Founded decades ago by the Amerikahaus Verein, the Amerikahaus Literary Circle (AHLC) is a grassroots, English-language book club that meets monthly at the Amerikahaus to discuss works of American literature and, thereby, foster a conversation of transatlantic understanding. The AHLC meetings are free and usually take place on the first Wednesday of the month from 6:00 P.M. to 7:30 P.M. in the ground-floor seminar room of the Amerikahaus; there is no need to register.
The reading list is comprised of books that have been nominated and selected by the members of the AHLC. All of the books on the AHLC reading list can be borrowed from the Amerikahaus eBook-Club.
As it has done so from the outset, the Amerikahaus Verein underwrites the AHLC along with other vital educational programming and cultural events (such as art exhibitions and concerts) integral to the long-standing democratic ideals of international dialogue and exchange. All those who value this mission, including the members of the AHLC, are cordially invited to become members of the Amerikahaus Verein.
Foto: © Shiromani Kant / unsplash.com
Meetings and Titles for 2023
Wednesday, January 11, 2023 (6:00 P.M. - 7:30 P.M.)
The U.S. Constitution
In 1789, the Constitution of the United States superseded the Articles of Confederation to become the country’s supreme law, which remains today much celebrated for its design that separates governmental powers to protect both majority rule and minority rights. Originally comprising seven Articles that delineate the national framework, the Constitution has since been amended just twenty-seven times in its long history—the first ten of which, known as the Bill of Rights, enshrine freedoms cherished (as in the First Amendment) and controversial (as in the Second). Our discussion of the Constitution will begin by looking at the promise of its Preamble, reading through the Articles detailing the organization of the government, and reflecting on the history of its Amendments.
Wednesday, February 1, 2023 (6:00 P.M. - 7:30 P.M.)
They Came Like Swallows by William Maxwell
For some forty years, the novelist William Maxwell served as the short story editor at The New Yorker, where his mentoring nurtured the nascent careers of many writers, including Eudora Welty and John Updike. Set in a small midwestern town, They Came Like Swallows depicts the bygone idylls and subsequent terrors experienced by an affluent family during the influenza pandemic of 1918. Told through the artful narration of three characters, this short novel's lyricism and pathos are telltale marks of Maxwell's style. Needless to say, our own collective reckoning with COVID-19 will add a decided poignancy to our discussion of the book.
Wednesday, March 1, 2023 (6:00 P.M. - 7:30 P.M.)
The Europeans: A Sketch by Henry James
Serialized in The Atlantic Monthly from July to October 1878, this early novel by Henry James demonstrates two of his lifelong passions, observing transatlantic relations and beautiful writing. The Europeans sets its sights on the contrastive ways between those of the Continent and New England while underscoring the interpretive perils of class distinction. Though James' famous brother, William, confessed in a letter that he found the novel "slight," most readers have sided with the redoubtable F. R. Leavis, who deemed The Europeans "a masterpiece of major quality". The venue of the Amerikahaus itself, also known as the Bavarian Center for Transatlantic Relations, makes our discussion of this thoughtfully-penned tale of intercultural manners especially apt.
Wednesday, April 12, 2023 (6:00 P.M. - 7:30 P.M.)
The Master by Colm Tóibín
Henry James, the author of last month's book under discussion, is the protagonist of The Master by Colm Tóbín. The 2004 novel, which has garnered a host of prizes, depicts James at the end of the nineteenth century. Though rich and famous, he resolves to remove himself from the public eye by buying a home in remote Rye, East Sussex, where, reflecting on his relations in America and Europe, he reckons with the social and psychological costs of a writer's life. Tóbín, who identifies as gay and deliberately employed Jamesian techniques of composition (such as channeling silence and writing the novel by hand in an uncomfortable chair), channels the Master as he defty plumbs the perennial mystery of James' sexuality in this deep and meditative work.
Wednesday, May 3, 2023 (6:00 P.M. - 7:30 P.M.)
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
This work of non-fiction is comprised of two appositional essays, whereby the literary gifts and moral compass of James Baldwin are woven deftly into a singular strand of reckoning. The first and shorter essay, "My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation," is an epistle, ostensibly to a fourteen-year-old boy, delineating the central role of race in American history. The second and longer essay—"Down at Cross: Letter from a Region of My Mind"—is a study on the intersection of religion and race that draws heavily from Baldwin's own experiences with Christianity alongside the Islamic ideas of fellow Harlemites. Published separately (in the The New Yorker and The Progressive, respectively) and then together in 1963, these two essays have been cited as seminal texts of the civil rights movement.
Wednesday, June 14, 2023 (6:00 P.M. - 7:30 P.M.)
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
When published in 1940, this first novel by a then twenty-three-year-old Carson McCullers created a literary sensation, quickly rising to the top of bestseller lists; it is now ranked seventeenth by the Modern Library of the 100 best English-language novels of the twentieth century. Set in a run-down mill town in the southern state of Georgia, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter tells the story of John Singer, a deaf man, and centers its sights on the struggles of his friends and acquaintances. As an intensely moving gallery of the downtrodden—wherein McCullers gives voice to the disabled, rejected, forgotten, mistreated, and oppressed—this is a reading experience like few others.
Wednesday, July 5, 2023 (6:00 P.M. - 7:30 P.M.)
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
Edith Wharton's second (and perhaps best-known) novel follows the story of Lily Bart, a youthful and well-born socialite in New York City, who descends from an enviable perch of privilege to a tragic and lonely existence on the margins of society. Serialized in Scribner's Magazine for eleven months in 1905, where it found an avid readership among both women and men, The House of Mirth has been described by scholar Carol Singley as "a unique blend of romance, realism, and naturalism, [thereby transcending] the narrow classification of a novel of manners". The novel's legacy has continued well into the twenty-first century, as the 2000 film adaptation by Terence Davies and the 2020 novel, White Ivy, by Susie Yang attest.
Wednesday, August 2, 2023 (6:00 P.M. - 7:30 P.M.)
Mid-Air: Two Novellas by Victoria Shorr
As with Baldwin's The Fire Next Time, Victoria Schorr's Mid-Air: Two Novellas is literary diptych. The first story, "Great Uncle Edward," is a tale of a grand dinner party in the manner of Joyce's "The Dead" and Blixen's "Babette's Feast". An unnamed female narrator hosts the Manhattan event for her husband's ninety-three-year-old uncle, which allows for a conversation that ranges from Edith Wharton, whose House of Mirth we discussed just last month, to the family's curious history alongside Jamesian themes of class. In the second story, "Cleveland Auto Wrecking," an immigrant arriving to Ellis Island in abject poverty parlays a scrap metal business into real estate holdings that result in the attainment of happiness—or, so it seems. Taken together, both stories humanize divergent entanglements of the American Dream.
Wednesday, September 6, 2023 (6:00 P.M. - 7:30 P.M.)
Labor Day by Joyce Maynard
Labor Day, a novel by Joyce Maynard, is narrated by Henry Wheeler, a man in his early thirties recounting his first year as a teenager. Back then, as the Labor Day weekend approaches, young Henry has little to look forward to, for his depressed and divorced mother suffers from agoraphobia, and their lackluster days together are spent wholly indoors. But, on the Thursday before Labor Day, Henry convinces his mother to go on a shopping trip, during which they encounter an unkempt and injured man asking for a ride. Astonishingly, they assent and soon learn that the man is a convicted murderer on the run. In its review of the book, The Washington Post notes that "Maynard's skill [...] makes this ominous setup into a convincing and poignant coming of age tale".
Wednesday, October 4, 2023 (6:00 P.M. - 7:30 P.M.)
Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng
As with Maynard's Labor Day, Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng is a Bildungsroman that transcends the trappings of its genre. Bird Gardner, a twelve-year-old boy, lives with his father, a linguist turned librarian who finds solace amid the relative peace of bookshelves. Like Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, this novel is set in a dystopian America, where, to keep the peace and restore prosperity, authorities now relocate the children of dissidents, and libraries remove books perceived as unpatriotic, including the works of Bird's mother, a Chinese-American poet who left the family some years before. Our Missing Hearts is a lyrical exhortation of art's powers (and limitations) to effect change.
Wednesday, November 8, 2023 (6:00 P.M. - 7:30 P.M.)
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
The Sun Also Rises (titled Fiesta in the U.K.) was Ernest Hemingway's début as a novelist, and, though its early modernist style received mixed reviews at its publication in 1926, the book is now widely considered to be his best and most important work. As a roman à clef, the characters are based on Hemingway's circle of friends, and their actions are informed by the author's sojourn in Paris during the 1920s and, notably, his travels to Spain in 1925. In a newfound style of restraint, Hemingway plumbs themes of love, death, nature, and masculinity—seeking to rebut Gertrude Stein's epigraphic claim that its characters are all "a lost generation".
Wednesday, December 6, 2023 (6:00 P.M. - 7:30 P.M.)
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Published in 1953 during the Second Red Scare (and shortly before the televised Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954), Fahrenheit 451 posits an alternative America, one where books are outlawed and so-called firemen are sent to burn any that are found. Ray Bradbury cited the horror of Nazi book burnings—some of which occurred in Königsplatz, a stone's throw from the present-day Amerikahaus—as the original inspiration for the story. The clarion call of its allegory notwithstanding, Fahrenheit 451 has been subjected itself to censorship, banning, expurgation, and, yes, even burning.
Meetings and Titles for 2024
Wednesday, January 17, 2024 (6:00 P.M. - 7:30 P.M.)
What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt
What I Loved is the tale of two families that meet by chance when Leo buys a painting by Bill, and they and their wives eventually become friends and neighbors. Both women become pregnant around the same time and their quiet domestic life is the subject of the first part of the book. However, tragedy strikes and relationships are torn asunder, at which point the gentle book begins to take on the mood of a thriller.
Wednesday, February 7, 2024 (6:00 P.M. - 7:30 P.M.)
Benito Cereno by Herman Melville
Originally serialized in 1855, Benito Cereno tells of the strange fate of a Spanish slave ship while hinting at the future ramifications of slavery in America. It is now regarded as one of Melville’s finest works. When an American whaling ship comes to the rescue of the Spanish vessel in distress, the American captain has to piece together what has happened and decide how to react. Race and morality underlie the suspense and mystery and give another dimension to the story. Merton M. Sealts, Jr. says the story is "an oblique comment on those prevailing attitudes toward blacks and slavery in the United States that would ultimately precipitate civil war between North and South".
Wednesday, March 6, 2024 (6:00 P.M. - 7:30 P.M.)
Stoner by John Williams
Stoner follows the semi-tragic figure William Stoner, who is born to a poor farming family and sent to university to study agriculture, where he instead becomes devoted to literature. His life as a scholar and professor never goes exactly to plan, and his various relationships seem to drift away from the ideal as well. Yet as his life goes on, Stoner slowly comes to be seen as a hero when contrasted with the cruel world around him.
Wednesday, April 10, 2024 (6:00 P.M. - 7:30 P.M.)
Where I Was From by Joan Didion
This collection of essays about California’s history and mythology incorporates Didion’s own experiences growing up there into the romantic notions about the state. Part historical document and part memoir, the state’s relationship with water, transport, the concept of freedom are told through the stories of its famous and infamous citizens, along with the contributions of the common man. By comparing the state’s reputation to the real story, the perception of what California is all about comes into question in an interesting and personal way.
Wednesday, May 15, 2024 (6:00 P.M. - 7:30 P.M.)
That Old Ace in the Hole by Annie Proulx
The Old Ace in the Hole takes place in rural Texas, where Bob Dollar is scouting locations to set up hog farms for the Global Pork Rind Corporation. He encounters resistance from the locals but persists, eventually becoming a part of the community as he finds a place to live and helps at the local café. But, as he gets closer to the people, he begins to question his way of life and the workings of the world.
Wednesday, June 5, 2024 (6:00 P.M. - 7:30 P.M.)
Gentleman Overboard by Herbert Clyde Lewis
Gentleman Overboard is the tale of a man who is suddenly in grave danger in the middle of the ocean after falling unnoticed from a ship between Honolulu and Panama. As he waits to be rescued, wondering if he has been missed, the suspense builds up as he hopes to avoid the same fate of the author of the book. As an author, Herbert Clyde Lewis was mostly forgotten by the time he died in 1950, only recently being properly rediscovered, mainly by the efforts of Brad Bigelow of the Neglected Books web site. The son of Russian immigrants to New York City, Lewis also worked as a newspaper reporter in America and China and on several Hollywood screenplays.
Wednesday, July 10, 2024 (6:00 P.M. - 7:30 P.M.)
The Hours by Michael Cunningham
Going back and forth between three different times and three different protagonists, this Pulitzer Prize winning novel follows the stories of three women affected by Virginia Woolf’s book Mrs. Dalloway. Intertwined are the distant lives and memories of Woolf herself in London as she writes the work, a disillusioned housewife in 1940s Los Angeles, and a 90s New York independent woman helping a dying friend. Themes of sexuality and mental illness overlap and evolve through the three stories.
Wednesday, August 7, 2024 (6:00 P.M. - 7:30 P.M.)
Plainsong by Kent Haruf
Following several families in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado, Plainsong is an acclaimed and delicate story of small town life. History teacher Tom Guthrie and his two sons cope with life without Tom’s wife, who has abandoned the family. A young neighbor becomes pregnant, is kicked out of her alcoholic mother’s house, and is taken in by rough bachelor brothers, while another teacher at the school struggles with her senile father.
Wednesday, September 4, 2024 (6:00 P.M. - 7:30 P.M.)
My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir
Complete with sketches, Muir’s diary lets us follow him working as a shepherd in the mountains of central California and exploring the area in 1869. One of the American originators of the idea of conserving nature, John Muir is practically synonymous with America’s National Parks, and here we can see him starting to formalize his way of thinking as he interacts with the plants and animals, as well as other people, in the area.
Wednesday, October 2, 2024 (6:00 P.M. - 7:30 P.M.)
Jack of Spades by Joyce Carol Oates
Jack of Spades is the secret pen name of author Andrew Rush, a successful author who uses his alias to write violent masochistic thrillers. When his secret is accidentally discovered by his daughter, Rush’s life begins to spiral out of control and his entire career and family life are in danger, and the first signs of madness appear when he can hear Jack of Spades talking to him in his mind.
Wednesday, November 6, 2024 (6:00 P.M. - 7:30 P.M.)
God Help The Child by Toni Morrison
God Help the Child follows Bride and the people she meets, all of them in one way or another deeply affected by treatment they received from adults when they were children. Bride’s mother and father cannot love her as much as they should because of her much darker skin color. The novel follows the implications of that on her self-worth and how she conducts various relationships, whether with her boyfriend Booker or with family and friends. The nuances of the African American experience and the never-ending effects of a troubled childhood provide the texture for this acclaimed novel.
Wednesday, December 4, 2024 (6:00 P.M. - 7:30 P.M.)
Tinkers by Paul Harding
Paul Harding’s Pulitzer Prize winning debut novel tells the story of a man on his deathbed remembering both his life and his father’s. The beauty, fragility, and tragedy of life are expertly commented upon as George Crosby recollects losing his father at an early age, and reunites with him through memories, with the ongoing metaphor of clock repair setting the stage for the both the memories and the impending death.