BTT ~ Ah! To Be a Virgin Again!

Booking Through Thursday

What book would you love to be able to read again for the first time?

(Interestingly, I thought that I had thought this one up myself, but when I started scrolling through the Suggestions, found that Rebecca had suggested almost exactly this question a couple months ago. So, we both get credit!)

I love the thought of being able to have a fresh mind to read my favorite books again for the first time.  Sometimes, a book can be read a second time (or third, and more) and still appreciated and learned from, but to have that sense of not-knowing, and of biting your nails for the character, to experience the injustices and learn the lessons for the first time again would be a gift.

I would love to wipe my mind of the movie and book of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.   To NOT know the outcome of the court case and to feel Scout and Jem’s pain as they realize that justice and the law do not always run in the same pack would be great.  To wonder what Boo Radley was, a ghost or a man?  and to hide Dill under the bed, only to get caught by our father… well, It’d be like falling in love with your first love again.

Another book I’d love to read for the first time again would be The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  It is so incredibly powerful and the poetry of it so beautiful, that I’m sure it can withstand re-reading again and again.  However, to feel that thrill, that wonder… that terror… to go on that journey again, new once more, would be an experience I’d just about be willing to pay money for.

How about you?  What books would you like to have a second “first-time” with?

The Book Thief companion post

I decided to make a second post for The Book Thief, as my review was taking on an extended life of it’s own and would have eventually grown beyond 3000 words.  Since a lot of what is in this post isn’t a review of the book itself, I thought it best to put the following in a companion post.

Other thoughts about and quotes from The Book Thief:

Last week’s “Booking Through Thursday” question had to do with books made into movies, including the question “What book would you NOT want to be made into a movie?”  At the time, I really didn’t have an answer for that question, but NOW I do.

I don’t ever want to see The Book Thief made into a movie.  One of the major points of beauty with this book is the writing itself.  Zusak’s poetic and illustrative narrative cannot POSSIBLY be translated to the screen.  It is the word pictures and imaginative imagery that make The Book Thief so special, and I believe that when this book is presented in an acted-out format it will simply become just another sad, hard-knock-life, World-War-Two story like so many others that line the video store’s shelves.

Sadly, it is already optioned and in the pre-production stage with a tentative release date of 2010.  *sighs and cries*   Honestly, tell me how the following passage can be “re-formatted” for the big screen:

     …For some reason, dying men always ask questions they know the answer to.  Perhaps it’s so they can die being right.

The voices suddenly all sounded the same.
     Robert Holtzapfel collapsed to his right, onto the cold and steamy ground.
     I’m sure he expected to meet me there and then.
He didn’t.
     Unfortunately for the young German, I did not take him that afternoon.  I stepped over him with the other poor souls in my arms and made my way back to the Russians.
     Back and forth, I travelled.
Disassembled men.
     It was no ski-trip, I can tell you.

     As Michael told his mother, it was three very long days later that I finally came for the soldier who left his feet behind in Stalingrad.  I showed up very much invited at the temporary hospital and flinched at the smell.
     A man with a bandaged hand was telling the mute, shock-faced soldier that he would survive.  “You’ll soon be going home,” he assured him.
     Yes, home, I thought.  For good.
     “I’ll wait for you,” he continued.  “I was going back at the end of the week, but I’ll wait.”
     In the middle of his brother’s next sentence, I gathered up the soul of Robert Holtzapfel.
     Usually, I need to exert myself, to look through the ceiling when I’m inside, but I was lucky in that particular building.  A small section of the roof had been destroyed and I could see straight up.  A metre away, Michael Holtzapfel was still talking.  I tried to ignore him by watching the hole above me.  The sky was white but deteriorating fast.  As always, it was becoming an enormous dust sheet.  Blood was bleeding through, and in patches, the clouds were dirty, like footprints in melting snow.
     Footprints? you ask.
Well, I wonder whose those could be.

     In Frau Holtzapfel’s kitchen, Liesel read.  The pages waded by unheard, and for me, when the Russian scenery fades in my eyes, the snow refuses to stop falling from the ceiling.  The kettle is covered, as is the table.  The humans, too, are wearing patches of snow, on their heads and shoulders.
     The brother shivers.
The woman weeps.
     And the girl goes on reading, for that’s why she’s there, and it feels good to be good for something in the aftermath of the snows of Stalingrad.

 -The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, pages 475-477

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When Nazi soldiers march some Jewish prisoners back to the work camp in Dachau, the “parade” makes its way through Molching.   The following quote describes this event:

On Munich Street, they watched.
     … They watched the Jews come down the road like a catalogue of colours.  That wasn’t how the book thief described them, but I can tell you that that’s exactly what they were, for many of them would die.  They would each greet me like their last true friend, with bones like smoke, and their souls trailing behind.

     When they arrived in full, the noise of their feet throbbed amongst the road.  Their eyes were enormous in their starving skulls.  And the dirt.  The dirt was moulded to them.  Their legs staggered as they were pushed by soldiers’ hands – a few wayward steps of forced running before the slow return to a malnourished walk.
     … The suffering faces of depleted men and women reached across to them, pleading not so much for help – they were beyond that – but for an explanation.  Just something to subdue this confusion.
     Their feet could barely rise above the ground.
Stars of David were plastered to their shirts, and misery was attached to them as if assigned. “Don’t forget your misery…” In some cases, it grew on them like a vine.
     At their side, the soldiers also made their way past, ordering them to hurry up and to stop moaning.  Some of those soldiers were only boys themselves.  They had the Fuhrer in their eyes.
     … Liesel was certain that these were the poorest souls alive…  Their gaunt faces were stretched with torture.  Hunger ate them as they continued forward, some of them watching the ground to avoid the people on the side of the road.  Some looked appealingly at those who had come to observe their humiliation, this prelude to their deaths.  Others pleaded for someone, anyone, to step forward and catch them in their arms.
     No-one did.
Whether they watched this parade with pride, temerity or shame, nobody came forward to interrupt it.  Not yet.
     Once in a while, a man or woman – no, they were not men and women, they were Jews – would find Liesel’s face amongst the crowd.  They would meet her with their defeat, and the book thief could only watch them back in a long, incurable moment before they were gone again.  She could only hope they could read the depth of sorrow in her face, to recognise that it was true, and not fleeting.
     … She understood that she was utterly worthless to these people.  They could not be saved, and in a few minutes, she would see what would happen to those who might try to help them.

In a small gap in the procession, there was a man, older than the others.
     He wore a beard and torn clothes.
His eyes were the colour of agony, and weightless as he was, he was too heavy for his legs to carry.

-The book Thief by Markus Zusak, pages 398-400

I particularly love the line, “His eyes were the colour of agony,” and hate to see that lost when it’s on screen. 

One line in the previous quote that I find particularly chilling is, “Some of those soldiers were only boys themselves.  They had the Fuhrer in their eyes.” 

We often consider Hitler’s greatest evil being the systematic devastation of an entire people group.  Certainly, his “final solution” that brought about the deaths of approximately 6 million Jews, what is more commonly referred to as The Holocaust, was an unimaginably horribly wicked thing.  However, not to sound dismissive, those six million people are dead and gone.  If it had ended there, it would have been an appallingly grotesque act of a fiend.

No, the greatest evil still being perpetrated by Hitler was the indoctrination of childred.  “They had the Fuhrer in their eyes.”  Those boy soldiers grew up and taught their children the doctrines of hate.  And when those children had children of their own, they too passed on the poisonous cancer of intolerance.  As terrible as these beliefs are for those to whom they are directed, the worst pain of all is inflicted on the believers themselves.  They will never know peace and love, and they will never truly experience a sense of self-acceptance.  Hate only breeds more hate.  And in this way, Hitler still lives on and continues to enslave and destroy his followers.

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The following quote describes the residents of an undamaged Himmel Street returning home after an air raid:

The only sign of war was a cloud of dust migrating from east to west.  It looked through the windows, trying to find a way inside, and as it simultaneously thickened and spread, it turned the trail of humans into apparitions.
     There were no people on the street any more.
     They were rumours carrying bags.

-The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, page 390

ARGH!  I just can’t see a movie being able to give you that.  “They were rumours carrying bags.”  They can make the set smoky, and they can have people trudge in front of the camera, but how can it ever fully express them as rumors?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

One of the stresses in the Hubermann household is that Hans isn’t a card-carrying party member.  Because he gave a Jewish shop owner back a little bit of his dignity by painting over an anti-Semitic slur on his door, Hans had never been approved membership.  Without being a member, people were reluctant to hire him as a painter.

What probably saved him was that people knew he was at least waiting for his application to be approved.  For this, he was tolerated, if not endorsed as the competent painter he was.
     Then There was his other saviour.
It was the accordion that most likely spared him from total ostracism.  Painters there were, from all over Munich, but under the brief tutorage of Erik Vandenburg and nearly two decades of his own steady practice, there was no-one in Molching who could play exactly like him.  It was a style not of perfection, but of warmth.  Even mistakes had a good feeling about them.

-The Book Thief  by Markus Zusak, page 191

Hans’ accordion had belonged to Erik Vandenburg, his friend and fellow soldier in World War I and the man who saved Hans’ life.  Hans and Erik had passed the time learning and playing the accordion, and in the years that followed Hans had developed his own special style that was much loved in his community.  Ironically, Erik Vandenburg was a Jew.

And being a Jew in Nazi Germany was the least desirable position of all, as the following quote points out:

You could argue that Liesel Meminger had it easy.  She did have it easy compared to Max Vandenburg.  Certainly, her brother practically died in her arms.  Her mother abandoned her.

But anything was better than being a Jew.

-The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, page 168

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When Liesel first comes to live with the Hubermann’s at nine years of age, she is completely illiterate.  As Hans works with her, first teaching her the alphabet then words and sentences, she begins to understand and sense the power bound within the covers of books, and books themselves become objects of priceless worth.  So, when Liesel first steps into the personal library of Mayor’s wife, she is overcome with joy at the sight of it:

“Jesus, Mary… “

She said it out loud, the words distributed into a room that was full of cold air and books.  Books everywhere!  Each wall was armed with overcrowded yet immaculate shelving.  It was barely possible to see the paintwork.  There were all different styles and sizes of lettering on the spines of the black, the red, the grey, the every-coloured books.  It was one of the most beautiful things Liesel Meminger had ever seen.

With wonder she smiled.

That such a room existed!

-The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, page 141

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The last of my little post-it flags have been removed from my book, and I’m out of quotes.  I think I can finally part with my copy of The Book Thief, it’s destined for a fellow BookMoocher, though I guarantee I will grab any… and every, in all likelihood… copy I come across in the future.  I know I will re-read this book again, and probably more than once.

The final quote I’ll end this post with is the first few lines of the book:

First the colours.
     Then the humans.
That’s usually how I see things.
     Or at least, how I try.

-The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, page 13

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Title:  The Book Thief

Author:  Markus Zusak

Paperback:  354 pages

Publisher:  Transworld Publishers (div of Random House)

Publish Date:  2005

ISBN:  9780552773898

Miscellaneous: Don’t forget to check out this review’s companion post. It includes info on The Book Thief‘s future as a movie, and several quotes from the book I wasn’t able to work into this review.

On June 23, 1942, there was a group of French Jews in a German prison, on Polish soil.  The first person I took was close to the door, his mind racing, then reduced to pacing, then slowing down, slowing down…

Please believe me when I tell you that I picked up each soul that day as if it were newly born.  I even kissed a few weary, poisoned cheeks.  I listened to their last, gasping cries.  Their French words.  I watched their love-visions and freed them from their fear.

I took them all away, and if ever there was a time I needed distraction, this was it.  In complete desolation, I looked at the world above.  I watched the sky as it turned from silver to grey to the colour of rain.  Even the clouds tried to look the other way.

Sometimes, I imagined how everything appeared above those clouds, knowing without question that the sun was blond, and the endless atmosphere was a giant blue eye.

They were French, they were Jews, and they were you.

-The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, page 358

I finished The Book Thief  by Markus Zasuk on Tuesday, but have not been able to stop thinking about it since.  Normally, I sit down and write the review as soon as I finish a book, then pick up the next book and move on.  However, when I read the last words of The Book Thief :

A LAST NOTE FROM YOUR NARRATOR:  I am haunted by humans.

I found myself not wanting to let the book go.  I told myself I wanted to wait to review it so it could sink in and ruminate.  I had already posted it on BookMooch figuring, like most books, I wouldn’t want to reread it, and it was mooched up right away, but now I don’t want to give it up.  I have put off starting Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince because I don’t want to put anything else in there ever again.  All of this is utterly baffling to me because I have never had an attachment or a reaction to any book like this.

The book itself, plot-wise and such, is easy to sum up.  It is the story of Liesel Meminger, the book thief, who comes to live the Hubermann’s at age nine as their foster daughter.  On the way to Molching, where the Hubermann’s live, Liesel’s younger brother dies and is buried in a cemetery at the next stop.  It is in this place she “steals” her first book, The Gravedigger’s Handbook, after it falls out of the pocket of the apprentice gravedigger.  As the novel progresses, Liesel makes friends with other children on Himmel (a word that means “heaven”) Street, the Hubermann’s take in and hide a Jew, and Liesel discovers the awe-inspiring private library of the mayor’s wife, from which she liberates a book now and then.  All this is told by the book’s narrator, Death.

Summarizing the book is simple.  Explaining and conveying how it effected me, the reader, is anything but.  First of all, Zusak writes with a poetic beauty that captures the way children take in the world around them.  He often crosses the communication of the five senses:

At times, in that basement, she woke up tasting the sound of the accordion in her hears.  She could feel the sweet burn of champagne on her tongue. -p. 365

One line I remember but was unable to find said something like “The smell of the sound of my footsteps,”   and there are so many more lines like these in the book.

Another concept Zusak descriptively conveys is the power of words.</p>

Once, words had rendered Liesel useless, but now, when she sat on the floor, with the mayor’s wife at her husband’s desk, she felt an innate sense of power.  It happened every time she deciphered a new word or pieced together a sentence. -p. 154

She couldn’t tell exactly where the words came from.  What mattered was that they reached her.  They arrived and kneeled next to the bed. -p. 246

After a miscarriaged pause, the mayor’s wife edged forward and picked up the book.  She was battered and beaten up, and not from smiling this time.  Liesel could see it on her face.  Blood leaked from her nose and licked at her lips.  Her eyes had blackened.  Cuts had opened up and a series of wounds were rising to the surface of her skin.  All from words.  From Liesel’s words. -p. 273

Yes, the Fuhrer decided that he would rule the world with words. “I will never fire a gun,” he said.  “I will not have to…”  His first plan of attack was to plant the words in as many areas of his homeland as possible…  He watched them grow, until eventually, great forests of words had risen throughout Germany.  It was a nation of Farmed thoughts. -p. 451

Frighteningly, it was exactly through the power of words and a healthy dose of charisma that Hitler was able to accomplish all the evil that was done in his name.  He himself didn’t do the physical work, that would have required him to be in several places at once making that impossible, but through the words of his speeches and policies others took up his cause.  Even more frightening is that his words are still used and followed to this day by some.

Also, through the use of Death, the ultimate impartial onlooker, as narrator Zusak is able to make epiphanic observations about human beings:

In years to come, he would be a giver of bread, not a stealer – proof again of the contradictory human being.  So much good, so much evil.  Just add water. -p. 171

I’ve seen so many young men over the years who think they’re running at other young men.  They are not.  They’re running at me. -p. 182

Death also points out that, beginning with houses of cards and sandcastles, humans “watch everything that was so carefully planned collapse and… smile at the beauty of destruction.”  And he states a couple of times that the human child is much cannier than the adult.

By far, however, the most important observation Death makes, the concept that sets the tenor of the entire book is this:

AN OBSERVATION
A pair of train guards.
A pair of gravediggers.
When it came down to it, one
of them called the shots. The
other did what he was told.The
question is, what if the

other is a lot more than one?
-p. 30

What happens when there are a lot more people who simply do as there told, without question?  What happens to a society when a madman can rule through eloquent speeches, expressing ideals of hatred, and inspiring others to carry out morally reprehensible acts of violence and wickedness?

The Book Thief by Markus Zasuk is haunting and breath-taking, poetically beautiful and filled with truth.  Death often expresses sardonic, almost bitter, statements of irony, all the while telling the reader he is impartial.  He points out both the evil and the good of humans, expresses both disappointment and admiration of the species among whom he walks and collects.  It is a Homeric work that is full of joy and sorrow, anger and forgiveness, love and loss.  It is the story of a handful of people in Nazi Germany during 1939-1945; adults, children, Catholic, Nazi, and Jew, the “free” (was anyone truly free then?) and the hidden, the epitome of the “master race” and the persecuted and annihilated.

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If you’ll take a look to the right, you’ll notice I’ve added a new widget in the sidebar labelled “Mt. TBR Hall of Fame.”  This is my Top 10 favorite books of all-time.  This, honestly, is an imprecise feat, as I know I’ll think of a book that I liked better but forgot, or I’ll read a book that will replace a book on here, and that is okay because I can always edit it.  When I added the widget, I was in the middle of reading The Book Thief, but it had already impressed me enough to be listed in 6th place… and I hadn’t even finished it yet.  And after finishing it and digesting it and writing this review, it has moved up to first place.

Obviously, as The Book Thief by Markus Zasuk is now my all-time favorite book, I give it 5 out of 5 stars.  It should be included in school curriculum alongside The Diary of Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel’s NightThe Book Thief has both historicity and literary eloquence, and will undoubtedly become a classic.

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Again, don’t forget to check out this review’s companion post.

Exit Ghost by Philip Roth

Title: Exit Ghost
Author: Philip Roth
Hardcover: 292 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company
Publish Date:2007
ISBN: 9780618975477

What surprised me most my first few days walking around the city? The most obvious thing – the cell phones. We had no reception as yet up on my mountain, and down in Athena, where they do have it, I’d rarely see people striding the streets talking uninhibitedly into their phones. I remembered a New York when the only people walking up Broadway seemingly talking to themselves were crazy. What had happened in these ten years fo there suddenly to be so much to say – so much so pressing that it couldn’t wait to be said? Everywhere I walked, somebody was approaching me talking on a phone and someone was behind me talking on a phone. Inside the cars, the driver were on the phone. When I took a taxi, the cabbie was on the phone. For one who frequently went without talking to anyone for days at a time, I had to wonder what that had previously held them up had collapsed in people to make incessant talking into a telephone preferable to walking about under no one’s surveillance, momentarily solitary, assimilating the streets through one’s animal senses and thinking the myriad thoughts that the activities of a city inspire. For me it made the streets appear comic and the people ridiculous.

-Exit Ghost by Philip Roth, pages 63-64

Nathan Zuckerman is man in the twilight years of his life. As an author, words and ideas have been his medium to work and creation, yet, now age seventy-one, senility and his growing “word salad” difficulty has begun is slowly robbing him of his ability to write. Once virile and in control of his destiny, a prostectomy has rendered him impotent and incontinent. And, after ten years of New England solitude, the hope of regaining some bladder control from a medical procedure has brought him back to the cosmopolis of his exodus, New York City, where he likens himself to Rip Van Winkle, returning from his twenty-year nap and finding the entire world changed.

In his week-long stay, he makes connections with three people who that threaten to irreversibly alter his chosen isolation and reality. With the first, he makes a rash decision to answer an add to swap homes and meets the young and seductive, Jamie Logan, who inspires a fantasy affair in Zuckerman’s mind and reawakens his all-but-lost desire for female company. His second, the serendipitous running into of Amy Bellette, the mistress of his literary icon, Manny Lonoff, reminds him of both his youthful past and his ever-creeping mortality. The third connection he makes is with Richard Kliman, an abrasive, tenacious wanna-be literateur, who believes he has discovered Lonoff’s “great secret” and wants to write his biography, exposing the author’s shameful “crime” in the titillating tell-all fashion of the modern biography, a genre of current writing that is more Weekly World News than World News.

Meeting these three people force Zuckerman to face and accept the realities that his isolation has allowed him to ignore: He is getting old, each day bringing him closer to his own life’s end, and after his death he will no longer have control of that life he lived, as some young writer wanting to make a name for himself may decide to write the expose of Nathan Zuckerman. In the end, he asks himself this questions: Once I am dead, who can protect the story of my life? How will I have failed to be the model human? What will be my great, unseemly secret?

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

Exit Ghost  is my first experience reading Philip Roth, but I don’t plan on making it my last. Slow going at first, I wasn’t sure I would really be able to get into it. How can a mid-thirties, single mom understand and relate to a septuagenarian man? How can I, a moderate to conservative Republican from the mid-west, relate to a liberal Democrat New Englander? I’m a product of the Eighties and Nineties, he is a product of the fifties and sixties. I’m a W.A.S.P. and he a Jew. I am in the Summer of my life when all my body parts are where the good Lord put them, and work within normal parameters. He is entering the Winter of his, incontinent, showing the beginning of dementia, with a mutinous body. I’m aware death will someday happen, though not many I know have experienced it. Zuckerman is facing it’s certainty, many of his friends and contemporaries having already passed through that gate.

However, for all this lack of commonality, Roth manages the miraculous; for a time, a young woman in her prime became an aging man in his decline.

Winner of several prestigious awards, Philip Roth is a skilled, intelligent yet readable, wordsmith. He references Joseph Conrad (an author I have not yet read, but I do have Heart of Darknesson Mt. TBR) often in Exit Ghost, and I found his writing style to be reminiscent of Faulkner (not surprisingly, he has won the PEN/Faulkner Award three times).

For it’s ability to transport the reader to a life completely foreign and unimaginable, as well as for it’s well-written and memorable passages that are sure to be included in quotable literature books, I give Exit Ghost by Philip Roth  five out of five stars.

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