“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right."
I decided to read The Book Thief last week in preparation for World Book Night. I was lucky enough to get my first choice in books to pass out, but since it had been a couple years since I read the novel, I wanted to refresh my memory.
I ended up flying through the book in two nights-all the while reminded of what I loved it so much.
Narrated by Death, The Book Thief tells that story of a young girl, Liesel, in the midst of World War II. And while the book takes place in Germany, and there are the obvious references to the war, Nazis, and Jews, the book is about SO MUCH more than that.
Liesel, while struggling to come to terms with the death of her brother, finds comfort and help in books and words. Her foster father teaches her to read so that she might read the book she stole at her brother's funeral. Once the floodgate of knowledge opens for her, she able to read more and more. She comes to understand the world through the books she reads and the words she loves.
There are scenes where she reads to her neighbors as they wait out bomb raids in a basement. The words she reads, the stories she recites, are the only escape for them as they wait until the all-clear is given. She reads from her books to an older neighbor-the only positive connection that woman has had with her family. She shares her love of language with the Jewish man her family hides in their basement. While different, they form a lasting connection all because of the power of books.
I think this is the perfect book for non-readers. Without preaching, it shows everything there is to love about literature. It captures the escapist quality of a good book, the hope a story can give, and the way that stories can forever live on as part of you. Reading this I was reminded of why I love words, and why I love sharing that passion with all of you here.
You cannot deny the power of words to capture every human emotion.
“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.”
I was lucky enough to meet Markus Zusak a number of years ago...way back in 2007. I had purchased my copy of The Book Thief almost as soon as it came out. I spotted it on a shelf and grabbed it...all because of the title. I drank it in, the first time I read it, in one long sitting in the booth at the park. I loved it so much that when I saw he was going to be doing a signing, I jumped all over it the following year.
My mom went with me, and I brought all of the books by Zusak I owned (The Book Thief, I am the Messenger, and Getting the Girl). The signing was small-maybe 40-50 people? He spoke for a few minutes about the story-how it was inspired by his parents and their stories. And about his writing process...I remember being really moved by the way he talked about his writing-and the fact that he said he would never rush writing a book until the story felt right.
When I got to talk to him, we chatted for a few minutes about each of the books I brought with me. And he took his time to personalize each of them. I love when authors take the time to do that, and it was worth the longer wait. :)
I cannot wait to share this with some students and others next week when I pass out the copies for World Book Night. It makes the event even more amazing to know that I'll be passing on a book I love so much.