Book Review

in English: Frank Witzel’s „Die Erfindung der Roten Armee Fraktion durch einen manisch-depressiven Teenager im Sommer 1969“ (German Book Prize 2015, Translation)

Die Erfindung der Roten Armee Fraktion durch einen manisch-depressiven Teenager im Sommer 1969

[„One Manic-Depressive Teenager’s Invention Of The Red Army Fraction [terror group] In The Summer Of 1969“]

Frank Witzel [Link to]

Matthes & Seitz, 2015. No English editon yet.


There are two main ways to access and describe Frank Witzel’s daunting-but-enjoyable, ambitious-but-not-too-complex, autobiographical-but-wildly-freewheeling, conventional-but-INSANE tragicomical 800-page novel about a 13-year old Beatles-loving upper-middle-class Catholic boy stuck in a suburb of provincial Wiesbaden in 1969:

It’s a normal book, to the point of being a little bland: Since publication in early spring of 2015, there has been a steady trickle of benevolent reviews and reader reactions – and most of them praise the book for being a charming coming-of-age novel trying hard to capture typical feelings of alienation and awkwardness. It’s a book about norms. About being normal. About feeling not quite normal. It’s a rather conventional story/theme/autobiographical approach – and it will speak to baby boomers or anyone older than 13. Darker than David Mitchell’s “Black Swan Green”. Lighter than John McGahern’s “The Dark”. Less saccharine than the nostalgic US dramedy “The Wonder Years”; but equally obsessed with name-dropping 1960s topics and pop-culture references. Witzel’s novel treads very familiar, well-covered ground – but that’s not a bad thing: It’s approachable, it’s incredibly well-researched/authentic. The main character resonates.

Over the course of 800 pages, though, all of this will get subverted, parodied, deconstructed through increasingly outlandish tone shifts, perspective shifts, literary experiments and improv. It’s like Frank Witzel took a simple, not-too-complex ditty… and, like a Jazz musician, started one crazy 800-page jam session – until he ran out of steam. After increasingly tedious narrative wheel-spinning, the novel just stops, with little resolution. So: It’s not a normal book. At all.

I will talk about the merits and problems of this later.

Let’s start with the surface – all the ways the book wants to be normal, typical and capture “normal and typical” German middle-class life in the 1960s: The unnamed narrator – in some chapters, it is suggested that his name might be Frank Witzel – is a book-smart, but rather clueless, coddled, devout and daydreaming son of a detached and bourgeois factory owner. He’s in 7th grade, his mother is suffering from a (little-discussed) nervous condition that paralises her legs and so, the Caritas social services send a live-in caretaker – only referred to as die Frau von der Caritas – who might or might not be having an affair with the father, and who might or might not be a GDR spy or GDR defector.

All characters remain blurry like that – because the narrator is making up stories and daydreams, and in 98 chapters, there are 30 to 50 different styles/tones. Many elements that seem outlandish daydreams get a more realistic re-telling in later chapters – and vice versa. Is the father the owner of a small factory… or a mighty industrialist? Is die Frau von der Caritas a spooky seductress…. or just some lonely social worker who has to deal with being antagonized and sexualized to Bond-villainess proportions by a pubescent, creepily misogynist narrator?

It’s not a matter of “truth” versus “daydream” or “delusion”, but a matter of tone and style: In more down-to-earth chapters, the characters are overly typical small-town clichès from the 60s, with typical, mildly comedic struggles and neuroses. In more outlandish chapters, they play biblical, literary or emblematic 1960s roles – crass supervillains and rock stars, terrorists and vixens. These tone shifts aren’t whimsical – they’re disorienting, disturbing and hint at larger psychological problems of the main character: Is he a daydreaming kid and underachiever with mood swings? Or is he full-on delusional?

In chapter 1, the narrator and two classmates – dopey, Ron-like Bernd and competent, Hermione-like Claudia – leave behind a NSU (car) they stole (from whom?) to form a “terror group”/secretive youth club named “Rote Armee Fraktion”. They manage to outrun the police (a dream-like and absurd sequence: a fantasy?), but accidentally leave several novelty gifts/sweets/childish gimmicks in the car’s glove compartment that could get them identified. Through much of the novel, the narrator fears that a) die Frau von der Caritas will rat him out to the police, b) his grades will slip and he’ll be forced into a strict Catholic boarding school (this does actually come to pass in one chapter, after 400 pages – but it’s unclear whether it’s a fantasy sequence or reality), c) that he’ll suffer God’s wrath or that the universe is somehow conspiring against him and he’s deeply broken or ruined.

There is, of course, the real-life terror group “Rote Armee Fraktion” that’s been active in the same year, and in various chapters, it’s very much in flux whether the narrator’s own childish pipe dream of a youth gang, coincidentally named “Rote Armee Fraktion”, predates that group or copies it. There’s also a string of questioning/session transcript chapters throughout the book (all flash-forwards into the 21st century) where an investigator and/or a taunting psychologist wants the main character, now middle-aged, to confess to various RAF crimes and/or confess that his own RAF is imaginary and he himself has delusions of grandeur.

Both religion and music play a huge part in the narrator’s “private mythology”: You don’t have to know much about Catholicism, specific saints and/or the Beatles, Cream and late-60s pop music, though… because most of the references explain themselves through context… but you might remember the overlong, satirical music chapters in “American Psycho”, where Patrick Bateman starts dissecting bands like Genesis or Huey Lewis and the News? Witzel’s main character does the same, and it’s equally satirical/disorienting/weird: Instead of plot development, you can find yourself in some semi-funny, semi-serious 20-page-long side note about hidden meanings in The White Album or pseudotheological essays on whether Jesus and the Beatles have the same attitude towards guilt, sin and redemption. These chapters are very well researched and specific, but they also have a show-off quality that reminds me of the weirder logorrhoeic passages of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest”. It’s brilliant, it’s joyful, it’s very, very skilful – but it’s going on for 800 pages, and it gets pointless and show-offy too quickly.

This is what most people say about the book, and this is why the reviews are solid, but there are not a lot of huge fans: It’s a charming, playful and, despite some surrealist clutter, authentic coming-of-age novel that rings very true. But why is it 800 pages long? Why does the plot just peter out – very much like “Infinite Jest”?


There’s a psychological fallacy called Apophenia: the idea that people are too eager to see patterns, connect dots, find meaning in random occurrences. Witzel could have written a more conventional 200-page novel that would have been more entertaining, inviting, engaging. But – and this is why I said that this is not a normal book, at all – he needs 800 pages to make a bigger, more abstract point:

Most biographies or coming-of-age books find some leitmotifs, establish them and see them through. It would have been easy to say “In 1969, 13-year-old boys were both repelled and intrigued by counter-culture. When the RAF terror group turned into pop stars, Germany’s collective fears and adulation resembled that of a coddled, overwhelmed 13-year old boy.” Witzel shows a main character whose main frame of reference has been Catholicism, sins and saints and who uses that lens to make sense of the Beatles, pop music, terrorists, counter-culture. It’s one big, neurotic mishmash with many surreal and intriguing and outrageous connections: the Beatles are saints! Bullies are satanists! I’m a martyr, and God tests me, and I’m also an Indian, and you are a Bond girl! etc.

But through 98 chapters and 800 pages, Witzel remixes and shifts these connections and pseudo-leitmotifs until they appear random, haphazard, absurd. SO random, haphazard and absurd that you’ll start thinking “Wait: Autobiography is such a construct!” or “Wow: Leitmotifs are sorta shoddy, cheap and random!” A 13-year old has a limited understanding of the world, a limited set of phrases and images, and it’s disturbing (and cruelly fun!) to see how someone with a provincial, outdated and limited set of 1950s words/tools/lenses/concepts tries to make sense of terrorism, growing up, sin, the 60s etc.

It’s a brilliant way to show the limitations of speech and the problems of private and collective “mythologies” – and it’s not a very German thing: there are tons of references to German brands or 60s TV shows etc., but they were as foreign and distant to me as they’d be for UK or North American readers – and you don’t have to know anything about the RAF or specific German history to follow the plot. Many chapters use lenses like detective fiction or bad 1960s chapter books, archaic fairy tales, theological essays, semi-serious music reviews, lists and footnotes etc., and much of the fun comes from these pastiches/misappropriated, outdated speech styles and mash-ups. A translation into English would have to be VERY good to reflect both the humour, absurdity AND accuracy of the language. I loved these shoddy-but-skilful pastiches!

But should Witzel be translated? I’m not sure: I had a lovely reading experience and I’m incredulous that such an unwieldy, frilly, overwhelming book was awarded the German Book Prize… but many chapters were dragging on, and I often thought things like “You could scrap page 200 to page 300 completely – and the book would be better for it”. There are about four German people that I’d tell “Read this: It’s great!”, but I can see a lot of “The Wonder Years” fans or baby boomers flocking to this book only to abandon it angrily because of all the “pointless” pastiches/apophenia moments/the unsatisfying “Infinite Jest” atmosphere: post-Book Prize Amazon reviews tend to be harsh. Many recreational readers are disappointed and rated the book 1 star. I can see their point.

I wish there was a shorter version, and as a UK publisher, I’d definitely approach Frank Witzel and ask him if he’d be interested in excerpts/personal essays/a book about the Beatles etc. – he’s an Anglophile, and there are parts of tremendous interest for UK readers.

Also, strangely enough, there’s a US author who did a very similar satirical book about the RAF and German neuroses, Walter Abish [„How German is it“

I don’t know if Witzel and Abish know each other, but if there’s an audience for Abish, there’s an audience for Witzel (and vice versa). Abish’s novel was successful – so it would not be completely out of line to consider a translation of Witzel. But: it’s the most avant-garde title I’ve read in 2015, and while I’ve had fun, I’m not sure if his 98 satirical improvisations were worth 3 full days of my life. Wouldn’t 400 pages have been enough?



“Die Erfindung der Roten Armee Fraktion durch einen manisch-depressiven Teenager im Sommer 1969”, Frank Witzel, Matthes & Seitz

“Ein Spiegelkabinett der Geschichte im Kopf eines Heranwachsenden: Erinnerungen an das Nachkriegsdeutschland, Ahnungen vom Deutschen Herbst; das dichte Erzählgewebe ist eine explosive Mischung aus Geschichten und Geschichte, Welterklärung, Reflexion und Fantasie: ein detailbesessenes Kaleidoskop aus Stimmungen einer Welt, die 1989 Geschichte wurde. Ein mitreißender Roman, der den Kosmos der alten BRD wiederauferstehen lässt.” [Klappentext, gekürzt.]

Die Erfindung der Roten Armee Fraktion durch einen manisch-depressiven Teenager im Sommer 1969


Für “der Freitag” las ich alle sechs Romane auf der Shortlist zum deutschen Buchpreis 2015:

“Und was, falls dann doch Frank Witzel gewinnt? Für seinen brillant verquasten, übervollen, herrlich sperrigen Jugend- und Provinzroman Die Erfindung der Rote Armee Fraktion durch einen manisch depressiven Teenager im Sommer 1969? 800 Seiten Jugendängste, Wahn, 60er-Jahre-Jargon, Katholizismus und Neurosen, in 98 grellen Kapiteln immer neu gekreuzt, verschränkt. Literarische Apophänie: Was, wenn die Beatles Märtyrer wären? Mein Leben ein Schneider-Jugendbuch? Die RAF unser Kinderclub? Was, wenn dieses eigensinnige, wagemutige, bekloppte, brillante Buch Bestseller wird? Und Tagesgespräch?”


Der 800-Seiten-Roman spielt 1968 in einem Vorort von Wiesbaden und folgt einem 13jährigen, in 98 Kapiteln – von denen fast jedes anders klingt und viele einen parodistischen Quatsch-Tonfall haben, z.B. die Floskeln eines Jugendbuchs oder den Panik-Tonfall der RAF-Berichterstattung.

Es geht um Sprachmüll, BRD-Muff und die Armut, mit den falschen Worten etwas festhalten, ausdrücken, auf den Punkt bringen zu müssen – ein Gefühl, das 13jährige gut kennen. Der Roman ist sehr verspielt – jedes Kapitel ist eine literarische Versuchsanordnung, in dem Jargon (z.B. aus einer Musikzeitschrift) auf ein anderes Themenfeld (z.B. auf die Schule) getragen wird. So entsteht viel… wilder, windschiefer… Quatsch. abgegriffene Worte, in neuen, überraschenden Zusammenhängen.

Literarisch/psychologisch mach das viel Spaß: ein Junge, der als Messdiener jahrelang Gewäsch über Heilige und Märtyrer aufgesaugt hat und jetzt in Musikzeitschriften über die Beatles und in den Nachrichten über die RAF hört, spricht über die Beatles… wie über Märtyrer. Über die RAF… wie Popstars. Nicht als witziges Spiel – sondern aus Unvermögen: seltsame Welten werden durch die jeweils falschen Sprach- und Wahrnehmungsbrillen betrachtet. Die einzigen Brillen/Wortschätze eben, die der 13jährige bisher hat.

Warum ist das literarisch toll – und warum dauert es 800 Seiten? Weil Witzel noch etwas Größeres probiert/durchspielt/erzählt, das mich sehr überzeugt: Apophänie ist die Störung, Zusammenhänge und Leitmotive zu sehen:

…und die meisten Romane nehmen eine Figur, ein Stück Gegenwart oder Zeitgeschichte und ein paar Motive und sagen: “Schaut. Winnetou und die RAF – da sind schon Parallelen” oder z.B. “Dawson Leery und Stephen Spielberg: Das wird immer wieder interessant gegeneinander gestellt und hinterfragt – dieser All-American Idealismus.” Wir erzählen uns unsere Leben selbst in solchen Mustern, finden uns in Popkultur, ziehen Parallelen.

Witzel zieht 800 Seiten lang Parallelen, die IMMER beliebiger und absurder und wahnhafter werden und dabei zeigen: Solche Netze sind sehr schnell gesponnen. Aber dabei eben oft: spinnert. “Die Erfindung der Roten Armee Fraktion durch einen manisch-depressiven Teenager im Sommer 1968” setzt, versuchsweise, ALLES in Zusammenhang – auch, um dabei zu zeigen, wie leichtfertig und hilflos Menschen solche Zusammenhänge suchen, um sich ihr Leben zu erklären, und – Meta, Meta! – wie schnell Autor*innen solche Zusammenhänge zimmern können.

Wie gesagt: Ich finde es schwierig, ein Buch zu empfehlen, bei dem ich z.B. von Seite 200 bis 300 dachte “Hm. Das hätte man jetzt alles einfach streichen können.” Der Roman ist sehr lang, und ich weiß nicht, ob er Gelegenheits- und Hobbylesern genug gibt, über diese 800 Seiten hinweg. Versteht man erstmal, worum es geht – Lebenswelten in jeweils “falschen” Sprachwelten durchzunudeln, in immer anderen Kombinationen – passiert nicht mehr viel: es nudelt halt 99 Kapitel lang durch. sprachlich toll. aber einen packenden Plot oder besondere Auflösungen zum Schluss gibt es nicht.


Im Freitag (Link) schreibe ich:

“”Wer 2015 nur ein einziges Buch lesen kann, dem empfehle ich gestrost Jenny Erpenbeck, Gehen, ging, gegangen. Kosten: 19 Euro 99, Umfang: 352 Seiten. In kaum zehn Stunden Lesezeit bewältigt und verstanden. Simple Sprache. Viel Wissenswertes zu Asylrecht und Geflüchteten. Der Alltag afrikanischer Männer in einer Berliner Unterkunft, beäugt von einem skeptischen deutschen Professor in Rente. Altern, Heimatlosigkeit, DDR-Vergleiche. Kulturen im Dialog. Fünf von fünf Sternen. Lesenswert! Besonders auch für Schulklassen. Aber zählt dieser simple, muntere, gut gemeinte Asylroman zu den größten literarischen Leistungen 2015? Ist er buchpreiswürdig? […]

Egal, wer 2015 gewinnt: Favoritin Erpenbeck, Meister Witzel oder einer der holprigeren vier Titel: Keines dieser sechs angreifbaren, erstaunlich windschiefen Bücher im Finale passt gut zum Preis. Alle haben Angriffsflächen, große Schwächen. Peltzer, Witzel sind zu träge, Schwitter, Lappert zu seicht, Mahlke, Erpenbeck keine augenfällig „große“ Literatur. Ich will kein Buchhändler sein, der den Gewinner durchs Weihnachtsgeschäft bringt.”


Literature about 9/11: Recommendations

In 2005, I read nearly 30 fiction and nonfiction books about 9/11 (Link) for a long essay/feature for the German literature e-zine „“ (Link).

Since then, I continued to read literature about the 2001 attacks: Some great books, a lot of mediocre stuff – and lots of obscure or over-hyped titles.


Coming up: The best – and worst – 9/11 related fiction and nonfiction:


Five novels that I can recommend:

– FRÉDÉRIC BEIGBEDER: ‚Windows on the World‘, 2003 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– JONATHAN SAFRAN FOER: ‚Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close‘, 2005 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– JOYCE MAYNARD: ‚The Usual Rules‘, 2004 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– JOSEPH O’NEILL: ‚Netherland‘, 2008 (rather loose connection to 9/11, Link)

– BRIAN K. VAUGHN: ‚Ex Machina‘, 2004 to 2010 (Graphic Novels, Link)


Windows on the World Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close The Usual Rules: A Novel Netherland Ex Machina (Volume 1): The First Hundred Days


Five personal essays that I can recommend:

– ELSE BUSCHHEUER: Das New York Tagebuch, 2002 (Link, German)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– ISABEL ALLENDE: ‚My invented Country‘, 2003 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– NOAM CHOMSKY: ‚9-11‘ / ‚The Attack‘, 2001 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– DAVID WYATT: ‚And the War came‘, 2004 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– MITCHELL FINK: ‚Never Forget: An Oral History of September 11‘ (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link) Das New York Tagebuch (Kiwi) My Invented Country The Attack: Hintergrunde und Folgen And the War Came: An Accidental Memoir Never Forget: An Oral History of September 11

Personal Essays and Nonfiction that I can’t recommend:


– RAFIK SCHAMI: ‚Mit fremden Augen: Tagebuch‘, 2002 (German, Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– KATHRIN RÖGGLA: ‚really ground zero‘, 2001 (German, Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link. It’s fun if you like young German literature…)

– LILY BRETT: ‚Between Mexico and Poland‘, 2002 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– ORIANA FALLACI: ‚The Rage and the Pride‘, 2001 (Link)

(horrible Italian right-wing author, I reviewed it here, Link)


Survivor Tales (most of them not *that* good…):


– RICHARD PICCHIOTTO: ‚Last Man Down: A Firefighter’s Story of Survival and Escape from the World Trade Center‘, 2002 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– JOANN B. NAMORATO: ‚The Long Road Home: Memories after September 11th‘ , 2002 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– ABD SAMAD MOUSSAOUI: ‚Zacarias Moussaoui: Mein Bruder‘, 2002 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– ANNIE THOMS: ‚With their Eyes: September 11th – The View from a High School at Ground Zero‘, 2002 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– ALISSA TORRES: ‚American Widow‘, 2008 (Graphic Novel; pretty bad, Link)


Collections and Journalism (hit-and-miss):


– RICHARD BERNSTEIN: ‚Out of the Blue: A Narrative of September 11th, 2001‘, 2002 (Link)

(quite good – I reviewed it here, Link)

– ULRICH BAER: ‚110 Stories: New York writes after September 11th, 2001‘, 2002 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– PAUL AUSTER u.a.: ‚Dienstag, 11. September 2001‘, 2001 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– JACK CANFIELD: ‚Chicken Soup for the Sould of America‘, 2002 (Link)

(pretty bad: I reviewed it here, Link)

– NEIL GAIMAN u.a.: ‚9-11: Artists Respond‘, 2002 (Comic Anthology, pretty bad, Link)


Don’t bother: 6 bad 9/11-related novels:


– NICHOLSON BAKER: ‚Checkpoint‘, 2005 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– DON DeLILLO: ‚Falling Man‘, 2007 (Link)

– JAY McINERNEY: ‚The Good Life‘, 2006 (Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– JOHN UPDIKE: ‚Terrorist‘, 2006 (Link)

– ROLAND SPRANGER: ‚ThRAX‘, 2002 (German, Link)

(I reviewed it here, Link)

– FRANZISKA PEDERSEN: ‚Der 11. September oder: Die Geschichte von Lukas und Saira‘, 2002 (German, Link)

(horrible book; I reviewed it here, Link)



private drama: novels about people who were not involved in the attacks

(in some reviews, these books appear to be books about 9/11... they’re not. Incidentally, none of these books is particularly good / recommended, either:)


– IAN McEWAN: ‚Saturday‘, 2005 (Link)

– JOANNA SMITH RAKOFF: ‚A fortunate Age‘, 2009 (Link)

– PETER CAMERON: ‚Someday this Pain will be useful to you‘, 2007 (Link)

– KEITH GESSEN: ‚All the sad young literary Men‘, 2008 (Link)

– IAIN BANKS: ‚Dead Air‘, 2002 (Link)

– FRANZISKA GERSTENBERG: ‚Wie viel Vögel‘, 2003 (German short story collection, Link: Story ‚Glückskekse‘)

– NICK McDONELL: ‚The Third Brother‘, 2006 (Link)

(I wrote about it here, Link)

– WILLIAM GIBSON: ‚Pattern Recognition‘, 2002 (Link)

(I wrote about it here, Link)

– AUDREY NIFFENEGGER: ‚The Time Traveller’s Wife‘, 2003 (Link)

(I wrote about it here, Link)

– CLAIRE MESSUD: ‚The Emperor’s Children‘, 2006 (Link)

(I wrote about it here, Link)

– HEIDI JULAVITS: ‚The Effects of Living Backwards‘, 2003 (Link)

(I wrote about it here, Link)


A Culture of Fear: (good!) novels from the 2000s that deal with terrorism and the climate of a post 9/11 world:


– CHRISTIAN KRACHT: ‚1979‘, 2001 (German, written before 2001, Link)

– MEG ROSOFF: ‚How I live now‘, 2004 (Link)

– FIONA MAAZEL: ‚Last Last Chance‘, 2008 (excellent; Link)

– GREG RUCKA: ‚Queen & Country‘ Vol. 1, 2001 (an espionage Graphic Novel set in Afghanistan, written in early 2001. Excellent research/tone… and very prophetic. Link)

– GREG RUCKA: ‚Queen & Country: A Gentleman’s Game‘, 2004 (a novel that’s part of the same espionage series and deals with terrorist bombings at the London underground, written in 2004. Very, VERY prophetic. Link)

– JEPH LOEB: ‚Superman: Our Worlds at War‘, 2001 (a mediocre 2001 graphic novel, written before the attacks… but dealing with ALL the major political issues. Eerily propheric. Link)


1979 How I Live Now Last Last Chance: A Novel Queen & Country: The Definitive Edition, Volume 1 A Gentleman's Game: A Queen & Country Novel Superman: Our Worlds at War


and: 4 books about 9/11 that I WANT to read:


– ART SPIEGELMAN: ‚In the Shadow of no Towers‘, 2004 (Graphic Novel, Link)

– DAMON DiMARCO: ‚Tower Stories‘, 2004 (Oral History, Link)

– NICHOLAS RINALDI: ‚Between two Rivers‘, 2004 (Link)

– ANJA REICH / ALEXANDER OSANG: ‚Wo warst du? Ein Septembertag in New York‘, 2011 (Link)


In the Shadow of No Towers Tower Stories: The Autobiography of September 11th Between Two Rivers: A Novel Wo warst du? Ein Septembertag in New York

Related Links:

  • ‚Underdog Literature‘: 23 book recommendations for August 2011 (Link)
  • ‚No need to read?‘: 40 disappointing literary classics (Link)

Spread Toxic Waste around your Home…?

„Peruse the labels of the things you are cleaning with right now: Do you see the words POISON, WARNING OR DANGER anywhere? Most likely you do.

When you clean, you are distributing these dangerous chemicals all over your house, cleaning your dishes with them, washing your clothes with them, letting them taint the air you breathe.

How can a home full of toxins ever be called ‚clean‘?

Is toxin too strong a word for our standard store-bought cleaning product? No, it is not.“ (p. 214)

For an article on ‚Maker‘ Culture and Green Living, I’m reading a selection of how-to-guides and personal accounts of urban gardeners, do-it-yourself dads and arts-and-craft activists.

One of the best books – so far – is ‚Urban Homesteading: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City‘, written by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen, a young LA couple.

On 320 pages and in very precise, dense writing, the book gives you tons of well-researched, practical and surprising advice on how to grow vegetables in tight spaces, raise chicken in your backyard, can fruit, sun-dry tomatoes or build a greywater watering system for your garden.

I don’t plan on doing ANY of this in the near future – but the book is written in such a pleasant, knowledgeable and likeable tone that I would still recommend it for anyone who has plants, likes to experiment in the kitchen… or simply misses biology class. 🙂

4 of 5 stars. Recommended. (Link to

and two final, follow-up quotes (p. 216 and p. 215):

„The words ‚green‘ or ’natural‘ in the name [of a cleaning product] don’t mean anything at all. Those terms are not regulated. Warnings like ‚Avoid contact with skin‘ and ‚Use in a well ventilated area‘ are hints that these products are not the gentle daisy juice their labels might lead you to believe.“

„Serious scientists, not just New Age paranoiacs, are beginning to associate these common household cleaners (or perhaps the chemical cocktail they create in mixed use) with cancer, asthma, allergies, immune system disorders and reproductive disorders. And that is just in us humans. They are also tainting the waters, and affecting the entire ecosystem.“

Green Lantern, The Flash and Geoff Johns: Where to start?

In the 1960ies, ‚Green Lantern‘ (a ‚Space Police Cop‘) and ‚The Flash‘ (‚The Fastest Man Alive‘) were two of the most popular DC heroes. Since 2005, both heroes – and their comics – made a BIG comeback, thanks to writer Geoff Johns.

White, old fanboys LOVE these nostalgic stories about white, old heroes…

‎…while feminists and liberal readers want more minorities, more social issues, more complexity. (I’m one of these guys.)

Geoff Johns IS a good writer, but I’m not very interested in ‚his‘ heroes and their stories, and after I’ve read about 8 ‚Flash‘– and 5 ‚Green Lantern‘-comics written by Johns, I still have a hard time enjoying them: They’re mainstream in a very dull, bland, All-American way.

Still: there is ONE entertaining, atmospheric and newbie-friendly ‚Flash‘ comic by Johns that I read in March and that worked really well (4 out of 5 stars, and with terrific art by Toronto artist Francis Manapul), „Flash: The Dastardly Death of the Rogues“ from 2011. [„„]

…and there’s ONE very good and comprehensive introduction to ‚Green Lantern‘ by Johns that I’ve read last night (4 out of 5 stars, but with pretty bad art / character design by Ivan Reis) from 2007: „Green Lantern: Secret Origin“. [„„]

Both are recommended, and both FINALLY helped me to see the charms / allure of ‚Flash‘ and ‚Green Lantern‘. I’m still not a big convert or fan… but if you want to TRY these heroes, these are the best starting points I’ve found so far.

P.S.: A more artistic, out-of-continuity book that stars 1950ies versions of Green Lantern, The Flash, Wonder Woman and MANY other DC heroes is „The New Frontier“ by Darwyn Cooke. It won’t help you catch up with these characters‘ modern-day interpretations… but it’s a good showcase of their essences and their early appeal.

Here’s a great, reader-friendly review. Enjoy!