Best Books of 2011

This year I read a lot. According to Goodreads I made a total of 73 books, missing my goal of 75 just by two books. I guess this has mostly to do with the fact that I work somewhere else than where I live and that includes a lot of time spent alone, riding trains and the fact that I finally got a Kindle in February which makes carrying books around much easier.

Somehow there were no real highlights, except one book really close to the end of the year which broke my heart in all kinds of ways but is unfortunately not (yet?) translated to English.

10. Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi

This book got into the Top Ten list mostly on cuteness. Apart from that it is a pretty standard science fiction story with some additional extraterrestial lawyer stuff. And then it’s cute. because there are Fuzzies. And Fuzzies excel at cute.

In some ways the book is very much written like a movie, which you could hold against the author, but I don’t. It makes for a pretty straightforward and enjoyable read and in fact it made me want to watch the (non-existing) movie. Also, Wil Wheaton is a damn good audio book narrator.

9. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Someone from the Sword and Laser book club said that this book is nothing more than a giant WoW quest. Erm, maybe, but that’s what makes it so much fun!

It’s a science fiction story about a massive easter egg hunt within the virtual world of OASIS and it is stuffed with 80s references. So there you go, what’s not to love?

8. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

I didn’t know what to expect from this book and it’s still a bit hard to describe. A science fiction anti romance maybe? Yes, it’s a love story, but often it doesn’t feel like one, because nearly everyone seems so removed from any kind of honest feelings.

The really fascinating thing though was that the future world described in this book seems very far and very close at the same time. At first look it’s just a strange, strange world, but once you look closer and compare it to where we have come to in the last couple of years, it doesn’t seem so impossible that this is where we’re actually headed. And if that’s not scary, I don’t know what is.

7. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

If you don’t know what this book is about then you’re probably not into YA dystopia books and then you probably won’t read this book anyway, regardless of how good people tell you how it is.

If you don’t believe the hype, make an exception. It’s a really good book. I was also surprised at how much I like the trailer for the movie. In fact I seem to tear up a little every time I watch it, which I hope is a good sign for the movie.

6. Room by Emmy Donoghue

A very strange and horrifying book about a nearly unbelievable crime told from the point of view of five year old Jack. Jack lives with Ma in Room. In Room there is Table and Bed and Wardrobe and it’s all Jack knows about the world.

Room is a great book and I can’t really say a lot more without giving away some of the plot. Suffice to say that I could hardly put it down.

5. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Apart from the fact that Patrick Rothfuss is a fan of Joss Whedon and seems like a generally cool guy, The Name of the Wind  is also a pretty great fantasy book.

It tells the story of Kvothe, also known as the Kingkiller, who tells the story of his life to a nightly visitor. All in all you have your basic fantasy story, but it’s so amazingly tight and well written, that it really stands out from the crowd.

4. Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

I’m even more of a Jasper Fforde fan now that I’ve seen and heard him talk in person, and I’ve come to appreciate Shades of Grey more over the year. It’s one of those books that are so easy to read that you don’t grasp how good they really are until later.

And Jasper Fforde strikes again with an imaginative tale about a world somewhen in the future where society is based on color perception, there are flesh eating trees and self-cleaning roads and much more. Wait… WHAT? A society based on color perception? Exactly. Like I said. Just read it and appreciate the wild ride this book takes you on.

3. The Fry Chronicles by Stephen Fry

2011 was the year I discovered QI and now I firmly believe that Stephen Fry might be one of the best things the world currently has to offer.

I read The Fry Chronicles as an audio book narrated by the author (i.e. Mr. Fry) himself which is cool on more levels than is probably healthy. He tells the story of his life from his childhood (briefly) to his mid-twenties and although this seems like a pretty short span to cover, the story isn’t boring for one second and Stephen Fry gets only more likable with each page (or minute, whatever).

2. Dask and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

I don’t know why exactly I love this book as much as I did. Oh, wait, I do. It has riddles and scavenger hunts and loads of books. And New York City. And Christmas.

It reminded me of books like Markus Zusak’s I am the Messenger or Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love, in that it is just a very simple book which is also incredibly sweet and emotional and just makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside.

1. Die Herrenausstatterin by Mariana Leky

This is just… I don’t even know how to… The book was recommended to me by Isa and I would possibly never have picked it up if it hadn’t been highly recommended.

It’s the story of Katja whose husband has left her and died and now suddenly there’s a man in her bathroom who is invisible to everyone but her and who won’t leave. And there’s also the fireman who suddenly turns up in her life. It’s an incredibly sad book, but it’s also amazingly funny and wonderful and I’ll stop before this turns into a long list of enthusiastic adjectives. Just know that I bawled my eyes out and kicked my pillow because this is how great it is.

(Sadly I don’t know of any English translation, existing or planned.)


So there you go. Anything you’d like to add. If not I’ll see you for the special awards next week.

An Evening with Jasper Fforde

P1010878I haven’t been to a reading in a very very long time. In fact, the only reading I remember going to was about 15 years ago when I saw Matt Ruff reading from Sewer, Gas and Electric with a (back then) unknown German actress named Franka Potente reading the German translation.

I do remember how funny that reading was. Which makes me wonder why I’m not going to these things more often. Sure, my favorite authors all come from the United Kingdom, the United States or Japan (despite one German author who seems to avoid public performances like the plague), so it’s not that often that I see a reading scheduled here with someone I really want to see.

Jasper Fforde is one of those guys. He is an author who fascinates me in that he writes stories that are more or less impossible. The Thursday Next books were crazy enough with all the people jumping in and out of books and characters being kidnapped from their stories and a world obsessed with literature and still kind of a scary police state. It was maybe an epiphany book in that I read it and some lightbulb went on inside when I realized: „Oh my god, authors can do that?!?“ Yes, they can! It may be the book that started my obsession with weird books. And I mean a good weird.

It made me realize that my favorite kinds of books are those that should not make sense. Because they have conceptual sharks (The Raw Shark Texts) or ninjas and mimes (The Gone-Away World) or scary giraffes (Un Lun Dun) or a society based on color perception (Shades of Grey). It’s the books that make me go „Whoa!“ every couple of pages because the author does something unexpected and totally outrageous and it shouldn’t make sense, but it does.

I guess I would have stumbled over these books eventually but I still feel thankful for Jasper Fforde for making me realize that these are my books. And I feel thankful for Caitlin for recommending it back in 2005 when I asked my blog readers ‚What Shall I Read Next?‘ and she said ‚Well, The Eyre Affair, OBVIOUSLY‘. Yes. Exactly. Obviously.

So, imagine my joy when I saw that not only was Jasper Fforde coming to Germany. He was coming to a town near where I lived and he was bringing one of my favorite voice actors, Oliver Rohrbeck. So the very next chance I got I went to Frankfurt and bought myself a ticket.

Let me just start with it was so worth it. Every minute – I kid you not – was great.

It started off with Jasper Fforde reading a part from ‚Shades of Grey‘. Then Oliver Rohrbeck read a part of the German translation with such great enthusiasm that I am seriously considering getting the German audio book. Very untypical for me since I usually either have the audiobook or the book and I usually don’t buy translations of English books.

Then they read a dialogue together jumping back and forth between German and English with Jasper Fforde playing the part of the Apocryphical Man and Oliver Rohrbeck doing the part of Eddie Russett. And yes, it was definitely strange, but surprisingly enough it worked. It worked pretty well, actually.

My favorite part though was when Jasper Fforde was talking about how he started writing and how he created writing challenges and dares for himself by thinking up a completely strange situation and telling himself „Now, you write yourself out of THAT!“ and constantly walking the fine line between silly (good) and stupid (bad). „What if…. a man turned into a banana… Now try to write a story around that without being it borderline stupid.“

He also talked about how we started to write the Nursery Crime novels (which he completely rewrote before they were published) because he was really questioning the stories behind fairytales and nursery rhymes. „So Mama Bear and Papa Bear are sleeping in separate beds? WAIT A MINUTE! That can’t be right. Something’s not okay with their marriage.“ Or questioning the physics of porridge. „The whole book is about trying to explain the porridge.“

So, do you see? When I say it was awesome, this is what I mean. It was a great time with a witty and extremely funny author who threatened to not let us leave UNTIL SOMEONE ASKED A QUESTION. (Eventually quite a few people asked questions, so I guess we just needed that initial scare.)

After the actual reading, talking and Q&A I hung back a while talking to other people while realizing that I definitely have to read the Thursday Next books again. And then the Nursery Crimes. And then probably the Dragonslayer books. When the line for book signings was nearly gone, I got up and into the line and after a bit of joking around about signing my Kindle I realized that yes, nothing would be cooler than a Jasper Fforde signature on my Kindle. Why the hell wouldn’t I want to have that? It’s even better than a signed book because I have my Kindle with me always. How could I ever not want that?


I also took a cute dorky photo with me very obviously being the dork and Jasper Fforde being the amazing author that he is.

So. If you ever have the chance to see Jasper Fforde talk, GO! I mean it. Go! And if you haven’t read any of his books I recommend you do so. I don’t care what you choose, just start with one – although I know that The Eyre Affair is the typical Fforde Addiction Starter, so if you’re unsure, start with this one.

And of course a big thank you goes out to the Buchhandlung Schutt for organizing the evening.

And here are the rest of the pictures I took (and had taken by friendly strangers).

Three New Things (More Applicable Wisdom from George R.R. Martin)

2011-07-30_16-15-39_415„Learn three new things before you come back to us,“ the kindly man had commanded Cat, when he sent her forth into the city. She always did. Sometimes it was no more than three new words of the Bravoosi tongue. Sometimes she brought backsailor’s tales, of strange and wondrous happenings from the wide wet world beyond the isles of Braavos, wars and rains of toads and dragons hatching. Sometimes she learned three new japes or three new riddles, or tricks of the trade or the other. And every so often, she would learn some secret.

On Saturday I learned that there’s something called the Lorenzian Waterwheel which due to how it’s constructed will change its direction in a completely chaotic and therefore unpredictable manner. I learned that microfiche has a durability of about 500 years (compared to the meagre 30 years CDs are expected to last). And I learned that the reconstruction of a finial of the Cologne Cathedral that serves as an example of how big the finials actually are has info panels in a lot of different languages including the Cologne dialect.


This Saturday we went to a children’s science museum in Cologne called Odysseum. Without any children, naturally. People who know me might already be aware of the fact that I love going to the zoo, or better even, the aquarium. I also love any science museum with hands-on experiments – and the only reason why I wasn’t disappointed not to go to the Exploratorium in San Franciscos was because we went to see Where the Wild Things Are instead. So, yeah. I’m only an adult by appearance. And by the fact that I earn my own money and pay taxes, I guess.
But leaving behind the whole thing about how I think there should be way more museums where you can touch stuff and push buttons and turn handles and make things move or change or whatnot, and going back to the original quote from A Feast of Crows by George R.R. Martin.
The girl in this quote is asked to go out each day and come back with three new things that she knows now that she didn’t know yesterday. It’s such a simple rule that I think we all need to add this little rule to our lives. Each evening I should ask myself what I learned today. And make sure that I don’t cheat.
Just like in the book, there should be two simple rules.
1. It’s gotta be something new, something I didn’t know when I woke up that morning.
2. Only facts count. No guesses or something somebody told somebody else without having confirmation.
The second rule is kind of interesting, because the nature of facts are tackled in the book as well and the rule can be bent a bit to accomodate for a grey area of not-quite-facts.
„Tormo Fregar will be the new sealord.“
„Is that what they are saying at the Inn of the Green Eel?“
[…] He swallowed and said, „Some men say there is wisdom in wine. Such men are fools. At other inns other names are being bruited about, never doubt.“ He took another bite of egg, chewed, swallowed. „What three things do you know, that you did not know before?“
„I know that some men are saying that Tormo Fregar will surely be the new sealord,“ she answered. „Some drunken men.“
Learning three new things each day might not sound like a real challenge, but making it a daily ritual might help being a bit more attentive in your daily life and paying attention to what you stumble upon in terms of little bits of facts and new knowledge and actually remembering what you learned at the end of the day.
In fact when writing this article I actually had problems coming up with three things that I really didn’t know before that seemed worthy enough to count. So, maybe it is a challenge after all.
So, if you read this at the end of the day, what three things did you learn today, that you didn’t know before?

Brushing up on Austen

cassandraausten-janeaustenbackview1804I’ve wanted to write about my personal thoughts on what makes a geek, and my very culinary weekend and a ton of other stuff which might or might not include my new adventures on the ukulele, but I decided that tonight you get Jane Austen.

So, why is that?

Since I had my Kindle I’ve squeezed in some classics in between, because they’re free and it’s a good excuse to read up on some Dickens or Jules Verne or H.G. Wells or Lucy Maud Montgomery. Or Jane Austen. I’ve liked her stories pretty much since I saw the 1995 Ang Lee adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, but I never really pursued the Austen path until now. Before I got my Kindle I had read Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Emma. I hadn’t seen any of the movies aside from the aforementioned Sense and Sensibility, but that’s all going to change.

Given that she only wrote six complete novels (there are a few other works here and there, look it up on Wikipedia if you want to know more, that’s what I did), I am now 2/3 through her books and 1/2 through the movies and I guess I will be through all of it completely by the end of the year at the latest (I’m guessing earlier).

The thing about her books is that they’re are surprisingly intelligent, funny and witty. I have my problems with Charles Dickens or at least I had them with Great Expectations which I thought dragged on a bit whereas Pride and Prejudice pretty much just flies by.

As for my favorites, I think I want to wait until I finished all of the novels and come back to that question then. So far it’s Pride and Prejudice which seem like the most mature and complex novel to me so far. I wasn’t completely convinced by Emma, although I’m looking forward to watching the movie adaptation. Northanger Abbey might be the most ironic so far, but that’s also the book’s biggest problem as it’s hard to sympathize with a heroine who is mostly a naive dud. And I need to re-read Sense and Sensibility to be able to judge it.

Pretty sure though that Sense and Sensibility will win the favorite adaptation award, mostly because of Alan Rickman. I know it’s a bit unfair, but I’m helpless that way. Anything with Alan Rickman automatically wins. That’s just how it is.

So I’ll get back to you when I’m done with the three books I still mean to read and have watched at least one film adaptation of each book and write about the ultimate Austen experience. Since I also need  to finish George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, I guess I’ll be pretty busy this summer. But at least I won’t be bored.

(Software) Management Advice Courtesy of Game of Thrones

136063_sean-bean-as-ned-stark-in-game-of-thrones-2011I recently read Game of Thrones, partly just because and partly because I wanted to be done with the first book of the series before the HBO series started. (Might I say that I think that I was right to read the books first. While I really liked the pilot I’m not sure how many things are lost on someone who hasn’t read the books. It might still work, but it’s probably not the same.)

In the book I stumbled upon two passages that reminded me of very valuable management lessons which apply nearly as is to your common workplace. Here’s the first one:

„Know the men who follow you,“ she heard him tell Robb once, „and let them know you. Don’t ask your men to die for a stranger.“ At Winterfell he always had an extra seat set at his own table, and every day a different man would be asked to join him. One night it would be Vayon Poole, and the talk would be coppers and bread stores and servants. The next time it would be Mikken, and their father would listen to him go on about armor and swords and how hot a forge should be and the best way to temper steel. Another day it might be Hullen with his endless horse talk, or Septon Chayle from the library, or Jory, or Ser Rodrik, or even Old Nan with her stories.

I think this resembles closely to what I’d say goes for a manager. I mean, you don’t have to be each and every one of your employees‘ best friend, but at least get to know them a bit and make them feel that you’re interested in them. This can be purely work-related, by the way. Find out what they like to do, what tasks they enjoy and which ones they hate, what gets them motivated. In the best case, this is a win-win, because you might be able to assign tasks to the employee who has the most interest in doing a good job. You’re happy, they’re happy. I say, in the best case.

But even if you can’t just magically pull awesome tasks from your sleeves to hand out to your happy employees, getting to know them is important. We’re all just people and unless someone really is the kind of guy who wants to be left alone, we enjoy talking about… well… stuff. What you make of it is up to you and maybe it’s nothing more than showing that you care. In the end, though your employees probably won’t literally die for you, chances are they’re more likely to stick up for you and the rest of the team if they feel connected.

(Mind you, I’ve never been in a manager’s position, so this is just my idealistic developer’s point of view. If you want to read more about managing software developers which I’ve heard is very similar to herding cats, just go over and read Michael Lopp’s blog Rands in Repose or his great book Managing Humans.)


Another quote that immediately made me thing of some valuable software development lesson was this:

That was the trouble with the clans; they had an absurd notion that every man’s voice should be heard in council, so they argued about everything, endlessly. Even their women were allowed to speak. Small wonder that it had been hundreds of years since they last threatened the Vale with anything beyond an occaxional raid. Tyrion meant to change that.

That is a classic example of what I learned to know as Design by Committee Must Die. I didn’t come up with this lovely name, there is an excellent article over at Smashing Magazine which says about all that there is to say. It’s true though, while I think it’s important to have people discuss ideas at work, there are certain decisions that are better left for a single person (or at least a very small group of maybe two or three people) to make. The bottom line is, a) you never get done with anything if you want to discuss it first with everyone and b) half of the time you try to make compromises to make everyone happy which leaves you with a design that is so inconsistent that nobody’s happy.

This isn’t a call for tyranny, but it is a call for healthy judgement of decisions that don’t need to be made with the whole team. If someone has valid arguments to object the final decision they will (hopefully) voice them and if they are valid, they should be heard. But make that decision first and then see who deems his time and energy worthwhile to defend their take on the idea.


I find it fascinating who these ideas which are presented in a book in contexts of war and castles and kings and whatnot are so applicable to today’s management values. But then again, maybe it’s not that strange and there are just some values that hardly ever change.

This Geek Girl Would Like to Disagree

So, some of you might be acquainted with the whole Ginia Bellafante/Game of Thrones/Boy Fiction thing that’s been going on in the last couple of days.

If you haven’t, that’s the article in which she is „reviewing“ HBO’s Game of Thrones. And this is her reaction to the mass of outraged replies that first article has earned her.

In a nutshell, I’m with those who say they don’t care about whether she did or did not like the pilot episode of GoT. I usually watch what sounds interesting and don’t really care about what critics or – for that matter – anyone else thinks about it. And I think it’s fair that people don’t like what I like and the other way round. What I care about is that I, too, felt personally offended by what she wrote, and I’m not even that much of a GoT fan. I have only read the first book and enjoyed it a lot and I partly read it now so that I would be able to watch the show with a bit of context.

However, there are already a lot of blog posts out there from girls like me who have written down their thoughts and I agree nearly completely with what they all have to say, so I feel there’s no special need for me to write another reply in which I say what hundreds of other people have already stated very clearly.

What I would like to say though is that I’m always so disappointed when I come upon people who look down on what other people like and act like they’re better because they read supposedly  better books or watch better movies or even don’t have a TV at all, because TV is bad and books are great. 

Hey, guess what? I read lots and lots of books and I currently don’t have a TV for most of the week and when I’m at home on the weekends we sometimes manage to spend it nearly entirely without watching. I’m still able to stare in amazement at some of the crappier shows and love every minute of it without being ashamed to talk about it. 

In her reply to the comments Bellafante writes:

At the same time, I am sure that there are fantasy fans out there who may not know a single person who worships at the altar of quietly hewn domestic novels or celebrates the films of Nicole Holofcener or is engrossed by reruns of “House.”

I’m not sure what counts as quietly hewn domestic novels, and I think I have seen nothing by Mrs. Holofcener, but I really love watching „House“. I also watch „How I Met Your Mother“ and „Grey’s Anatomy“ and „Psych“ and „Parenthood“ and „The Chicago Code“ and „Supernatural“ and „Dexter“ and… yeah, you get the picture. (Too many shows, basically.) My last books have been some fantasy and science fiction novels, but also some classic children’s books (The Enchanted Castle and Anne of Green Gables), Room by Emma Donoghue and the heart-breakingly sad and charming The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Yes, I enjoy fantasy and science fiction. I might enjoy them a tiny bit more than lots of other genres, but that doesn’t mean I’m a fantasy and sci-fi fan. I’m a book fan. I’m also a music fan. And a TV fan. And a movie fan. And the only reason why I don’t watch horror movies anymore is not because I think they’re stupid, but because I won’t go through another week where I have to get up at 3 am to babysit my TV to make sure that no goddamn girl crawls out of there. I also watched only about half of I Am Legend because for the other half of the time I had my hands before my eyes. I like horror films, I’m just not very good at dealing with them.

But I’ve watched plenty of artsy French movies from the 60s as well as Japanese anime, comedies of all kinds (the romantic and the funny), thrillers, dramas, and I still think that Twister is really cool and Con Air is freaking awesome. I can do all these things.

I guess my issue with Mrs. Bellafante’s review and the quote isn’t even that she seems to be looking down on fantasy fans. That is bad enough by itself. What’s even worse is that she cannot seem to imagine that you don’t even have to be a fan to like reading fantasy. I’m not a fantasy fan per se. There is a lot of what is probably essential fantasy that I haven’t read and don’t currently plan to. I just like it a lot.

One reason why I enjoy fantasy and science fiction literature so much is that the really good stuff is mind-blowingly inventive. The nature of these genres allows them to go to places other literature can’t easily go as the authors are free to make up a world entirely of their imagination. But that doesn’t make the genre any better or worse than other books. (And it’s not that I’m saying other books can’t be imaginative and inventive, but it’s somehow different there. Read The Eyre Affair or Un Lun Dun  or Neverwhere if you want to know what I mean.)

What I do take pride in is that I never let any label determine whether I like something or not. I feel that as an intelligent woman I can just read and watch and listen to anything I like and I don’t need to care if it’s considered good or bad or high-brow or low-brow or if it has any label attached to it. I assume that I can decide for myself whether I like it or not and that others are entitled to their own opinion and that we can happily agree to disagree.

The notion that we are divided into genre-lovers disturbs me on a level I can’t quite explain. Basically it sounds incredibly stupid to me. But that’s the subtext I read in the articles of Ginia Bellafante. First she says she doesn’t know any female fantasy lovers. When called upon that she admits that there might be some, but automatically adds that there is a chance that these fans might not be interested in what she’s interested in.

When I felt offended it wasn’t as a fantasy fan, it was as a girl who enjoys reading fantasy books among others and doesn’t like to be assumed to fall into any category that defines what she should and shouldn’t like. I was offended as a person who enjoyed reading GoT and other „books like Mr. Martin’s„. And I was offended by a lack of professionalism and respect for other people which resulted in a review like that.

Kindle – First Impression


Not nearly two weeks ago I finally ordered my Kindle. I’ve been wanting one since last year, but with the new job, the move and everything I pushed it further and further. I had convinced my husband that it would be a nice idea when we were still busy packing up box after box of books and bringing them to our storage. It’s very easy to convince your better half of the advantages of a device that is supposed to hold up to 3,500 books when you have been busy filling more than fourty boxes with books. (Actually, I don’t know how many boxes with books we have, but there are a lot of boxes in storage and I’d guess about 80 percent are filled with books.)

So. On that famous Thursday in February I finally went ahead and did it. It was delivered the very next Monday, which is pretty fast, considering it went all the way from the US to Germany and I immediately picked it up and loaded The Name of the Wind on it. (Mostly because I had listened to an interview with Patrick Rothfuss on the Sword and Laser podcast and he talked about Joss Whedon which is the maybe easiest way to make me like you.)

I was afraid that reading on an e-book reader wouldn’t be my thing. I thought that I might miss the feeling of a book in my hand. Miss actually buying books or having them sent to me in neat little packages and looking at the covers. Afraid that I liked the way a book’s weight changes from one side to the other while you’re reading it.

Fortunately, all this isn’t the case. Or, maybe it’s the other way round, I enjoy the advantages of the Kindle so much that I don’t have time to miss the real book feeling.

Let me first say that the screen is perfect. It really looks like a writte page, perfectly clear and readable in sunlight. There are a couple of reflections when bright light shines directly on it, but that’s all. When I first held it in my hand I was amazed at how small it is and even more, how incredibly light it is. You can hold it comfortably with one hand and press the next page button with your thumb to read practically anywhere.

It took me a couple of pages to get into it, but I very soon forgot that this was not an actual paper book I was holding. It might have helped that The Name of the Wind is such a great read, but I figure it is just that you need some adjustment time to get used to the feeling of an e-book reader. Then you easy like it or not.

I will keep up with more impressions or remarks as I continue carrying my Kindle around with me, but for now, here are a few early comments on the experience:


  • The delivery was awesomely fast. I expected at least two weeks, and it got here in five days. You pay for customs on checkout so that it gets through quicker. Very smart.
  • It is very comfortable to read with, mostly because it’s so light and you only need one hand to hold it and turn the pages. Which makes it easy to pretty much read anywhere, even standing up in a bus or so.
  • Can’t say much about the battery time, but there’s plenty. I have WiFi on all the time, which is supposed to drain the battery somewhat faster. I have charged it once since I originally got it (and not counting the first time I charged it), but that was mostly precautionary.
  • PDFs work okay. I haven’t tried the convert feature so far, just loaded some PDFs I had on my laptop to check how they looked. The font is usually smaller, but it looks generally okay.
  • Most of all: I love reading on it. I was afraid I wouldn’t, but I do. I hope it’s not just enthusiasm, but given that I read nearly 700 pages in less than a week, I’d say that it’s a pretty neat device to read on.

The only irk I had and sometimes still have is a usability issue that I think I just need to get used to (and probably already have). I used to press the „next page“ button on the left side to go back a page every now and then. Somehow the feeling of using a real book got mixed with how the buttons are adjusted. But I also realized that I like the fact that I can hold the Kindle with either hand and just keep turning the page, so I think this is really just something that you need to get used to (if you even have that problem to begin with) rather than faulty design.

Now I’d like for more and more books to be released as e-books as well as Amazon rolling out German books for it. I know there are already some available, but I couldn’t find any current books that I would like to read. And now I’d like to snuggle under the covers and continue reading The Passage.



Best Books of 2010

So, here’s the thing. I normally round up my top ten of the books and sometimes in the past years it was harder and sometimes it was easier. I didn’t read quite as much in 2010 than in the years before nor did I keep track as meticulously as I did before, so I don’t know exactly when I read what and there might even be one or two books that I forgot in my booklist.

I though that this might make it easier to come up with my favorite books of the year 2010, but going through the list I realized that while I only read about half as many books as I used to, most of them were actually pretty good. So while the quantity left something to desire, the quality did not so much.

I find it very hard to come up with a top ten, but I’ll try. I have no problems however to name you my favorite book of the last year. That is such an easy decision, it’s ridiculous. Even half way through the book in question I knew that it would be nearly impossible to find a better book. That has been the case with „The Time Traveler’s Wife“ and „The Raw Shark Texts“, and it was the same here.

So, let’s see what I can offer you for this year. And don’t focus too much on the order of the lower ranks, I just to come up with an order and it doesn’t mean too much.

10. The Woman in the Cage by Jussi Adler Olsen: So apparently the Scandinavian crime phase didn’t stop with finishing the Millennium series in 2009 for me. I originally bought this for my husband, who is a more avid thriller reader than I am. He recommended it, though, and it was actually really good. There are a couple of clichées that are a bit annoying, plus about every review I read shared the feeling that halfway through the book you just know what the supposedly big twist is. But that didn’t really disturb the reading experience so I would just let it slide and say that it’s a pretty good thriller from the small country of Denmark.

9. Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager by Michael Lopp: Maybe a bit strange choice, but I really enjoyed reading this. I didn’t know Lopp’s blog Rands in Repose before I picked up the book. Though the book is intended for software managers it really also is a good read for everyone in the software business who’s not a manager and would like to know about the many, many problems a manager might face when having to deal with these strange creatures called software developers. It’s a quick and fun read and highly enjoyable.

8. Light Boxes by Shane Jones: I read this in about one day, which is understandable considering that the book is pretty short with even shorter chapters. It is also strange and I wouldn’t swear that I understood all of it. But then again there might not be anything to understand. If you want a summary, it’s a modern fable about a village where flight has been forbidden since the village has been taken by the mean and cold month of February. Yeah. Huh? You gotta read it, I guess.

7. Zeitoun by Dave Eggers: I will read anything by Dave Eggers, I think. Anything. I just love him so much and I love most of what he writes (his short story collection wasn’t that amazing, though). Zeitoun is a non-fiction story about the family of the protagonist Zeitoun who are caught both in the middle and in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. The book is just amazing on so many levels that I wouldn’t know where to start.

6. Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist: Again with the Scandinavians. And again I got this for my husband, not really remembering what I had read about it. It’s hard to describe, but it ultimately is a vampire story, but it might also be a sociocritical drama. Or a crime story. Or a horror story. Not sure. we both liked it so much that we also got the movie (pretty good as well). (And my husband made it all the way through the book, although vampires really aren’t his things. Or so he says.)

5. Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane: I have yet to see the movie which is supposedly awesome, but the book is awesome as well. So there. I might have decided to rather read the book than watch the movie, because movies scare me easily and the trailer looked like I would be hiding my eyes behind something for about half of the duration of the movie. So, does anybody still need to know a summary of the story. Detective story in a strange asylum for the mentally ill on a spooky island. There’s your summary. Now you just need to read it.

4. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood: Apparently I dig post-apocalyptic settings. I didn’t realize halfway through the book that this was the setup to Oryx and Crake but to my defense I would like to add  that it’s been three or four years since I’ve read that one. There’s just so much post-apocalypse and dystopy and science-fiction and awesome weird stuff in here, there’s no way I couldn’t enjoy this immensely. That reminds me that I wanted to re-read Oryx and Crake.

3. Perdido Street Station by China Miéville: Yeah. Miéville. He can name his cities whatever he wants, I still see some messed-up version of an upside-down London there. This is one of these books where there’s nearly too much stuff in there and too many characters to keep track of. You also have to get through about 400 pages before you actually get a glimpse of where the story is going. Not Miéville’s best one (though apparently one of his most famous ones), but still pretty good.

2. Anathem by Neal Stephenson: Might be my favorite Neal Stephenson book, if only for the strange way he manages to create a world in which scientists live in seclusion like monks, while the technology is seen for the common people. Plus, a book which has its own glossary can’t really be bad, can it? You have to excuse my lack of better summary, because there’s a) too much going on in a Neal Stephenson book and b) it’s been almost a year since I read it. It’s a Neal Stephenson book. It’s pretty terrific science fiction. It’s Anathem. Do you need any more?

1. The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway: Oh my god, what an amazing book. And it had everything. Everything. Like science fiction. And strange wars. And drama. And story twist that actually were unexpected. And the scene with the sheep. I LOVE the sheep. This book is amazingly fantastic and funny and sad and full of surprises and… did I mention amazing? This was by far the best book I read and there was never a question about it. In fact I might want to read it again soon. If just for the sheep.

So, that was it. I’ll give you the other categories soon. But don’t expect too much, since I have a limited list of books to pick from this year. As long as you pick up The Gone-Away World, all is fine by me, though.

(Don’t) Lie to Me

I recently started to watch Lie to Me with the overly awesome Tim Roth. About a couple of seconds into the intro I knew it all seemed familiar, but I couldn’t quite place where I had read about it. Lie to Me is a show starring a deception expert who can tell what people are feeling by interpreting their expressions, mimics and gestures.

It was the part of the intro where they show the „codes“ that make up certain micro-expressions that I immediately recognized. It took me a while to figure it out, but the series is based on Richard Ekman, who I read about in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. Gladwell dedicates a whole chapter on what Ekman did, analyzing and categorizing expressions. The idea is that though we’re able to a certain extend to hide our feelings, there are certain kinds of expressions that we cannot help showing what we feel. As a bonus, they seem to be universal. Those micro-expressions are generally hard to see if you’re neither a natural at spotting them or trained to do so.

I liked the idea back when I read about it and it’s getting more attractive with every episode I watch of Lie to Me.

Then a few weeks ago we had a terrible catastrophe at the so-called Love Parade not far from where we lived. (In fact, we changed our weekend plans so that we didn’t have to use any highway or train around the area.) Twenty-one people died in a crowd when a panic broke. The next day there was a press conference with some of the most important guys responsible for the event. It was the weirdest thing you’d ever see. It was obvious no-one was going to say anything of value, since everybody up on stage was afraid of how they would implicate themselves in the tragedy. At that point I really wanted to be able to read micro-expressions. I got the weird feeling that the faces up there told a lot more about what was really up than what they said.

It makes you wonder how different the world would seem if you had the ability to recognize feelings in short fleeting moments. I can only guess it’s another example of an ability that can be both a blessing and a curse. However, it’s awfully cool to think about it and if you haven’t already you should check out Lie to Me. And read Blink. Both. In no particular order.

A Year in Books – 2009 Edition, The Rest of It

You got my favorite books this morning. And now, let’s move on to the other categories (in no particular order):

Book That Seemed the Longest (and Probably Was)

That has to be Cryptonomicon. And I won’t even discuss why that is.

Best Children’s Book

I didn’t read a lot of children’s books this year, for no particular reason. Obviously the winner here is Madeleine l’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.

Most Disappointing Books (of Sorts)

 I really can’t decide here. Chris Cleave’s The Other Hand made the mistake of promising too much. I wouldn’t say that it was a bad book, but it just didn’t live up to its praise. (The lesson here is: Don’t buy a book that won’t provide any information on its back and just saying that you should just read it.) Donald Norman’s The Design of Future Things wasn’t anywhere near as good as The Design of Everyday Things. Scarlett Thomas’s PopCo was great in the first half of the book, but it all went downhill in the second half. 

In the end, I think PopCo is the „winner“ here. Sorry.

Best Non-Fiction

This goes to Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, a book that left me initially underwhelmed, but which I found myself quoting again and again, so it really did have an influence on me. (It would be very easy to name Dave Eggers’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius or What is the What here, but they both didn’t really feel like non-fiction.)

Most Charming Book

In the end The Little Book by Selden Edwards can proudly claim to be the winner of this category. I’d like to mention The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz and – of course – A Staggering Work of Heartbreaking Genius since they were in the run as well.

Book With the Most Anticlimactic Ending

Again, Scarlett Thomas’s PopCo wins. Anticlimactic endings and disappointment just fits together really well.

Saddest Book

Carolyn Parkhurst’s The Dogs of Babel. For some reason, I read this for the second time and again it was really, really sad. 

Best Kind-of-Victorian Ghost Story

Easy: Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry. (What did you expect?)

Strangest Book

Ultimately, it has to be David Mitchell’s number9dream. David Mitchell is such an obvious choice that I’d like to add that Jonathan Barnes’s The Somnambulist came in a close second.

Clunkiest Use of a Deus Ex

Jonathan Barnes’s The Somnambulist is a clear winner. I still recommend the book, but you’ll know what I mean when I read it.

Best Comic

This has to be Jeff Smith’s Bone – Rock Jaw, Master of the Eastern Border (Vol. 5). The only comic books I read were volume five and six of the Bone series, and volume five had all the cute animal orphans.


So that was it for the last year. I’ve already read my first two books for 2010 to make sure that I have plenty of choices for next January.