoundly unhappy woman named Violet Parry, who is living a luxurious life with her husband David and her toddler Dot.  It’s not until she meets Teddy that things seem to be very different for her.  Semple wrote on various popular television series where she’s proved she knows how to tell a story.  She is credited for having worked on shows such as Saturday Night Live, Arrested Development, Suddenly Susan Mad About You, 90210, and Ellen.  Writing might be in her blood as they say since her father Lorenzo Semple, Jr. worked on the television series of Batman.  Maria Semple lives in Seattle with her husband and her daughter Poppy.  Check out the link below where Semple talks about how she went about writing Where’d You Go, Bernadette and mentions a few excellent pointers for debutant writers.

Title: Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Genre:  Adult Fiction/Humor/Contemporary

Published:  August 2012

Edition:  Little, Brown and Company

Pages:  320

Language:  English

My rating:  * * * * *

My favorite quote:  ”I was downtown early one morning and I noticed the streets were full of people pulling wheelie suitcases.  And I thought, Wow here’s city full of go-getters.  Then I realized, no, these are all homeless bums who have spent the night in doorways and are packing up before they get kicked out.  Seattle is the only city where you step in shit and you pray, please God, let this be dog shit.” (Where’d You Go, Bernadette, p. 124)