Sunday, 25 January 2009

The Book Thief & The Joy of Being Read To!

I managed to read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak in time for book group, although I have to admit it was pretty close, with me sat on the tube reading with a tear in my eye on the way to the restaurant!

I don't think it's really giving much away to say that this is a moving novel. Narrated by Death, the story, set during WWII follows a little girl called Liesel, who is taken under the wing of foster parents Hans and Rosa Hubermann in a German village following the death of her little brother. It is implied that her Mother, a communist has been taken to a concentration camp. The story follows Liesel from her induction into book-thievery, her new life in the village and her relationship with her indomitable friend Rudy, through to the difficult experience of hiding a Jewish refugee in their basement.

I felt that the device of using Death as narrator was an original idea, and a good way to develop a birds-eye view on the situation, however I found the way in which he was given such a 'human' perspective a little implausible. I also didn't feel that the characters were particularly complex, with traditional Nazi 'baddies' and the endearing grumpy but ultimately 'good' Rosa Hubermann. I almost had the sense that the book was written with a film in mind (particularly the relationship between Rudy and Liesel), as it was quite cinematic in content. The upside of this was that the the story itself was a joy to read - engaging, beautifully written and with charming characters. The highlight of this novel for me was the personalities described by Zusak and the warmth that he was able to develop between different characters. Liesel herself was beautifully described and her friendship with Rudy was completely enchanting. Although I felt it wasn't quite gritty enough (WWII 'lite'?), I enjoyed reading from an alternative perspective on this period of history. Overall this was a wonderful read, and reminded me of stories that my own grandmother used to tell me about her experiences during the war.

Another reason why I enjoyed The Book Thief was because it was a fantastic distraction from the horrible flu that I had that week! And even better, in my sorry state, I had the pleasure of having a few chapters read to me in bed by my indulgent boyfriend which was really quite wonderful. It's quite special to have something read out loud to you for two reasons. Firstly, you experience the story in a different way than you would reading it in your head - I found that the way that my boyfriend read it brought out the humour in the novel because the form of the sentences and style comes through more clearly. Secondly, being read to is great because it makes you feel cared for and is a sweetly intimate experience reminiscent of more innocent days. I have also enjoyed having first chapters of favourite novels read to me by friends (Perfume, by Patrick Suskind) which is a great way to be introduced to novels that like minded people are passionate about. Whether it's a loving partner, a good friend or a reader at a book group, I thoroughly recommend seeking out an opportunity to hear stories being read out loud.

Monday, 12 January 2009

'Catch-up' Book List 2009

Sitting at home with the sniffles and the last episode of Tudors series II on pause, I was suddenly inspired to have a look through my shelves and decide which of the books that I already own, I would really like to get round to reading this year. This is a particularly good time to decide, as I am moving out of my beloved flat in a couple of weeks. I have to say it's a thoroughly cathartic process, organising myself down to the minimum of possessions to store at my boyfriend's house before I go travelling next month. Of course I have tried (not really) and failed to actually get rid of any books, but I will be putting a few out of sight and out of mind for the time being. I'm thinking that the short (ish) pile left cluttering up my dressing table will consist of the following:

The Book Thief Markus Zusak

My next book group read, I've finally conceded that I need to put down the Never-ending Anna Karenina temporarily in order to meet Thursdays deadline for reading this. Luckily I've been hugely looking forward to reading The Book Thief , but I really don't like starting one book while I'm reading another...grrr!

American Psycho Brett Easton Ellis

Oddly for me my desire to read American Psycho hasn't been dampened by having seen the film beforehand. Perhaps it's because I imagine it being different from the film, and because it is generally hard to put me off a bit of dark and gruesome fiction anyway. A gory gift from my ever benevolent book benefactor Savidge Reads, perhaps I will have to sacrifice a few pairs of undies so I can fit this copy into my rucksack for my travels.

Dorian: An Imitation Will Self

Having read both Great Apes and The Book of Dave, I know that I find Self's writing to be tough going and pretty pretentious. However... I still enjoy reading his books... perhaps because I feel like he's allowed to be pretentious because he's so damned clever and original. When I read his books, I always feel as if my perception of things has been pushed around a bit and stretched which I like. Also, Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, is one of my all time favourite novels so I'm looking forward to reading this even more twisted version!

Hurting Distance Sophie Hannah

Having recently read The Point of Rescue in the wrong order (slap on the wrist!), I now feel compelled to go back and fill in the gap by reading Hurting Distance before The Other Half Lives is released. I do so enjoy Hannah's clever plots, and suspenseful writing style.

Calendar Girl Stella Duffy

Another book gifted to me by Savidge Reads, after I joined a certain literary salon that is Polari and met the lovely Stella herself. Looking to forward to delving into this intriguing novel that promises a heady mixture of mystery
and lesbianism. Oo-er!

The Blind Assassin Margaret Atwood

Ok, I don't know much about this except that it's got a great cover, a brilliant title and won the Booker prize. Sounds good to me!

I, Claudius Robert Graves

Most people don't like the kind of books that people are made to read in school. Being contrary, I seek them out. I was a bit of an English Lit geek,
plus I also love reading Classical stuff, having devoted much of my childhood to reading Greek myths... plus the blurb promises folly, vileness, wickedness and tragedy. What more can a girl ask for.

Brighton Rock Graham Green

I struggle with Graham Green a bit, but again, because I'm contrary I like to stick at authors when they're clever but difficult and give them the benefit of the doubt. You see I loved The End of The Affair (although it wasn't at all what I expected), and was completely confused by Our Man in Havana. Anyway, this is one of those GCSE-type books and the blurb makes it sound so odd I have to read it. Oh, and I have a lovely old Penguin copy which I shall have to add a picture of when I read it with pink writing, so that sealed the deal for me.

Tennyson selected by Kingsley Amis

Another one I will have to add an image of, I picked up this lovely battered copy of Tennyson poems on a visit to my Nan's house. Apart from the brilliant 1970's cover, I mainly want to read this so that I can be even better at University Challenge. When Paxman asks a question about poetry the answer is nearly always Keats, Shelly, Wordsworth, Byron or Tennyson and I want to improve my 1/5 shot at getting it right. I know it's so wrong. I'm hoping that I might also discover something beautiful at the same time mind you, especially as one of my favourite paintings is The Lady of Shallot by John William Waterhouse so I suspect I will have that rather romantic image in my head when I read the poem.

Here's that lovely picture by the way, (although it's much better seen in real life for free at Tate Britain in a moment of contemplation):