Hello from Leipzig, Germany, a place that loved books so much it was nicknamed Leserland, or, Country of Readers. I’m writing to you from the apartment given to me by the University of Leipzig while I teach here as the Picador Professor of Literature. It’s located by the gate of Friedenspark, a former cemetery that was destroyed by bombing in WWII, and is now a beautifully quiet, wooded park, and also home to a red fox that lives about 300 feet from my door, who greeted me the weekend I arrived as I stepped out for a walk.
When I arrived the autumn was more advanced than it was in New York, and so it felt as if I’d traveled in time as well. Now it is nearly November. I arrived Oct. 6th, nearly 22 years to the day from my first trip to Germany, when I arrived on the first German Unity Day, Oct. 3rd, 1990. Leipzig was the place the Peaceful Revolution began, the product of a antiviolent protest movement that spread, until the wall came down and that day came, so it’s interesting to return here, as if each time I go to Germany, perhaps I will find some other root to this.
I guess we’ll see.
Leipzig seems to me a city of quiet readers, bookish cyclists, most of them very fit and riding vigorously through the cold as if it were nothing. I love all the old buildings around, built from every era of the city’s long life, dating back to when it was a part of the Holy Roman Empire, or Saxony. Goethe wrote part of Faust here, something that fills me with joy. It was also where one of my favorite writers from college, Christa Wolf, went to school. It’s a real honor to be here as a guest of the school she graduated from.
In my short time here, it’s also been eye opening to live in a country that is actually concerned about the environment. There’s approximately 9 different cans in the yard here for my garbage, for example, as well as a compost pile. When I bite an organic apple here, I can feel on my tongue the sort of honeyed wild taste of it–a taste I remember from the 70s and 80s, a way apples used to taste when the soil in the US was better.
It isn’t enough to grow something without poisons, in other words.
In honor of my first post from here, a list of some things I am reading or have recently read.
- John Cheever, remembered by the amazing Allan Gurganus.
- Vanessa Veselka on the serial killer she escaped from as a teenaged hitchhiker.
- Peter Mountford on the Russian bookpirate he found pirating his amazing novel.
- Jami Attenberg has published a novel everyone, and I mean everyone is talking about, The Middlesteins. It is also the Rumpus Book Club’s pick this month. Here is their roundup of Attenberg links.
- One of my favorite novels of this year was Patrick Somerville’s This Bright River. Cannot recommend it enough. A moving, thrillingly inventive novel that incorporates game theory and puzzles into a story of a young man no longer young, trying to pull himself out of his downward spiral, and a young woman hoping to escape the brutal man she once worshipped. You may remember it was the subject of a erroneously written review by a certain Times critic, and Patrick wrote about the mistake, beautifully, here. I don’t want to knock said reviewer, but it strikes me that it is hard to make that mistake reading the novel.
- I don’t think I’ve mentioned this yet but I love being an Emily Books subscriber. Emily Books is an online indie bookstore, that only sells books by women. It is also a book club. Each month for one low monthly price I get a book sent via email. Shortly after I joined it was Muriel Sparks’ Loitering With Intent, which made me love Sparks all over again. If you’ve never done something like this, give it a try.
- I am also loving Benjamin Anastas’ new memoir, Too Good To Be True. Ben is an old friend, someone I’ve always looked up to like an older brother, which has always been awkward as he’s younger.
- Emma Straub’s Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures is another novel I’m loving. It was recently reviewed by a hedgehog, complete with gif. Emma is one of the loveliest people I know, and she’s just written movingly about her struggle with fibroids, for Rookie–as well as her struggle even to admit she was dealing with some extraordinary pain and bleeding. I hope this post gets women who see themselves in her situation to seek the urgent care they may need.
- Also! And this is very important. Read this Mike Albo essay, “Lost in Space”. It’s amazing and not just because he quotes me in it. And then if you haven’t gotten it, get his single, The Junket. Also amazing, one of my favorite longreads from 2011.
There’s so much more to add here but it will have to wait until next time. Have fun with these–I know I did.