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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Book Thief

Hi!

I’m currently taking a break from all the nonfiction I’ve been reading lately to get back to literary fiction for a while. I decided on The Book Thief by Markus Zusak because it has always been on my to-read list. It was definitely a heavy place to start, but this is a book I can highly recommend. It’s about as far as you can get from a light and bubbly summer read, but I loved it. Although it’s a cliché statement, this is a book I actually couldn’t put down.

The Book Thief is narrated by Death. The opening section of the book, in which Death describes his encounters with “the book thief”, foreshadowing the entire novel, was my favorite part of the story. Because you know once you pick it up that The Book Thief takes place in Nazi Germany, you have that overhanging cold feeling of dramatic irony in which you know that things will continue to grow worse. Still, the subtle foreshadowing helped to set the tone for the whole book and created an air of mystery that I found compelling.

Death is a theme in almost all novels that take place in Nazi Germany, but in The Book Thief its personification helps you to feel its presence, almost like even death itself didn’t want to be involved in this level of societal evil. The novel follows a young girl named Liesel, “the book thief” because she steals books at important moments in her life, and shows the effects of Hitler’s rise to power and the subsequent war on Germany and its people through her eyes.

Unsurprisingly, it is heartbreaking. There are touching moments and terrifying moments. The book focuses on individuals and their human connections, their friendships and the emotions they feel in the face of such dread and confusion, and the ways they try to find meaning and connection in such a time. Some novels about this period in history are overdone and try to capture everything that happened, and the sheer scale of it makes it hard to process emotionally for the reader. The micro scale of The Book Thief, as well as the young age of Liesel and thus her innocent approach to processing many of the horrible and unprecedented things she sees and feels, makes the book hit home in an emotional way.

I loved the ending too, which I won’t give away here. The writing in The Book Thief is exquisite, and there are sentences you will read over two or three times just to let them sink in. It leaves you haunted and sad, which seems appropriate. It’s a long book but is worth the time it takes, and it gives real insight into the emotional perspectives of the characters. This is the first book I read about Nazi Germany that connected with me in quite this way, because I felt the sense of confusion and dread came through in a real way.

I think in today’s political climate, we are especially poised to resonate with feelings of powerlessness and to remember that we must notice the creeping changes in a political situation when it comes to rights, social norms, protections, and expectations, before they have crept too far. The Book Thief may leave you devastated and faintly queasy, but it should. It’s a beautifully written novel that deserves to be read. And if you love it as I do, I suggest that you go back once you’re done and read the opening section once more, now that you know the journey Death and Liesel have been on together.


All in all, the novel was very interesting, and I loved the ending. The novel is well written and although it is long, it is worth your time. I feel that I learned about different perspectives and ways of life, which was interesting and mind opening. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Guest Blogger Charlotte: Outliers

Lately I have been wanting to read something different; although I still really enjoy reading young adult novels, I needed a break from adults trying to be teenagers! So, when Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell was recommended, I decided to give it a shot.  

I remember the first time I heard about this book, I was in 6th grade and learning to play violin. We had to practice everyday for homework and sometimes little Charlotte was just too lazy. However, I still wanted to be the best in my class… I guess I was ignoring the connection between practice and improvement. Cue my dad and his lectures! He told my siblings and me that a person had to practice for 10,000 hours to master a skill. I was shocked, counting how long it would take me to get to that point. To say the least, this has stuck with me to this day (even if to my parents’ dismay I stopped playing violin).

The book itself is a pretty quick read that mainly focused on different statistics and was definitely different from what I normally read. However, I found it quite interesting! It focused on (you guessed it) the ‘outliers’ of society, meaning individuals that are the best at their profession or skill. It was written in a way where it felt like I was solving a sort of puzzle with the author as I slowly discovered circumstances that made an individual an outlier. It was also really nice to have it confirmed that experts weren’t just born geniuses and that hard work and circumstances lead to their successes. The 10,000-hours anecdote may be the most quoted part of Outliers, but the book had lots of interesting stories and analyses of the reasons behind what makes someone excel.

Although, I found it enjoyable to read, I have a few complaints about Outliers. First of all, you get the point about outliers pretty quickly. After the first few chapters/examples, I was finding myself getting easily distracted. I made it through the book and was glad I had, but the farther I read, the more tedious it became. Next, it wasn’t until someone pointed this out to me that I noticed, but the author only uses research that proves his point. I mean it is pretty obvious why any author trying to prove a point would do this. Nonetheless, I was still disappointed. Whenever someone writes an argumentative essay, anticipating the opposite opinion and trying to convince the reader of that as well, should be a goal. At least acknowledge different points of view! Otherwise, its just one sided and ones argument can that be undermined easily.  I felt like someone could easily have found a similar amount of anecdotes and research points to give different conclusions than the author.

That said, I really enjoyed learning about how different aspects of life can have such a drastic effect on the rest of your life. The book is not only intriguing and well written but it is also educational so I recommend it. The chapters are mostly separate anecdotes that don’t build on one another, so you can also read them more like magazine articles in a stand-alone way, which I might recommend for a book like this (where all the chapters sort of make the same point).

             


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Guest Blogger Charlotte: Everything Everything

At the beginning of the summer, every advertisement had been about the movie Everything Everything coming out in theaters. Once I realized it was based on a book, I decided to read it before I saw the movie.

The book Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon is a story about a girl named Madeline. Madeline has a disease that makes it unsafe for her to leave the sterile “bubble” of her home and therefore is unable to ever go outside. Because of this, the only people she has every really talked to are her mother, her nurse Carla, and Carla’s daughter Rosa, since the process for guests is lengthy. She is quite smart and loves to read, and the book is full of literary references that are admittedly a bit over-explained but are still interesting and relevant. Sometimes those references can feel forced and heavy-handed in stories, so at first I was a little hesitant, but I thought the author did a good job incorporating them and using them to shine a light on Madeline’s personality.

The real plot begins win a new boy moves in next door, and he and Madeline can’t help but start talking. This, of course, leads to a whirlwind of events and emotions between the two characters, their different home situations, and the twists and turns that happen as they build a relationship despite the limits placed on them by Madeline’s disease. I won’t give away the plot or the ending, but it does have some surprises and keeps you involved until the end.

The book was honestly pretty good. It was very cheesy and parts of it seemed a little out of place, like the fact that Madeline and her new friend communicate with IM and emails…. However! I still really enjoyed it. A lot of the book I could imagine actually happening, although there were some moments where the characters’ actions (especially the mom’s actions) didn’t really seem realistic. It captured what its like to have a new crush in high school, where all you want to do is stay up and talk and it feels like the most important thing in the world. I did feel like the characters were a little contrived and formulaic. Like the neighbor boy is dark and brooding and literally leaning against the wall in a black tee shirt, which I feel like is the start of every boy-the-girl-is-going-to-have-a-crush-on-moves-in-next-door story. Especially cringe-worthy were the extensive efforts to make them opposites-who-would-then-attract: she’s trapped inside, and he’s literally climbing the walls (because he is into parkour); she’s wearing white, and he’s wearing black; her mother is her closest friend and his father is his worst enemy, etc. I did love the cheesy dialogue in their early emails and IMs though, because it felt realistic and made you cringe the same way you would reading your journal from middle school. The writing was okay, but I did feel it was written for a younger audience and would really be best suited for middle-schoolers.


So I do recommend this book to all the hopeless romantics out there, even if it’s a little contrived. I was really glad to have read it before I saw the movie, because seeing the movie first would have given away the story and I think if I’d known the whole story first the book wouldn’t have been worth reading since it’s heavily plot-driven. The story is a fast read and enjoyable for what it is.