I realized this weekend that I now have 4 full weeks of school before our next little break (President’s Day) and I must admit that I was a little depressed. It is not that I don’t enjoy teaching – I LOVE it –but I do miss my free time and ability to read books of my own choosing. In the grand scheme of things, however, I consider myself VERY fortunate.
My student book club will be discussing Wuthering Heights tomorrow (the final Masterpiece Theater episode is this evening) and then we will begin reading the Book Thief — a favorite book selection of one of my students. I have been trying to stay ahead of the game, so I began the Book Thief over Christmas break. I was truly looking forward to this read as I have heard nothing but grand reviews. The concept of Death being the narrator also had me totally intrigued. I am ashamed to say, however, that it has taken me quite a long time to “get into” the book. I probably re-read the prologue at least 3 times. I LOVE the author’s writing style – his use of syntax is fascinating to me (so many fragments that eloquently move the reader forward) and his diction is superb (in fact, in the back of the book there is a mini-interview with the author, Markus Zusak – and he shares that “he likes the idea that every page in every book can have a gem on it.” He certainly delivers!!).
However……I found that the first few chapters of the book left me totally perplexed most of the time. Now that I have completed nearly half the book, the confusion seems to be kept to a minimum and I now wonder if perhaps this bafflement was supposed to be intentional. The narrator is Death — and Death, by its very nature is confusing. Why does Death choose to take one person over another? Also, prior to reading the book, I had a pre-disposition toward what I thought Death should sound like. Death should be evil and sinister; in other words, I thought of Death as being synonomous with Satan. This narrator is not. In fact, this narrator is very matter-of-fact and even shows compassion. This image of Death not living up to my expectations has also contributed to my comprehension difficulties. While I think I can understand the author’s intent, I am not sure that I like it. When I am confused in my reading I feel stupid — I feel like “I should be able to understand what is going on — what is wrong with me?” Especially when the intended audience is Young Adult! However, I have pesevered through this feeling of inadquacy and I am beginning to appreciate the book. The storyline is becoming less cryptic; more intense; and I know that I will immediately desire to re-read the book in order to make sense of what I found confusing to begin with.
In the meantime, I want to share a quote from the book (although it is absolutely true – there is nearly a quote per page that is worthy of highlighting). I enjoyed the quote in context, but I also think it is a beautiful way to summarize my feelings of any library/bookstore. The “book thief” has just discovered the numerous book shelves in the hidden library of the mayor’s wife. How I wish I could put my feelings into such eloquent word pictures:
“….and when she eventually stopped and stood in the middle of the room, she spent many minutes looking from the shelves to her fingers and back again …… she did it again, this time much slower, with her hand facing forward, allowing the dough of her palm to feel the small hurdle of each book. It felt like magic, like beauty, as bright lines of light shone down from the chandelier. Several times, she almost pulled a title from its place but didn’t dare disturb them. They were just too perfect.” (page 135)
AH…..this is exactly how I feel each and every time I walk into a bookstore or a library. I am just in awe of the shelves and shelves of “perfect” books — each one begging to share its knowledge and adventure and romance and ideals with me.