Old Florida

SpanishMoss

Savannah, Georgia

BookLadyOn our road trip across the US (south to Florida, then west to Tucson, Arizona, then north to Portland, Oregon) we spent nearly two weeks visiting family in the St. Petersburg area. Along the way, we stopped in Savannah, Georgia, my first time in that lovely city. An afternoon wasn’t nearly long enough, but we did visit The Book Lady Bookstore on East Liberty Street.

They had a display devoted to the Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor, who lived most of her life in Milledgeville, Georgia, where she raised peacocks and wrote short stories and novels. Her shocking story, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” is taught in many high school English classes. If you haven’t read it, it’s well worth your time, I promise you. I’ve never forgotten that story, although I’m not a fan of O’Connor’s novels – her protagonists, obsessed with working out their salvation, are too strange for me.

FlanneryOconnor

A Flannery O’Connor display at The Book Lady

But seeing the display called up memories and reminded me how much I enjoyed her collection of letters, The Habit of Being. Many years ago, when I lived in New York City, the assistant rector of the Episcopal church I attended taught a class on Flannery O’Connor. Fleming, our rector, who was from the South, led us in reading her stories and letters, and I was extra thrilled because The New Yorker writer, Joseph Mitchell,  a Southerner himself, was in the class, too.

St. Petersburg

There are many things about Florida that I love, but I’m allergic to all the over-development and the acres of generic condos and shopping centers. There is plenty to do near the beautiful St. Pete waterfront though, and when our sons came down we enjoyed some of the shops and restaurants. (They enjoyed the music and night life, too.) We bought red snapper, grouper, and shrimp from a local fish market that had dozens of ice chests overflowing with fresh catches, and our sons did the cooking.

In Florida, I always look hard for bits of nature and local culture, so I was extra happy when we rented a sweet little apartment in a hidden alley in one of the older St. Petersburg neighborhoods. Some of the streets are cobblestone and lined SleepingPorchwith adorable Old Florida bungalows, many being renovated. Even though most of the windows of our airbnb were painted shut, we had air conditioning, and two large windows in the sleeping porch let in breezes from Tampa Bay two blocks away.

In the yard, I found lots of angel hair fern. We used to add this delicate bit of greenery to the roses we sold by the dozen in my family’s flower shop in Ohio.

This part of Florida reminds me of one of my favorite books growing up, The Yearling, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Years later, I discovered, and loved, Marjorie’s memoir, Cross Creek. (There is a Cross Creek Cookery book, too.)

AngelHair

I love angel hair fern.

 
The ‘burbs

We had many happy visits with extended family in the St. Pete suburbs after we left our airbnb.  We walked in the neighborhood every day. It was warm and humid, with occasional light rain that felt wonderful.

 

SandhillCrane

A sandhill crane waits for a bus

 

Ibis

Ibis, following their leader

 

AfterRain

After the rain

 

BigLeaves

They grow them big,

 

Garden

My sister-in-law has a kitchen garden with herbs and veggies, including plenty of Thai basil.

 
We passed by this wind sculpture on our walk every day:

 

 
In the evenings, my niece, my sister-in-law and her mother, and I tried Chinese brush painting for the first time. We taught ourselves how to grind the ink, which is pressed into sticks and colorful rectangles, and mix it with water in an ink stone. Then we practiced brush strokes and painted our first, simple pictures. It was fun!

 

Chick

My attempt to paint a chick

 

RabbitBamboo

My sister-in-law’s mother made a beautiful rabbit and this beautiful bamboo.

 
The Panhandle

Eventually, it was time to say goodbye to family and move on to the Florida panhandle and points west along our Deep South route. We stayed in Destin, our final visit in Florida, which had a lovely beach that we had almost to ourselves. It was beside a sea turtle breeding ground and state park, and there was a hidden garden teeming with Monarch butterflies.

DestinBeach

Destin, Florida. There are military bases in nearby Pensacola, so we heard jets taking off from time to time.

 

Monarch

In a garden on the beach in Destin, there were hundreds of monarch butterflies.

 

Tracks

Places to go….

 

DestinSunrise

Sunrise, Destin, Florida. (Photo by J. Hallinan, who gets up much earlier than I do.)

 

TheYearling

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ classic coming-of-age story, set in backwoods Florida, 1930s

 

CrossCreek

Her memoir.

 

TheHabitofBeing

Flannery was a great writer of letters.

 

The Invention of Nature

This is what I’ve been reading on the road. It’s wonderful! More about it later…

Coming up: Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans

Traveling, immersing in nature, visiting bookstores. Do these experiences call up memories of books read long ago?

 

2016 Favorite Books & Posts

img_4093

Under the tree this year

 

Several of my favorite books read this year were published in 2016. My top read, a memoir, was first published in Germany in 1938.

You’ll see plenty of memoirs on my list. Almost all the fiction is historical. Two are set in the northern Arctic regions.

Why I Write Memoir was by far my most popular post in 2016.

My Most Unusual & Memorable Read in 2016

A Woman in the Polar Nightby Christiane Ritter (memoir)

Favorite Fiction Read in 2016

To the Bright Edge#1 To the Bright Edge of the World, by Eowyn Ivey

#2 News of the World, by Paulette Jiles

#3 Do Not Say We Have Nothing, by Madeleine Thien (not yet reviewed on Books Can Save A Life)

#4 My Name Is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout 

Favorite Memoirs Read in 2016

#1 Lab Girlby Hope Jahren

#2 Ghostbread, by Sonja Livingston

#3 The Beautiful Struggle, by Ta-Nahesi Coates

#4 H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald

Favorite Nonfiction Read in 2016

67 Shots#1 67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence, by Howard Means

#2 The Road to Character, by David Brooks (not reviewed on Books Can Save A Life)

Favorite Author New to Me

Sonja Livingston (Ladies Night at the Dreamland; Queen of the Fall; Ghostbread)

MOST POPULAR BOOKS CAN SAVE A LIFE POSTS, 2016

#1 Why I Write Memoir

#2 A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy, by Sue Klebold (memoir)

Also popular

When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi (memoir)

The Cancer Survivor’s Garden Companion, by Jenny Peterson

MOST POPULAR BOOKS CAN SAVE A LIFE POSTS OF ALL TIME

Daughters of Madness book cover#1 Meeting the Dark Matter of Mental Illness

#2 Reading Junot Diaz

#3 Do Genes Shape Our Mental Health?

#4 Children of Mental Illness, Part I

What were your favorite books read in 2016, and what is on your list for 2017?

My Favorite Things

BuddhaEdited

Our backyard pond. If you’d like to listen to a story about this special place, please click on this link: “Water Bewitched.”

 

Not long ago, I wrote about podcasts being one of my favorite things and how I was in the midst of creating one myself. My audio essay about home, “Water Bewitched,” is now finished and up on Terrain.org: A Journal of the Built + Natural Environments.

(Technically, it isn’t a podcast because you can’t subscribe to get new episodes. You can, however, subscribe to Terrain.org, in which case the next essay in my audio series will be emailed to you.)

It’s been a difficult week here in the US, and if the news has been getting to you like it has me, I hope you’ll take a restorative six minutes and listen to my little story. It’s the first in a series called From Where I Stand, in which I’ll explore our connection to the places we call home.

Please let me know what you think in the comments here or on the Terrain.org site, and share the link with your friends.

I’m honored to have my work on Terrain.org, which has great fiction, nonfiction, poetry, videos, interviews, articles, and other fabulous content.

IMG_2983Speaking of podcasts, I recently discovered a great book podcast, WSIRN, which stands for What Should I Read Next, with Anne Bogel. You can subscribe to it on iTunes.  I love this series, especially What Should I Read Next Podcast #28, which features Browsers Bookshop owner Andrea Y. Griffith.

Some of you may recall that I wandered into Andrea’s bookstore when we were vacationing in the Pacific Northwest. Olympia is lucky to have Andrea and such a finely curated bookstore. On the podcast, Andrea talks about how she came to own Browsers Bookshop, what she’s been reading that she loves, what she’s read that she hasn’t loved (I whole-heartedly agree with her choice on the latter), and what’s she’s craving to read.

And last, but certainly not least, there is this. I wish Choir!Choir!Choir! would come to my town.

What are you reading or listening to this summer? Any 5-star recommendations?

My Favorite Things

 

Tulips in Orange

 

Books, writing, creativity, cool media and other delights….

  • Walking book clubs. Did you know these existed? Here are a couple in the UK hosted by two book bloggers who write fabulous reviews: Emily’s Walking Book Club with Daunt Books – turns out the one and only time I’ve been in London we went to Daunt Books, where we browsed for over an hour. Wish I’d known about Emily then, I’d have tried to connect with her; and  The Northern Reader – see also her Flower Power if you love gardening, flowers and nature lit.
  • Book spine poetry. A few weeks back in honor of April being National Poetry Month, I wrote some book spine poetry and asked readers to share theirs. Here is what Naomi at Consumed by Ink came up with. I love her little poems. Try it yourself, and if you’ve created book spine poetry you like, please share in the comments.
  • A good book. My favorite book bloggers always give me titles to add to my to-read list. I love this review of Hill by the French writer Jean Giono that Melissa wrote at The Bookbinder’s Daughter.
  • Instagram flat lays. I’ve been messing around with photography lately, teaching myself to do still lifes of books, flowers, and whatnot, and posting some of it on Instagram. I adore Cristina Coli’s floral work on IG, and enjoyed her “A Day of Creative Connection” blog post recently.

Have a great week!

litricity: a potent form of energy generated by great literature – – from Powell’s Compendium of Readerly Terms

April Lit

The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, by Edith Holden. First entry, January 1, 1906.

 

 

 

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

“I do not like postmodernism, postapocalyptic settings, postmortem narrators, or magic realism….I do not like genre mash-ups a la the literary detective novel or the literary fantasy. Literary should be literary, and genre should be genre, and crossbreeding rarely results in anything satisfying. I do not like children’s books, especially ones with orphans, and I prefer not to clutter my shelves with young adult. I do not like anything over four hundred pages or under one hundred fifty pages. I am repulsed by ghostwritten novels by reality television stars, celebrity picture books, sports memoirs, movie tie-in editions, novelty items, and – I imagine this goes without saying – vampires. I rarely stock debuts, chick lit, poetry, or translation….Above all…I find slim literary memoirs about little old men whose little old wives have died from cancer to be absolutely intolerable.”   A.J. Fikry, bookseller, in The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry bookcover

This is a quick, funny, sweet read about a bookseller who is down on his luck and turning quite bitter in his middle age. It’s a tribute to booksellers, book lovers, beloved authors, and their stories.  A Good Man is Hard to Find” (Flannery O’Conner), Lamb to the Slaughter” (Roald Dahl), The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” (F. Scott Fitzgerald), The Tell-Tale Heart” (Edgar Allen Poe), Ironhead” (Aimee Bender), What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” (Raymond Carver), Infinite Jest (David Foster Wallace), and many others have little parts to play in Gabrielle Zevin’s clever story.

After something good follows the tragic turn in A.J.’s life, he begins to change.

He’s inspired to write pithy little reviews for someone he loves. This is what he has to say about A Good Man is Hard to Find”  – 

“It’s Amy’s favorite. (She always seems so sweet on the surface, no?)…When she told me it was her favorite, it suggested to me strange and wonderful things about her character that I had not guessed, dark places that I might like to visit.”

You can tell a lot about a person by the books she loves.

 

Winners of the Literary Blog Hop Are…

Lynne Clark at Two Reads and Marie Stone are the Literary Blog Hop winners at Books Can Save a Life. Many thanks to Judith at Leeswammes for hosting this great event, and for all of you who stopped by to share what you’ve been reading.

The Signature of All Things book coverI’ll be sending Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things to Lynne.

We Are Water book coverAnd to Marie, We Are Water by Wally Lamb.

Here is the list of tantalizing books you shared:

Back When We Were Grown-Ups, by Anne Tyler

The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton

Forever, by Pete Hammill

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

Netherland, by Joseph O’Neill

Dreams of Joy, by Lisa See

The Kite Runner; A Thousand Splendid Suns; And The Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini

Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill

Easy: Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent

Good Bones and Simple Murders, by Margaret Atwood

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

I Am Livia, by Phyllis T. Smith

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

Dr. Sleep, by Stephen King

NOS4A2, by Joe Hill

Written in Red, by Ann Bishop

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Dovekeepers, by Alice Hoffman

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson

Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte

Dear Life, by Alice Munro

Dark Triumph, by Robin LaFevers

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson

We Are Water, by Wally Lamb

The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey

In the Garden of the Beast, by Erik Larson

Under the Wide and Starry Sky, by Nancy Horan

The Kabbalist, by Yoran Katz

The Dog Boy, by Eva Hornung

Dinner With Lenny, by Jonathan Cott

Isolation Door, by Anish Majumdar

The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas

The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion

The Constellation of Vital Phenomena, by Anthony Marra

One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp

Standing in the Rainbow; The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion; Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven, by Fannie Flagg

Solomon the Peacemaker, by Hunter Welles

Once We Were Brothers, by Ronald H. Balson

The story of a happy marriage & the right to read

When Ann Patchett came home from school one day, there was a boy she’d never met in the kitchen. Turns out, he was one of four new step siblings. Her mother and his father had married, but they hadn’t yet told the six children who were now part of a blended family.

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage book coverThis might be why Patchett likes to write novels about people from very different walks of life thrown together in extreme circumstances – such as in Bel Canto, my favorite novel of hers about terrorists, an opera singer, and political and business leaders in a hostage situation. (See also my post about State of Wonder.)

It may also have had something to do with why, for a long while, she’d been committed to staying single. Ann’s mother had twice divorced and her grandmother had divorced. In fact, divorce was scattered liberally throughout her family tree.

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage is a collection of Ann Patchett’s personal essays, one of them about her early divorce and her relationship with the man who eventually became her second husband. It’s an honest, personally revealing, and entrancing story about love and commitment.

Marriage is a metaphor for the many happy relationships in Ann’s life, including relationships with her writing, her bookstore, her grandmother, the strong and nurturing Catholic nuns where she went to school, and her dog. There are essays about all of this and more in Ann’s new book, a fine collection of meditations about life, love, and fulfillment.

I especially enjoyed Ann’s essay about writing, “The Getaway Car,” and those of you who write will like it as well. She is not of the school that everyone has one great novel in them, as a woman Ann met at a family reunion insisted. Ann usually has enough good sense to avoid such conversations, but this time she gave in.

“Does everyone have one great floral arrangement in them? One five-minute mile? One algebraic proof?”

“No,” the woman said. But everyone has one great novel in them “because we each have the story of our life to tell.”

Ann does not agree and writes about how difficult it is to convey what we know on paper. This is what she has to say about writing a novel:

“I make up a novel in my head…I don’t take notes or make outlines; I’m figuring things out, and all the while the book makes a breeze around my head like an oversized butterfly whose wings were cut from the rose windows in Notre Dame. This book I have not yet written one word of is a thing of indescribable beauty, unpredictable in its patterns, piercing in its color, so wild and loyal in its nature that my love for this book and my faith in it as I track its lazy flight, is the single perfect joy in my life…..

…I reach up and pluck the butterfly from the air. I take it from the region of my head and I press it down against my desk, and there, with my own hand, I kill it. It’s not that I want to kill it, but it’s the only way I can get something that is so three-dimensional onto the flat page….Imagine running over a butterfly with an SUV…What I’m left with is a dry husk of my friend, a broken body chipped, dismantled, and poorly reassembled. Dead. That’s my book……The journey from the head to the hand is perilous and lined with bodies.”

It stops most would-be writers cold.

Ann writes about the panic that set in when she sat down to write her first novel at a fine arts retreat, a story she’d been constructing in her imagination for a long while:

“Now that I was sitting still in front of a blank screen, I was appalled by all the things I hadn’t considered….until that minute I had never considered the actual narrative structure….what in the hell had I been doing all that time?”

She was tempted to throw out her idea altogether and start fresh, but an experienced writer told her to stay with her story.

“It was life-saving counsel,” Ann writes. “Without it, I could have spent the next seven months writing the first chapters of eighteen different novels, all of which I would have hated as much as I hated this one.”

There is another essay in the collection, “The Love Between the Two Women Is Not Normal,” that especially stands out for me. Ann had been best friends with Lucy Grealy, the acclaimed author of a memoir, “Autobiography of a Face.”  Lucy had cancer of the jaw at age nine and 38 reconstructive surgeries. She died of a drug overdose, and Ann wrote a book about their friendship, Truth and Beauty. The book had been assigned to the incoming freshman class at Clemson University in 2006, and Ann was invited to speak there at the beginning of the school year.

All was well until a Clemson alum, whose nieces and a nephew were students there, objected to the book assignment. “The book contains a very extensive list of over-the-top sexual and antireligious references…The explicit message that this sends to the students is that they are encouraged to find themselves sexually.”

A hue and cry ensued. Many angry parents wanted another book chosen and Ann’s invitation rescinded, while most of the students and Clemson’s administration supported Ann and the book selection. The Clemson alum held a press conference the day before Ann appeared, distributed copies of bad reviews of her book posted by Amazon readers, and took out a full-page ad in the local paper. The ad, among other things, accused Clemson of the sexual harassment of freshmen students and suggested the assigned reading of Truth and Beauty was insensitive because a Clemson student had recently been raped and murdered.

When the day came for an extremely nervous and alarmed Ann to speak in Clemson’s coliseum, there were protests, and the administration had arranged for her to have a bodyguard. 

Ann has included her Clemson speech, “The Right to Read,” in this collection of essays. Among other things, she said most of the freshmen students were old enough to vote and go to war and could make their own decisions about what to read and how they’d be influenced by it. She pointed out that if they had to be protected from Truth and Beauty, they’d most certainly need to be protected from Lolita and The Great Gatsby and Anna Karenina.

Weeks after her speech, it occurred to Ann many of the students in the audience had likely never read Tolstoy or F. Scott Fitzgerald or Nabokov, and so they probably hadn’t understood what she was talking about.

As for me, I’m disturbed every time I hear about a protest of this nature over a book. If Patchett’s Truth and Beauty can cause such a furor, we live in a frightening world indeed.

Books to read in 2014

Here’s my to-read list for 2014. It’s incomplete, always changing, and I’m sure I won’t get to all of these, not by a long shot, but it’s a convenient list when I’m choosing my next book. You may see a few of them featured on Books Can Save a Life. I’ve included titles that will be published in 2014, so you won’t find all of them on the shelves yet.

If you have enticing choices on your list, please share them in the comments!

Watch for my book giveaway in February to celebrate the second anniversary of Books Can Save a Life.

FICTION

The Snow Queen book cover

The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey    “If All of Rochester Read the Same Book,” 2014

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

Someone, by Alice McDermott

Carthage, by Joyce Carol Oates

Arctic Summer, by Damon Galgut

The Unknowns, by Gabriel Roth

The Circle, by David Eggers

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, by Haruki Murakami

The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert

Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson

How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti

The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters

And Then We Came to the End; The Unnamed; To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, by Joshua Ferris

Orfeo, by Richard Powers

Never Go Back, by Lee Child

The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Snow Queen, by Michael Cunningham

The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell

The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer

The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton

Lila, by Marilynne Robinson

By Blood, Ellen Ullman

Canada, by Richard Ford

In Sunlight and in Shadow; and Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin

The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) and Untitled (2014)

The Woman Who Lost Her Soul, by Bob Shacochis

Off Course, by Michelle Huneven

Gone Girl; Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn (movies in 2014)

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel (Best book of the 21st century, according to Elizabeth Gilbert)

****************

IN TRANSLATION

My Struggle, Books 1, 2, 3 by Karl Ove Knausgaard (Norwegian)

Treasure Hunt; The Dance of the Seagull by Andrea Camilleri (Sicilian)

Story of a New Name, by Elena Ferrante (Italian)

YOUNG ADULT

Son book cover

The Giver Quartet Series (including Son), by Lois Lowry

Divergent Series, by Veronica Roth

Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

*************************

MEMOIR

Wave book cover

Men We Reaped, by Jessamyn Ward

Still Writing, by Dani Shapiro

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, by Ann Patchett

Wave, by  Sonali Deraniyagala

Intensive Care: A Doctor’s Journey; and Medicine in Translation: Journeys with My Patients, by Danielle Ofri

**************

NONFICTION

Five Days at Memorial book cover

Big Data: A Revolution that Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think, by Victor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier

Who Owns the Future? by Jaron Lanier

The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI, by Betty Medsger

Thank You for Your Service, by David Finkel

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, by Sheri Fink

What Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine, by Danielle Ofri

Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson, by Jeff Guinn

The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, by George Packer

Margaret Fuller: A New American Life, by Megan Marshall

The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking, by Brendan I. Koerner

The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems

Stalking the Divine, by Kristin Ohlson

Sons of Madness: Growing Up and Older with a Mentally Ill Parent, by Susan Nathiel

Is There No Place on Earth for Me? by Susan Sheehan

Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, by Leonard S. Marcus

On the fifth day of Christmas: The Quivering Pen

12 Days of Christmas

The Quivering Pen has been my happiest blog discovery of late. It’s a rich, beautifully written site about books, writing, and the literary life by David Abrams, a former Army journalist and author of The Fobbit, a comic novel about the Iraq War.

David is an expansive, passionate reader who writes eloquently about new, backlist, classic, and “lost gem” titles. You’ll find unusual and off-the-beaten-path books to add to your to-read list, and if you’re a writer, you’ll appreciate David’s generous sharing of his own journey and the wisdom of other writers.

I’m looking forward to reading David’s enticing backlist of posts. Among other attractions, he features Trailer Park Tuesday (new book trailers), Friday Freebie (a book giveaway), Sunday Sentence (the best sentences he’s read that week), My First Time (writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers), and Bookstore of the Month.

The Twelve Days of Christmas Song Poster by Xavier-Romero Frias is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

The Book Thief

“They say that war is death’s best friend, but I must offer you a different point of view on that one. To me, war is like the new boss who expects the impossible. He stands over your shoulder repeating one thing, incessantly: ‘Get it done, get it done.’ So you work harder. You get the job done. The boss, however, does not thank you. He asks for more.”       Death, in The Book Thief

The Book Thief book cover

Death is the narrator in The Book Thief, a young adult book about a German family during World War II that has a huge adult readership as well. It is one book not to be missed. The writing is outstanding. Published in 2005, The Book Thief won countless awards and honors, and has become a classic in YA fiction.

I recently reread the book before I saw the movie. I think the screen adaptation is a good one, although some viewers found it tame, and subtleties of the text can’t be captured on the screen. For example, Max, who is Jewish and hiding out in the home of Liesel and her foster parents, paints over every page of a copy of Mein Kampf and creates his own book, with illustrations. Max’s book is embedded within the pages of The Book Thief, and on the pages of Max’s book you can see faint traces of Hitler’s words.  One of the pages in Max’s book is a drawing of a girl and a boy holding hands and standing on a pile of bodies. Inscribed on the sun that shines down on them is a swastika, and the girl is saying, “Isn’t it a lovely day?”

The author, Markus Zusack, uses the written word as a thematic motif. While the Germans burn books thought to be subversive, Liesel and Hans write words on the wall of their basement as Liesel learns to read, and Liesel steals a book whenever she has the chance, in defiance of the Nazis. Liesel then begins to write her own book in order to make sense of the world’s chaos and carnage.

I do think the movie captured the essence of the story, and it is well cast, especially Sophie Nélisse as Liesel Meminger and Geoffrey Rush as Hans, her foster father. Death is the narrator in the movie, as he is in the book, and in both he is an unsettling storyteller who confesses he is haunted by humans. Of course, in addition to being the narrator, Death has a starring role in the plot as well.

My father was wounded in the war, just inside the German border. Occasionally, my mother spoke of her family’s Victory Garden, the rationing of meat and gasoline, and the “man shortage.”  I was born ten years after the war ended. As an adult, I eventually began to understand how the world turned upside down by war cast long shadows over my parents’ generation.

Have you seen the movie or read The Book Thief? What did you think?

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