I think I just finished one of the best reads of this year.
I have tried to read one of Markus Zusak’s other books, I Am The Messenger, and didn’t really enjoy it from the get-go. I gave up. So last year (or whenever it was) when The Book Thief came out and received such acclaim as a young adult novel, I remembered the foul-mouthed narrator of Zusak’s last novel and thought, no thanks.
However, I am really glad that the other week while in the used bookstore, attempting to psyche myself up to buy a copy of Twilight, or Every Fantasy Prone High-School Girl’s Fantasy because I told my sister I was going to read it (I’m only mildly making fun of you, Emy,) I instead picked up a copy of The Book Thief and began to read. And I was hooked. Sure, I disagree with the worldview of Death the narrator, and there’s some pretty harsh language thrown about, but ultimately this book was beautiful. As coming of age stories go, this would rate in the top of my list. It’s a little meatier, maybe for older teenagers than Up A Road Slowly by Irene Hunt and not as PG as Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster, but the characters are true and straight. A 10-year-old girl loses her brother and is sent to live with foster parents in a Germany just starting to be affected by the choices of her Fuhrer. As a grandchild of Dutch immigrants who survived WWII, perhaps this is a story closer to my heart than most. I still remember my grandmother showing me a photograph of one of the Jewish girls that they hid in their home during the war. They were from a rich family (the Jews that they hid, that is) and I remember (rightly or wrongly) a huge-eyed girl with light hair and a pearl necklace, barely older than me at the time. Whenever I read about what happened to people during that dark period, I see that little girl’s face in my mind. One less death, one more life.
In a much more fatalistic vein, I also finished Blindness by Jose Saramajo. This book chronicles the journey of the one person retaining her sight in a pandemic of white blindness, a doctor’s wife. She goes into quarantine with her husband by lying and claiming to lose her sight at the curb as they take him away, and we follow as the world falls into chaos and anarchy. Translated from Portugese into a stream of unparagraphed, largely un-punctuated chapters, I found it hard to actually follow, sometimes having to retrace entire sections in order to figure out what was going on. This book was very well-written, with sharp images and sly twists of language, but it was also dark and largely hopeless. This apocalypse results in terrible, horrific cruelty and even the bright moments, notably a scene where the doctor’s wife and two blind women dance estatically in the rain, are harsh and with slicing edges. At the end, it’s hard to tell if the resolution is a good idea for such an obviously fatally flawed human race. I would warn anyone reading it that there are some (lots) of graphic details that are somewhat hard to read, and I would only recommend reading this while you are in a stable, upbeat frame of mind. Blindness isn’t big on the concept of the day, Hope.
Lastly (or really firstly, since I think this was the first of the three that I read) I devoured the gothic tome The Meaning of Night. I really enjoyed it. It’s hard to really sympathize with a protagonist who kills someone in the first paragraph. A little overdone, perhaps…but have you read Dickens? I read it quickly, and once I hit page 302, I really didn’t want to put it down. I agree with other reviewers who say that they didn’t find the narrator at all sympathetic, but I would argue that this is part of Cox’s strength as an author. You read the first couple hundred pages and think, What a pompous jerk! Who cares if you lost something rightfully yours? But you keep reading. About another couple hundred pages in you think You’re still an jerk, but that other guy is kind of creepy too. Too bad he’s getting what’s due you. And you keep reading. And then at the end, you think Well, how could that have worked out any better? All of you people have huge character flaws, and in reality, none of you deserve this. Wow.
And you feel kind of satisfied. I recommend it, particularly to fans of Shadows of the Wind and The Thirteenth Tale. I don’t think it’s to the scale of either of those two, but I am definitely looking forward to the paperback of the sequel, which looks kind of deliciously dissimilar
On another note. I need to start reading faster if I want to hit a hundred books this year. 100/12=8.33 a month, and I’m at 6.5 a month. :-( Maybe I need some time off.
Books read finished so far this year: 13
Books still next to my bed on the towering stack: 8 (I don’t really know where they all went) along with a Rush CD, an REO Speedwagon CD, a dvd of the BBC Pride and Prejudice, a cold cup of tea, a container of nail polish and several dozen writing utensils.
Times I have taken a 15 minute break at work just to read in the commons: 8
Books that I have gotten out of the library even though I know I’ll never read them in time: 2
Library fines currently: $0.00 (Woot!)
P.S. Read the news recently? Please pray for Bex, the Sudanese people and government and Khartoum in particular.