Spoiler Warning

Book reviews and discussions may contain spoilers. Read at your own risk!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

April's Encouragement

If there is anyone out there who has not finished this book (or started it yet) then be ye not dismayed--it takes about a day to finish the whole thing.  And the good news is that you have another two weeks.

April has brought a shower of work for me so I have no fun surveys or contests.  But it is meant to be a light read, a fairy tale to remind us that there are books out there that know what we want without making us think too hard... or really at all.

So Torina, Torina... she calls your name.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I love this book the most plus infinity squared times pi

Forgive me if I'm saying things that have already been said. I haven't read the other reviews yet. Okay, here goes......

This book. Wow. It touched my very soul. Stroked it actually. Held it and pet it and hugged it and squeezed it and then let go. And that was okay. I let it let go of me because, at the end, I was extremely satisfied and pleased to have had the experience of being touched. Never have I had such pleasure in reading, (actually in my case, listening) to a book that was so intuitively in synch with my soul. I cannot describe in words to you the joy that came to me when I would read a metaphor that struck me with such truth. It enlightened a part of me that had never seen light. It was almost a spiritual experience, reading this book. The tone, the lyrical language, the way it danced and moved--it sang to me.
The way the author wrote was unique to anything I have ever read. The narrator told the story not in a traditional, linear fashion, but in an abstract, comprehensive way that sent a message. There was a reason the story was told. The events illustrated that purpose. And the events didn't have to happen in order for the story to send the message. The message was like a circle, round without beginning or end, and it filled me. The message is something that can't be summed up in a sentence. (Believe me, I just tried and gave up). It can only be illustrated with a story, the story of Liesel Meminger's life.

I enjoyed this style of abstract storytelling because I didn't have to wait for the end of the book to be satisfied. I was satisfied every time I opened the book and feasted upon the art of what lay before me. It was the figurative language and imagery that had me at hello. Everything was so deep that I found myself peeling back layer after layer and discovering more and more and more. The brief, choppy language and the unexpected images were like candy.
"Leaning.
Looking at the ground.
She attempted several times to find the right place to start, reading sentences at her feet, joining words to the pine cones and the scraps of broken branches (517) " Literally, no one reads sentences at their feet or joins words to pine cones, but the effect of the figurative language lent to the complex message it was illustrating. The theme was so difficult to grasp that the story could only be told and received through intuitive language and imagery. (I'm sure this drove people who are not naturally intuitive absolutely bonkers).

Besides the metaphorical language, the characters in the story are the vehicle to the message. The theme could not eclipse at the end without the various characters that enter Liesel Meminger's life. The characters are found at all human levels from the ordinary, everyday individual, to the extreme good (as seen in Hans Hubermann) and the extreme evil (as seen in the Fuhrer).

The narrator was, in itself, a fascinating character. The fact that he notices color was brilliant. It was right in line with the irony. I also appreciated that Death had a quirky sense of humor--another irony. There is beauty in death. There is joy and happiness amidst pain and suffering. Love and hate exist in the same sphere at the same time--they aren't mutually exclusive.
"I have hated the words and I have loved them (528)." Such is life. There can be darkness and despair and hope all in the same moment--as best illustrated to us by Liesel Meminger's life narrated through Death.

Before I go, I'd like to share my favorite passage from the book. It's found on the last page when Death and Liesel are talking about understanding her story.
"Could you understand it?
And at that point, there was a great pause.
A few cars drove by, each way. Their drivers were Hitlers and Hubermanns, and Maxes, killers, Dillers, and Steiners...
I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn't already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race--that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.
None of these things, however, came out of my mouth.
All I was able to do was to turn to Liesel Meminger and tell her the only truth I truly know. I said it to the book thief and I say it now to you.........I am haunted by humans."

P.S. Ah, isn't that brilliantly stated? It's such a paradox. I would like to add a big, "ME TOO," to the last statement the narrator makes. Maybe that's why I love this book so much. I can relate to what the narrator said about constantly overestimating and underestimating and rarely just estimating humans. People seldom live up to the ideals and the expectations I have for them. I live in a very idealistic world in my head and it's painful to step into reality. I have accepted that this is just the way that it is for me. Sucks actually.
P.P.S. I have way, way more to say about this book and the characters, but I have to get up in five hours....okay one more thing....two more.....I wish Hans Hubermann was my father and even though I rarely reread a novel (I think I've only reread two novels) I will reread "The Book Thief." Or maybe I won't, but if I wanted to reread something, this is what I would choose. My new favorite book plus infinity squared times pi.

The Book Thief

Ok, so I kind of lied about something. I didn't totally hate this book. I just got way annoyed with how long it took me to get into it. I had The Host flashbacks.
Things I liked about the book:
* I like books taking place in the WWII era.
* I liked the loyalties, Hans to Max's dad, and Liesel's relationship with Rudy.
* I liked how Hans was to Liesel, loving father even though he wasn't blood.

Things that aren't my favorite:
*Death
*Taking forever to get into a book.
*Hair the color of lemons
*Death
*Cardboard Complexion
and
*Death

See ya next month!

A Late Review

And, there will be a later one. I'm assigning Meg to write a review of this book as an English assingment. We're running behind in our house. As usual.

I loved this book, even though it was heart wrenching at times. Like Mark, I am a fan of the happy ending. I despised Titanic for two things: Leo dies in the end (and there were Titanic survivors, they didn't have to kill him off) and that old lady chucked a bazillion dollar jewel into the ocean. Is she CRAZY!!! Whatever.

That said, I think if everyone survived this story, it wouldn't have been so powerful. I don't believe anyone in Germany, or even Europe got through that war without losing someone they loved. Death (the character) wouldn't have known Liesel if her life hadn't been touched with so much tragedy. And, he wouldn't have been as impressed with her if she wasn't an embodiment of hope during a really hopeless-seeming time. There was a HUGE dif between this and Forest of Hands and Teeth in that I loved Liesel and cared what happened to her. In the other book, I thought the protagonist (whose name escapes me) was a crazy, selfish witch who was willing to sacrifice lives just to see the ocean. Ok, I live by the ocean, and I like it, but really!? Liesel and her foster family were good people, language notwithstanding, who made incredibly unselfish, difficult choices in dangerous times.

I loved the writing style, (although I coulda done without the language), but when I read the first couple of chapters out loud, Sam said: "what?! this guy thinks he's Shakespeare?" I thought it was very original and descriptive in a way that was unexpected. I think telling the story from the perspective of Death as a character was genius. His observations on humanity were very insightful and I really enjoyed that.

Overall, I really liked this book a lot. I love historical fiction, but so much of what's written about this era is so difficult to read. Also, the Germans are nearly always the "bad guys", when in reality, many of them were good people who were stuck in an unpossible situation. THere were glimmers of hope amid Hitler's craziness.

On this topic, you should watch the Lisa Kudrow episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?", you can find it on Hulu. She traces her family back to Poland and Russia during the Holocaust and finds some heart-wrenching stories there. But, also a great happy ending.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Cuz We Like Fairytales

But I am not sure about the happy ending yet, hopefully Torina won't die at the end leaving behind her former slave, a hot little dark-haired pacifist.

Hope you like it.

April's libro is...

The Seer and the Sword

I won't put the picture on the cover because they have a whackado pic of her but here is how I envision Torina:

I Tried

I really wanted to get back into gear this month and finish the book. This book was so hard for me to read. I could anticipate from the beginning that it wasn't going to end well and the fact that it was narrated by death was kind of strange to me. About halfway through the book I gave up completely. I felt really bad but I just can't stand books when they are going to end badly or even if they are just a downer the whole way through and do end well. Even though I did like the characters I didn't want to get too attached to them because I knew that something horrible was going to happen to them. When I found out they got blown up in the end with only two lonely survivors I felt kind of glad I didn't finish the book. Too sad for me, but maybe next months book will have a brighter outlook.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Flem's Fast Review

Okay so it is a tragedy that I was hosting a boatload of people to not be able to give this review its proper due but I will at least put something down here to publicly declare my love of this book.

1.  Perspective--GENIUS!!  When was the last time someone personified death?  The closest thing I can think of is little Susie Creepsville from a cloud on Lovely Bones and that was yucka.  This was a really lovely story--made me fear death just a little less to personify it and think of it as a warm and lovely hug when you die.

2.  Story--ORIGINAL!! How many depressing, concentration camp tales have been written?  Hundreds.  But how many get a communist Russian-born chica in a non-Nazi party German family?  One.  And brilliant.

3.  Romance--HEARTBREAKING!!! Who doesn't fall in love with Rudy?  And then the little Jewish stowaway??  I seriously loved this story and was totally unsatisfied but in a really okay way.  Better to have loved and lost then to have never loved at all, right?

4.  Father figure.  !!!! Sitting by her bed every night?  I was thinking he was going to be creepy but no!  I just felt sad all over that I never got this business in my life.  I was so, so, so happy that Liesl got this opportunity.

5.  Mayor's Wife.  Love.  Love. Love.  One of my favorite characters ever.

This was one of the best reads of my life. The only sad part is that not everyone universally loves it like HG or CF.  It just takes a certain kind of... something to love it to this degree.

Thanks Memz!!

The official SRBC discussion of The Book Thief

Here we go gize!

A question to start us off:

Death states, “I’m always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both.” (p. 491) What is ugly and beautiful about Liesel, Rosa and Hans Hubermann, Max Vandenburg, Rudy Steiner, and Mrs. Hermann? Why is Death haunted by humans?

Word Shaker

Jespy's review of The Book Thief

Gut wrenching. But triumphant. I absolutely adore this book with all my heart. These are now some of my favorite literary characters of all time. Liesel. Rudy. Max. Hans. Each name stirs a different emotion.

The writing style might seem strange at first, but really, what kind of writing would one expect from narrator like death? He can’t possibly see the world the same way we do. After all, he sees colors first, then humans, duh. The thing that makes it all seem so brilliant, is that I somehow know exactly what he means when he says, “sleepy hair” or “his bones creaked like itchy floorboards.” And if you don’t know what that means, I can’t help you, because there is no translation. It’s just instinct, just a feeling that you get when you see hair described as “sleepy.” It’s so much deeper than “messy hair,” and even comparing it to “messy hair” diminishes the meaning. That is some incredible writing, in my opinion.

Beyond the writing, the message was so powerful, and Max’s book was the epitome. Tears literally streamed down my cheeks and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I loved the scene when Max was marching through town, and Liesel walked behind him and started quoting his book to him. “There once was a strange, small man… but there was a word shaker, too.” There is so much hope in that one sentence, it’s enough to break your heart and heal it all at once. Which brings me to the ending…

Of course, there was tragedy. We knew it was coming. Death had prepared us, even though we kept holding out hope that he was wrong, or that some sort of miracle would occur and all would be saved. Rudy’s end was especially hard to shallow. Even death had a hard time with it. “He steps on my heart. He makes me cry.” But the end also felt so hopeful and triumphant to me. Just like Max’s story. There was a strange, small man, who did a lot of damage with his words… but then there was a word shaker too. To come out of that end seemed like a powerful thing. I’m sure Liesel changed the world with her words, and that felt like a great reward.

Just a Few Comments

Don't take this as any kind of a review. It's been months since I read the book and I never got around to re-reading it or reviewing it for today's posts or tonight's discussion.

I loved Liesel. I loved Rosa as much as I hated her. I loved her dad and what they did for Max. I was so expecting Rosa to kick his can out the door, but she really surprised me and went right along with it. I remember loving the way Death described things, the way he used colors and descriptive words. And truly, as Death, his descriptions would be a little off compared to something a regular person would say.

I loved that we got to see this side of WWII. From the perspective of a citizen of Germany, not necessarily a supporter of Hitler. It was fascinating.

I also just want to say - (sorry for the sappy) - that I really enjoy reading the different reviews from everyone. It's really enlightening to read everyone's different perspectives. Maybe it's just because I spent several days with my family and I'm feeling homesick for my friends. Much less drama, you know. And much less crazy.

Landee Loves Lemon Colored Hair

Ah, Death. You're such a card. I may have even fell in love with you a little.

Mark Zusak, you genius. You craftsman. You creator of a literary masterpiece. I really fell in love with you.

After I realized who was telling the story (which took me a minute, admittedly) I knew I was in for a beautiful, interesting, breath-taking journey. I loved the style of writing. I loved how it was pieced together and spoon fed to me a little at a time. I loved the descriptive words. It made no difference to ME (::ahem:: Markie) that some of the phrases and words were a bit "off" because I figured Death knew better than me how to describe things. I just went along with it and lost myself in this artistic masterpiece he was creating for me one brushstroke at a time.

Some examples of his brilliance:

“He adjusted his position and his bones creaked like itchy floorboards.”


“Either way, it fell across them as their metallic eyes clashed like tin cans in the kitchen”


“Papa’s eyes started corroding.”


“When she looked up the sky was crouching”


“Certainly, there was sweat, and the wrinkled pants of breath, stretching out in front of her.”


“All of them were light, like the cases of empty walnuts. Smoky sky in those places. The smell like a stove, but still so cold.”


“In Liesel’s mind, the moon was stitched into the sky that night. Clouds were stitched around it.”


“Rudy was interested, and confused. The moon was undone now, free to move and rise and fall and drip on the boy’s face, making him nice and murky, like his thoughts.”


“He ran his hand through his sleepy hair.”

 I mean, I've seen sleepy hair.  I just didn't know how to describe it.  Now I do.  Thank you Grim. 

As for the characters, I loved Liesel.  I adored Rudy and Papa and even that B, Rosa Hubermann.  But there is no one I loved more than Max. 

Max.

His book of The Standover Man had me reeling with emotions.  I went back and re-read it several times before moving on with the book.  I'm not sure if it was the hand drawn pictures which provoked me or what, but I found it particularly poignant.  The symbolism of painting over Mein Kampf to tell this simple story of he & Liesel was just the icing on the cake. 

Not surprisingly my favorite scene in the book involves Max.  It gave me chills re-reading it now.

So many sets of dying eyes and scuffing feet.

Liesel searched them and it was not so much a recognition of facial features that gave Max Vandenburg away.  It was how the face was acting--also studying the crowd.  Fixed in concentration.  

Liesel felt herself pausing as she found the only face looking directly into the German spectators.  It examined them with such purpose that people on either side of the book thief noticed and pointed him out.

"What's he looking at?" said a male voice at her side.

The book thief stepped onto the road.

Never before had movement been such a burden.  Never had a heart been so definite and big in her adolescent chest. 

She stepped forward and said, very quietly, "He's looking for me."


Her voice trailed off and fell away, inside.  She had to refind it--reaching far down, to learn to speak again and call out his name.

Max.


"I'm here, Max!"
 Louder.
 "Max, I'm here!"

He heard her.

Holy. Crap.  ::ginormous sigh::

This book is practically magical.

Thanks for the selection, Memzy.  I had read this several months ago but have truly enjoyed reliving it a little again tonight.

See all you saumensches at the discussion.

Ok so I haven't finished it yet

BUT I am. So this will only be a part sided remark for the book. I'm enjoying it so far. It's sad, but interesting. I like the narrator. He speaks as a person who doesn't live in the world but watches the world so his language and descriptions aren't those of someone who is living the experience. It's like translating from one language to another. I enjoy the way it's written, it's not conventional and I think if it had been, I might have been less interested in reading it.

Soooo, so far, I like it alot. :) Thanks Memzy!

A Book The Color Of Cat Vomit

SOME FACTS ABOUT RUDY STEINER
He was eight months older than Liesel and had bony legs, sharp teeth,
gangly blue eyes, and hair the color of lemon.

DEFINITION OF GANGLY:
–adjective
awkwardly tall and spindly; lank and loosely built.

What part of that definition could possibly be descriptive of eyes? This is just one example of the writing style in The Book Thief, that I had a very hard time getting past. It was like the author was trying too hard to use big words, and descriptive imagery and it just didn’t work for me. I felt like the author was a 5th grader trying very hard to write at a college level.
More examples?

“In Liesel’s mind, the moon was stitched into the sky that night. Clouds were stitched around it.”

“Rudy was interested, and confused. The moon was undone now, free to move and rise and fall and drip on the boy’s face, making him nice and murky, like his thoughts.”

“He ran his hand through his sleepy hair”

“He adjusted his position and his bones creaked like itchy floorboards.”

“Either way, it fell across them as their metallic eyes clashed like tin cans in the kitchen”

“Papa’s eyes started corroding.”

“When she looked up the sky was crouching”

“Certainly, there was sweat, and the wrinkled pants of breath, stretching out in front of her.”

“All of them were light, like the cases of empty walnuts. Smoky sky in those places. The smell like a stove, but still so cold.”

Ok, enough of that. While the writing style seemed to me like so much indulgent nonsense, I got used to it. I could easily have forgiven it and ended up liking, or possibly even loving this book, if not for the fact that, well… everybody got blown up.

Listen, I know war is horrible. I know that lots of people get blown up. I know that there are still lessons to be learned from all this tragedy. I’d just prefer to read a story about some people that maybe didn’t all get blown up. I think, in comparison, about many of the stories of Charles Dickens, who wrote frequently about orphans and outcasts who went through terrible hardships: Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield, and Great Expectations; and also Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. In all these books, there was great heartache and tragedy, and yet, in the end there was also great reward and redemption.

I found very little reward and redemption in The Book Thief. The fact that Liesel and Max survived in the end was little consolation for all the darkness, suffering, and depression throughout the book. Yes, they survived, but irreparably damaged, and scarred – like keys repeatedly scratched along the surface of an apprehensive table the color of Columbian coffee beans. It would have almost been more a more merciful ending if Liesel had gotten blown up with the rest of her family and friends.

But Uncle Markie, didn’t you love the characters? Didn’t you love Hans, and Rudy, and Max? Yes, I did love the characters; and that made it worse. Lisel said it herself very nicely:

“Don’t make me happy. Please, don’t fill me up and let me think that something good can come of any of this.”

The fact the author spoiled his own ending half way through the book didn’t help. When I read that everyone that Liesel knew was going to die, I allowed myself to imagine that maybe this was a story about cheating death, and that the author was perhaps referring to something that would have happened if not for certain events. But no… Liesel was right, nothing good came from any of it.

Death, Literature, Guilt, Friendship, Humanity, War

I love this book with all my heart. I've read it only twice but I plan on doing more in the future.

I found it captivating that the narrator of the book is, in fact, Death. And that Death is not proud or scary or any of the things we might commonly think of. In fact, he is as much afraid of us as we are of him. He is fascinated with humans and also disgusted by them. He is drawn to Liesel, despite his efforts to stay away. And I found it so interesting that Death himself experiences difficulties with the sheer amount of brutality in the world.

Words are what hold the country under the power of Hitler and the Nazis. They are also what help for the bond between Liesel and Hans as he teaches her to read, what keeps her coming back and eventually stealing from the mayor's wife. The words are the nourishment that Liesel hopes brought Max back to life and that he eventually writes as two books for her. The words are the reason for her crappy life as well as the escape from that life. What would Hitler have been, after all, without words? As this book reminds us, what would any of us be?

Hans feels guilty that he lived during WWI and his friend died. Max is constantly asking for forgiveness while he stays with the Hubermanns. Liesel feels guilty for stealing the books and then for being worried about Max's body if he died. Mr Steiner feels guilty about not letting Rudy go to the Nazi school which eventually got him killed. And tear-out-my-heart when Liesl feels the guilt of not ever giving Rudy that kiss while he was alive!

But the friendships/relationships are by far my favorite part of the story. And of course they all revolve around Liesel. My love for Hans and his silver eyes as he embraces and accepts Liesel for all that she is!! Their loyalty to one another is shown in small ways but is VERY real. Very believable. Or her friendship with Max? "Often I wish this would all be over, Liesel, but then somehow you do something like walk down the basement steps with a snowman in your hands." But lets get right down to it. Rudy+Liesel=TLA. I love when death says "The only thing worse than a boy who hates you is a boy who loves you." Rudy and Liesel would do anything for each other. Yet they are capable of giving almost nothing but their friendship. They are there for one another through every misery, embarrassment, and hard knock life situation that comes along. I literally just finished it for the second time and I'm still crying from the end. "She leaned down and looked at his lifeless face and Liesel kissed her best friend, Rudy Steiner, soft and true on his lips."

This book combines the beauty and brutality of humanity all at once. "So much good, so much evil," Death says of human nature. "Just add water." The horrors of war and at the same time Rudy placing a teddy bear on the dying pilots chest. Starvation and at the same time a girl being taught to read by a kind and gentle man. A terrified Jew bringing danger and at the same time a gift called "The Standover Man". This book shows us how small defiances and unexpectedly courageous acts remind us of our humanity.

"I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right."

Also, check this out when you have time: