Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

The story of my life in 10 books

At the moment, I'm feeling strangely content, light and almost as if I got a glimpse of what enlightment could feel like. It isn't the first time this has happened to me, in fact, these kinds of blissful states tend to come to me in the early autumn regularily, not every year or ever odd year, but if I feel like this, it is always early autumn. Since they don't tend to last and usually are more like vacations from a everyday life and its struggles, I've started to enjoy them while they last.

Yesterday, a friend tagged me for one of these Facebook-memes, asking me to write about 10 books that have inspired me in my life - and as is to be expected, if such a question coincides with my blissful feeling of temporary enlightment, understanding starts to explode all around me. I decided to take this small window of opportunity to write about the 10 books that have played a role guiding me along the course of my life or have accompanied me for a spell of the journey and to write about it here, and not on Facebook.

After I had composed this list and I looked through it, I was delighted to see that it is 5 books written by men and 5 written by women. Sometimes, things just fall into place...

I decided to post this entry as an experiment - I post this without reading what I wrote and without editing any of it. So, if you go into this - this is as I wrote it, the first take, no edits. The reason for this is that I feel I'd be scared of my own courage if I started reading it again, but it feels like it's something that desperately wanted out.

Brace yourself, this is going to be long - I could probably write an entire entry about each of the books on the list and I try to keep it as short as necessary.

1. The Bible, the New Testament

I was raised as a Catholic, but not in what I'd consider the patriarchic style that is preached by Rome. I received the stories of the Bible from many women around me, particularly my mother and the women of my paternal family, my aunts and my cousin.

As a child, I believed. Deeply and profoundly and without question. I believed in the Trinity of God and I found peace and comfort in the idea that I was watched over by Him, because I was a very fearful child and the world around me seemed bustling with strange life that scared me because it didn't make any sense to me - and even though I didn't know who He was and how He did it, I just felt He was there.

The most important role-model as a believer for me at that time was my paternal grandmother, who had kept this same naive belief for her entire life. She is probably the person I've loved the most in my life and I've felt loved back in return the most - or no, it's different - I felt a kind of love for her and from her that I could never experience in that way again, because it was naive and child-like and unconditional. I was a child then and she didn't live long enough for me to get disillusionned by her. She died before I could grasp the entire scope of her humanity, and that's why she'll always remain a good spirit in my life. I was seven years old when she died and I was never sad that she was gone, I never cried about her death - because I just knew she was in heaven now and looking down on me. She is also the reason why I'll never leave the Roman Catholic Church, no matter how much I object to the Church itself and how far my spiritual life has evolved away from it. I'll remain a Catholic in memory and in honour of my grandmother.

Unfortunately, I couldn't remain in this kind of naive, unconditional faith - I had to grow up and venture on my own spiritual journey and it has since led me away from pure Christianity and into something more transcendental.

The Bible still gave me comfort even after I lost my childlike faith and going into empty Churches to feel the calm and the solemn spirit in there still gives me something. There has been one particular story from the Bible that has helped me repeatedly and I'm not going to cite the verse here, but tell it to you in my own words:

It's the part on the Mount of Olives, just before Christ is betrayed by Judas. He separates himself from his followers and falls on his knees to pray, because he know he is about to fulfil his destiny and sacrifice himself for humankind, to relieve us from our sins - and he is afraid, he has doubts, because he knows he will suffer and he will die and he doesn't know if he can do it and he begs his father to please spare him of this fate. But then he knows... if he has to do it, if he has to go, if there's no way around it, he will, despite his terror. And he turns and goes and the Passion of Christ starts - another part of the Bible that has given me deep religious experiences as a child, before I lost them again.

The prayer on the Mount of Olives is for me the most human, the most comforting part of the entire New Testament, because it shows us that even Christ was afraid of pain and death.

I don't just write this here, this part of the bible, or the memory of this story, because I don't remember actually having re-read it for a while, might have saved my life at least once, when my depression hurt me so much that I turned myself in my bed and literally beg God, if He existed to just please relieve me from it and let me die, let there be an accident or an illness, just something to make this pain stop. And when there was no answer other than no, I had to go on, I found comfort in the fact that I wasn't alone, and that even Christ Himself felt such pain and if He went on to fulfil his destiny, then I would continue, too.

I struggled on, I found help, I worked through my depression - I have come to accept that I'll always be in danger to fall into it again, because of the way I challenge myself and continue to walk down paths that are difficult and scary and dangerous and sometimes I go too far. But I have learned to live with it and despite my illness, I have never stopped being productive. I have almost never been absent a day from work because of my depression, I just carried it around with me all the time and assumed. That's also why I'm not afraid to write about this here. I have nothing to fear. If someone wants to judge me for it, they'll do it anyway and if any prospective employer of mine ever came here, read this and thought I would be too much of a risk as an employee - then I'll know that this work wouldn't have been for me, anyway. If you want me to work for you, you'll have to take the depression. And if you don't, then I'll find someone who will or struggle until I find another way for myself.

2. J.R.R. Tolkien - The Lord of the Rings

I struggled against people suggesting that I read this book for a long time (this is actually a recurring pattern here, as you'll discover) and it had to force itself on me for me to finally take it up. My best friend at the time nagged me that I should read it, but fantasy really wasn't my thing (still isn't, oddly enough), but it was his thing and I thought that he just wanted me to read in the same way he tried to sell all his other obsessions to me.

At the time when I finally took up the book, I was travelling by train all around Switzerland a lot, because I was president of the National School Student's Union. I was struggling to organise a workshop at my school, while attending as many classes as possible (there were too many teachers angry with me for being absent so much, despite the fact that I my grades weren't just good, they were great and hadn't been dropping - but I guess they were hurt in their pride that I could be absent so much and still keep up). I had recently started getting the taste of reading books in English (that story follows below) and I was running through books faster than our English teacher could stock our class library - so I just took The Hobbit with me on my train ride because I remembered someone had told me recently it was a good book - and I didn't even know it was the prequel to this ominous Lord of the Rings.

I read the book on one train journey, it was a nice little fairy tale, but it didn't particularly touch me - but then I knew I'd have at least two more train rides ahead, so I just got off in Zurich, went to the English Bookshop and picked up that damn book for no other reason than that it was such a brick that I couldn't possibly finish it before I had completed all my train journeys.

And then I got drawn into it. I remember the moment when it caught me, when Gandalf throws the ring into the fire and this harmless magical ring of Bilbo's that has been such a good prop in The Hobbit turns into something dark and dangerous - and the nice, cosy adventure-world of Bilbo turns into this scary, epic saga. It is this moment, when a book transforms and turns from something into another thing that hooks me in a good book.

I then continued to organise and improvise through that workshop, attend classes and instead of sleeping, I was reading the Lord of the Rings. I only got three or four hours sleep at night, but I felt refreshed, because following Frodo and his companions on his journey felt like sleeping. Or maybe I just got myself sleep-deprived enough with this so I could keep my crazy schedule, but I finished the entire Lord of the Rings in five days and nights, sneaking away at every possible moment to continue reading. And when I was through, I immediately started again.

It was about a year and a half before the first movie was released and I got into the Lord of the Rings fandom for a while. I have met many of the people who are still most important to me (except my family) through the Lord of the Rings, this book has helped me find like-minded and kindred-spirited people all over the German-speaking world.

Unfortunately, this book also got me into a toxic friendship that really was a twisted kind of one-sided relationship. I was deluded and he was deluded and we hurt each other repeatedly because we were both trying to pretend that this was something it wasn't. When it had finally broken apart, after much, much stupid drama, the Lord of the Rings felt too stained for me to touch it again, because I thought it would remind me of him and all the pain we had caused each other.

Years later, when I was on my own big journey, I suddenly got the call to read that book again. It happened in an almost poetic way I'll always remembered and you could interpret the entire thing as symbolic, if you wanted to - though the sceptical part in me really thinks it's just coincidence that I wrought into the fabric of a story, because I like stories.

I was sitting on the bus from Hoi An to Hué, listening to music on my iPod and looking out of the window. The road we were travelling wound up towards a kind of mountain pass onto a plateau, surrounded by the typical limestone mountains of Vietnam. The weather was dense and I caught myself thinking that what was floating around, hugging these mountains was mist. This realisation is special insofar as in my native German, there is no distinction between fog and mist - it's both "Nebel". So I acknowledged that I'd just understood the difference between these English words... and I though... I'm in The Misty Mountains, now. Travelling had heightened my senses for a lot of things and I was open to a lot more thoughts and experiences, I was reminded of a lot of diffuse memories of my childhood and now I suddenly was in the Misty Mountains. Oh, how I longed to read the Lord of the Rings again...

This wasn't as easy to achieve as it would have been at home, since my only sources for new books were book exchanges and even though I started looking everywhere in Hanoi and later in Guilin and in Yangshuo in Southern China, it just was never there entirely. I might have found The Fellowship of the Rings but not the others, or The Fellowship and the Return of the King but not the Two Towers, and I never dared to buy them as long as it wasn't complete.

Then I arrived in Shanghai and decided to stay there for longer than I originally planned, two weeks. I continued my search for the book, but my hopes had dwindled. In Shanghai, I felt almost magically drawn towards the tower in the clouds, the Shanghai World Financial Centre - the then highest tower on Mainland China, the one in the clouds on the image below:

 photo Shanghai2003.jpg

I went to Pudong several times thinking that I'll go up to that observation platform one day before I continue my journey. And I kept postponing it for various reason. The moment I entered the elevator, after having bought an expensive ticket (in Chinese terms) and waited in line, I remembered that this was actually a bad idea, because I'm scared of heights.

Don't ask me how I could forget about that until it was too late, I mean, it's not as if you usually forget what you are scared of, but it really never occurred to me that going up to the highest observation platform on any building in the world would involve heights.

Of course, I could just ask the elevator attendant to take me back down again, but I paid for the thing and I wanted to go there, so I just had to jump over my shadow and well... maybe going there could be a good opportunity to get less scared of heights. Not so want to sound overly melodramatic (I totally do), but this wasn't just an ordinary observation platform, it was like this:

 photo SWFC022.jpg

Windows, on the floor and 101 storeys of building below you. And now, just to make matters worse - in order to get to the elevator that brought you back on the other side, you had to cross the entire platform. I took a deep breath, decided to look my fear in the eyes and just do it. I even stopped in the middle and looked down until it didn't feel as overwhelming anymore and I could actually walk quietly. Then I went back to the lower observational platform, drank a cup of coffee to accustom myself to my fear. And when I felt almost normal again, I took the elevator down.

In the belly of this building was a bookstore. Guess which book was there.

It just felt like a reward, like I had to earn the privilege to read that book again - or like I had to prove I was actually stable and brave enough to read it again and confront all the painful memories that were intertwined with it. The funny thing was... it didn't feel painful to read anymore and I rarely thought of that toxic relationship anymore, because I had come so far already, that it just didn't matter anymore.

The Lord of the Rings became an important companion for the rest of my journey as a safe place I could jump into when things around me got hard - particularly while we were waiting for hours on the Mongolian-Russian-border on the train and I had just realised that I had lost my camera to pickpockets that might, or might not still be on the train. I curled up and disappeared into the Lord of the Rings and felt new understanding for Frodo's burden.

But when I was home from my journey, it felt like I had reached the end of my time with the Lord of the Rings. I put it on a shelf and didn't pick it up again.

3. J.K. Rowling - Harry Potter

I started reading Harry Potter because we were required to prove we had read a certain wordcount in English each semester on our own in order to get a sufficient reading grade and in the first two semesters of this regime I had only just passed by counting everything I could still count without downright cheating - and since the upcoming semester was the one where I was going to be elected President of that National School Students Union, I wanted to have the reading done over summer.

Since everyone was talking about these Harry Potter books, I thought I'd just read them. And I got hooked. Harry Potter was the first book in English that I read that didn't feel like a struggle, like I had to advance so painfully slowly just to get what it was about. I was so drawn into the story that I simply forgot it was in English and that I didn't really understand English all that well, yet. I didn't bother trying to figure out what each word meant, I could follow the story and if a word pops up again and again, sooner or later you'll get what it means.

There were four Harry Potter books at the time, and I'd finished them roughly one book a night (there were waiting periods in between, since this was the time before Amazon and you actually had to go to your local bookstore, order the book and wait until they had it). I had done all my required reading for the two following semesters, but I was so exhilarated by the experience that I've never stopped reading books in English since and my own writing skills in English improved exponentially. At the end of the school year, I received a symbolic award for the most words read in English of the entire class... I held the record of most points ever achieved by any student in any year and I didn't even put down everything, because I was too embarrassed about it. I didn't do this because I wanted to earn points, I just loved reading and I just loved that I could read all these wonderful books in their original language now.

But Harry Potter became even more than that. On my virtual home (a Lord of the Rings internet forum), a group of Harry Potter enthusiasts decided to come up with a "Sorting Hat Quiz" of our own, because the usual quizzes that circulated at the time were very obvious - if you wanted to get sorted into Gryffindor for example, all you had to do was choosing red as your favourite colour. We wanted to make a quiz that actually reflected your personality - and in order to prepare the question, I wrote an analysis of the characteristics for each house (link in German). We never came past a beta phase for our quiz - but we suddenly thought it might be interesting to start a forum-based role play game (RPG) based on these analyses, since we all regretted that the books themselves were centred so strongly around Harry and around the Gryffindors for that reason.

We set our RPG to play during the events of book 5, but decided that our students would be a year older than the protagonists in the books, so that they didn't interfere with the plot. Originally, we tried to keep it in line with the book, but it soon derailed and it exploded.

At the time, I was struggling to finish my final thesis for my University degree, I was in deep depression (that was the time when I actually rolled in my bed and begged God to kill me already) and the RPG soon became my only reason to carry on. In this world, I could do something, I enjoyed myself and unlike me, my characters seemed interesting and worthwhile. One of my characters even had fangirls at a time (don't ask).

As unhealthy as it was for me on the long run, writing that RPG became like an addiction to me (at one point when I tried to stop it, I got actual, real withdrawal symptoms) - it might also have been part of the reason why I didn't really consider killing myself that summer (there were other reasons, some very sad and tragic). Because while I didn't see why I should have any reason to go on living, my characters sure had. They were popular and interesting, weren't they?

They RPG soon sprouted its own Alternative Universes and hypothetical futures. While I struggled to finish my 40 pages of thesis, I wrote over 400 pages of fiction in this RPG setting - most of the fiction reflected at least part of the work I was doing for my thesis and indirectly a lot of my depression and its roots. But after a while, after I'd finished university, dragged myself through unemployment and had finally gotten an internship, it needed to stop. This PRG and the people writing with me had taken up too much space in my life and it was time for me to take care of myself, the real version, not that of the fictional characters.

This decision felt easy and liberating, because I took it at a moment when I was ready - and I still consider it the beginning of my healing process - but the hundreds of pages of stories I produced in this period in collaboration with others have helped me a lot later, while I was trying to get to the roots of my illness. Because though the actual events in these stories don't have much in common with my life - there are structures underneath them that have. There's even one story where the last interaction my character has with another, before the story suddenly stops, is a good-bye letter.

And since this entry here turns into a big "I don't give a damn anymore"-posting - that's the only story with these characters that is published, we haven't finished it, yet and I shudder myself at the many massive grammar mistakes that are in there, particularly in the beginning. But it's just too much effort to go back and edit it again. The story lags a bit in the beginning, but it really starts taking off at around chapter 25. (Orion, by the way, is the character who at one point had fangirls.)

Even though the RPG has stopped and I have only taken my own characters with me (except for the existing background that they have with the others), I have taken up writing about them again, in what has long become my own version of the magical world that is a little bit different of Rowling's. These characters now have different versions of their lives, sometimes families (who are also starting to grow up) - and their stories have developed into a kind of diary for me. I continue to write these stories, in whatever way inspiration strikes me, and I then go back to interpret what it might mean and recently, they have turned to arrange themselves into place in a very symbolic way (that comes later - this post is getting so long). I think it is actually this last story that is the cause for my present "I'm feeling enlighted"-state and we'll just have to wait and see what we'll get out of it.

I won't ever read Harry Potter again, I think, because the world of Harry Potter has evolved in my mind in the world where my characters live, and it wouldn't feel right anymore. But I owe J.K. Rowling a lot. Her book has enabled me to harness my own creativity into something that I enjoy and that gives back to me. I don't feel bad anymore that my writing is "just" fanfiction, for the sole reason that it had the misfortune to be born into the Harry Potter world, rather than a world of its own. It is just how it is.

4. Clarissa Pinkola Estes - Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

I have literally been sleeping with this book for the last three years. No, not like that. I wanted to read up on something in that book before I went to sleep, put it next to my cushion and just never bothered putting it back.

This book has several phases and I won't be able to write as much about this than on the others - I'm already writing an entry that feels like an novel as it is - because the last phase kind of ended its use for me and I have forgotten a lot about what made sense to me in the other phases.

When I first read it, I felt that there was something in there that rang true, but I couldn't grasp it and I interpreted everything much too literally. I put it away, forgot about it, and when I took it up next, it suddenly spoke to me on a deeper level I can't quite describe and I can't quite find words for. I just understood. I didn't understand what I understood, but I think I started to feel that there were different parts to my psyche, no matter how you wanted to call them and that their interaction made what I am... I think this was during the same period as I quit the RPG and this book was what felt like the calling to me that it had been good for me to do the RPG, but it was now time to move on. And this was the first time I felt this strange feeling of "I got it now!"-enlightment, only that at the time I hoped it was the end of a dark journey, when it actually was just the beginning.

This book finally started to get useful to me when I began reading through my own stories in search for clues about my problems. I didn't help me in its direct application and though I do consider my characters as symbolic of aspects of my personality, I never saw archetypes in them. I didn't use her teachings directly, but it had sharpened my senses and opened my eyes for the possibilities. All I really took away from this book was that stories could have deeper, more fundamental meanings than what was told on the surface and that you could access these meanings if you allowed yourself to connect with these stories. I felt more comfortable doing this kind of work with my own stories than with myths and fairy-tales.

When I open it now, the book doesn't speak to me anymore in the same way and I can see all its shortcomings and all the points where you could reject it. But I think that's just a sign that I have appropriated myself of it now, like I've done with the Harry Potter world, and whatever comes from it from now on, will be as good or as bad or as useful as I can make it.

5. Max Rüdlinger - Das Recht auf Memoiren

I stumbled upon this book by accident, about a week after I stoped writing the RPG. I was browsing through the bookstore when I saw the display of a pile of books that read "signed by the author" - because the author had read in that same bookstore a few days ago and this was the leftover. I was curious and opened one - and I found this dedication inside:

To the unknown reader.

Because I was in this open, searching state of mind, I just had a sense that I wanted to be that unknown reader. This book was dedicated to me, the author just didn't know it. I didn't even read what it was about, I bought it and took it home. It is the memoir of a Swiss actor and rather unconventional person with an interesting story (the title translates to "the right on memoirs"). He came from a very conservative home, a banker's son, went to university, got caught up in the 68 youth protest movements and remained in there while the others went on. He suffered from depression (isn't it funny that we just sort of seem to find each other?), he wrote about it and he also wrote about his long struggle to find his own voice, his own art and against his own sense of inadequacy (he even has to empower himself to a right on memoirs, because he wouldn't otherwise think he had it).

The ironic thing is that this actor has finally found a successful niche as an actor type for the conservative, uptight Swiss - while his own story is everything but.

Even though I felt an instant kinship with the author, and I had indeed the feeling that it had been dedicated to me, this book frustrated me intensely. He wrote about his adventures, his travels, his cycling trips all over the world and how it helped him fight his depression - and here I was, still depressed and at an impass in my life.

I had gotten out of unemployment through an internship, but its end was looming on the horizon and I was in absolute terror of the thought that I'd soon need to get out there and sell myself again to potential employers, while I though I wasn't capable of anything particularly useful. I didn't think I couldn't do anything - I could write RPG stories and newspaper articles, but there isn't exactly a line of jobs out there for people with these kinds of talents. (I have other talents, of course, but I wasn't aware of them then.)

While Rüdlinger had the luxury to take as much time as he needed to figure himself out - it was the 60ies and 70ies, Switzerland had zero unemployment, he could always come back and know he'd find a job somewhere as something for a while until he'd earned enough money to go onto his next adventure - I didn't feel I had this same kind of opportunities. I was in a societal environment that kept reminding me over and over that I had to get another job, that I had to get into financial security and stability as soon as possible, because my parents couldn't support me if I failed and really - what I really had to do was get settled, get an unlimited-term contract and just become a working adult like everyone else. I was also reminded constantly, or so I felt, that my CV had to be absolutely flawless, or I would land on that rejection pile. And I knew that was true. I've been on the rejection pile over and over while I was looking for my internship and it scared the living shit out of me to get there again.

So, at the end of the book, I concluded that Rüdlinger didn't know how privileged he was and that I wished I had the privilege do to travelling and figure myself out like him, but unlike him, for some people this just wasn't possible.

Wrong. Of course. I was frustrated because I was too scared to want it. And I understood that when I had worked through enough of my depression to relax about the entire job thing and even go on my journey deliberately without knowing what my job would be afterwards and deliberately going back into unemployment again to work through the trauma. And it worked. I was relaxed through most of my second spell of unemployment, I was always aware that it would take time for someone like me to find a job that fit both my profile and my personality - the only times I got back into a few days of almost-depression were when I had to go see my case officer at the unemployment office. She tried to be compassionate with me and tell me she saw that it was really difficult for someone with my profile to find another job (motivation!) and tried to put pressure on me to do more, while I just knew I had to wait until the right job came along and I'd know it when I saw it. (I did. I got it.)

I guess I should thank Max Rüdlinger at this point for dedicating his book to me, the unknown reader.

6. Frederic Vester - Die Kunst, vernetzt zu denken

When I started my new job after my journey (the one I still hold now), my task was to find a way to takle a complex social system and find out more about it, how it works and how we can or can't influence it. I don't know whether my boss always had this kind of study in mind, because he had a degree in systemic management or whether he was reminded of this book through my incoherent ramblings while I was trying to get a hold of an elusive subject - but at some point, we agreed that we wanted to make a Sensitivity Analysis of our system and in order for me to manage the project, I needed to read up on the theory, Frederic Vester in particular - since that was the method we wanted to use.

As soon as I started reading up on the matter, I knew I had come home somehow. This had been the missing piece, the missing framework I've been looking for, something I had always known was there and used intuitively, but I didn't yet know how to make sense of. I won't go into detail here, because writing about systemic thinking has been something I've failed at constantly (but it improved over time and my understanding of it has deepened) over the last two years.

Since I started this entire entry on religion and I wrote that I lost my innocent Christian faith along the way, if you asked me now what I believed in, I would probably say systemic thinking. But systemic thinking isn't a belief system, it is a rigorous method you apply in order to approach systems that are too complex and too interconnected to be analysed the traditional way, because cutting them up in pieces and analysing just portions of it is like cutting up a living and breathing creature and wonder why it suddenly doesn't do anything it did before or why doing one thing in one way seems to work very reliably for years and then suddenly stops working from one moment to the next. Or why if you try to change social structures and you don't look at them in a systemic way, you end up with the same structures as before, just stronger rather than weaker - because you have only considered certain effects, but not the possibility of side-effects that go over many stages.

If I say I believe in systemic thinking, it is the idea that out of the interaction of several interdependant, but autonomous elements emerges something new, something of a higher order that displays other characteristics than the separate analysis of the elements might suggest. It postulates that complex systems tend to function as if they were alive. Like you won't find out who I am by cutting up my brain, you won't find out what a certain system is by tearing it apart.

And this leads me to think that maybe that's actually what God could be. Maybe God is an emergent property of the complex system that is our planet. Which would mean that we all at the same time are part of God and God is more than we are. It would mean we create God ourselves, but we don't create Them (I prefer not to assign a gender to this potentially emergent being or maybe beings, maybe each religion greats its own God through its systemic interactions) consciously and on purpose, They just emerge. And since we are deeper inside the system than the emergent phenomenon, we can't access Them directly. But that's just a hypothesis and I don't have any claim on that...

Even though I think systemic thinking is what drives me forward at the moment, I also remain a skeptic to the heart and I'll always question my own conclusions again, almost as soon as I made them. So... could be that I see everything in a different light in a few days.

The beauty of systemic thinking is however that it doesn't exclude scientific thinking - the two can integrate with each other seamlessly and create a more robust impression of the whole.

A word of warning though, at the end of this passage: systemic thinking is very complex and though I believe it has something and I try to apply it more and more - it isn't something you grasp easily and there are a lot of scharlatans out there selling you "quick fixes" that use the language or the concepts of systemic thinking, but - irony - without thinking. There is no method out there whatsoever that excuses you of critical thinking and there's no method out there that takes a difficult decision for yourself. You have to use your head and you have to jump into the water yourself. If you ever meet someone who wants to make you think they have the solution for a quick-fix for all your problems: run, run as fast as you can. They're lying.

7. Elizabeth Gilbert - Eat, Pray, Love

This is a book I read during my journey, where it spoke to me for the same reason Rüdlinger's did - someone trying to overcome depression by travelling. It felt soothing, reading her laconic commentary about her illness and her journeys, while you were doing the same, though I had overcome the darkest most terrifying part of my depression by then and I've never fallen that deeply into it ever since, so I was probably further along the way than her.

Even though I liked the book while I read it, I don't think it is a particularly good one in a sense that things seemed to go a little too smoothly for her, a little too well... okay, maybe that's what you could reproach this entry here in the same vein, since I only write from the perspective that I have now and all the insecurity and the meandering and the feeling lost in between gets smoothed over.

But that frustrated me about this book. I was travelling, too, I was having experiences, too, but while she seemed to step from one happy epiphany to the other, mine was just... as it was, with short funny stories like the one with the Lord of the Rings - but as a whole, as an experience, I couldn't put a convenient title like "eat, pray, love" on my travel blog and see sense in it.

And I still don't. But it doesn't have to have it.

8. David Foster Wallace - Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest is on this list despite the fact that I still haven't finished reading it and I'd probably need to start from the beginning again if I wanted to - and still, I know it is the most brilliant book I've ever read. Indeed, David Foster Wallace is in my eyes probably one of the most brilliant authors who ever wrote - a true genius, and that makes it even sadder that he died of depression a few years ago.

If I want myself to cool down and stop writing for a moment, all I have to do is read a few paragraphs of David Foster Wallace and despair. Because the writing of David Foster Wallace is the first I've ever read that didn't write a story as much as have it emerge out of a delicately constructed complex system of words. If you take it apart and read it word by word, it looks confusing and doesn't really make much sense. But if you ignore that and just continue reading, there are worlds emerging in your imagination. It is almost as if you could have a glimpse into his very thinking process and into his imagination.

Reading texts by him can be a very intense and terrifying experience, particularly as a fellow depressive, because you can clearly feel that even though he has a way of putting it that is more perfect than any other I've ever come across, he is still despairing himself at all the ways it isn't enough to convey what he really wants to say. In many of his texts, even if it is just through characters and it isn't his actual experience, you can feel how infinitely painful his depression feels to him, how crippling it is to him and that it is this crippling pain that made him produce one of the greatest pieces of literature ever written.

I'm scared that he died in the end. That the illness killed him, despite the fact that he was successful with what he did and had found a place in society. But I imagine that if you are burdened with this much clarity and a view that nobody around you can ever even begin to grasp, it must be lonely and desperate. I understand why he killed himself - but that makes it even sadder.

That's the point where I can get back to writing after the terrifying experience of David Foster Wallace - that maybe I'm lucky not to be burdened with that kind of genius, if it helps me stay alive.

9. Audrey Nyffenegger - The Time Traveler's Wife

The story of this book didn't stick around with me; to the point I don't even remember what it was about. This book isn't on this list for the story it tells, but for the actual copy of the book that passed through my hands before I passed it on.

I bought the book off a book exchange in Hanoi and read it while I was sick in my hotel room, and when I reached the end of it, I found a dentist's invoice of a woman with a British address. The book probably once belonged to her and she must have used the invoice as a bookmark, before she left it at a hostel or sold it to a book exchange somewhere. If I remember correctly, there was the name of a hostel in Bankok stamped into the book as well.

I was intrigued. Of course, how could I not be? I wondered how far this book had travelled and how many people had read it, and also why they had left the invoice in there and whether the woman had gotten any reactions to it. I decided to try and send her a postcard from Hanoi, telling her that I had just read her book and that I thought I'd let her know it had reached Hanoi. I also wrote that I was going to take it into China with me, so its journey wouldn't end with me. I left her my e-mail-address, feeling a little obstrusive... I was just curious about the story behind that book.

I countined my journey, forgot about the postcard, until I received an e-mail from her. The postcard had taken a while to get to her, since she had gotten married between the invoice and the book - she had taken it on her honeymoon with her to Thailand and left it there. Unfortunately, I had been the only one to write to her, so we didn't know how the book made it from Bankok to Hanoi and how many hands it had passed through in between. I left the invoice in the book, with the story I found out, encouraging future owners to write to me - but I've never heard from it again.

So, if you happen to go to Asia soon and get your hands on that book, just have a glimpse for me and see if it might be this one.

Unfortunately, Justine (that's her name) and I didn't really continue our conversation, since I was travelling and I'm lousy at replying to e-mails if I don't do it right away and then it's too late. But we have friended each other on Facebook and her entries pop up in my timeline once in a while, so I know that she has a little son and still lives in England and all that. And I like that, in a strange way, having glimpses into the life of someone I don't really know and our only connection is that we once owned the same copy of a book.

Since this entry goes on facebook and I have to tag people anyways, I'm going to tag her as well... if you made it this far, Justine, this one is for you. And in case you're feeling uncomfortable knowing that I notice your entries in my timeline once in a while and smile at the memory of this story, I'm not offended if you unfriend me.

10. Jane Austen - Pride and Predjudice

It's a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in possession of this book must... I don't know, want Mr Darcy? Sigh about romance?

I included this book onto this list, because it was another one of these books that I resisted for a long time, just to enjoy it immensely when I finally succumbed.

The reason why I never wanted to read it was that this book is part of a very tiring trope in romantic comedies or Every Meg Ryan Movie Ever. This trope - I'm sure it is on TVtropes, but I don't feel like searching for it now - goes something like this:

Single woman in her late 20ies or early 30ies is unhappy but still dreaming of Mr Right (Mr Darcy!!!), she is haplessly wandering through her life, untouched by anything but her Romance novels, queen of which is Pride and Prejudice. And these heroins always sigh and pull their books to their hearts and ask themselves where romance has gone - until ther real-life Mr Darcy (!!!) turns up and she awakes, falls in love and you know, happily ever after and all that.

This trope made it look like this book was some kind of sugary-dreamy kitsch that gives women a distorted view on love and romance and I didn't identify with Every Meg Ryan Character Ever, because the only time I've been desperately looking for Mr Right was the time when I thought that's what people expected of you, because that's what you just did. Not because I wanted to. I stopped as soon as I understood that and I haven't taken up the search. I'm not planning to.

Then, when I finally read the book - I think I bought it at the train station for 5 CHF because I wanted something for the ride, I was in a hurry and it was the only title I knew - it turned out to be not at all what I expected. It still baffles me that people can read this book as the ultimate romance, when it is so clearly satire. I love this book for the careful characterisation of the characters and for the brilliant way it makes fun of the stupid restricted social codes of her time.

I did identify with Elizabeth Bennett in the sense that she's the only female character in this book who isn't head-over-heels in this hysteric hunt for a husband. But it's not that the other women are unreasonable and Eliza is the only one with a sense of self-worth and independence. She plays a very risky game, betting on the fact that she'll still find a husband before it is too late and she ends up as a homeless spinster at the mercy of either one of her sisters (if they manage to secure a husband - which means a double risk bet) or another relative. This is a dripping social commentary on the limited options of women in her social class at that time, particularly if they don't have brothers and they aren't allowed to inherit from their father. Her bets turn out to be winners - but if she had lost, the story of Pride and Prejudice would have been a lot darker.

I wouldn't have had any hope to live the kind of life I love to live today, if I was born in her period of time into her social class (not in any other, either). I wouldn't be able to earn my own money. I wouldn't be allowed to support myself. I would still be considered the property of my father. I would be considered a disgrace to the family. The only hope at peace might have been to become a nun and join a convent, not out of religious devotion, just so you at least wouldn't get dragged into this entire married-with-kids life you feel is nothing for you.

I don't say this might never happen. I don't exclude it. Maybe my outlook suddenly changes - but until it does, I say it's not for me. One of my best friends is pregnant at the moment, actually, children are starting to pop up all around me lately, and it makes me happy for them. I hope my brother and/or my sisters will one day have kids, so I can play the role of the crazy aunt who does all the stuff with them they aren't allowed to do at home. I'm happy that the people around me are coupling up and having children, when I feel that this is what they want. I'm also a reasonably enthusiastic listener to all your stories gory and otherwise about pregnancies and early childhood, because I find them fascinating - and since I have four younger siblings, there are quite a few things I remember as a big sister that isn't so far from being a parent. But that doesn't make me want to have the same thing for myself.

At the moment, the idea of starting a family makes me want to run for the hills screaming. If it is my calling to become a mother one day, I'll know when the time comes. But if it isn't, then maybe I should rather concentrate on helping the people around me with their families, if they invite me to. I'm only working part-time at the moment (for various reasons), but I could imagine dedicating one of my work-free days guarding my hypothetical nieces and nephews. I'm getting tired with people wanting to tell me what I should want, if it doesn't feel to me as if I want it.

If I won't have children and regret it one day, at least I know why I never had any and that it had been a conscious choice that was rooted in good reasons now. Even if these reasons will look stupid in the future. I prefer regretting a conscious choice than regretting something I have never really thought about.

So, there we go... 10 books, a life's story at a strange moment in time. Let's see where the path goes from here.

Thanks for staying on 'til now.