Friday, September 7, 2007

Dingley Falls Fails, and Other Books I Did Like

Ah well, just goes to show that no two readers read the same book...where did I just read something about 'the reader writing the book'--oh well, another senior moment. Anyway, I was trying to work my way through Nancy Perl's recent recommended reading (see previous post on The Grand Complication) by tackling Dingley Falls, which, from NP's account sounded irresistible. While she was charmed by the extensive cast of characters, I was overwhelmed, and after reading over 120 pages, still didn't care very much about any of them. One of Nancy Perl's rules is the 'Rule of 50', i.e., there are too many books and not enough time, so 50 pages (minus 1 page for every year your chronological age exceeds 50) is sufficient to make a decision about a book. Obviously I still haven't embraced this wholeheartedly, but I'm working on it. I will agree with her that the novel reads like an elaborate soap opera, but I was never a big fan of soaps, so maybe that's the problem.
But other books have come to mind because of recent conversations with my book buddy Sara--books I really did like. Once when our talk turned to France I was reminded of a really wonderful little memoir by another Sarah (with an 'h") called Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris. Australian journalist Sarah Turnbull moves to France to live with her true love and for all her infatuation with Paris and the French, she is never really accepted by them but always considered an outsider. On the other hand there are some things she's willing to change-- and some she is not--in order to fit in. It's not just that she's Australian, it's that they are so French. Well, anyway, it's a somewhat humorous and not unkind inside look at culture shock and one woman's eventual success at coping.
Then Sara sent me this very evocative little poem ("Books" by Dorianne Laux) about someone graduating from high school and standing on the brink of whatever is to come after that and, incidentally, the person has stolen a book from the school library. Which reminded me of a really wonderful book, ostensibly written for young adults (but I can't imagine a not-young adult NOT liking it for that reason) called The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. In contrast with Dingley Falls, this was a book where I came to care deeply about all the characters. The young protagonist, Liesl, is farmed out to a foster family near Munich as the Nazis are on the rise and the Hitler Youth are snapping up any youngster of school age. Her mother has fled after burying her son, Liesl's younger brother, and Liesl steals her first book, a gravedigger's handbook. It is this book that her foster father uses to help her learn to read. Along the way, an old debt is repaid by taking in and hiding a Jew in the basement of her foster parents' home and he and Liesl become fast friends. What makes this book really interesting is that a fairly benevolent Death is the narrator. He is kept awfully busy by the events of the war, but not too busy to check up on Liesl from time to time. What also makes it poignant is the significant and layered role that books play in her life. For example, she steals her 2nd book from a pile set on fire during a Nazi inspired book burning, and Liesl reads from her small hoard of stolen books to the gathered neighbors in the air raid shelter to take their mind off what is happening above. I really liked this book.

1 comment:

Sara Jameson said...

I have started reading Book Thief in the middle somewhere and found it gripping already. Sometimes when a plot seems too suspenseful for me (not for today's YA readers!!) I read in snippets to dilute the building apprehension. I particularly liked the poignancy when the Jew the family was hiding was near death - and a dead Jew is as hard to conceal as a live one. And how Liesl reads to him to keep him alive. The book is out now in paperback and should receive lots of positive response. Thanks for the tip, Paula. Having it on my bedstand is a nice option after reading student papers.