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Book Thief Final Discussion

So this week is the final week for our Book Thief read along.  Check out Sueys books and Kami’s Library

Parts 7- conclusion
“I am haunted by humans.”
I must admit there are tears in my eyes.  I love these characters so much that even on a 5th read through I ache for them.  As I’ve said many times before it is an earned cry.  It is a cry because I care.    The whole theme of The Book Thief is encompassed when Death says the human race can be “so ugly and so glorious,”.  That is this book and what a book!

1. How did you feel when Max had to leave the Hubermanns? What did you expect would happen to him?

Nervous. For sure he was done for and nervous for all involved.  I kept waiting for Liesel to see him in the marches or that Death would tell me another prediction.  When she finally see’s him it is one of the most brutal and sweet scenes of the whole book.  5th time and still made me cry.

2. Why do you think Liesel ran out to Max when they finally did cross paths, even after she had seen what happened to Hans earlier in the book?

True love.  Real friendship.  Love overcoming hate.  Its a perfect moment of so many emotions and yet how could she have not?  There is a limit to how far any human being can be pushed.
3. What did you think of Death spoiling the ending a couple chapters before it actually happened? Did the warning make it easier to handle?

Ugh.  Its so sad.  I cry just thinking about it.  It reminded me of a eulogy at the beginning of a funeral.  Its kind of a summary of the life and then the rest of the service is the meat, the details, the stuff that really matters to creating a meaningful life.

4. Which death impacted you the most?

Ugh.  How do you pick.  Liesel grabbing Hans accordion and weeping over Rosa’s body.  Her kissing Rudy.  My heart breaks.  I guess Rudy but even smaller characters like the Holtzapfels  or Randolph the mysterious soldier are so tragic.  That’s how rich this book is.  You feel deeply for a barely mentioned character.  Its all mankind that’s death impacts me the most.
5. How did your view of Ilsa Herman change over the course of the book?

Ilsa is such a complex character.  Its like she refuses to allow all the pain to confront her and just focuses on one.  I think Zusak does this because he wants to show that the loss of humanity is real and each individual life should be grieved.  Also its interesting that the library is Ilsa’s.  She is a weak human being but she still has power in words like the word shaker

6. The power of words is such a big theme throughout the book. Which instances of powerful words stuck out to you? Or, which quotes from the book stuck out to you?

I already shared some.  A theme of the book is that we are all book thieves.  We all take the words of an author and make them our own.  Make them part of our lives.  That is what the word shaker teaches us that throwing words are the only thing that defeats evil. It also creates evil which is the scary part of the book and why only death could be the narrator.

I love the quote “I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”

word shaker
7. In this post Markus Zusak says:
In many ways I felt that the book is about Liesel’s different kind of loves – for Hans, for Rosa, for Rudy and Max, and for books and living in general.
Which of those loves resonated with you most?

I think friendship did.  I guess this is the love that I have the most of in my life. Friendship has saved me time and again.   It is the only love in our lives that is chosen aside from maybe marriage which is perhaps the greatest friendship.  To be someone’s friend is not required or expected where to support a spouse is.  To be a friend takes the ultimate love.  You see this time and again in the story.  Rudy and Liesel.  Liesel and Hans.  Hans and Rosa. Liesel and Max,  Rosa and Liesel.  Ilsa and Liesel.  Max and Hans.  etc.

I love the words of Death:

A DEFINITION NOT FOUND
IN THE DICTIONARY
Not leaving: an act of trust and love,
often deciphered by children

To be a friend is the greatest gift we can give someone and that trust is priceless.

8. Thoughts on Liesel and Death finally meeting?

It felt kind of like God and mankind meeting.  Like a judgement day where someone is admitted into heaven.

9. If this was your first time reading The Book Thief, is it what you expected?
If it was a reread, what did you notice this time around?

I noticed this reread the poetry of the book more than ever before.  I tend to skim books and skip sections of details.  This time I just read.  In many ways the book is an epic poem like Iliad or Odyssey.  Writing such as this is so sublime:

“It amazes me what humans can do, even when streams are flowing down their faces and they stagger on”

Another

“Usually we walk around constantly believing ourselves. “I’m okay” we say. “I’m alright”. But sometimes the truth arrives on you and you can’t get it off. That’s when you realize that sometimes it isn’t even an answer–it’s a question. Even now, I wonder how much of my life is convinced.”

10. Will you see the movie?

Yes.  I’m skeptical but was very pleased with the trailer.  I look forward to seeing it.  Should we get a group of Utahans and all go?

This is really cool. Book Thief mind map
This is really cool. Book Thief mind map

Book Thief Readalong Parts 4-6

book thief2
this is a cool cover

So the readalong of the Book Thief continues and these are the discussion questions for this section with my answers.

To see Suey’s answers go to http://sueysbooks.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-book-thief-read-along-discussion_21.html

Also there is going to be a twitter discussion tonight at 7 pm Mountain time! Hashtag #bookthief.

1. What emotions have you felt while reading? Are they strong emotions?

Worry, fear, anger and love. If fiction can give you strong emotions I certainly felt it from this book

2. Several characters mention similarities between Max and Liesel. What similarities have you noticed, and why do you think the author made these characters relate to each other?

They are both fighters. They both rely on Hans. They are both drawn to books as a survival tactic. They are both hiding and outcasts. They both have nightmares.

3. What do you think of The Standover Man aka the book Max wrote for Liesel.
When I first read the book The Standover Man seemed very adult for a child but let’s be honest Liesel is not able to be a child from the beginning of the story except maybe with Rudy. Its interesting because Max says ‘all my life I’ve been scared of men standing over me’ and then he must hide and he finds the best ‘standover man I’ve ever known is not a man at all’. Does this mean there is a part of Liesel that scares Max? Perhaps the love he feels for her scares him and the knowledge that he could be found and she could be hurt by his presence in the house scares him?

4. How do you feel about knowing who is going to die in the end and what are some of your predictions?
Its tragic but it also helps create anger in the reader. To hear that Rudy ‘didn’t deserve to die the way he did’ makes me upset and yearn for a more just ending for the character, a just ending in life. Anger is an appropriate reaction to this horrible time
It kind of reminds me of the witches in Macbeth. They foreshadow what is going to happen but it just makes the how of the story all the more engrossing.

5. What do you think of Rudy’s rebellious attitude?
He is living in an era where right is wrong and wrong is right. I like when he tells Liesel that he ‘needs a win’. I think that is why he is rebellious. He wants something to make sense. Plus, he’s starving. When he is beaten Franz Deutscher for not reciting Hitler’s birthday it shows how everyone had become a bully and you could either play along or get slaughtered.

6. Is Rosa growing on you?
Yes, there are a couple great scenes that add layers to Rosa’s character. When she is cutting Max’s hair she says ‘I’ll probably make a lot of mistakes on him’. I think Rosa’s anger comes out of a fear that she will make a mistake with Max, someone will find him and they will all suffer.
Also when she refuses to beat Liesel for the Ilsa incident she says ‘It’s not your fault’ and then it says ‘As Liesel left the room, she could hear the wooden spoon clicking back into position in the metal jar that held them. By the time she reached her bedroom, the whole lot of them, the jar included were thrown to the floor’
If Rosa really was the beast she seems at first she wouldn’t have had this moment of sadness for Liesel. I wonder what frustrated her the most? It certainly was more than the loss of a client.

7. What do you think of the relationship between Max and Liesel?
It kind of reminds me of some of my mission companions. We were put together and then found our common interests not the other way around. They are like brother and sister or even father, daughter at times.

8. Why do you think Liesel is so determined to steal from the Mayor’s library?
I think Liesel is angry at Ilsa for grieving. She has so much that others don’t have and yet she grieves. To a child this doesn’t make sense and seems very selfish. Its interesting that her brother is ‘next to her’ when she is yelling at Ilsa and ‘he whispered for her to stop but he too was dead and not worth listening to’. I don’t know what quite to make of that but clearly Liesel was seeing Ilsa with her little girl eyes and not as a spirit with greater understanding as her brother is.

9. What really stands out to you in the story and why?
What always amazes me is how many characters I care deeply about. For example, there could be a whole book about Ilsa. She is such a moving, interesting, layered character. Even a small character like Frau Holtzapfel breaks your heart and you feel for her and her sons.

10. If you were in Hans’ position, would you have helped/hid Max?
I think we all like to think we would but hard to say until you’ve been there. I hope so.

Book Thief Readalong 1

1. What’s your first impression of Death as a character/narrator?
Its a little hard because my first impression was a long time ago.  I remember feeling a little apprehensive and thinking ‘Is this just a gimmick?  What is this going to be like?’  Now on my 5th read through I welcome his sarcastic, slightly bitter tone.  I think it is the only way you could create a nuetral voice in a story about wwII, especially one set in Germany. I know a lot of people struggle with death as the narrator but I think in a book like this you just have to go with it.
I love how the he describes the colors and flavors of the sky when he takes the people.  I can’t explain it but I know exactly what he is talking about.  Different moments in life do have colors and flavors.  Brilliant.
2. What’s your first impression of the unique writing style?
When I first read it I was in a rut where I felt like all book seemed the same.  I found Zusak’s writing to be so different that it was intoxicating. I didn’t want to put it down.  I love how many characters he manages to keep interest in and he doesn’t bog down in details of setting or time but allows the reader to picture a lot of that herself.
I love how death brings makes the reader think.  For example he asks us about fate? Is it the cause of the tragedies:
Of course not.
Let’s not be stupid.
It probably had more to do with the hurled bombs, thrown down by humans hiding in the clouds
.
3. Which character stands out to you the most so far and why?
I loved Rudy.  His innocence with the Jesse Owens stunt and his friendliness with Liesel.  He doesn’t understand what it means to be jewish, catholic or even black.  He in many ways is the opposite of the jaded death character.
I also immediately loved Hans.  My heart always opens to characters with pure intentions.  Hans is a good soul.  He even loves Rosa!
4. What do you think the author is trying to say about the power of words?
Well throughout the book there is a theme of stealing words.  Liesel says she is  “watching the words” when she first learns to read.  Then she steals books throughout the story.  When it gets to the story of the word chaser we see that even the fuhrer cannot stop the power of words and yet he created words.
5. How do you feel about all the foreshadowing that’s going on?
Gripping. Some of it is outright like with Rudy and the kiss and others are more subtle like Liesel learning to read the Gravediggers Handbook or her first book.
6. Also, how do you feel about all that German swearing?!? 
Honestly this I could have done without so much of it.  It really made Rosa a hard character for me to like and it makes the book harder to recommend to younger audiences.  Still, in a way it makes Rosa a more dynamic character.  I couldn’t figure her out on the first 2 readings.  I didn’t like her and still bristle at some of her behavior.
7. What do you think about the relationship between Hans and Rosa?
Rosa is perhaps the most complex character in the novel.  Why is she such a beast and yet she hides a jewish man and a communist’s daughter?  There has to be some good in her.  I couldn’t help but think of some old couples that I know where the man/woman is all gentleness and lightness but their partners are tough and more practical.  It seems like a combo you see a lot.  They don’t give you a ton of her backstory or explain her character motivations.  She works hard and is tired.  Its almost as if she is the death character on earth.
8. What do you think about the relationship between Rudy and Liesel?
Rudy is one of my favorite characters.  He is so sweet and lovely.  I think him and Liesel match well as friends.  They both have a nonchalance that is very appealing and both do not seem to care what others think about them.  I love the moment where Liesel finally unwinds the grief of her brother to Rudy.  Not to an adult but to a fellow-sufferer.

9.  What are your feelings on the politics of the time that we’ve seen so far?

I think Zusak does a good job of keeping the politics and even the setting as a eerie background.  We all know what is meant when Hans and Liesel take the washing to Dachau.  We know what the 3rd Reich did.  As readers we are all just waiting for the characters to figure it out.  Figure out the evil amongst them.  Hans and Rosa know that’s why Hans plays his accordion.  When will the children figure it out?

Death says that the Nazi’s came into power because Germans enjoyed burning things.  “Shops, synagogues, […] personal items, slain people, and of course, books”.  I can see how destruction has its own sense of power and control.  In a time of economic nothingness power could be extra intoxicating but Zusak doesn’t get caught up in these historical details but it is an undercurrent.
10. What images and/or symbols stand out for you in this story so far?

There are a lot.  You have things like the  jewish star, heil hitler, jesse owens, the colors of the sky, everything.

 

What did you guys think of the first part?  Here is the page on Suey’s books with her thoughts.  Enjoy!

http://sueysbooks.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-book-thief-read-along-discussion.html

 

Book Thief

book thief

I’ve mentioned several times on this blog how much I love The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  I can confidently say it is the best book published in my lifetime.  I can’t think of anything that even comes close.  My favorite book is still North and South but this one is a very close second.

The reason why I wanted to profile it today is because my blogger friend over at Suey’s Books also loves this novel and is doing a read-along in September.  There will be insight posted daily with discussion questions, twitter chatting etc.  I will be participating and I thought some of you might enjoy it also http://sueysbooks.blogspot.com/2013/08/announcing-book-thief-read-along.html

The other news on the Book Thief front is the trailer for the upcoming movie came out.  In some ways I’m optimistic (I really felt it was an unfilmable book) but in other ways very skeptical (how can you not have death in the trailer!).  Those who’ve read it what do you think?

If you are one of the few people who haven’t read The Book Thief let me tell you why it is so spectacular.  It is set in WWII Nazi Germany but it is not a Holocaust book; although that certainly plays into the story.  That alone makes it unique.  Then it is narrated by death as a sarcastic, scary, biting, politically neutral force.  It is a brilliant choice as narrator not simply a gimmick.  Who else could be neutral about WWII?

Then you have a little girl, Liesel, who’s parents are communists so she and her brother are smuggled onto a train where the brother dies and Liesel stumbles upon her first book.  Unable to read she takes it anyway and shows it to her new foster parents The Hubermans.

Rosa and Hans Huberman are quite the couple.  Hans is all loving and sweetness; while Rosa is somewhat of a tyrant.  However, you know that she is helping this girl and a Jewish man named Max who hides in the basement so she can’t be all bad.  Later Liesel becomes friends with a little boy named Rudy who adores her and the mayor’s wife Ilsa who has a whole library for her to explore.

WWII unfolds for these characters with all kinds of moral challenges, sweet moments and tragedy.  You have to read it.  The thing that amazes me about The Book Thief is how many well developed characters there are.  Most books are lucky if you have two dynamic characters.  This book has at least 6 maybe more.  There are characters that only appear for a page or two and yet you see a whole story arc and feel for them.  It’s amazing.

Then the book has so much to say.  First, its a commentary on war and the baseness but also grandeur of human nature.  Death teaches the reader about all he has learned about mankind at his job, especially in the busy season of WWII.  A character like Rudy shows the innocent and loving side.  Rosa shows the complex but deeply human side.  Hans shows the brave side.  Everything around them shows the horrible side.

The Book Thief also has something to say about books and the power of words.  Liesel is a book thief but in a way aren’t we all.  We take the inner most thoughts of the author, absorb it and then make it our own.  In the book-within-a-book that Max writes for Liesel, The Word Shaker, we learn about a group of people who have the power to throw words at people. One particular girl climbs a tree and the fuhrer tries to chop it down but despite trying multiple axes he cannot cut the tree or destroy the word shaker.

(See why I think this movie is unfilmable).  Anyway, Zusak’s point is that words create evil and have the power to save humanity.  We should in the end all be book thieves like the word shaker. Maybe such tragedy shown in the book wouldn’t happen if we did.

I hope that isn’t any spoilers.  I tried.  Its such a great book.  I’ve read it 4 or 5 times and each time I have a full spectrum of emotions including weeping.  Not a small tear but actual flooding. And its a good kind of crying.  A crying where you have been truly moved, not manipulated. Second to last time I read it I was listening to it (a great audiobook btw) on a greyhound coming home from a swim in Vegas and at certain point I started to cry.  I couldn’t help myself.  I wonder what those bus riders thought of me!

Anyway, take this chance with Suey’s read along and read The Book Thief.  You won’t regret it.  I’m reading it again and I look forward to being dazzled all over again.  Happy Reading!

Please put in the comments what you think of the trailer.  Hopeful? Skeptical?

 

Friday 5: Songs that Remind Me of Books

This week I have a special episode of the music series I participate in called the Friday 5. The topic was supposed to be song parodies but I’m not really a fan so my friend and I came up with our own topic to talk about. Instead we picked 5 songs that remind us of books. I tried to stay away from soundtracks of movies based on the books because that would be too easy.  It was songs that I feel capture the essence of the book. It was a challenge but also a lot of fun.

The songs and books I chose are:

Ashokan’s Farewell to match with Little Women- I particularly think in the Beth scene this song would be perfect. It’s a song I would like played at my funeral and even though it is just classical music it makes me cry every time. Little Women is the first substatial novel I ever remember reading so it will always have a special place in my heart.

I’ll Follow You Into the Dark to match with The Book Thief- this beautiful song by Death Cab for Cutie captures the surreal feeling of the book and weird combination of despair and hope. The Book Thief is my favorite modern novel and I love the song also.

Kiss Me to go with the Undomestic Goddess- Sophie Kinsella books started out as a guilty pleasure and then I gave up the guilt and realized I just genuinely love them. This song by Six Pence None the Richer is kind of the same way. It’s a one hit wonder of sorts but I genuinely love it. Plus, it captures the light romance of the book and Kinsella’s writing. The Undomestic Goddess has its silliness but I really like what Kinsella has to say about work and balancing the modern with homemaking.

Swing Lo Sweet Chariot to go with To Kill a Mockingbird- Sung by Suzy Bogguss there is something about this song which fits To Kill a Mockingbird. It is a folk song that feels real with a mournful quality to it. I can picture it being sung as Atticus leaves the courtroom and all in the balcony stand in his honor.

Seven Years to go with North and South- Technically this song is about a little girl so perhaps it is an odd choice but there is something about the lyrics that reminds me of Margaret and John in this novel. The way their worlds open up to each other and they go from hating each other to understanding.

So there you have it!  Those are my 5 songs that remind me of books.  What about you? What songs remind you of your favorite books? Put in the comment section below.  Thanks!

Favorite Book Prompts

I just realized it has been 6 days since I last posted. My apologies. I try to not have it go so long in between posts. I’ve just been so busy trying to get everything ready for my trip.  Make sure you are following my youtube channel for some great content that will post while I am gone and my movie blog which will have a series of art book reviews while I’m gone.

http://54disneyreviews.com

http://sueysbooks.blogspot.com/2016/06/thirty-days-of-books-last-prompts.html

But never fear this blog is going to get the most attention while I am in Spain.  I will try and update you guys as often as I can. I hope to at least daily have some photos or experiences. Make sure you are following me on all the other social media because I will have stuff to share @smilingldsgirl.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to do one more of the 30 Days of Books prompts my friend is done over at Suey’s Books. Make sure to check out her great blog.

Favorite title:

I think I will go with the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society because it always amazes me that a book with that crazy title could get published (and it’s a really fun little book too).

guernsey

A book everyone hated but you liked:

A lot of people like Sophie Kinsella and the Undomestic Goddess but when I picked it for book club it was very unpopular. I know it is a silly story but I think it is enjoyable and I thought it might give us some things to talk about with its themes of work, domestic life and womanhood. But it was not a hit.  I still love it!

Undomestic Goddess is probably my favorite Kinsella novel. I love anything that is about work, why we work, why we over-work, work vs. family etc. Especially interesting is the contrast of old vs new work.

Your favorite book of all time:

My favorites are either North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell or The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. I also love Pride and Prejudice, Cheaper by the Dozen, Christmas Carol, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

north-and-south-coverthe_book_thief

Teaser Tuesdays: The Jungle Book

My friend over at Cinema Parrot introduced me to a new series that seemed like a fun idea, so I thought I would give it a try this week and give you a peak into what I am reading.  He is reading The Book Thief which you all know is my favorite book!

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm.

jungle book book

Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page.
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers.

For mine I am listening to it in audiobook so I don’t have the page number but have the timecode.

 

Here’s my teaser from 1:43 of The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling:

“She gave him a long drink of milk and some bread and then she laid her hand on his head and looked into his eyes. For she thought he might be her real son brought back from the jungle where the tiger had taken him.”

I’m really enjoying reading The Jungle Book.  It’s obviously nothing like the Disney version but it’s still great.  It’s darker than I was expecting but I really like all of the characters and finding it very unpredictable.

It would be really fun if you guys shared your sentences from what you are reading!  Participate on your blogs for Teaser Tuesdays or just put in the comment section.

Books vs Movies

books-vs-movies-with-text

Last night I went with my sister to the drive-in movie theater.  It was a really fun experience and I got to see Inside Out for the 4th time (love that movie!) and Ant-Man for the 2nd time.  I had a great time revisiting these films and spending time with my sisters.  However, my youngest sister and I started discussing the films after and she said that she is almost never ‘in love’ with a movie.  She likes them fine but even something like Inside Out didn’t really blow her away.

As we discussed I realized I felt the same way about books that she felt about movies.  I love a good book.  Recently I read Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella and loved it!  It was so exciting to read something that really excited me.  Unfortunately that experience is far too rare.  Just like Maddie said about movies I am rarely ‘in love’ with a book.  I make it a goal to read 1 fiction and 1 non-fiction book a month and I’m lucky if 1 out of 24 books really excites me.

In recent years books that have excited me are Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson, North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and My Life in France by Julia Child (which I actually first read in 2010 so we are going back away on that one).  Counting Finding Audrey that’s 5 books in 5 years that I’ve LOVED.

Now when it comes to movies there are literally dozens in those 5 years I have loved.  That’s why I keep rereading books I love because a new book seems like such an unlikely bargain.  I have a friend who told me she’d never reread a book.  That blew me away.  I wouldn’t hardly read at all if I didn’t reread.

Just to be clear I would put those 5 books well over any movie, but I’m afraid they are the exception rather than the rule.

So why am I more likely to love a movie than a book?  Well, the experience is so different.  In a movie you get to live in a world for 2 hours and you get a whole story.  In a book you are there for weeks, even a month, so the story better be very compelling to keep my interest.   For example, I like being in Middle Earth for 2 hours in a movie but reading the Hobbit is tough for me to get through.

A lot of people notice the details in books like the Harry Potter series and are disappointed when those details are removed.  In all honesty, while I enjoyed reading those books and think they are quite brilliant those little details are lost on me.  I’m just not a detail oriented reader.  I am way more likely to notice details in a Harry Potter movie than to remember them from the books.  I’m not saying the Harry Potter movies are better than the books.  They are just a different experience and one that is a little bit more palatable to me (I’ve never been a fantasy fan in books but don’t mind it in movies).

booksvsmovies

I think a lot of it comes down to how I learn.  I was a late reader and have always learned through visual stimuli and repetition.  A movie has so much more to think about than a book and the message is repeated in so many different ways.  For example, in one scene in a book we may be told it is scary but in the movie we have the score, acting, cinematography, lighting, special effects etc all contributing to the message of being scared.

I love the discussion and community which revolves around movies (and to a lesser extent books).  I am in a book club with some bloggers who are amazing and read 9-12 books a month!  That blows my mind.  For me I enjoy talking about the 2 books I read a month (sometimes more) but I can see 2 movies a week so there is so much more to talk about and compare. It’s really fun comparing thoughts and talking about film.

Part of the problem with books is I have a higher content standard.  It’s one thing to watch a movie for 2 hours with some language or other objectionable content.  I probably shouldn’t but I can rationalize a lot of that away.  But with a book I’m living with those characters for weeks so I’m going to be a lot pickier if they are mouthing off all the time or doing other immoral stuff.  I’d say there are a lot more stories I can stomach in a 2 hour movie than in a book.  TV is even worse because it can be living with that content for years.

Now to reiterate I love to read.  I’ve even written my silly books for NanoWriMo and I try to always have 2 books I’m reading at any given time.  All I’m saying is that I rarely find books that excite me and that I love.  Whereas, I find movies I love all the time.

Does  that makes sense?  Does anyone agree with me?  Or perhaps are you on the flip side with my sister and rarely find a movie you love but find many books?  Neither way is wrong as long as you keep your toe dipped in both pools (I feel strongly it is important to the understanding of our culture to at least see a few movies a year and it’s good for the brain to keep reading. Both are important)

Readers in Books

anne readingRecently I just finished a book called Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys. It’s not terrible but it’s not great either.  One of the things that annoyed me about it was the lazy way it treated potentially interesting characters.

The book is set in a New Orleans brothel in the 1950s and focuses on a little girl named Josie as she grows up in this unusual environment.  Every cliche about a hooker with a heart of gold, idiotic but cruel mafia types, police officers who turn a blind eye are brought out and put on display.  The story has a very predictable love triangle and Madame who is tough talking Southern lady we’ve read in a thousand other books.

But I don’t want to talk about those characters because what got me thinking is how Sepetys makes Josie a reader. She even works and lives at a bookstore. It felt like a really lazy way of ascribing a whole bunch of qualities to the character without really developing it.  Just make her a reader and that will mean she is precocious, smart, thoughtful, introspective, a dreamer etc.

matilda readingThen I realized how often this is done with lots of different books, books I love. Usually combined with writing an author can make a character a reader and it immediately associates them with a whole list of attributes and traits. I find this to be particularly true with female characters. Has there ever been a female reader in a book that was silly and superficial?

jo readingI’m sure this is partly because authors are readers and so they like to ascribe lots of positive qualities to the character they most embody. It also saves the author from having to create complex characters in every story.

Sometimes the plot doesn’t need a complex character, or all she needs to be is the type of bold thinker associated with the trope.  There is nothing wrong with using cliches in your story (within reason) if it moves the story.  Certainly many books have gotten mired in unique characters and the plot has suffered.

reader jane austenJane Austen actually plays with the lazy assumptions of readers in Pride and Prejudice. Miss Bingley see’s Lizzie reading and trying to pin her foe down as the very type of woman I’m talking about: the percocious reader instead of the lady:

“Do you prefer reading to cards?” said he; “that is rather singular.”

“Miss Eliza Bennet,” said Miss Bingley, “despises cards. She is a great reader, and has no pleasure in anything else.”

“I deserve neither such praise nor such censure,” cried Elizabeth; “I am NOT a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things.”

Why is this so rare? Why not have a person who just enjoys reading on occasion? Or why not have a reader who also likes sports or playing cards?  Why do 99% of readers have to be the same?

10thingsBut it just made me think is the brilliant reader trope a thing because that’s actually the way readers are or is it a lazy way to continue a story and create a likable heroine? I feel like I know lots of different kind of readers but perhaps the one’s that self-identify as a ‘reader’ are more similar.  For example, my father likes to read a particular type of book but I don’t think he would list that as his first character attribute.

sound of musicThink about in Sound of Music. When Brigitta comes into roll call reading a book as a viewer you immediately assume tons about her character.  What do you guys think about that?  Is it lazy storytelling, necessary to quickly identify people or actually true to life?

simpsonsPerhaps it doesn’t really matter but I do wonder if it could ostracize certain people from reading because they don’t fit the stereotype of a ‘reader’. What if you are like Lizzie and take pleasure in many things?  What’s wrong with that? Books are so diverse that creating such a narrow definition of what a reader looks like could be discouraging for people who don’t want to be branded with that label or persona?

book theifI think this is particularly true for boys who may want the persona of being a comic book reader but not the more feminine quality of reading novels (although why that is a gender identifier I will never understand).

Maybe I’m overthinking it but I just know I get bored when I’ve seen a character a million times and know exactly what she is going to say, believe and do. Also some of the enlightened reader types are from my favorite books (Book Thief, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women etc) so it has kind of been done as good as you can do it. And those great books were developing their characters in other ways not using reading as a lazy writing crutch.

hermione

What do you guys think about readers in books and movies? Do you agree with me they can be pretty predictable or am I creating a pattern where none exists? What are some examples of more nuanced readers in books I may be overlooking?  Would love your feedback

North and South: My Favorite Book

north and south

I’ve written a number of posts about the English writer Elizabeth Gaskell but since we are doing her book North and South for book club I thought I would add one more.  Let me explain to all of you why it is my favorite book (with the Book Thief being a close second- I know quite the contrast!).

North and South tells the fictional story of Margaret Hale who in the mid-nineteenth century is forcibly moved from her beloved South of England to big industrialized north.  There she meets a hard working and seemingly aloof textile factory owner named John Thornton.  Having grown up with an aristocratic notion of a ‘gentleman’ Margaret is initially disgusted by the tradesman Thornton and see’s him as a brute.  This impression is added to when she meets the Higgins family who work at the factory and are in dire straights.

Higgins and Thornton
Higgins and Thornton

The men at the factory, led by Higgins, are debating about striking and initially Margaret is sympathetic to their cause but as it becomes more violent she becomes conflicted.  She also gets to know Thornton more and their vigorous debates on social issues spark contempt and attraction at the same time. Both are used to being doted on and praised and the challenge of an equally vibrant and thoughtful mind draws them together but the path to love isn’t easy or predictable…

So are you intrigued?  I am and I’ve read this book two or three times every year since I first read it in 2006.  I was assigned it at a book club and I was the only girl who finished it but I think despite its nearly 400 pages I read it in a couple of days.  I was lucky enough to be introduced to it knowing nothing about the story, writer, or having seen the wonderful if slightly different BBC miniseries.

North and South is often compared to Pride and Prejudice with some cause.  I am sure Gaskell was a fan of Austen as her works became very trendy in the 1850’s.  However, Gaskell is also a contemporary of Dickens (Dickens is supposedly the one who suggested the title North and South when it became serialized in his magazine).  The romance and the prejudice of title characters is similar to Pride and Prejudice but it adds the social commentary of a Dickens novel and does not have the comedic wit of an Austen book.

north and south 2
Margaret and Thornton

Thornton and Margaret are in my opinion the two most well developed characters in literature.  Where Darcy and Lizzie change pretty dramatically (Darcy falls in love with Lizzie in basically a weekend), the leads in North and South develop a love and understanding of each other slowly, bit-by-bit.  When I first read the book I didn’t really like either character but I saw them grow and change the way real people might change.  Even on a 10th or 11th read-through there are not 2 characters that I want to more desperately fall in love than Margaret and Thornton.

Gaskell also gives all of her heroines a remarkably modern viewpoint and voice.  Take away the Victorian language and these characters could be a Bridget Jones or in a Sophie Kinsella novel.  What takes Austen half a book and a proposal to vocalize, Gaskell’s heroine says in a first meeting.  In her initial discussion with Thornton Margaret passionately defends the rights of the workers and calls him a “master” with a “Darkshire Egos, dependents clinging to him on all sides” .  I would say pretty bold even for a modern girl!

But, adding more complexity to the character, soon after this discussion Margaret steps out to defend Thornton from union thuggary.  She seems to have innate idea of right and wrong and is confident enough to act upon it.  Both Thornton and Margaret are emotionally honest in this way.  Him with a bold proposal, her with a rescue.  Then the story continues to add layer after layer. (is that obscured enough for you? Tried to not be to spoiler)

I also like North and South because it is not centered around the characters marital hopes.  In fact, that is somewhat incidental to the plot.  Gaskell, like Dickens, hopes to champion political change but she also invites more of a discussion than he ever allows.  There are points in favor of both the “master and man” debates within her novels and one could make a compelling case for Gaskell advocating either side.  That is great writing in my book.

north and south vs pride and prejudice
North and South vs Pride and Prejudice

Another difference in North and South from Pride and Prejudice is Thorton is a fleshed out character that we see a full journey from.  We hear his grief and feel the pressure that weighs him down as owner of the mill and lovesick man.  In their first discussion Thornton tells Margaret:

“I value my own independence so highly that I can fancy no degradation greater than that of having another man perpetually directing and advising and lecturing me, or even planning too closely in any way about my actions”

What a man right?  He has felt the weight of his father’s indiscretions, mother’s dependence, sister’s carelessness and his communities reliance, and never been confronted by anything he could not master or adapt to until Margaret.  That is such an attractive idea for a woman.  To be the girl that causes such a man to change and learn!

But he is not alone in change.  Margaret changes too, maybe even more so.  She learns that there is more gray than her stilted Southern ways have taught her.  By being the target of a misunderstanding in the story she comes to realize that all is not always as it seems at first and that the most important part of Thornton’s character is his honest heart. In this sense their mutual understanding is very similar to Darcy and Lizzie.

In the final scene in the novel Margaret declares “I am not good enough” and Thornton says “don’t mock my own feeling of unworthiness”.  Is that not also a very modern sense of love?  That we should feel we have gotten the better half of the bargain?  And even though it is clear to any astute reader that this will be the ending of the story, the journey is so satisfying that I want to cheer every time.

north and south 3

I just love it.  Read it!! (and then watch the miniseries. Be smart like me and do it in the right order!)