I turned 30 this week – which I am actually not mad about. I had a (mostly) great year and I think the year ahead will be awesome as well. My birthday itself was lovely – everybody was super nice to me and lots of my colleagues said nice things about the cakes I made (I much prefer cooking to baking), and I went to a restaurant with a close friend of mine.
So, to celebrate, I thought I would paint my life the only way I know how to: with the books that made me. 30 of them in fact. So, buckle up because this might take a while. (and I promise not all of them will be German books)
1) Die kleine Raupe Nimmersatt (The Very Hungry Caterpillar) by Eric Carle
I grew up in a house filled with books and we had lots and lots of picture books when I was little, but this is the first one I remember my parents reading to me.
2) Wo die wilden Kerle wohnen (Where the wild things are) by Maurice Sendak
In a similar vein, this was my all-time favourite picture book. I just love love love it. My sister and me can still recite it from memory, and have done so numerous times since her daughter was born.
3) Ronja Räubertochter (Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter) by Astrid Lindgren
I don’t think there is a (West-) German person from my generation who has not had some experience with Astrid Lindgren when growing up. My personal favourite is this one, but I love all of her books and the movies made from them (except for Karlsson on the Roof because he is THE worst). Just talking about this book makes me want to reread everything Astrid Lindgren has ever written. I cannot wait to have children.
4) Jim Knopf und Lukas, der Lokomotivführer (Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver) by Michael Ende
I have a distinct memory of listening to the audiobook for this (on cassette tape I might add) and being scared witless but loving every minute of it. The TV adaptation (with puppets!) is another highlight of my childhood.
5) Die Unendliche Geschichte (The Neverending Story) by Michael Ende
While this is not a particular favourite of mine (I like both Jim Knopf and Momo by the same author a lot more), this is the first book I remember my mum reading to me and me sneakily reading ahead because I needed to know what happens next. Which opened up all kinds of exciting possibilities.
6) The Trixie Belden series by Julie Campbell (and Kathryn Kenny apparently?)
The summer between first and second grade we moved between states and because of the way German summer holidays work, I ended up having 10 weeks of summer holiday. Which sounds brilliant until you realize that I knew nobody in my new town and I was way to shy to get to know anybody. So, I turned to my older sister’s books. This is the first series I started and I read all the books my sister owned and then spent the next five years or so tracking down the rest of the series. My mum and I went to a million fleemarkets until only one book in the series remained. Which we never did manage to find until Ebay came along (ages later).
Researching this, Goodreads just know informs me that there a more than the 23 books that were published in German when I read them. I have a mighty need now.
7) Bille und Zottel by Tina Caspari
Once I finished all the Trixie Belden books, I started on this series. Which I adored like hell for several years. I think at some point I could recite whole passages. And Bille still is somebody who I aspire to be like, loyal and funny and honest and always herself. I also wanted to have my own horse for a hot minute after reading these for the first time. I did realize that I am not that fond of horses in real life though.
8) Märchenmond by Wolfgang and Heike Holbein
I have talked about this book a few weeks ago as one of the books that turned me into the fantasy reader I am now. I haven’t reread in it ages and I don’t think it would hold up all that well but I loved it when I was younger.
9) The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
I loved this series. It might be one of the sources of my love for myth retellings. The movie on the other hand was the biggest disappointment.
10) Harry Potter by JK Rowling
I am assuming nobody is surprised to see this here. I remember being gifted the first two books one Christmas and having finished the first one by the next day. I am one of those who were lucky enough to grow with Harry Potter and I am obviously a big fan – just not quite as much as lots of other people I know. For example, I have only recently acquired the complete series, before I only owned books 1 – 4. But still, this obviously has a big place in my heart. (Also, my partner who is 6 years older than me has never read Harry Potter and has decided to not read it until he can read it with our future children and … be still my heart)
11) Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
I remember watching the first movie in the cinema with my dad (because we were on holiday and I had just strained my arm while snowboarding and needed something nice) – and then upon return needing to read the whole series because I could not deal with not knowing how it ends. I do prefer the movies though, I mean, just the scene with the angry Ents alone makes the movies superior (in my opinion).
12) Angelique by Anne Bolon (books 1 – 12, if I am being honest here)
These books were some of my mum’s favourites when she was younger and I read them all, one after the other – and then started from the beginning. And then reread my favourite bits. I could recite whole passages by heart by the end of that. And, as a nice unintended consequence of reading this particular series of historical romance, I know an awful lot about French history.
13) Domina by Barbara Wood
Continuing the trend of reading historical romance and learning about history this way, I went through a whole number of books by Barbara Wood; this one was the first of hers I read and my favourite.
14) Jewels by Danielle Steel
And another author whose books I devoured. I read a ton of her books – this was around the time Ebay became a thing and my mum cherished in the fact that you could get whole boxes of books for cheap, combining two of her favourite things: books and bargains (and making me happy).
15) Kassandra by Christa Wolf
This, and I am sure most of you know this already, is my all-time favourite book. The first time I read it I was a bit too young to get everything but still, it stayed with me. I have reread this as a grown-up more often than any other book.
16) Medea by Christa Wolf
We read this one in school and it was one of the best things we ever done there. Discussing this work gave me a deeper appreciation.
17) When Blues Begins by Janice Deaner
This is mostly here because it ranks fairly high on my all-time favourites list. It’s just a brilliant book.
18) Die Physiker by Friedrich Dürrenmatt
I did theatre in school – this was the first play we did and I have fond memories of that time and of the people. I met one of my best friends this way and in general think doing theatre gave me much-needed confidence; I don’t know if I would have dared to go abroad for my degree otherwise.
19) The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
My whole family read this, one after the other and we all adored it. I haven’t reread this in ages and much has faded from my memory – but the beginning of the book is vivid in my mind. (I never actually made it through the second book so I don’t know if I would still like this as much.)
20) Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Reading Faust was my happy place for the longest time. I wanted to get a quote tattooed forever (I am nothing if not predictably pretentious) and there is just something about the way in which Goethe uses his words that I find mesmerizing. I have one distinct memory of college after one of my frequent fights with my ex, of me sitting on the floor in the library, reading my favourite lines of Faust to calm myself down. Man, am I ever glad to be a bit older now.
21) Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
I read this on holiday after having just finished highschool. This was the first Russian novel I read but by far not the last. I loved this.
21) Gruppenbild mit Dame by Heinrich Böll
I spent one of my summer breaks alone in my flat in Scotland (I enjoyed this btw) – I used that time to read my way through the German literature section of my university’s library and while a lot of German classics are a bit dry (do NOT get me started on the travesty that are early German comedies), Heinrich Böll is anything but. This book is my favourite of his – I just adore how he inserts his narrator into the story.
22) Disc World by Terry Pratchett
My wonderful former flatmate (who recently coincidently found me on Goodreads – goodbye sweet anonymity) owned all the disc world books – and I made my way through around 2/3 of them before moving away. I have the best memories of this time.
23) Wild by Cheryl Strayed
This was, for some reason, one of the first memoirs that I read. While it is not my favourite of the genre, it is the one that made me realize how much I was missing out because I wasn’t reading memoirs. There is something wonderful about realizing there is a whole genre you can still read – and there is also something wonderful about how relatable memoirs are. Also, I would love to hike at least parts of the Pacific Crest Trail (thankfully my partner is in agreement here, so I am assuming that it will happen at some point).
24) Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Of all the books I read in the last few years, this is the one that made me realize what connects all my favourite books: they do something interesting with perspective or time line. And Mitchell does both, brilliantly. I am still slowly making my way through his back list because I don’t want to read it too quickly and then having to wait years for the next book.
25) The Broken Earth trilogy by N. K. Jemisin
My all-time favourite fantasy trilogy by possibly my all-time favourite author. I was starting to be a bit bored with fantasy when this came along and blew me away. I will read everything she ever writes and I will not stop shouting from the rooftops how brilliant I think she is (also, if you haven’t watched her Hugo acceptance speech, you should, it’s awesome).
26) Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
Much like Wild, this book made me appreciate short stories a lot more. I am a huge Roxane Gay fan – and for me, personally, what she does best is short stories. There is just something unbelievably impactful in her writing here.
27) The Chronology of Water by Lydia Yuknavitch
This is my favourite memoir. Hands down, no competition. This is such a work of art that left me breathless. I love this so much that I am a bit hesitant reading her other books because, again, I don’t want to be left without any books of hers to read.
28) Not That Bad ed. by Roxane Gay
The newest addition to this list is this brilliantly edited anthology. There were a few essays here that spoke to me so very deeply.
29) & 30) Pierre Bourdieu & Stuart Hall
I am ending this list with these two: there complete works more or less rather than one book in particular. These two are the basis for my thesis and as such shape my working life unlike any other.
So, it took a while, but here we are. This is me, in 30 books (or series).