Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Book 13: The Book Thief

TITLE: The Book Thief
AUTHOR: Markus Zusak
STARTED: April 10, 2009
FINISHED: April 17, 2009
PAGES: 552
GENRE: Juvenile

FIRST SENTENCE: First the colors.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery.

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.

This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.

THOUGHTS: A snippet from page 459: "It was Russia, January 5, 1943, and just another icy day. Out among the city and snow, there were dead Russians and German everywhere. Those who remained were firing into the blank pages in front of them. Three languages interwove. The Russian, the bullets, the German."

This book is lyrical, inventive, and addictive. Towards the end, I even felt a few tears slip down my face. Zusak has written a unique coming of age tale that is both haunting and comedic. Essentially, Zusak has written a fairy tale with a realistic twist. I fear writing an extensive review because this book is for my next book club; I don't want to wear out all my discussion points before we get together.

I think what I enjoyed most about this book is the writing. It was simple without being simplistic. Zusak has crafted paragraphs (like the snippet) above that you don't encounter in every book. I think the reason this book is shelved in the juvenile section is that it is an easy read. The words are easy, but the emotions and themes are not. In using simple language, Zusak makes his more complex motifs easier to understand.

Also, I think it was pure genius to have this book narrated by death. (No worries about spoilers, that's readily apparent in the first few pages.) In World War II Germany, death was its own character. Instead of hiding that fact, Zusak puts it right up front. Also, Death is witty and I want to have a beer with him.

I enjoyed how the author didn't typify his characters. Not every Nazi is bad and not every innocent is pure. He writes in shades of gray (and we all know how much I love that). The reader sympathizes with the lead character, Leisel, without needing to put her on a pedestal. The same goes for every other character of the book. The closest the author comes to creating a purely good character is in his portrayal of Papa. His character, however, is almost always seen through Leisel's eyes and since she adores her papa, the characterization doesn't seem cloying.

Gah! I could talk about this book a whole more (the importance of color, the parallelism of the books in the story, the open ending, the many faces of death,
etc.) but I won't so that I leave something to talk about at our next meeting.

I loved every minute of this book, but I still, for some reason, cannot justify rating it a 10. The reason this book doesn't make my keeper pile is that it doesn't have the je ne sais qoui. It was a great read, but I don't know if I'd ever think to read it again.

Tidbit: This book will be released as a film around 2010. I hope they don't screw it up.

RATING: 9/10 [Excellent]

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I unabashedly love this trend

The family that reads together, stays together. The family that reads to others is awesome. It looks like the President even does the voices.

To see more images like this from Monday's Easter Egg Roll, visit this page of Obama Pics Daily.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Book 12: The Omnivore's Dilemma

TITLE: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
AUTHOR: Michael Pollan
STARTED: April 2, 2009
FINISHED: April 9, 2009
PAGES: 450
GENRE: Food, Non-Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: What should we have for dinner?

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] A New York Times bestseller that has changed the way readers view the ecology of eating, this revolutionary book by award winner Michael Pollan asks the seemingly simple question: What should we have for dinner? Tracing from source to table each of the food chains that sustain us - whether industrial or organic, alternative or processed - he develops a portrait of the American way of eating. The result is a sweeping, surprising exploration of the hungers that have shaped our evolution, and of the profound implications our food choices have for the health of our species and the future of our planet.

THOUGHTS: I do not recommend eating a meal of hamburgers and corn on the cob after reading the first part of this book. (At least the hamburgers turned out to be made from grass-fed beef.)

This book will make you think. I don't think it will necessarily sway most people from their established eating habits, but it will cause them to stop and think about their diet. I think that was Pollan's goal. In this book, Pollan is not actively pushing for one kind of diet (although his bias and preference is obvious), he merely lays out all the information and facts he found about the ways food comes from ground to plate.

Pollan's text comes very close to hitting that Too Much Information stage. He gets really close to that line without ever crossing over. All of his facts are revealed in a manner that resembles episodic narrative. Pollan tells stories about food. This book does not turn into a dissertation or long-form article. It's simple, as he states, a natural history of food.

The Omnivore's Dilemma is, more than anything else, a book that will make the reader think. More than once, I stopped reading to ponder how I interact with the food I buy. Do I read the labels? Do I care that most of the foodstuffs I put in my mouth are a form of corn? I don't yet know the answers to these and many other questions, but Pollan's book has led me to question the United States' relationship with food. It is, as Pollan states, a national eating disorder. The author takes a subject we all take for granted and forces to question our assumptions and ignorance.

Pollan's book was on my TBR list for months. I should have read it sooner - this book was fantastic.

RATING: 9/10 [Excellent!]