5 tips for literary Christmas gifts
“From Her For Her” with Astrid Rosenfeld
Astrid Rosenfeld's career has been driven by a fascination of telling stories. After breaking off her acting studies, she started looking for other ways to communicate the things that moved her. Following a foray into the world of film, she landed at a desk, where she has since written four fascinating and very different books. The narrative spectrum ranges from her debut, which deals with the Holocaust, to a travel journal, in which she takes the reader on a trip across the USA.
Her last novel Twelve Times July (2015) delves into the bizarre yet captivating world of July, a girl whose boyfriend Jacob left her many years ago – suddenly and without explanation. Out of the blue, she receives an email in which Jacob announces his return. The novel describes the twelve days before Jacob's return, during which time the past comes hurtling back into July's life as she contemplates her present and her future through a series of encounters with a diverse mix of people. It is a wonderfully simple and quirky novella. Published by Diogenes Verlag. We met the storyteller extraordinaire in Berlin to ask her about her five favourite books. A hand-picked collection of classic and contemporary works and, above all, great tips for anyone still on the hunt for Christmas gifts.
TIP #1: F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby
Published in 1925, The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald is considered the American author's finest work and one of the greatest American novels of all time. Based on the young billionaire Jay Gatsby, who is haplessly in love with the already married Daisy Buchanan, Fitzgerald paints a portrait of the Roaring Twenties, awash with decadence and debauchery, but also marked by social change.
TIP #2: Oliver Hilmes: Witwe im Wahn ('Wacky Widow')
There are biographies so wild and extraordinary that you really couldn't make them up. The life of Alma Maria Mahler Gropius Werfel (born Alma Maria Schindler; 1879–1964) definitely falls into this category. She became the wife, successively, of Gustav Mahler, Walter Gropius and Franz Werfel. She drove Oskar Kokoschka out of his mind in a torrid love affair. And she broke Gerhart Hauptmann's heart. As well as boasting an astonishing list of lovers, Alma Mahler-Werfel led a highly unusual life and held some extraordinary views, all of which are still the source of much controversy and sensation to this day. Drawing on new sources from a legacy that was long considered lost, historian Oliver Hilmes sheds fresh light on the Wacky Window.
TIP #3: Vladimir Nobokov: Lolita
Vladimir Nabokov caused an international scandal with his 1955 novel about a literature professor who had a relationship with a twelve-year-old girl he called Lolita. Linguistic finesse and the artistic value of the work were initially drowned out by the outrage about the protagonist Humbert's scandalous and pedophilic love affair. The novel describes the professor's one-sided love for Lolita as they drive around the USA together, culminating in the murder of a love rival.
TIP #4: Emily Brontë: Sturmhöhe (“Wuthering Heights”)
When it was first published in the mid-19th century, Emily Brontë's novel was largely dismissed and ignored. It only gained recognition decades later, and is today considered one of the greatest love stories in literary history. Emily Brontë tells the story of the Earnshaw family, which is thrown into disarray when Mr. Earnshaw brings a foundling into the family. Daughter Catherine and the foundling Heathcliff fall desperately in love, while the new addition to the family arouses nothing but hate and rejection in Catherine's brother Hindley.
TIP #5: John Williams: Stoner
The novel Stoner by John Williams is an unglamorous tale. It recounts the life of William Stoner, son of poor farmers, who discovers a love of literature while studying agriculture. Instead of taking over his parents' farm, he becomes a professor of English literature. This career move leads to estrangement from his parents and him meeting his future wife Edith. But the marriage is an unhappy one, with only his daughter bringing him any joy. Despite his deftness in the literary world and his sharpness of mind, Stoner cannot cope with the trifles of everyday life and is incapable of finding the right words. John Williams draws the portrait of an average man whose very averageness endears him to the reader and the author alike.