It’s the last day of 2019. I thankfully was stable health-wise, so there isn’t much to share about my health year. I can share books, podcasts, and TV shows that I consumed though, in the hope that they may be entertaining to some of you.
Books I’ve read (sometimes re-read) and enjoyed in 2019:
- “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman. I read this with students, and truly enjoyed it, especially the outside perspective on the US, from 20 years ago.
- “The Anansi Boys“, also by Neil Gaiman. This was inspired by a discussion with students on trickster figures in literature. The Anansi Boys is less dark, more ironic than American gods, and if you have spotify, you should listen to the audio version of it.
- “The Siberian Dilemma” by Martin Cruz Smith. It’s the latest in the Arkady Renko crime series, which I got hooked on ever since reading “Stalin’s Ghost” a few years ago. If you like crime, corruption, and Russian Folklore, this is the book for you.
- “The Nibelungenlied” in a new translation by William Whobrey. Yes, there is the stand-by Hatto one, but I like clear, clean prose, and that’s what William delivers. The story- it has it all: cocky warriors, strong women, gay hunting scenes, awesome fashion, and lots of violence. #teamkriemhild
- “Children of Virtue and Vengeance”, by Tomi Adeyemi. The follow-up to “Children of Blood and Bone” is no less engaging, dramatic and captivating as the first part. I usually could care less for fantasy and world building, but this one has me hooked. Perhaps bc it isn’t written by a white man, and you can tell.
- “The White House of Exile” by Frido Mann. I read this in German in preparation for a workshop I participated in. It’s a lovely, deeply moving meditation on his life as grand-son of Thomas Mann, communication with people who disagree with us, modern politics and metaphysics.
- “The Vagina Bible” by Jen Gunter (MD). There is a medical book I read this year, and I’ll review it soon on here. It’s a no-nonsense approach and doing away with myths about and around the Vagina. If you have one, know someone who has one, this is the book to read.
- “Christopher and His Kind” by Christopher Isherwood. If you love the Musical or Film “Cabaret” or the “Berlin Stories” and/or Berlin in the 1930’s, this is the book for you. With dry wit, and ironic distance, Isherwood describes his live and love(s) in 1930’s Berlin. A classic that should be required reading.
- “The German House” by Annette Hess is a fictionalization of a family shaken by the first Auschwitz Trials (1963-5). I always knew that Fritz Bauer was the hero West Germany didn’t deserve. This book has a few flaws in the plot, but it captures the zeitgeist of the 1960’s and the reluctant confrontation with an ugly past (understatement of the century).
- “We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families” by Philip Gourevitch. 25 Years after the Rwandan Genocide, and 20 years after its initial publication, the stories, observations and conclusions of the book still ring painfully true.
I tried out many, but here are those that I listen to regularly (warning, a lot of them are in German):
- “In the Dark” by APM reports. The first season investigated the Jakob Wetterling case, the second one the Curtis Flowers case. What I like about the crime podcast is that it’s not just a re-telling of the case, but an analysis of the social structures and environment.
- “Eine Stunde History” by Deutschlandfunk Nova. I am not sure why it’s “eine Stunde” because the episodes are never longer than 30 minutes, but they are about events, people and places in history that are not well-known.
- “Bratwurst and Baklava“- two German comedians, one of them with Turkish roots and from Stuttgart, one of them from Gelsenkirchen are talking about everything.
- “Pod Save the World”– a look at US- foreign policy and how it is changing. Warning: it gets depressing after a while.
- “Der Schlagabtausch”– originally started to have an interesting German-English podcast for German learners, Dr. J and her guests talk about interesting, quirky events in German history, comment on German-US relations, and joke about cultural differences.
I watched a lot of TV in 2019, so I will limit myself to new shows.
- “Black Earth Rising“- Netflix. I actually wrote a piece on it for “Dismantle Magazine”, and the idea of decolonizing memory in the context of the 25 year anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide.
- “Watchmen”– HBO. It’s so, so good. Regina King is a national treasure, and the topics are relevant- racism, hiding things, history taking revenge, it’s all there. Yes, you have to pay attention watching, because nothing that is said is gratuitous and almost everything has a literal and metaphorical meaning. It is the Ulysses of super-hero series, but truly worth it.
- “The Spy”– Netflix. Sacha Baron Cohen returned this year with a series about legendary Israeli spy Eli Cohen (they’re not related), who until he was caught, tortured and publicly hanged in 1965, managed to infiltrate the upper echelons of power in Syria. I truly liked the show, because of its representation of the zeitgeist, its nuance and lack of glorification. Except for Eli’s wife and children, nobody in the show is innocent, and words as patriotism and duty to country become shallow phrases.
- “Chernobyl”– HBO. A five-part re-counting of the nuclear catastrophe in 1986. While in several instances, you can tell that it was made for a US audience (especially the public trial scene), I still thought it was a show worth watching, as it followed individual embroiled in larger history.
- “Unbelievable”– Netflix. Based on a true story, the show follows a young woman who gets raped and subsequently branded a liar. Years later, two female detectives get on the case, and slowly begin to connect the dots. More victims emerge, most of them who haven’t been believed, or just dismissed. It’s harrowing, aggravating, but important. TW: Rape.
- “The Boys”- a satire on the super-hero hype, marketing and corporation. It’s funny, gory, dark and occasionally gory. Based on famous, well-loved super-heroes, we meet greedy managers, substance abusing super-heroes and clumsy vigilantes.
- “The Righteous Gemstones” HBO- (I really made that subscription pay for itself) they are religious, they are dysfunctional, they are rich, and sanctimonious as hell. The Gemstones are a family of TV evangelists, who, once you scratch the surface, have a lot of problems, which makes them ripe to be blackmailed. And that’s where the real trouble starts. Written and directed by Danny McBride (who also stars as one of the family members), this is one of the funniest shows I have seen in 2019.
That was my list! In the hopes it may entertain you.
Wishing all of you health, kindness and a happy 2020!