Thursday, September 27, 2007

review: The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

Before going any further, let’s just get one thing out of the way: Damn Nazis! Okay, now that’s out of my system, I can discuss things a little more rationally.

It was The Book Thief’s title and cover that made me pick it up, and it was the subject matter and award on the cover that made me buy it. It was the writing, though, that made me finish the almost-600 pages in just three days.

Starting with The Devil’s Arthimetic, Summer of My German Soldier, The Diary of Anne Frank, and Number the Stars and moving through Survival in Auschwitz and Night, I have been fascinated by novels or memoirs that take place during World War II for most of my life, particularly those that focus on Nazi-Germany. The Book Thief has earned a permanent place on my bookshelf.

Though The Book Thief takes place in Nazi Germany during the early 1940s, there is no Nazi villain at center stage. Rather, it is the aftershocks of usually faraway war and the behaviors of neighbors that ripple through this quiet German town. The book focuses on the lives of non-Jewish Germans during the war: the terror, the pressure to join the Nazi Party, the starvation, the shame of living only miles from Dachau, the humiliation. But also, it shows hope and love and kindness and words and music in the midst of the bleakness.

Told from the point-of-view of Death, the opening sequences are like poetry, in prose form. The descriptions, the turning of phrases on their ends, the colors, it all comes together to create an atmosphere of reading. The words are almost characters themselves.

After the introductory remarks from Death, the story begins with illiterate nine-year-old Liesel, the book thief herself, on a train with her mother and younger brother. The threesome is on their way to Himmel Street in a town near Munich to deliver Liesel and the boy to foster parents. Her brother ominously coughs once on the train and dies. At the gravesite, one of the gravediggers drops a book, and Liesel steals it. She lands on Himmel Street sans brother but with her book. The next four years of Liesel’s life on Himmel Street are chronicled in some of the most beautiful language I’ve ever read.

Warning: though this is touted as a young-adult book there is quite a sprinkling of swearing. Much of it, though, is in German, which tends to soften the blow for me. Another thought: normally, I get irritated with authors for sticking in random foreign words that I can’t understand, but Zusak manages to keep the reader in the know while infusing the book with German.

Markus Zusak (via Death) presents the beauty and the ugly of humans without preaching, without a solution, but with wonder and awe.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


My name is Jessica, and I am a bibliophile.

Proof? How about Saturday?

On Saturday, my goal was to finish reading Emma for my impending book club meeting on Thursday. Normally, I've raced through the book club selection of the month eons before the actual meeting, substantially impairing my ability to recall my profound thoughts at the meeting weeks later. This month has been different. Though Pride & Prejudice is a standard work in my bibliophilic sect, I have had a difficult time climbing past the first few pages of Emma.

With that preface, back to Saturday.

On the way to Salt Lake, we stopped at the Orem Public Library, a.k.a. bibliophile-enablers central. The following is the list of books I checked out:

Coming Through Slaughter, by Michael Ondaatje

Collected Stories, by Willa Cather

The Castle in the Forest, by Norman Mailer

Saturday, by Ian McEwan

Orient Express, by Graham Greene

*Remember, those books all have to be returned in three weeks.

Deeming the library visit a success, we continued on to Salt Lake City where my husband innocently dropped me off at Sam Weller's. Sam Weller's is pretty close to the happiest place on earth. (No, it's not Disneyland. My top pick for earthly paradise would be Powell's Books.) Anyway, I spent a blissful hour amidst the stacks and rows and finally purchased just one book: The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. I have been so enamored of The Book Thief since, that Emma, and other household chores, have been pushed to the side.

Perhaps my book club and their understanding bibliophilic souls will forgive me.

Monday, September 17, 2007


I PASSED THE BAR! I have been deemed to have the appropriate level of character, fitness, and ethics to be admitted to the Utah Bar. Now, all that stands in my way is a few more hundred dollars worth of licensing fees and a swearing in. Cake.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

pulling out of the funk

One week ago, I maimed my brand new car. After that, until approximately 9:30 p.m. last evening, I was in a funk. What, you ask, pulled me out? Ice cream.

Friday, September 7, 2007

word of the day

mem•oir•ist [mem-wahr-ist]
a person who writes memoirs

Now, it seems obvious that “memoirist” would mean: someone who writes memoirs, but the first time I heard it, mere weeks ago, it seemed too easy, it sounds made up.

As a blogger, it occurred to me that I am actually a memoirist of sorts. A rather pathetic, obscure one, but a writer fit for the title memoirist, sure.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

short stories

Ah, the genre that is short stories. A good collection of short stories, a cup of hot chocolate, rain outside . . .

Anyway, I just wanted to publicize the fact that I found a very good collection of contemporary American short stories aptly titled The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories, edited by Tobias Wolff.

My favorite, so far is "Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?" by Joyce Carol Oates. It's easily one of the spookiest stories I've ever read. The only one, so far, that I'd recommend skipping is "River of Names" by Dorothy Allison.

For furthering reading in the short story art form, try any by Roald Dahl.