On Building A Personal Library: Attempts At Decolonizing My Shelves

personal library blog pic

I’ll be graduating soon and for the first time ever, really, I will not be spending most of my book money on course literature. Which is not to say that many of these books were not ones I enjoyed and want to keep, but some were indeed books I lugged around with me from place to place and never touched after the term paper was handed in. So in considering the current state of my shelves, how much I’ve grown as a reader and a person over the last years and also that I will probably be moving again sometime this year, well I decided it was a good time to start thinking about building a personal library.

My first step will be getting rid of more books (no worries, I’ll donate them). I’ve been sorting out books over the last year and frankly, it has been a relief. Not beholden to any institution or reading list any longer, I started looking through my bookstacks, yes also those in the very back, and found that about half of my library is made up of classics, dudebro lit and other mainstream white works. And so, I find my shelves are in desperate need of decolonizing.

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case in point

Why do this? For me, this is a project of personal growth and working at transformation and social justice. It’s not a corset I’m trying to make myself fit into, or strange restrictions to make my reading life harder. This is who I am and who I hope to be and I want to surround myself with the thoughts and experiences of other people at the margins. I want to look at my shelves as a how-to on transformation, a place of support and an archive of knowledge.

Consider this an intro post, because writing about building a personal library is something I want come back to more often in the coming months, partly to document my progress (yes, there will be pics) and partly to think more on various specific building blocks. These are the acquisition of backlists of my favorite writers, secondary literature and non-fiction on race, feminism, food justice and history of medicine, and novels by women of color and further intersections beyond the few core texts I have. An example is that I have started to look for German writers of color, which is much more difficult than it should be and so I need to educate myself on where to find these works because I want to connect more with my own history. Hopefully, decolonizing my shelves will go hand in hand with decolonizing my mind. Big words, but this is necessary.

What’s the start of your personal library? Are you happy with it or do you have any plans?

Trying out Scribd


2015 seems to be my year of trying bookish online subscription services. First, I tested audible and I can report that I’m still happy with their selection and my nausea-free commute.

In recent weeks I’ve also been looking at the various e-book flats, such as Oyster, Scribd and Kindle Unlimited. Since I own a kindle, I figured Kindle Unlimited would be ideal, but I find their selection to be quite limited (ha!). They have popular books, but not all of the major publishing houses and nearly all the books I was interested in cost extra. Oyster may be great for everyone with Apple products, but I’m not a fan. Which is why I then signed up for Scribd 14-day trial. The “Netflix for books” offers access to their library of books, documents, comics and audiobooks (soon you only get 1 credit per month) for $8,99.

I know Scribd from their days as a document and presentation sharing platform and more recently from Duke UP’s Reading Friday, where you get to read a couple of chapters of their new releases on Scribd. Their academic books are a big part of why I’m interested in Scribd in the first place, of course there is not a ton of the newest UP releases, but they do have many new-ish works that are activist and scholarly anthologies, memoirs etc. and I can use for context. I do have my university library, of course, but my field is kinda niche and lets not talk about the budget for my particular interests. Usually when they have the books I need there’s only one copy, everyone else suddenly needs it, too, and though their e-book selection is growing slowly, I end up having to scan way too many pages.

On to the comics: I think at the beginning of the year or there around, Scribd started offering comics, lots of Marvel, but also such gems as March and Lumberjanes.  And then there are so many novels I want to read, my Scribd library looks insane. I heard there’s hardly any new releases, but that’s not a particular concern of mine and so far I have enough ebooks to last me a good long while plus several train conductor strikes.

What I’m not so fond of is that I cannot read any Scribd stuff on my kindle, but I’ve read two ebooks on my phone app recently and it didn’t trigger migraines, so I think I’ll be fine. But this is something that irritates me. I want that Russian smart phone with the e-ink on one side! Also, Scribd works on iOS and android and of course in any browser, but I read somewhere there’s either no windows tablet app or a pretty bad one. For all those audiobook fans, Scribd let me know immediately after signing up that the all the audiobooks you want thing is apparently over and it’s now unlimited books and 1 audiobook a month.

I think at $8,99 a month, the price is also a concern of mine. But I’ve quit my gym membership, so it’ll fit my budget fine. And let me rant tell you about libraries in Germany: They are not free! (apparently that’s the case in the UK?) I’ve always been okay with the reduced student price, but now I’m not living in a major city, their budget here sucks and the selection is very very narrow, the e-book library is even worse. Also, they don’t charge a yearly flat, but per pile of books once you’re over 20 and extra for bestsellers, DVDs etc but also for renewing books or ILL. And I rarely read in German. So, $8,99 doesn’t sound too bad.

Also, more recently I’ve been thinking of the books I own (finally all in one place, even if only for a couple of months) and why I purchased them. That’s really something for another blog post, but the gist of it is that quite often I bought books I really wanted to read at one time, but couldn’t get a hold of any other way and had to buy. And I want to start putting together a library, not just a mess of books that ended up on my shelves. So that’s what I’m taking into account while I try out Scribd and decide whether to subscribe or not, even if it would only be for the next few months. I’ve already read two otherwise very expensive graphic novels, amazing short stories and now a great fantasy.

Has anyone tried ebooks flats? What are your thoughts on Kindle Unlimited, Scribd and Oyster?


5 on my TBR

Although I don’t quite manage to read as much as I used to, this has in no way influenced my tbr list. So I thought I might make the “5 on my TBR” posts a regular thing (is there a meme for this? I’ve been out of the game too long). That way we all get to look at pretty book covers and book lists! 🙂 Here we go:

 1) Emma Pérez: The Decolonial Imaginary


Emma Perez discusses the historical methodology which has created Chicano history and argues that the historical narrative has often omitted gender. She poses a theory which rejects the colonizer’s methodological assumptions and examines new tools for uncovering the hidden voices of Chicanas who have been relegated to silence. (goodreads)

Absolute must-read for anyone interested in Chicana history, the borderlands and the intersection of queer theory and decoloniality. I’ve read bits and pieces as you do with secondary lit, but read the intro if you read nothing else.

2) Haruki Murakami: The Strange Library


A boy’s routine day at the public library becomes a trip down the rabbit hole in Murakami’s short novel. The boy meets a demanding old man, who forces him to read the books he’s requested in a hidden reading room in the basement. After following the labyrinthine corridors, the boy is led by the old man into a cell, where he must memorize the history of tax collection in the Ottoman Empire. In the bowels of the library, the boy meets a beautiful, mute girl who brings him meals, as well as a subservient sheepman who fixes the boy crispy doughnuts and clues him in to the old man’s sadistic plans.


Murakami, I’ve been meaning read more of your works. This seemed like a pretty amazing one to try, bookish Japanese wonderland-esque. Please, someone tell me the “beautiful, mute girl” part is better than it sounds.

3) Jewelle L. Gomez: The Gilda Stories


Escaping from slavery in the 1850s Gilda’s longing for kinship and community grows over two hundred years. Her induction into a family of benevolent vampires takes her on an adventurous and dangerous journey full of loud laughter and subtle terror.


Black lesbian vampire saga ftw! Gomez and Buffy are pretty much the only ones who don’t make me run at the mere mention of vampire these days. Now, if only my library could get a copy.

4) E. Lockhart: We Were Liars


A beautiful and distinguished family.

A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.


Because, intrigue, twists and unreliable narrators! Also, Ana’s review.

5) Rokhaya Diallo: Pari(s) d’Amies


“a story about a diverse group of friends in Paris and the joys, pains, heartbreak, and racism, that they encounter. Created by activist Rokhaya Diallo (co-founder of Les Indivisibles), and with illustrations by Kim Consigny, the series centers on lead character Cassandre who returns to Paris after two years spent in the US; and with a comedic tone, this comic book is giving representation to minorities too often ignored in France”


Diallo is an amazing activist, so I can’t wait to see how her anti-racist, social justice work is reflected in the comic. Perhaps also interesting for US-Americans, to get an idea of race relations and racism in Europe. Follow the link to get a preview.

Have you read any of these works? And what have you added to your tbr list recently?

Queer diasporas

My uni library is sadly lacking in literature I need, so I’m always quite surprised when my catalogue searches do come up with results. I know it’s an academic read, but it’s fun and well-written and does give you critical tools for looking at literature and film in a fresh light. Separating academic from prose works is boring and I know you all can take it!

queer diasporas

Definitely read this one if you are interested in diasporas, queer theory, nationalism and lesbian subjectivity. In that case also check out M.F. Manalansan’s works.

I’m gonna curl up with Gopinath’s book and a pot of tea, intellectual posturing be damned.

What are you currently reading? Academic works, blogs or news articles, what reads do you leave out of your book blogs?

5 on my tbr

It’s been a while – again. I’m swamped with work at the moment, but then today I remembered the no-pressure-blogging resolution for this year. So, how about a quick post with five books that are currently on my tbr (it’s what I call my shoe box full of post-it notes with scrawls of titles and authors a.k.a. the ton of books I wish I had lying around). Have some pretty pics of pretty books:

Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route (Saidiya Hartman)


Though I’ve read quite a bit about the Black Atlantic, Hartman’s work is still on my tbr. I’ve recently finished Cvetkovich’s Depression (which is amazing!) and she references and makes use of Lose Your Mother in her arguments. I really want to read this one now.

Die Tapetentür (Marlen Haushofer)


My wonderful friend Vishy gave me Haushofer’s The Wall and I absolutely loved it (and I will review that one soon). So I thought I’d check out her other works and this one sounded great plus my library actually has a copy. The main character in this one is a librarian! and I hope Haushofer’s portrayal of women will be as great here.

Life after Life (Kate Atkinson)


Absolutely love Atkinson’s crime fiction and most of all her biting sense of humor and nastiness of character descriptions. Time to try her novels and this one is recent and I’ve been seeing a lot of it on the blogosphere etc. Though it usually takes me ages to get to new books.

The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy (Nikki Loftin)


A kind of Hänsel & Gretel revisited for middle-graders, it sounds like huge fun and some reviewers made daring Roald Dahl comparisons (careful with such comparisons please!!). This can only lead to disappointed expectations, but I want to give it a try anyway since I’m also a sucker for the cover art.

Brown Skin, White Masks (Hamid Dabashi)


To make up for my shallow cover art comment, here’s an academic tbr (see I have depth) ;P I read more of those nowadays it seems, but I only recently discovered Dabashi’s work even existed. The Fanon book was amazing and this one basically connects it with Orientalism and our era and discusses the problems of intellectual migrants and informing on one’s home country. Will have to see about the quality of the arguments, but if it does what it advertises then I really want to include it in all future discussions of colonialism and Orientalism.

Have you read these books? Do you want to?

Also, self-conscious blogger question: Are posts like this of interest to you or do you prefer in-depth reviews?

Rage (Rabia) by Sergio Bizzio

Rage is another attempt of mine to read more literature that isn’t American or British and focusing more on the box of post-it notes that constitutes my personal reading list. It’s always amazing to see how much literature has been translated into German and even the tiny small-town library I visit when I stay with my parents offers enough world lit to seduce me away from my stacks of unread books at home.

Rabia was first published in Argentina in 2004 and has been translated into English as Rage. It is Bizzio’s 6th novel and has been adapted to film. The book earned Bizzio the Premio Internacional de Novela de la Diversidad and the Premio La Mar de Letras awards.

Bizzio tells the story of José María, a construction worker, who falls in love with Rosa, maid in a Buenos Aires mansion. However, when María kills the foreman after being provoked and let go, he hides for years on the upper floor of the mansion, observing Rosa and her employers without anyone noticing they’ve acquired a squatter.

While the premise seems to promise a suspenseful thriller, quickly read and forgotten, Bizzio manages to make it so much more. Once María hides in the mansion, the book is narrated from his claustrophobic, confined perspective but never is there not emotional depth to his character. I especially appreciated the pages Bizzio devoted to describing María’s behavior during the first days in the mansion, how he took care not to leave traces in the empty room he slept in or the bathroom, how he stole food from the kitchen in the middle of the night, always considering if something would be missed or not. And the terrifying moments when he thinks he might have been seen. His sneaking around the house is suitably creepy and reminded me of an episode of Whitechapel, which also focused on a squatter none of the residents know about. But while María is a voyeur and his obsession with Rosa is disturbing, Bizzio made me sympathetic to his plight and the way his self-imprisonment changes him.

Also, with a construction worker observing a well-to-do family, commentary on class issues and the state of Argentinean society is always present. Rosa is over-worked and underpaid and even worse is raped by her employers’ son, the teenaged grandson also lusts after her and of course she is always, unknowingly observed by a possessive, jealous María. From what I’ve heard, the difficult situation of maids in Argentina has received more attention in recent years, and I’d like to read another perspective, which does more to expose the sexual objectification and male gaze, as Rage simultaneously exposes and perpetuates this.

The book has been hailed as the best of contemporary Argentinean literature, which makes me want to explore more. Read this one for an atmospheric Kammerspiel, Bizzio’s amazing imagery and sparse language.

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

Library Loot: August 15-21

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

I’m trying to read more literature that isn’t British or US-American again, I used to read a lot but then majoring in American Studies I got so caught up in reading lists and research, I hardly read anything else. Partly this goal seems to go hand in hand with reading more chunksters, at the moment I’m reading Roberto Bolano’s 2666 and started Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy to join Jo’s readalong. On my visit to the library yesterday I found a couple of great books that have at the most 320 pages, so hopefully I won’t feel too intimidated by chunksters to abandon the whole thing immediately.

Eine Zeit ohne Tod (José Saramago)

Has been translated into English as Death with Interruptions. What if no one dies? One day, Death goes on strike. My first Saramago, please tell me I didn’t loot the most difficult of his works!

Das geheime Leben der Bücher (Régis de sá Moreira)

Translated from the French Le Libraire, but I haven’t been able to find an English translation. It’s a small novel about a bookseller who never leaves his shop, who treats his books like children and his interactions with the few customers who find their way to him.

A Suitable Boy (Vikram Seth)

The epic work of terrifying length, at least for me. Also, a sprawling family story set in post-partition India. I’m giving this a go because Jo made me, err…suggested it 😉 I think a readalong is the only thing that’ll make me stick with such a huge book.

Die blaue Stunde (Alonso Cueto)

La hora Azul, translated into English as The Blue Hour. After reading Stu’s review, I knew I had to read this one. It’s about the aftermath of the Peruvian civil war and a successful lawyer is confronted with his father’s sins.

Stille Wut (Sergio Bizzio)

Rabia, translated into English as Rage. The cover looked suitably creepy. A thriller about obsession, voyeurism, and class privilege.

What did you loot from the library this week?

Mailbox Monday

Mailbox Monday is a gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week and explore great book blogs. Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists.” It is hosted by 5 Minutes For Books this month.

Last week, I took a trip to Utrecht with a friend and what is a city trip without stopping at  a couple of bookstores!? I actually found a few not too expensive, used books which I’ve been wanting to read for a while:


The Ministry of Pain (Dubravka Ugresic)

A novel about the experience of living in excile, my first Ugresic I think!

My Turn to Make the Tea (Monica Dickens)

Yes, it ws the title that made me pick up the book 😀 But reading about the daily life of a young reporter in the newsroom packed in a cosy and witty story made me buy this copy.

Little Boy Lost (Marghanita Laski)

Laski’s Victorian Chaise-Longue was amazing so I was happy to find a copy of this book about the search for a young boy in post-war France.

Blandings Castle (P. G. Wodehouse)

Wodehouse’s Blandings Castle series is just as amazing as his Bertie and Jeeves stories and I think I’ll have to pace myself soon.

I also went to the library and picked up:

Image 2666 (Roberto Bolano)

I’ve never read anything by Bolano and this might not be the best place to start but I’m determined to read more literature that is not British or U.S. American. The book’s size and its reputation are quite intimidating but we’ll see how I’ll get on.

American Gods (Neil Gaiman)

I read Neverwhere ages ago and enjoyed the story but the writing wasn’t too impressive. Since so many people told me how much they liked American Gods, I want to give Gaiman another try.

What books did you acquire or loot from the library recently?

Thoughts: My Cousin Rachel

My Cousin Rachel is, I think, the fourth novel I’ve read of DuMaurier and again I’ve teamed up with Jo from Bibliojunkie for a read-along of DuMaurier goodness. I have to say that this is one of those books I’ve been wanting to read for a long time, but have put off many times because I didn’t want the anticipation to be over. Still, I had to give in at some point and I’m already looking forward to a slow reread.

My Cousin Rachel was first published in 1951 and is like so many of DuMaurier’s works set mostly in Cornwall. Rating-wise I have to say it comes in a very close second after Rebecca.

As for the story: Philip Ashley grows up in the all-male household of his Uncle Ambrose, groomed to take over the estate after his guardian’s death. However, when Ambrose takes a trip to Italy, he meets and marries ‘cousin’ Rachel and shortly after dies abroad. Devastated and alarmed by a letter his uncle sent him before his death, Philip travels to Italy. However, Rachel has disappeared and before long, she shows up on Philip’s doorstep in England.

This book is just as perfect about atmosphere as Rebecca, it’s nearly a character of its own! It is also a fantastic mystery with so many layers and twist and turns that I couldn’t help but race through it (my thesis be damned!). It also makes for a wonderful study about youth and models of femininity and masculinity. The story is told from Philip’s perspective, who is young, has grown up without significant female company and has introduced himself as something of a dreamer. As such, he is more than a little unreliable and his descriptions and thoughts of Rachel really say much more about himself than his ‘cousin’. He has more or less internalized Ambrose’s distrust and fear of women and his friendship with the daughter of a neighbor is that of siblings, so when he is confronted with half-Italian Rachel, it throws him badly. Even without his uncle’s mysterious death I think this would have made for an interesting story. As it is, My Cousin Rachel has it all – suspenseful mystery and study of gender representation.

Other thoughts:


Review: Strangers

If someone asked me I would say I absolutely love Japanese literature, and Banana Yoshimoto’s N.P. was such a reading experience, that I never noticed that I don’t actually read many Japanese novels! Which says a lot about Yoshimoto’s works (I’ve read and loved them all, though I haven’t read her newest work yet) but was an embarrassing realization for me. Still, I signed up for Bellezza’s fifth Japanese Literature Challenge, which is a wonderful opportunity to read more works by Japanese authors and get lots of recommendations from others.

Do you have certain books you pick up many times but ultimately put back on the shelf again? I do that a lot, somehow I’m always drawn to the same covers but am unsure about the plot or style. On my last visit to the library, I finally looted Strangers by Taichi Yamada.

Strangers is about Hideo Harada, a tv script-writer in his late forties. Since the divorce from his wife he has moved into his office, a place which is both loud from nearby traffic and eerily quiet as everyone else leaves in the evening. One night however, he notices that one other window is lit and shortly after meets its occupant, a beautiful young woman with whom he starts an affair. One day he decides to visit his childhood home in Asakusa, where he meets a couple who look exactly like his parents who died in a motorcycle crash when Hideo was twelve. Although he tries to convince himself that he is suffering from hallucinations, he cannot resist parental care and love and keeps visiting his parents who now look younger than he is himself. However, with each visit he appears closer and closer to death himself as his gaunt and gray looks begin to scare the people around him.

Yamada’s novel is an eerie, wonderfully atmospheric ghost story told in sparse prose. Is this elegant sparse prose typical for Japanese literature? It seems to be from my limited experience. I’m tempted to compare the prose style to the Japanese cuisine but perhaps labeling it sparse would incur the wrath of those who know better? 😉 While I’m drawn to the explosion of aroma that is Indian cooking, I love the opposite when it comes to prose style.

Strangers plays with reality and illusion and like Hideo you can never be quite sure which is which. Yamada has set his ghost story in an urban environment, and despite or because of the huge population of Tokyo, his characters are desperately lonely people. I’d love to say more about Hideo’s relationship with the dead which is so very different from that with the real people in his life, but I’m afraid to spoil things for those who haven’t read the novel. I don’t think the ending will come as a complete surprise, and despite the shortness of this book I felt it dragged a bit in the middle, but the mood was always atmospheric and made me read on. I wonder if this is perhaps an early novel? Although I really enjoyed Strangers and will recommend it to others, I do think that there was more potential to the story and Yamada can do better. I’ll have to check what else has been translated of his works, any recommendations?

Other thoughts:

Dolce Bellezza

Things Mean A Lot

The Parrish Lantern

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!