Tagged: reading

7. Reading: Los Once

I have recently started to have a look at Colombian history inspired graphic novels. After caminos condenados, Los Once (2014, Laguna Libros) was a logical consequence, especially considering its focus on Bogota. The novel takes the reader to the siege of Bogota’s Palace of Justice in 1985, from the perspective of a handful mice living in the palace. What is interesting about this view from an insider-outsider, is how it allows to get a feeling for the situation of not knowing what is happening, a strong feeling of being threatened and vulnerable, and of not understanding even when things are supposedly said clearly.

The mice ar probably an alusion to the famous Maus comic by Art Spiegelmann. But instead of cats, Los Once uses different kinds of birds and dogs to represent military forces, police and members of the M-19 guerrilla group. To me, it was not quite clear who was who, as shapes and figures often transform into each other, but maybe this was also intentional, to further underline the feeling of not knowing whom to trust, and makes clear that no-one was “the good guy”, there.

How did I come across the book?

I wanted to read it for a while, and had heard about it when it was just out, but didn’t search for it actively. After I read caminos condenados, however, I decided to have a closer look at other graphic novels.

When and where did I read it?

March 8th, International Women’s Day. The heavy rains outside made it easier to go through with the plan of striking, and to avoid working on anything else, I decided reading would be a good substitute.

Anthropolandia, year one: A Review

A year has gone by since I posted the first entrance on Anthropolandia, so it is a good time to think about the experience of blogging. While I have been blogging before (the obligatory adolescent year-abroad-Blog, and as part of a blogging network by aspiring journalists and/or writing professionals), trying to write an academic blog meant a steep learning curve. First, academic blogging is so much slower. The amount of detail, the correct sources, the depth I aspire to – all contribute to a different understanding of “time-consuming”. While earlier, this meant the general amount I spent on blogging, today, this is the time that goes into just one good post. Second, and related to this, I think the transition between one and the other is not exactly smooth. Luckily, as an anthropologist, I belong to a species that has experimented with writing styles for quite some time and has developed an enormous tolerance in terms of what language is still considered scientific. In terms of my initial aim to lose fear of the white page, I think I have gotten closer to this, or at least I see Anthropolandia as the experimental space it was meant to be. But when thinking about experiments, I think I am only just starting. I think the new series Vignettes from the Field has an enormous potential for this, and I will try my best to contribute to the series from time to  time.


Overall, I am happy with how things are going. There are almost zero days when no-one comes by to see what’s going on here, and I have vistors from almost allover the world! I would really like to have more discussions in the comment sections, especially on the pieces I explicitly ask for my readers opinion, but maybe many of you just aren’t the commenting type of people. The most frequented times change almost weekly, sometimes it’s Monday morning, sometimes Wednesday afternoon, so I assume this has a lot to do with when I publish. The most frequented categories for the first year are Genderella’s Stories, which I appreciate and will try to continue updated. But there seems to be a new trend in the Vignettes, as well, but as the series is young, it doesn’t yet make it to any important place in the yearly stats. In general, you people seem to prefer personal post to the short book reviews, which is understandable. I am sorry to all of you young visitors hoping for a comprehensive storyline-review for some of the novels I have been reading (I’m guessing homework, here?!), but I will not change my reviewing policies. I do the book reviews to remember the impressions a book left on me, for the content I have other systems to turn to.

The Reading List in Retrospect

I made it through 22 books, which is less than I had hoped for, so the first aim for 2017 is to make it to at least 24, that is, two per month. The difficulty clearly is to make it through the whole book, if it doesn’t start promising, or turns out not be useful, etc. Of those 22, five were purely scientific, which is clearly less than I had hoped for. To my defense, there is an unpublished blogpost on all the books I have started but never finished, which is about five times as long. My experience is that monographs are considerably more easy to finish than edited volumes, which is why one of the strategies for this year will be to read more ethnographic monographs. In terms of genre (apart from ethnographies), my taste for novels is obvious. Maybe this year there will be more graphic novels, poetry, or – if I feel adventurous – short stories. For sure, there will be more ethnographies, which I will  try to read as novels. We will see how that works. In terms of diversity, I think I have made an effort. I am somewhat unwilling to assign sexes and gendered identities to the authors I have read this year, since I don’t know how they identify, but I would go as far as to say that I could make more efforts in terms of queerness. Considering race, I could try harder for Latin America (especially considering my specialization in this area), and basically everything east of Germany until getting to the US. At least novel-wise, Latin America as a focus region is already planned for this year.

I clearly have a tendency for contemporary literature, and I don’t really plan to change that. I have a few classics waiting in my bookshelf, but also a serious “Classics” aversion, so I doubt I get very far with this one considering all the other plans I have. Language-wise, it is noticeable that I find reading in English so much more enjoying than anything else… From 22 books, only 5 are in my mothertongue, German, and only one in Spanish – which is a graphic novel, even. For 2017, I plan to continue the English trend, but try to read more Spanish, as well. As I said, there are already several works on the list, and I really hope they will nice to read, because I admit that until now, I haven’t found many Spanish-writing authors that convinced me. Notable exceptions: Roberto Bolaño, Alvaro Cepeda Samudio, and maybe Hector Abad Faciolince and Juan Gabriel Vásquez. No, not Borges, not García Márquez, not Vargas Llosa. And where are the women, by the way?

New Year, new Series, new Reading List

For 2017, I want to focus on science. Reading novels does count as science in two ways: First, reading good books is a way of developing a good writing style, and that is one of the professional aims for this year. Second, if I can focus on novels from and about the region/people I do research on, they might help me to “get into the mood”. But the plan is to read more monographs, on the region, on the people, on the topic,  on things completely unrelated, but monographs, to understand the mechanisms of the format, to gain insights into the topics at an in-depth level, and to be inspired.

Another important aspect will be writing. The new series on Vignettes will play a prominent role here, and maybe others will follow, because I might just as well practice at home. I am hoping to expand the Genderella series, even if I am afraight of finding new things to tell, because really every new chapter is yet another instance of a situation that could have been so much nicer, was the world a different place. To sum up, Anthropolandia is not going to change a lot, but I will try to paymore attention to what I had initially planned for this space: To be about (scientific) reading and writing.

20. Reading: Nüchtern

This year has treated me well in terms of new books from Benjamin von Stuckrad-Barre. And even through Nüchtern am Weltnichtrauchertag (KiWi 2016) is a mere 70 pages, it helps to shorten the time until the next book might be there, or at least it helps to get down from the amazing read that was Panikherz. The book is really just two essays, one about being the abstinent person in the room, the antithese to party, as he has it, and the other one is about all the cigarettes he smokes on World No Tobacco Day. There’s really not much to say about this, other than as an answer to people complaining on Amazon that it is expensive for a book of two essays, one of which is already published online. I see it more as a way of supporting authors I like to read, and people familiar with BvSB’s books will know that many of them are actually compilations of pieces he wrote for journals etc. So maybe just relax and go to a real bookstore where you can skim through the pages of the books you plan to by, and spare yourself some disappointing mail.

19. Reading: The Transmission of Affect

Teresa Brennan’s Transmission of Affect (Cornell University Press, 2004) has been bashed prominently as selectively appropriating neuroscientific research findings, but nevertheless remains a classic on many a reading list on affective transmission. There might be two reasons for this: first, her argument that the idea of boundaries (in relation to human bodies/personal identity) is a culturally specific idea, and second, her absorbing prose. Proposing bodily boundaries as a culturally specific, and therefore non-universal, conception might not sound like a radically new way of seeing things, but considering the time it took until affect and emotions became central research interests in disciplines other than psychoanalysis, it still is a much needed contribution to broadening the scope of what we consider possible and acceptable things of imagining affective transmission. Also, the argument opens up new possibilities in (anthropological) research because it focuses on the relations between peopleand their affects, rather than their interpretations of affects and emotions.

Characterized as “a soul of the nineteenth century” by colleagues, Brennan powerfully and poetically argues for connections between hormones and emotions and what influences both have on each other (because to her, the relation here is more likely of dialectical nature). Up until chapter 4 (The New Paradigm), the book is very rich, focusing on the transmission of affect in a clinical setting as well as in groups, to then elaborate her argument that the social environment is perfectly capable of influencing our biological “hardware” and how social interactions can shape it. From chapter five onwards, Brennan becomes a little more repetetive, but the lasts chapters are also the ones she was not able to revise by herself anymore. She died in an accident, leaving her former assitant and trusted researcher to finish the editing process, which apart from the repetitiveness turned out to be very convincing.

How did I come across the book?

Actually, I don’t remember that anymore.

When and where did I read it?

On a weekend, on the sofa. It is definitely a monograph where this is possible.


16. Reading: Untenrum frei

Untenrum frei by Margarete Stokowski (Rowohlt, 2016) is only the third book this year I read in German, and it’s already the end of October and on my list are just two more German titles. Now that has absolutely nothing to do with the book, and does not even give for a good explanation for this curiosity. I simply don’t like reading translations, and I don’t get to many recommendations on German books or authors. (You are very welcome to change this, though!) But back to Margarete’s manifesto. I think one can rightfully claim this, as it is a very thoughtful, angry, comprehensive and funny 200-something page thinkpiece on feminism and why you should be in it, too. So far nothing surprising, as this kind of literature has had a new wave for at least the last year with works such as Laurie Penny’s Unspeakable things, or Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s We should all be feminists, among others.

But Stokowski does not just offer a German perspective. She does not limit herself to some regionalism, yet always carefully reflects her position and therefore, the impossibility of claiming a voice for someone other than herself. But her voice will  not be silenced, so much is clear after reading through Untenrum frei. It is enjoyably radical, yet never unjust – no Bra-burning, no man-hating, if you will. Instead, she wonderfully masters a mixture of sound arguments to counter many of the standardized pub talk fears and doubts about feminism, with wit and humor that make it a very entertaining yet educating read. It made me want to learn some of her comebacks by heart so as to always have them ready for the next pub.

How did I come across the book?

I saw it recommended in two magazines I am reading. Also, I have known Stokowski’s columns on gender for Spiegel Online, which I always enjoyed for their No-Shit-attitude. Plus, I often think, she is the only person there doing serious journalism, for her texts are never clickbaity and always very well argumented.

When and where did I read it?

On a four day holiday with my mom at the Baltic sea. My mom will be the next to read it, because she liked the cover a lot (it is very minimalistically chic), and heard me laugh a lot while reading. Plus, she was the one who first mentioned feminism to me and is always interested in my recommendations.

Maybe it says a lot about the fragility of gender that instructions on being the two main ones have been issued monthly for so long.  (Rebecca Solnit cited in Stokowski, p. 94)

15. Reading: The Worrier’s Guide to Life

Can you still call it reading, when it’s actually comic drawings? I’m gonna go with Yes, here. Gemma Correll’s beautiful The Worrier’s Guide to Life (2015, Andrews McMeel) is most definitely something you want to read or look at in a time of crisis. The “World Champion Over-Thinker” created some wonderful illustrations of all the things one can worry about, spanning every issue from health, fashion, social gatherings, work, travel, leisure, and of course love. You might just have a look at her beautiful tumblr here to get some impressions of her work.

Does it work?

Well, the one thing that’s for sure is it will make you laugh, and maybe that really is all that was missing for your day to be a tiny little bit nicer than you thought. Also, especially her work on periods and body positive attitudes help make some serious troubles more visible and raise awareness without the niggling. My personal favorite? The impostor-syndrome suffering fetus: “I bet all the other fetuses are way further along in their development…” – “What am I doing with my life?”

14. Reading: Babyji

Abha Dawesar’s Babyji (2005, Anchor Books) accompanied me on my vacation. It took a while to get me hooked, and not only because I was usually pretty tired after the daily 20 kilometer hike. I guess it’s another example of high expectations, or at least divergent ones. The book was announced as “racy”, “steamy”, and “sexy”, among other, less carnal attributes. However, really everytime things got interesting, the acclaimed “unabashed detail” was missing. I really do expect more detail than a simple and then we made love, when the book is announced this way. The fact that people make love, or even this being a mayor activity in the novel, does not make it steamy per se. But that’s already my harshest critique about it. Otherwise, the coming-of-age of Anamika and her adventures with and phantasies about other women is a nice read. It get’s more and more articulate, in a way imitating in style the more and more complex thoughts and feelings of the protagonist.

Set in Delhi, the story also refers to many other aspects of Indian society, such as religions and their importance, gender roles and expectations Anamika is growing into, caste and how it influences behaviour toward each other, and development discourse. Especially the complicated relationship toward a lower caste classmate is an example of this, and combines several of these. Anamika patronizingly tries to make him a better person while at the same time facing the challenge of not spending time with him alone (or other males, for that matter), and knowing (and understanding) little about the individual circumstances that made him the person he is. Altogether, the book is sometimes annoyingly pubertal and know-it-all, sometimes shying away from the interesting details, and only several pages in it becomes more capturing, before it falls again shortly before the end. But it is refreshing in telling a story about a queer teenager in an unexpected environment ( – and I am fully aware of the inherent eurocentrism here).

How did I come across the book?

I think it was referenced in either Laurie Penny’s Unspeakable Things, or Eva Illouz’s Why Love Hurts. Or maybe one of the earlier pieces of The Affect Theory Reader by Melissa Gregg and Gregory Seigworth (because I am still not through with that one).

When and where did I read it?

As I said, it accompanied me on my vacation in Portugal and Spain, specifically those afternoons I spend resting from the hikes on the Caminho Portugués.