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August 10, 2016

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Every month, TAB editor Kristin will be sharing her thoughts on five titles from our… Read More

June 1, 2016

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The Book Thief

Several years ago, I attended a conference for teachers or librarians and picked up a chunky brown book. I’m not sure if I chose it myself or if it was handed to me, but the title was intriguing: The Book Thief.

I know I read the novel quickly, fascinated by the story of a girl in Germany during World War II. Liesel is being raised by foster parents, she has a wonderful community of friends, and her foster family is harboring a Jew in their basement. And she steals books.

While I don’t remember every moment of that initial read, there were things that stayed with me and details that I would share when suggesting the book to other readers.

  • I loved that the narrator is Death. As you might expect, he is solitary and omniscient and hardworking. But he is also compassionate and charming and very funny. He quickly became one of my favorite characters in any book.
  • Liesel is the kind of girl who understands books and words deep in her gut. She doesn’t need to be taught to value bound pages of words and thoughts and ideas; her love for books is part of her nature.
  • While I’ve cried through books of all kinds before, this one truly broke my heart. I sobbed through several scenes, cried on the subway while reading, and was in complete denial over the deaths of some characters. It was exhausting.

 

When The Book Thief was awarded a Printz Honor (among a dozen other awards and honors) I wanted to re-read it. I picked it up many times, wanting to see if it would hold up to a second reading, but I knew it would take a level of emotional energy I wasn’t sure I could muster. But I never denied Markus Zusak’s skill as a storyteller or how important the book was to me personally.

Earlier this year I learned not only that they’d been filming a movie version of the book, but that the author had been involved (and had shared his impressions from the set). I knew that it was time for me to spend a few days with Death and Liesel again. I picked up the book, made sure I was traveling with a pocket pack of tissues, and began to read.

Immediately, Death charmed me all over again. Liesel became a dear friend. I fell a little bit in love with Liesel’s friend Rudy. I worried for the Hubermanns and Max, the Jewish man in their basement. And I marveled at the author’s incredible skill.

This weekend I’ll walk up to a box office, buy my movie ticket, and meet these characters again on the screen. And no matter what that filmed experience is like, I know that in another six or seven years, I’ll be ready to read the book again.

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  1. Mark Hunt

    Question: This very rich book has numerous themes, windows into the human condition. Probably because of my studies of semantics, I found one passage, near the end, remarkable and troubling. She understands that all Hitler had was “words.” Words, of course, can be used for good or ill. But even before this passage I saw this horrible disconnect between the use of words for abstractions and categories like Jew, German, etc and realized again that categories are not “real.” What is real is individual persons suffering and dying and dealing with unbearable heartache because of their misuse of these categories. I was reminded of the passage from Hemingway in which he describes how words like honor and duty no longer had any meaning. The only words that had meaning were signs that pointed to real things, like a town. The “real” words became sacred. The abstract words became obscenities. Did anyone else consider this in this passage about “words?” Do we potentially fall into the same trap today with words like “America” or “the troops?”

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