Tuesday, June 15, 2010

summer reading

I have a general rule about books, especially in the summer: NO SAD STORIES.

I can't handle them. They make me, well, sad. I think about the characters and I get that feeling in the back of my jaw that I don't realize until later is tension until my face hurts. It's just a story, you might say, and I know that, but I'm a feeler. I'm IN the story.

And I might only have a few minutes while eating lunch after the kids have been sentenced to their rooms for quiet time; or those brief few minutes between climbing into bed at night and surrendering to 2-ton eyelids; or poolside, with one eye on the page and one on the water, periodically counting 1-2-3 little red heads. So generally I like to fill those minutes with easy, lighthearted quick reads.

For some reason I seem to have kind of totally forgotten my rule, lately.

A couple books ago I read "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan," by Lisa See, which wasn't exactly sad, but it was mournful. And tragic. And haunting. If you've ever heard of foot-binding and kind of imagined what it might be, resist the urge to google it because it is every bit, and more, horrifying than what you might have suspected. And they did it for a THOUSAND YEARS. And here my eyes tear up when I pluck a few wandering eyebrow hairs. The author described the people and the clothing and the landscape with vivid clarity and I really did feel like I was there, except that I didn't actually HAVE to be there and could, instead, walk around on giant floppy feet and leave my house and enjoy a billion times more freedoms than those women.

Today I read the final pages of "The Book Thief," by Markus Zusak. I mean come on, I knew what I was getting into - a book set in Nazi Germany. That's like looking at a version of Romeo and Juliet and wondering if they'll get a honeymoon this time. Please. Starting around fourth grade, I read a bunch of books about World War II, most about Jews in hiding or the death camps. I don't think I had ever read one from the viewpoint of someone actually in Germany. And never as if narrated by Death himself. Sounds like real light read, right? Riiiiiiiight.

And yet, this book grew on me, as I read. Some of these descriptions were the best I've ever tasted. I found myself rereading paragraphs and passages and savoring the combination of words and the style of delivery. I can't count the number of times I thought, "How did he write this book?!" And then shaking my head in wonder. There is absolutely no way this book could be made into a movie and still preserve the brilliant integrity of the story. I mean, it's DEATH talking.

Even though the narrative is laced with foreshadowing (and outright warning that things will not end well), I read on. It is a charming story. I loved these characters. REALLY loved them. And still I knew I would have to say goodbye. Goodbye as some died. Goodbye to the book as I finished it. Goodbye to SAD BOOKS.

"I hate sad books," I thought as I read on and on, trying not to let the swim teachers see my emotion, snapping at Donovan when he tried to interrupt me to point out a bird. A bird? Dude, I've got Jews walking to Dachau and an old man trying to sneak them dried bread and air raids and Death telling me more will die and you think I'm interested in a stupid bird?!

Yes, I'm definitely done with sad books. But good books! Read this book - it's like going out to eat at some new restaurant and ordering all new food and realizing, with surprise, that you actually quite enjoyed it. Except I don't think I've ever cried over food...


laura said...

Yep, I totally cried while reading "The Book Thief" on the train. Always good to sob on public transportation. My Goodreads review of it included the word "gorgeous", which I think was apt. Really a beautiful book.

Lisa said...

I read The Book Thief on recommendation from Laura, and you're so right--the way he describes some things is just... delicious. I just loved it. I love people who love words (like yourself, actually). I actually hated it at first--"Why does he keep interrupting to make a list about something dumb??"--but gave it a chance because I trust Laura, and I'm quite glad that I stuck with it.

Melanie said...

I understand. It's been some years since I poured over "The Diary of Anne Frank" for the umpteenth timing, hoping that time it would end differently.

Tennille said...

For some reason, I like the sad brand of the Book Thief over the Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. The way he weaved words was amazing. Maybe I need to pull it out again...