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Local Club Book Changes Reader

by on March 5th, 2009

I read many books from many different authors and genres, but I have encountered very few life-changing books. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, definitely tops the list, followed closely by The Life of Pi and Who Pooped in the Park, of course.

Although intended and published as an adult novel in the author’s native Australia, American publishers have marketed this book as a young-adult read. This is a nearly 600-page novel with very mature themes, such as death, war, religion and basic humanity. Whether it’s better suited for adults or young adults is irrelevant, as it is a read that surpasses boundaries and typecasts.

The novel is narrated by Death, a concept that sounds odd and ridiculous, but doesn’t take much time to digest once you begin reading the extraordinary narrative. And there’s probably some unofficial rule out there that anything narrated by Death has got to be worth reading. Death, as it turns out, is darkly humorous, a sardonic, entertaining and tender storyteller. He observes colors in the sky when he comes to take people away and is as afraid of humans as they are of him. Death has a way with words in this story, perhaps the most profound being the last sentence of this beautiful book, “I am haunted by humans.”

Death encounters the protagonist of this story, Liesel Meminger, for the first time when she is 9 years old and he takes her brother. She becomes and endearing force in his life, despite his efforts.  “I traveled the globe handing souls to the conveyor belt of eternity. I warned myself that I should keep a good distance from the burial of Liesel Meminger’s brother. I did not heed my advice,” he writes. Liesel lives in a small town in Germany during WWII, and she is surrounded by fascinating, warm characters. A neighborhood friend provides comic relief, and her foster father, a jolly, warmhearted man, is the heart of her universe.

One of the major themes is the power of language and words and the weight they hold, something I put a lot of stock in. Words can do so much. They can cut, they can hurt, they can destroy; but they can also soothe and strengthen and protect. The title character, the book thief, steals books to learn how to read and continues to steal books- from a burning pile or from the mayor’s library- after discovering that reading opens new worlds to her. These books are a comforting diversion from the bombings in Nazi Germany, something to cushion the feeling of impending doom throughout most of the novel.

I read this book several months ago after a coworker suggested it and loaned it to me. I hadn’t heard of it before then, but often hear it mentioned now. My memory of all the details is foggy and to reveal them wouldn’t be prudent anyway, but the concept and themes remain stark and real in my head. My heart pulls when someone mentions this book, and tears smart in my eyes. I can remember passages vividly, many, many days and books later. I envy people who have yet to journey through this book, and I look forward to reading this with my children when they are older.

This book, on the New York Times Children’s Best Seller list for over 70 weeks, is the next selection to be discussed by the Women’s Night Out book club at the Wausau library on Monday, March 16, 6:30 p.m. Gentlemen, I don’t know how strict the library is in regards to Women’s Night Out. Perhaps it’s time to dust off those Tootsie duds.

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