Friday, March 6, 2015

A Dirty Job

This week was only marginally less crazy than last week. One broken car, two snow days, one delay, one kid who fell down the stairs, and all the usual inanities of life made life, well, life. But it didn't leave a whole lot of time for reading. Ah well. 

#23 -The Book Thief  - Marcus Zusak
Recommended by: LW

What do you picture when you think about death? Or, more importantly, whom do you picture? Is Death a goth girl with an ankh and an umbrella? Does Death wear a hooded robe and carry a scythe? Would he kill for a curry? Does Death have a sense of humor or reason? My favorite Death is Neil Gaiman’s version (no surprise there) and the reason why is the following quote:

“You get what anybody gets. You get a lifetime.”

The Book Thief has its own version of Death, a little wry, a little sad, and a little overwhelmed. Being Death during the Holocaust was quite a job.

“It was a year for the ages, like 79, like 1346, to name just a few. Forget the scythe, Goddamn it, I needed a broom or a mop. And I needed a vacation.”

If the whole book had been written in Death’s tone of voice, using Death’s point of view, I would have been happy. Unfortunately, I found the entire book to be choppy, with no flow. Just when it started to have a solid rhythm, Death would interrupt, or move the story in a different direction. As a storytelling device, that drove me nuts. Would you like to know what also drove me nuts? The number of times the title of the book was used. Often, book titles are practically irrelevant. They are a suggestion of what is to come. They can be very specific, such as with The Happiness Project or they can be ostentatious, as with The Boy Who Said No. The best ones are beautiful and sum up the story in a way that the reader will understand only after the book is complete, such as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings or The House of Sand and Fog. But they shouldn’t be repeated on practically every page so the author can show just how clever he (thinks) he is.

This is one of those books that makes all the bestseller lists, and is optioned for a movie before it even gets published. I can see why it would – the tale of a girl whose love of books saves her life in Nazi Germany – is a good sell. And I love that so many books that have been recommended to me are about people who love books. It’s a really neat through line to my project as a whole. But I could not get past the way the book was written. For me, what could have been great was merely good. 

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