Monday, April 5, 2010

The Book Thief

I finished the wonderful and amazing book The Book Thief last night.  For me, it was one of those rare books that will probably stick with me through the years.  I know some of my readers have read it (it was on the recommendations of my mom and my father-in-law that I finally got to reading it), but for those of you who haven't yet, I really hope you'll pick it up one day soon.

Somewhere in the middle of the book's 550 pages, the characters became real to me--whether for their own sake or because many of them reminded me of people in my own life, it's the same difference.  At least to me, it was such an unbelievable story of the triumph of words.  And more specifically, the ultimate triumph of good words over bad: a reminder of the importance of telling one's own story in the face of tragedy.  Surely writing is one of the great human acts of renewal, one that I think rivals what others tell me of their religious or spiritual experiences--it's a way to clear a path through worry and pain and surprise yourself by finding the good in things you were so sure were completely bad.

Just wait'll you meet Liesel Meminger and Hans Hubermann, and sweet little Rudy Steiner, a boy with a pure heart.  And, as books about World War II go, I can't think of one that gave me a stronger sense of time and place, nor one that had such a strong hypothesis to the oft repeated (and unanswered) question of how Hitler and the Nazis could have done what they did.  Just as good words have real power to heal, so do bad ones have power to destroy...and I'll leave it at that for now.

In the same vein--because you know how you'll be thinking about one thing you've read and then you read something completely unrelated and yet somehow the two stick together in your mind for no other reason than their proximity to one another--here's an interesting article from The New York Times that I read late on Saturday night.  It's about a palliative care doctor who, when faced with her own form of terminal cancer, decided--again and again--against palliative care.  I found myself thinking of her story in terms of what it might offer the rest of us.  It's something I feel I could ruminate on all day: this idea of feeling one way your whole life, but when faced with a decision, acting in defiance of those feelings.  How frightening and exhilarating to think of ourselves in this way--so unpredictable, even to ourselves.

And here are a few photos of our weekend.  How was yours?

UPDATE: Some updated thoughts.  I've just been perusing the internet a bit looking for others' thoughts on The Book Thief, and the vast majority are highly favorable.  That said, some think it's overwrought and doesn't deserve, as the book jacket suggests, to be included in the same literary canon as Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young GirlI've heard this same sort of criticism about the book Little Bee (haven't read it yet), which is not about WWII and the Holocaust, but which also claims to be an "important," "life-changing" book.  Similarly, cute husband, as most of you know, is a Bob Dylan freak and finds that many fans are hesitant to give Bob credit for his later work (namely, the sublime Love & Theft, released on 9/11/2001).  They claim that the legend has lost his touch, when in truth he's just changing.

I find this phenomenon fascinating and annoying.  There seems to be a fear of adding something new alongside the old, as though the two cannot co-exist without canceling out one another.  I think that the process of older works giving way to and having influence upon the newer works is the essence of what we think of as "Literature" (big L).

Any thoughts?

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