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Book Review: The Book Thief

September 17, 2013 2 comments

I love starting a book I know almost nothing about. There’s a delicious sort of anticipation as the story unfolds because I have no idea which way it’s going to twist and turn. Every page is a new surprise. My boss recommended The Book Thief to me because she had watched the trailer for the movie that’s being made. It’s one of her most beloved books, so she was worried because the trailer starts being narrated by the young girl protagonist, Leisel Meminger, and not Death like the book is. I hadn’t read the book, so I couldn’t totally commiserate, but I could empathize because when they finally made The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy into a movie, I had the same fears.

So, the sum of my knowledge about the book going into it was comprised of two points: a) The narrator is the embodiment of Death and b) the protagonist is a little girl. I didn’t even read the back of the book.

As I read, I was given a new picture of Nazi Germany–one where a street of poor people are trying to get along as best they can despite the war around them. The book opens with Leisel’s mother taking her two children, nine-year-old Leisel and her six-year-old brother, to an orphanage so they can be fostered with someone who can take care of them. The little boy is sick and dies before they reach Munich…he is buried without much ceremony at one of the stations on the way. As they are leaving the graveside, Leisel notices that one of the gravediggers has dropped a book–The Grave Digger’s Handbook–which is the first book she steals to earn her title as the book thief.

Ultimately, she is fostered with the Hubermanns, Rosa and Hans. Rosa is a surly and foulmouthed laundress; her husband is a gentle man who paints houses and plays the accordion. Leisel starts school, but the teachers quickly realize that she can’t read, so she gets pushed back to Kindergarten. Meanwhile, she has been waking up with horrible nightmares about her brother’s death. Thus begins the early morning lessons by Hans (who states himself that he’s not a very good reader in the first place) on how to read. He paints the walls of the basement so that they can write on them what words Liesel doesn’t know so they can learn them together.

But the book is less about her learning to read and more about the power of words.

Which is probably why I liked it so much.

My parents constantly read to me as a child. It got to the point where the only way my mom could get any housework done was if she sat me down with a book-on-tape that came with the book and made a special noise when to turn the page…which is something I can’t seem to find the current version of at the toy store, but I digress. One of my happiest memories is of my dad reading me The Great Mouse Detective which, now that I think about it, probably contributed to my love of Sherlock Holmes.

Digression over with, suffice it to say that this is a word book. Each word is chosen for exactly what it means. Definitions are given when necessary. Language and its power are given prominence.

And then there’s the one who collects them–the book thief.

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The Ultimate Question

September 13, 2013 Leave a comment

About two weeks ago, I took a pre-qualification survey from my local market research company that asked me about my pets–how many I had, what I fed them, how old they were, etc. Then, the survey specifically honed in on my dogs. It wanted to know if I fed them dry food and how often they are fed dry food. Seeing as, besides Vienna sausages when they need to take medicine, all they eat is dry food, I easily qualified for the survey.

At the end of the survey, it also said that I may need to bring my dog(s) into the office, which I thought was pretty cool. Alice loves going for a ride and meeting new people.

A week later, I got a reminder e-mail that had highlighted in yellow DO NOT BRING YOUR DOG(S) TO THIS STUDY. Which, honestly, is probably for the best because if I had to bring Nova, too, handling the two of them is hard enough when we’re just going for a walk and meet another dog, let alone to a place with many other animals. I did feel a little sorry for Alice because ZOMGPEOPLEAREHERFAVORITETHING.

Once I got to the research center, I was directed around the corner from the main reception area to a secondary reception area just for people participating in the PET STUDY.

The receptionist gave me another, abbreviated version of the survey I had already taken and informed me that it had been Nova that qualified me for the study. I had to answer the first two questions about myself (age and gender), then answer the rest of the questions about Nova. I glanced at the check-in sheet that she had and it had Nova’s name printed on it. Every other qualified person had their dog’s name printed next to their name on the receptionist’s list.

As she checked in the several people that came in after me, she laughed a little because there were two Rustys, then three Hersheys all in a row.

The questions on the new survey were pretty much a rehash of the ones from before–do you have dogs, do you feed them dry food, how often do you feed them dry food? I filled it out and gave it back to another lady who verified that I did, in fact, have a dog that eats dry food and that I am one of the ones who feeds it to him.

I went back to my seat and opened my book (The Book Thief, if you’re curious). A heavyset woman across from me was telling a lady with perfectly coiffed hair about her two dogs and how she has to feed them two different foods because one’s an adult and one’s a puppy.

Managed to get a few sentences read before a Latino man who looked to be in his mid-forties sat down next to me. A few sentences after that, he turned to me and asked the single most awesome question that could have been asked considering where we were.

“So,” he said completely seriously, “do you have a dog?”

“Yes,” I said, continuing to look into the pages of my book and trying as hard as I could not to laugh.

The voice of the Comic Book Man echoed through my head saying, “Worst. Pickup line. Ever.”

Now, okay, I’ll admit that he probably wasn’t trying to pick me up and he was probably just trying to make conversation, but in a room full of people who obviously have dogs otherwise they would not be in this room, the best he could come up with was “So, do you have a dog?”

That’s the kind of irony that keeps me giggling for days.

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