Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe: Books given and stolen

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

Books given and stolen

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I always make sure to have plenty of books when I’m going on a trip--ones I know I’ll like and ones I take in case I don’t like others and ones I take in case I’m not in the mood to read even the ones I know I’ll like. So when I left on our family vacation, I had a good supply. I didn’t need another book. But...

...we passed a bookstore and Jenny and Nate ran in because they wanted to buy me a book. It was “The Book Thief.” They said it was a YA, but that they thought I’d like it. Jenny, Nate’s mother, was listening to an audio version. Nate, who is 14, read it a couple of years ago and considers it one of his favorites. He is currently reading ”To Kill a Mockingbird” and that’s already another favorite. Because of who he is, I know he has a lifetime ahead of him of reading books he will love.

I started it as soon as we got back to the house. A little strange at the beginning. The narrator was Death. There were some graphic elements, which I am never charmed by. But once the story really got going, I couldn’t put it down. The book is over 500 pages and when I finished it the next afternoon I cried. A lot.

The author, Markus Zusak, includes a lot of visual imagery in his unusual use of language. And I liked that the book’s familiar subject, the Holocaust, was viewed from a much less familiar perspective: the main character is a young German girl living with her German foster parents among their neighbors in a small town not far from the concentration camp at Dachau. The girl is the “book thief” who has a passion for books even before she can read and collects them whenever and however she can. As you might expect in a book narrated by Death--or, I guess, any decent book--the people run the basic human gamut, monsters to heroes, with most occupying the flawed and complicated middle ground.

And what a fascinating character Death is as Zusak has imagined him. He’s not an enemy. He’s pretty much just following orders, too. He goes where he needs to be and even seems to have a heart that breaks occasionally at what he’s called on to do. The souls he must carry away he bears softly, often tenderly, even sadly. He is nothing to be afraid of. He is just the natural consequence of what happens.

A gift carefully chosen is always a treat. But when someone gives you a book they have read and loved, it carries an extra dimension. The giving of a treasure from one book-lover to another is a gift of time well-spent and ideas lovingly offered. What could be better?

Thank you, Jenny and Nate.

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