Tag: Book Thief

My Top 11 Favorite Modern Novels

In my last post I shared with you 11 of my favorite classic novels. This was a list made up of novels published 1960 and before and was in honor of the Great American Read program I saw on PBS. It seemed only natural to then give you my favorite modern novels and then non-fiction, memoirs etc. On one hand this list was much easier to put together and another it was harder. I don’t read a lot of modern novels and I find even fewer that I love so it was easy to narrow it down but even coming up with 11 was difficult! But these are 11 pretty good books that I really enjoyed and I hope you will enjoy them as well.

I am going to give an honorable mention to A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman which I loved!

kite runner

11. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (2003)-

I first read the Kite Runner when the Iraq War was in full swing and 9/11 was still fresh and it had a tremendous impact on me. I was completely absorbed in the story of 2 Afghani boys, one Pahstun and one Hazara, and how an act of violence draws them apart. It was devastating and yet powerful at the same time. I wept throughout but thought it was a very rewarding experience. The only reason I have it so low is because I haven’t reread it in a long time and rewatching the movie last year it wasn’t as good as I remembered it so maybe the book might not hold up? Have any of you reread it and what was your experience? Either way it wasn’t just dark and depressing at the time but an empowering character journey.

the martian

10. The Martian by Andy Weir (2012)-

My review of the movie is here

Enjoying The Martian will depend a lot on if you find Mark Watney charming, and I did. He was smart, scrappy and very funny. Plus, his actions felt authentic to what a person with his skillset would do stranded on mars. It was so entertaining to see him come up with one solution after another and have good times and bad times. When he is finally rescued I wanted to cheer out loud. It was very rewarding. The movie is really good too but the book is the best.


9. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2011)-

My comparison between the book and movie is here

I know the internet has decreed this to be the worst book to ever exist but this is my list and I loved this book. I LOVED following Wade as he put the pieces together to solve Halliday’s puzzles. The steps are way harder than in the movie and the pop culture references aren’t just there for fun but part of the mystery that Wade puts together. Wade is a very positive character and see’s the good in those around him and I appreciate that. The Oasis is a brilliant creation and more of a cautionary tale from Halliday himself than in the movie. For Wade it was never about the Oasis but about changing his life when he won the big prize. Everything else was just part of the puzzle.

finding audrey

8. Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella (2015)-

As someone who has a podcast on Hallmark it is probably no surprise that I love a good romantic novel, and one of the best ‘chick lit’ writers is Sophie Kinsella. She does such a good job combining important topics of the day with witty dialogue and likable romantic heroines we can all relate with. Finding Audrey was her first teen oriented book and I LOVED it. It was so funny and yet truthful at the same time. Audrey’s struggles with severe social anxiety felt true to me and the family dynamic was easy to relate to and hilarious. It’s perhaps too flight and fluffy to get higher on my list but it was such a hoot to read.

7. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (2004)-

Typically when I hear a book has won the Pulitzer Prize it is a sign I will hate it. I just don’t tend to like the winners and find them cynical and a real chore to get through. However, Gilead is an exception. It’s a beautiful book about a priest who is writing to his 4 year old son about his life and giving him some advice to live by. It in many ways reminds me of Willa Cather’s writing in its humanism and heart. All of the plot happens within the mind of our writer and it explores a man of God and his ability to love, forgive and grow old with grace. He has regrets and his dying wish is that his son will remember him fondly. Beautiful.

wrinkle in time

6. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1963)-

My review of the recent movie adaptation is here.

What’s interesting about this book is I didn’t really enjoy it as a child but then we read it for book club about 5 years ago and I fell in love with it. Some people probably love all the world building of Camazotz and the other planets but I love Meg’s internal journey. This is what the movie got so wrong. Meg doesn’t need anyone to tell her how to be a good person. She learns for herself the value of the human soul and she decides to save Charles Wallace because she loves him that much. She loves her Dad that much and it is this love that is the true message of the book. Love allows Meg to be brave against It but it allows her to do the even harder task of forgiving her Dad.

watership down

5. Watership Down by Richard Adams (1972)-

To listen to my podcast on Watership Down movie click here

I read this novel first in high school and couldn’t get into it much but as an adult I like it very much. It’s not just about bunnies people! It’s about interesting characters that are trying to find a home and where they belong. I love Fiver. He’s such a sincere character and you feel for the group with all their personalities. I love Hazel, Bigwig, Bluebell, and Holly. They are all great and I love the societies they meet along the way of their journey. The mythology and lore of the rabbits all works and is easy to relate with even if it is rabbits- maybe because it is rabbits LOL


4. Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson (2012)-

This is such a dishy novel. It’s honestly one of the best romances I’ve ever read with Marianne and Phillip’s relationship growing in a natural and believable way. The chemistry is palpable and it draws the reader in. I think men and women will like this book because it has some scenes of kidnapping and revenge mixed in with all the romance. It also has some fantastic kissing scenes and the romantic tension is so well done. So fun!

the giver

3. The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993)-

To read my review of The Giver movie click here.

I am not normally a fan of dystopian literature. Most of it is so cynical and depressing for me and I find the arcs of the protagonists to be very predictable and dull. The Giver is an exception. I love reading about Jonas and his progression into realizing what a full life looks like. As The Giver gives him memories his mind is opened to both pain and pleasure and it is both devastating and hope-filled. I love how with each revelation he sees the world in a new way until he can’t take the faceless obedience any more and revolts. The ending is ambiguously perfect. It might sound strange but I find The Giver very inspirational reading.


2. The Chosen by Chaim Potok (1967)-

What’s special about The Chosen is I have read it in each era of my life and it is always meant something different to me each time. In my teens it was about teenage rebellion against traditional parenting. In my 20s it was about how warped and twisted parents could be towards their kids. In my 30s it was about how devastating it is when family members leave their faith. I went from despising characters to empathizing with them and I think that’s how you can tell it is a truly great novel. You don’t have to be Jewish to relate to Danny and Rueben’s struggles. You just have to be human who has a family and traditions that they believe in. It’s so moving and beautifully written.

book thief

1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2006)-

This is not a surprise to any of my regular readers as I have raved about this book for years. I love everything about this book. I love all the characters. I love how rich and deep it is with small characters getting a whole story that I care about. I love its themes of family, politics, propaganda, literature and the power of words. There are so many scenes that are inspiring and devastating sometimes at the same time. I love Liesel, Max, Rudy and Hans so much. Rosa and Elsa should be one note characters but they are full of texture and layers. Death as the narrator is completely brilliant as it keeps things personal yet with a certain level of detachment. It is also completely refreshing to have it set in Germany and from a German perspective. I love that there are books within the book and sections I am still pondering after reading it 7 times. Like what is he trying to say with the Word Shaker? I have some ideas but every time I read it I get a little closer to figuring it out. I just think it is completely brilliant.

So there you have it. My top 11 modern novels. What do you think? Let me know what your favorites are. Next up I will do non-fiction and memoirs so get ready!


Dense Reads

I am a part of a new book club with some friends I met online.  The most recent selection is called Dune by Frank Herbert. It is a science fiction tomb that I did not care for.  Let’s just say I called it the “Phantom Menace of books”.  It was so long and the characters never shut up.  Far too much explaining about things I didn’t care about (a lot of carrying on about spices and trade) and no recognizable villain. I didn’t get that far in it because I kept falling asleep so I might be able to use it as a good insomnia cure.

dune-cover-by-john-schoenherrBut I went to book club hoping to find out why a member of the club had selected it and why she liked it.  Her explanation was very interesting.  She said she liked that it was dense without being old English like a classic.  Meaning something that was full of details and every time you went to it you got more about the world and characters.  She also liked that it was thoughtful without being philosophical which evidently she hates.  Anyway, it made me think about my own reading and what ‘dense’ books I like.  One’s I could read 1,000 times and I’d still get new details and information. I can’t think of that many.  Most books I like are pretty straight forward in plot and story.  Not sure what that says about me but there you go.

Here are some that came to mind.

1.  Wrinkle in Time-  a book I didn’t like as a little girl but I read it fairly recently and loved it.  It is very rich in detail and not sure what it all means.

wrinkle2.  The Chosen/My Name is Asher Lev- this book isn’t dense in a way but the characters are so complex every time I read it I feel differently about them.  When I read it in college I thought Danny’s father was a beast not fit to raise children.  Later he didn’t make any sense to me and then I began to feel sympathy for him.  So in the sense of its characters it is very dense.

the chosen

3. Middlemarch- You guys know North and South is my favorite book but it is a pretty straight forward romance.  Middlemarch is much more complex. Dorothea Casaband is a layered character that is tough to understand.  On one hand she is foolish and marries Mr Casaband despite outward signs of his miserly ways.  She’s so hopeful of a thoughtful intellectual man buried deep inside. Then her interactions with Will Ladislaw seem so different than what she was looking for with Mr Casaband.  It seems like she feels sorry for Will who has married a stupid woman but didn’t know any better. It’s the motivations of the characters and their behavior to one another which is very compelx in Middlemarch.


4. Great Expectations- My favorite Dickens (aside from Christmas Carol) and one of my favorite books because it is so different.  You’ve got Pip all of the sudden given a chance to improve his life but from who? He assumes it is the bizarre Miss Havisham and her daughter Estella who sit in a mansion with a decades old wedding that never happened.  When I read it I learn more about the characters.  Why Pip does what he does.  What Dickens is trying to say in his strange story?

great expectations

5. Autobiography of Malcolm X- This book may surprise you being on this list but it is one of the best autobiography’s I’ve ever read.  Malcolm X is such a layered character and while I haven’t read it in a long time it is one I could read 100 times and get a new impression of him each time.  He was a man who of many public personas that he was willing to abandon when he had  change of heart.  Especially for someone in the public eye that kind of change is remarkable.


6. Howard’s End- Another book with rich characters.  I love the different class bubbles each of the families are in and how that colors their view of the world.  The Wilcox’s, Schlegals and Basts are characters I never quite figure out.  They have positive traits but fall sway to human weakness easily.  The mere premise is interesting too.  What is it that Mrs Wilcox see’s in Margaret?  Why does she give her Howard’s End?  What was she trying to accomplish or did she just get along with her?   It’s a rare movie about class that doesn’t tell you who is right or wrong but gives you the story and you decide.


7.  Watership Down- Another book that grew on me. Our troop of rabbits including Hazel, Fiver and Bigwig flee their home and come in contact with several societies including a communist like state and a totalitarian regime.  On the surface it is an adventure story with the rabbits narrowly escaping death many times.  But it is also a piece of social commentary on the flaws of various forms of government and how power corrupts absolutely.

watership down

8.  The Book Thief- Do I need to praise The Book Thief more on this blog?  It is so rich.  Everything from the narrator, to the complex characters, to the number of characters, to the setting in Nazi Germany to the book within a book, to the messages on politics, writing and family are astonishing.  I love this book!

book thief2

9. Little Dorrit- A lesser known Dickens book that I really liked.  It’s very melancholy but with Dickens family living in a debtors prison it has a closeness to the story that you don’t quite get in any of his other books.  The society that develops within the prison and William’s inability to adapt to free life is very interesting.  Little Dorrit is devoted to her father but in a way also imprisoned by him.  She could be such a cliche of a character but she isn’t because she consistently thinks of others before herself almost too a fault.  The big reveal at the end and the house collapsing is so great.  It’s a book that says a lot about human group theory and our desire to do the right thing in the eyes of other people even if it hurts us in the end.

little dorrit

10. The Bible/Book of Mormon-  I know this seems like an obvious one but it is absolutely the richest read in my opinion.  What else could I read every day of my life and get new insight and inspiration from every day?  But it’s not just the counsel that is rich.  The stories are deep as well.  There are lots of miracles that aren’t explained, characters whose motivations are complex like David.  And of course Christ spoke in parables which are extremely layered and dense.  By design we are supposed to work to understand the Prodigal Son or the Good Samaritan.

book-of-mormonWhat dense books do you like?  It’s interesting how few of these books have been made into great movies- really only 3, Malcolm X, Watership Down, and Howard’s End.  Like the versions of Wrinkle in Time and The Chosen these kind of dense books end up feeling muddled, long and convoluted as a movie, which makes sense given they are such dense books!

Book Thief Final Discussion

So this week is the final week for our Book Thief read along.  Check out Sueys books and Kami’s Library

Parts 7- conclusion
“I am haunted by humans.”
I must admit there are tears in my eyes.  I love these characters so much that even on a 5th read through I ache for them.  As I’ve said many times before it is an earned cry.  It is a cry because I care.    The whole theme of The Book Thief is encompassed when Death says the human race can be “so ugly and so glorious,”.  That is this book and what a book!

1. How did you feel when Max had to leave the Hubermanns? What did you expect would happen to him?

Nervous. For sure he was done for and nervous for all involved.  I kept waiting for Liesel to see him in the marches or that Death would tell me another prediction.  When she finally see’s him it is one of the most brutal and sweet scenes of the whole book.  5th time and still made me cry.

2. Why do you think Liesel ran out to Max when they finally did cross paths, even after she had seen what happened to Hans earlier in the book?

True love.  Real friendship.  Love overcoming hate.  Its a perfect moment of so many emotions and yet how could she have not?  There is a limit to how far any human being can be pushed.
3. What did you think of Death spoiling the ending a couple chapters before it actually happened? Did the warning make it easier to handle?

Ugh.  Its so sad.  I cry just thinking about it.  It reminded me of a eulogy at the beginning of a funeral.  Its kind of a summary of the life and then the rest of the service is the meat, the details, the stuff that really matters to creating a meaningful life.

4. Which death impacted you the most?

Ugh.  How do you pick.  Liesel grabbing Hans accordion and weeping over Rosa’s body.  Her kissing Rudy.  My heart breaks.  I guess Rudy but even smaller characters like the Holtzapfels  or Randolph the mysterious soldier are so tragic.  That’s how rich this book is.  You feel deeply for a barely mentioned character.  Its all mankind that’s death impacts me the most.
5. How did your view of Ilsa Herman change over the course of the book?

Ilsa is such a complex character.  Its like she refuses to allow all the pain to confront her and just focuses on one.  I think Zusak does this because he wants to show that the loss of humanity is real and each individual life should be grieved.  Also its interesting that the library is Ilsa’s.  She is a weak human being but she still has power in words like the word shaker

6. The power of words is such a big theme throughout the book. Which instances of powerful words stuck out to you? Or, which quotes from the book stuck out to you?

I already shared some.  A theme of the book is that we are all book thieves.  We all take the words of an author and make them our own.  Make them part of our lives.  That is what the word shaker teaches us that throwing words are the only thing that defeats evil. It also creates evil which is the scary part of the book and why only death could be the narrator.

I love the quote “I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”

word shaker
7. In this post Markus Zusak says:
In many ways I felt that the book is about Liesel’s different kind of loves – for Hans, for Rosa, for Rudy and Max, and for books and living in general.
Which of those loves resonated with you most?

I think friendship did.  I guess this is the love that I have the most of in my life. Friendship has saved me time and again.   It is the only love in our lives that is chosen aside from maybe marriage which is perhaps the greatest friendship.  To be someone’s friend is not required or expected where to support a spouse is.  To be a friend takes the ultimate love.  You see this time and again in the story.  Rudy and Liesel.  Liesel and Hans.  Hans and Rosa. Liesel and Max,  Rosa and Liesel.  Ilsa and Liesel.  Max and Hans.  etc.

I love the words of Death:

Not leaving: an act of trust and love,
often deciphered by children

To be a friend is the greatest gift we can give someone and that trust is priceless.

8. Thoughts on Liesel and Death finally meeting?

It felt kind of like God and mankind meeting.  Like a judgement day where someone is admitted into heaven.

9. If this was your first time reading The Book Thief, is it what you expected?
If it was a reread, what did you notice this time around?

I noticed this reread the poetry of the book more than ever before.  I tend to skim books and skip sections of details.  This time I just read.  In many ways the book is an epic poem like Iliad or Odyssey.  Writing such as this is so sublime:

“It amazes me what humans can do, even when streams are flowing down their faces and they stagger on”


“Usually we walk around constantly believing ourselves. “I’m okay” we say. “I’m alright”. But sometimes the truth arrives on you and you can’t get it off. That’s when you realize that sometimes it isn’t even an answer–it’s a question. Even now, I wonder how much of my life is convinced.”

10. Will you see the movie?

Yes.  I’m skeptical but was very pleased with the trailer.  I look forward to seeing it.  Should we get a group of Utahans and all go?

This is really cool. Book Thief mind map
This is really cool. Book Thief mind map

Book Thief Readalong Parts 4-6

book thief2
this is a cool cover

So the readalong of the Book Thief continues and these are the discussion questions for this section with my answers.

To see Suey’s answers go to http://sueysbooks.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-book-thief-read-along-discussion_21.html

Also there is going to be a twitter discussion tonight at 7 pm Mountain time! Hashtag #bookthief.

1. What emotions have you felt while reading? Are they strong emotions?

Worry, fear, anger and love. If fiction can give you strong emotions I certainly felt it from this book

2. Several characters mention similarities between Max and Liesel. What similarities have you noticed, and why do you think the author made these characters relate to each other?

They are both fighters. They both rely on Hans. They are both drawn to books as a survival tactic. They are both hiding and outcasts. They both have nightmares.

3. What do you think of The Standover Man aka the book Max wrote for Liesel.
When I first read the book The Standover Man seemed very adult for a child but let’s be honest Liesel is not able to be a child from the beginning of the story except maybe with Rudy. Its interesting because Max says ‘all my life I’ve been scared of men standing over me’ and then he must hide and he finds the best ‘standover man I’ve ever known is not a man at all’. Does this mean there is a part of Liesel that scares Max? Perhaps the love he feels for her scares him and the knowledge that he could be found and she could be hurt by his presence in the house scares him?

4. How do you feel about knowing who is going to die in the end and what are some of your predictions?
Its tragic but it also helps create anger in the reader. To hear that Rudy ‘didn’t deserve to die the way he did’ makes me upset and yearn for a more just ending for the character, a just ending in life. Anger is an appropriate reaction to this horrible time
It kind of reminds me of the witches in Macbeth. They foreshadow what is going to happen but it just makes the how of the story all the more engrossing.

5. What do you think of Rudy’s rebellious attitude?
He is living in an era where right is wrong and wrong is right. I like when he tells Liesel that he ‘needs a win’. I think that is why he is rebellious. He wants something to make sense. Plus, he’s starving. When he is beaten Franz Deutscher for not reciting Hitler’s birthday it shows how everyone had become a bully and you could either play along or get slaughtered.

6. Is Rosa growing on you?
Yes, there are a couple great scenes that add layers to Rosa’s character. When she is cutting Max’s hair she says ‘I’ll probably make a lot of mistakes on him’. I think Rosa’s anger comes out of a fear that she will make a mistake with Max, someone will find him and they will all suffer.
Also when she refuses to beat Liesel for the Ilsa incident she says ‘It’s not your fault’ and then it says ‘As Liesel left the room, she could hear the wooden spoon clicking back into position in the metal jar that held them. By the time she reached her bedroom, the whole lot of them, the jar included were thrown to the floor’
If Rosa really was the beast she seems at first she wouldn’t have had this moment of sadness for Liesel. I wonder what frustrated her the most? It certainly was more than the loss of a client.

7. What do you think of the relationship between Max and Liesel?
It kind of reminds me of some of my mission companions. We were put together and then found our common interests not the other way around. They are like brother and sister or even father, daughter at times.

8. Why do you think Liesel is so determined to steal from the Mayor’s library?
I think Liesel is angry at Ilsa for grieving. She has so much that others don’t have and yet she grieves. To a child this doesn’t make sense and seems very selfish. Its interesting that her brother is ‘next to her’ when she is yelling at Ilsa and ‘he whispered for her to stop but he too was dead and not worth listening to’. I don’t know what quite to make of that but clearly Liesel was seeing Ilsa with her little girl eyes and not as a spirit with greater understanding as her brother is.

9. What really stands out to you in the story and why?
What always amazes me is how many characters I care deeply about. For example, there could be a whole book about Ilsa. She is such a moving, interesting, layered character. Even a small character like Frau Holtzapfel breaks your heart and you feel for her and her sons.

10. If you were in Hans’ position, would you have helped/hid Max?
I think we all like to think we would but hard to say until you’ve been there. I hope so.

Book Thief Readalong 1

1. What’s your first impression of Death as a character/narrator?
Its a little hard because my first impression was a long time ago.  I remember feeling a little apprehensive and thinking ‘Is this just a gimmick?  What is this going to be like?’  Now on my 5th read through I welcome his sarcastic, slightly bitter tone.  I think it is the only way you could create a nuetral voice in a story about wwII, especially one set in Germany. I know a lot of people struggle with death as the narrator but I think in a book like this you just have to go with it.
I love how the he describes the colors and flavors of the sky when he takes the people.  I can’t explain it but I know exactly what he is talking about.  Different moments in life do have colors and flavors.  Brilliant.
2. What’s your first impression of the unique writing style?
When I first read it I was in a rut where I felt like all book seemed the same.  I found Zusak’s writing to be so different that it was intoxicating. I didn’t want to put it down.  I love how many characters he manages to keep interest in and he doesn’t bog down in details of setting or time but allows the reader to picture a lot of that herself.
I love how death brings makes the reader think.  For example he asks us about fate? Is it the cause of the tragedies:
Of course not.
Let’s not be stupid.
It probably had more to do with the hurled bombs, thrown down by humans hiding in the clouds
3. Which character stands out to you the most so far and why?
I loved Rudy.  His innocence with the Jesse Owens stunt and his friendliness with Liesel.  He doesn’t understand what it means to be jewish, catholic or even black.  He in many ways is the opposite of the jaded death character.
I also immediately loved Hans.  My heart always opens to characters with pure intentions.  Hans is a good soul.  He even loves Rosa!
4. What do you think the author is trying to say about the power of words?
Well throughout the book there is a theme of stealing words.  Liesel says she is  “watching the words” when she first learns to read.  Then she steals books throughout the story.  When it gets to the story of the word chaser we see that even the fuhrer cannot stop the power of words and yet he created words.
5. How do you feel about all the foreshadowing that’s going on?
Gripping. Some of it is outright like with Rudy and the kiss and others are more subtle like Liesel learning to read the Gravediggers Handbook or her first book.
6. Also, how do you feel about all that German swearing?!? 
Honestly this I could have done without so much of it.  It really made Rosa a hard character for me to like and it makes the book harder to recommend to younger audiences.  Still, in a way it makes Rosa a more dynamic character.  I couldn’t figure her out on the first 2 readings.  I didn’t like her and still bristle at some of her behavior.
7. What do you think about the relationship between Hans and Rosa?
Rosa is perhaps the most complex character in the novel.  Why is she such a beast and yet she hides a jewish man and a communist’s daughter?  There has to be some good in her.  I couldn’t help but think of some old couples that I know where the man/woman is all gentleness and lightness but their partners are tough and more practical.  It seems like a combo you see a lot.  They don’t give you a ton of her backstory or explain her character motivations.  She works hard and is tired.  Its almost as if she is the death character on earth.
8. What do you think about the relationship between Rudy and Liesel?
Rudy is one of my favorite characters.  He is so sweet and lovely.  I think him and Liesel match well as friends.  They both have a nonchalance that is very appealing and both do not seem to care what others think about them.  I love the moment where Liesel finally unwinds the grief of her brother to Rudy.  Not to an adult but to a fellow-sufferer.

9.  What are your feelings on the politics of the time that we’ve seen so far?

I think Zusak does a good job of keeping the politics and even the setting as a eerie background.  We all know what is meant when Hans and Liesel take the washing to Dachau.  We know what the 3rd Reich did.  As readers we are all just waiting for the characters to figure it out.  Figure out the evil amongst them.  Hans and Rosa know that’s why Hans plays his accordion.  When will the children figure it out?

Death says that the Nazi’s came into power because Germans enjoyed burning things.  “Shops, synagogues, […] personal items, slain people, and of course, books”.  I can see how destruction has its own sense of power and control.  In a time of economic nothingness power could be extra intoxicating but Zusak doesn’t get caught up in these historical details but it is an undercurrent.
10. What images and/or symbols stand out for you in this story so far?

There are a lot.  You have things like the  jewish star, heil hitler, jesse owens, the colors of the sky, everything.


What did you guys think of the first part?  Here is the page on Suey’s books with her thoughts.  Enjoy!



Book Thief

book thief

I’ve mentioned several times on this blog how much I love The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  I can confidently say it is the best book published in my lifetime.  I can’t think of anything that even comes close.  My favorite book is still North and South but this one is a very close second.

The reason why I wanted to profile it today is because my blogger friend over at Suey’s Books also loves this novel and is doing a read-along in September.  There will be insight posted daily with discussion questions, twitter chatting etc.  I will be participating and I thought some of you might enjoy it also http://sueysbooks.blogspot.com/2013/08/announcing-book-thief-read-along.html

The other news on the Book Thief front is the trailer for the upcoming movie came out.  In some ways I’m optimistic (I really felt it was an unfilmable book) but in other ways very skeptical (how can you not have death in the trailer!).  Those who’ve read it what do you think?

If you are one of the few people who haven’t read The Book Thief let me tell you why it is so spectacular.  It is set in WWII Nazi Germany but it is not a Holocaust book; although that certainly plays into the story.  That alone makes it unique.  Then it is narrated by death as a sarcastic, scary, biting, politically neutral force.  It is a brilliant choice as narrator not simply a gimmick.  Who else could be neutral about WWII?

Then you have a little girl, Liesel, who’s parents are communists so she and her brother are smuggled onto a train where the brother dies and Liesel stumbles upon her first book.  Unable to read she takes it anyway and shows it to her new foster parents The Hubermans.

Rosa and Hans Huberman are quite the couple.  Hans is all loving and sweetness; while Rosa is somewhat of a tyrant.  However, you know that she is helping this girl and a Jewish man named Max who hides in the basement so she can’t be all bad.  Later Liesel becomes friends with a little boy named Rudy who adores her and the mayor’s wife Ilsa who has a whole library for her to explore.

WWII unfolds for these characters with all kinds of moral challenges, sweet moments and tragedy.  You have to read it.  The thing that amazes me about The Book Thief is how many well developed characters there are.  Most books are lucky if you have two dynamic characters.  This book has at least 6 maybe more.  There are characters that only appear for a page or two and yet you see a whole story arc and feel for them.  It’s amazing.

Then the book has so much to say.  First, its a commentary on war and the baseness but also grandeur of human nature.  Death teaches the reader about all he has learned about mankind at his job, especially in the busy season of WWII.  A character like Rudy shows the innocent and loving side.  Rosa shows the complex but deeply human side.  Hans shows the brave side.  Everything around them shows the horrible side.

The Book Thief also has something to say about books and the power of words.  Liesel is a book thief but in a way aren’t we all.  We take the inner most thoughts of the author, absorb it and then make it our own.  In the book-within-a-book that Max writes for Liesel, The Word Shaker, we learn about a group of people who have the power to throw words at people. One particular girl climbs a tree and the fuhrer tries to chop it down but despite trying multiple axes he cannot cut the tree or destroy the word shaker.

(See why I think this movie is unfilmable).  Anyway, Zusak’s point is that words create evil and have the power to save humanity.  We should in the end all be book thieves like the word shaker. Maybe such tragedy shown in the book wouldn’t happen if we did.

I hope that isn’t any spoilers.  I tried.  Its such a great book.  I’ve read it 4 or 5 times and each time I have a full spectrum of emotions including weeping.  Not a small tear but actual flooding. And its a good kind of crying.  A crying where you have been truly moved, not manipulated. Second to last time I read it I was listening to it (a great audiobook btw) on a greyhound coming home from a swim in Vegas and at certain point I started to cry.  I couldn’t help myself.  I wonder what those bus riders thought of me!

Anyway, take this chance with Suey’s read along and read The Book Thief.  You won’t regret it.  I’m reading it again and I look forward to being dazzled all over again.  Happy Reading!

Please put in the comments what you think of the trailer.  Hopeful? Skeptical?


Why I Like a Book?

For the last 2 days I have been pondering why it is I like certain books and dislike others.  To be honest, I don’t know the answer.  What made me begin thinking was book club on Wednesday.  I was the only one who didn’t like the book A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.  I found it long, drab, predictable and depressing while the remaining club members found it inspiring, gripping and interesting.  The discussion was immensely entertaining  (I’m always up for a lively debate- especially about books) but it left me feeling a bit ‘soft’ or ‘old-fashioned’ in my reading preferences.  Am I a literary wimp?

Fortunately, as I asked myself this question, I recalled many books, which did not fit such a perky description. Not every book I love has a happy ending or a  benevolent hero.  For example, I love the Book Thief by Markus Zusak, which is so morose it is narrated by death- yes Death.  Like a Tree Grows in Brooklyn it is set in poverty, it is equally long (so I know length is not the problem), and it has a lead girl who is similar (she lives in poverty, faces death, loves to read, is a loner etc).  Why did the one book work for me and the other didn’t?  I don’t know.  Perhaps you, my internet world, can give me some answers?

Maybe it is a question of timing?  This is a possibility.  I had a very stressful month in January including an injury, and I was not in the mood to read a sad book.  Perhaps if I had read the Book Thief last month I would not have enjoyed it?  Haven’t you ever had a book that you once loved but upon rereading you think “Why did I like that book?” That’s happened to me many times- especially with books I liked during phases of my life such as the preteen years, high school, college, or when I hated my job etc.

On the other hand, there are books that no matter what mood I am in I enjoy reading- North and South, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Cheaper by the Dozen, Mama’s Bank Account.  I have read North and South at least six times in the last two years.  I LOVE it!  It’s like a hug from an old friend.  Why do these books move me every time?  I don’t know. It would be easy to say I like them because I relate to them but that is a stretch- what in my life could possibly relate to Jane Eyre or Elizabeth Bennett?  I suppose I relate to their spunk- their willingness to defy convention for love, honor or friendship. All of these  books also have a full spectrum of emotions.  They are happy, sad, angry, remorseful and hopeful.

When I think about the Book Thief it also has a wonderful mixture of emotions.  While predominantly tragic there are several characters that give Liesel hope.  Her foster-father is a wonderful character who tenderly loves and encourages her to continue reading (this done while her foster-mother scolds and reprimands her at every turn).   There is also Max who is hiding in the basement and draws with chalk about the great life he will someday live.   In addition, we know the foster-mother has taken Liesel in at great risk (and Max) so she cannot be all bad?

The plot in the Book Thief was also a huge surprise.  It took a standard WWII story and turned it on its head.  Not only is Death the narrator, but I never knew what was going to happen  in the next chapter.  It’s hard to explain but its like no other book I’ve ever read.  With all the WWII books out there it is amazing Zusak could pull off a surprising plot but he does.

Anyway, for whatever reason I didn’t feel the plot in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn surprised me.  Nor did the characters attach themselves to my heart.

This brings me to one last topic. It is a reality that no human being  is perfect.  I get that fact, but it seems to me  many modern authors are so afraid to show a person anxiously striving to be good that they veer too far in the other direction- making every character full of mournful vices. I can think of 100 supposed ‘contemporary classics’ where not a single good person inhabits the pages.  Am I naive? I don’t think so.  I believe in even the worst of conditions the human spirit can triumph.  I also believe each person has the light of Christ within their souls prompting them to try and live a good life.   Obviously this depends a little bit on your definition of good; nevertheless, there are always  some people trying to follow a moral code and live life with integrity.

When I think of a book like Catch 22 (a supposed classic) that is full of nothing but crass, mean, selfish characters (and not a single woman who isn’t a prostitute or a nurse!) and a book some people find funny- I am mystified?  (Tree Grows in Brooklyn was a million times better than Catch 22). In my life such hateful characters are the exception to the rule. Modern books would make you think I am the exception.

Even while serving in some pretty poor, crime riddled areas on my mission I saw much good in people.  For example, Mary Turner, who lived on the worst street of Indianapolis in the worst section of town, sold cans to feed the missionaries and anyone else who was hungry on her street.  Many modern authors are afraid to put a character like Mary Turner in their books because it is not ‘realistic’ but she lives, I met her.  Its real! Why is gloom and doom in the extreme more realistic than happiness and good in the extreme? Why is a moral character a cliché but a jaded cynical one isn’t?

Even chick-lit books are falling into this trap (aren’t they supposed to be light and fluffy?).  For example,  Julie and Julia- a book I hated.  (The movie is slightly better because it includes the Julia Child sections  from Julia Child’s book My Life in France that I LOVED).  Julie Powell is a whining, cynical, self-absorbed, foul mouthed author who I felt absolutely no sympathy for.  Is life really so bad Julie? Maybe she should read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn- gain a little humility!  All she did in that book was complain even about the supposedly fulfilling act of cooking.

Of course, there are many modern books that aren’t afraid to include characters with integrity.  The Secret Life of Bees comes to mind- a book with many sad events but also a few people who love as unconditionally as they can.  To me it was a great balance. Maybe that’s the word I’m looking for- balance?  There needs to be balance in a book.

So, am I soft’ or an old fashioned reader?  Maybe I am? I’ll admit I’m a romantic at heart and a bit of an idealist.  I like books depicting the triumph of the human spirit, which in its own weird and twisted way the Book Thief does.  The only triumph for Catch 22 is cynicism, sin and despair. Not for me!

(I just want to add that in no way did the members of book club infer I was soft or old-fashioned.  I’m glad they liked the book.   That’s the great thing about reading and particularly book club. The best books touch our souls and produce visceral reactions either praise-worthy or to the contrary. I was not the least bit offended or bothered by our discussion.  In fact, it was quite fun. It merely made me wonder about my reading preferences.  I promise.  I don’t want anyone holding back at the next meeting!)