Bedtime reading for this month has been The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.
The narrator is Death himself, seeing color where death occurs and taking a liking to a little girl named Liesel, who lives with foster parents at Himmel (did anyone say loaded?) Street. Through Death we learn about Liesel’s life. Her constant nightmares about her dead brother leads to a bonding session with her stepfather, who helps her in her struggle to learn to read well. Her mother (the communist) who has ‘disappeared’ and the boy next door who craves a kiss from her. All is set in and around WWII, where people are acting strange, children are being punished by terrified parents for smearing themselves with charcoal in an attempt to imitate the great Jesse Owens, or displaying negative feelings about Hitler in public.
The narration as interference
The point that Death is the narrator is interesting. He is not an intrusive narrator in the classical sense as the one butting in on every sentence, knowing it all and letting the reader know his omnipotence. He knows everything and remarks it at times, but mostly he is someone who hovers over the story and gives tips and tiny remarks at selected areas. I am partial to stories that have historical footnotes, tidbits and ‘did-you-know-facts’ inserted in novels. I like the humane, not too artsy, feeling a story gets when you actually place it in context and the narration itself makes an investment in the story. One other such book I think of here is Junot Díaz’ ‘The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao’. Here the footnotes are a big part of the story. Normally it is a mantra ‘If it is a sentence put it in the text’, but Díaz uses footnotes as a way to interfere with a reading process that is linear, by breaking it off at places, introducing historical facts, character descriptions, cultural references and slang explanations. I am no expert, but I do see these kind of techniques more and more in modern and post-modern works and am leaning towards the attitude the reader has taken to books in modern era.
The increasing fast pace in daily activities has spread its wings out on literature as well. We read faster, more disperse, scan pages looking for buzzwords, and don’t really take time to think the story through until after we have read it and can contemplate its effect while multitasking other activities. And mostly literature allows you to do so. A lot of reading material is almost meant for quick consumption, think later. And this is where, as I see it, the literature with commentary (in lack of a more termish term!) does its best at breaking the reader into bits. Like saying ‘if you can’t concentrate on this, you will have missed something. Read me!!’, or ‘hey man, slow down, where’s the fire?’ In no way is this technique THE way of interfering with a fast reader, but it is a very ‘in-your-face’ technique. I know I have a very conservative way of thinking when it comes to books, but I can’t stand to read something just to fill the hours in a day. Excuse my french, but hell no! Books/literature can be many things, used in a number of ways and with different stances, but I just feel: if you are going to write/read a book that is just over in 2 hours, leaves no impression but an ‘hmm’ and uses valuable tree resources just to keep the book industry alive, then why bother? (but wait, will you not care when it is electronic? Well, yes and no, the book will still be crap, but no trees were harmed, and it is as simple as ‘Delete’ to wish the bad experience away, PLUS the attitude ‘wade through shit to get to the good part’ seems to be a self-maintained factor in literature.)
That special power
The Book Thief is now a quarter read. Liesel has just discovered one of her stepmother’s customers’ library and I feel kinship with her enthusiasm for the book and all it stands for. The book also introduces the incredible power a book can have when it does have something to say. The burning of books is a violent symbolic action, but also very half-thought impulsion. The thought process doesn’t go away if you burn the physical entity. Granted, it can impair the spreading of said thoughts, giving it a royal kick in the funsies. But in other areas it can be the exact royal kick in the funsies that literature needed. It is often said that great art is to be found in recession. An inclination towards the struggle and pain being positives and joy and uncomplicated life acting as negative counterparts. As long as one remembers not to revel in sorrow, but remember that the struggle is in fact to get to some kind of unity and meaning.
They’re here, they’re here! On Saturday, April 3rd, they finally arrived. I had hoped they got here before Easter, so I could curl up in bed and read them from cover to cover, but who am I kidding?! There are so many and I have just started on the last batch I bought 3 weeks ago.
But they came, and they are beautiful, and it felt like the world was shiny and new and happy. New adventures, new experiences, new thoughts (well, erm… so many of them are classics, but good stuff dies hard). I can’t wait to sink my eyes into them, and I’ve already started on The Book Thief. I have shown interest in it as a possible translating job for the publishing firm I freelance at, and maybe, if I do a good job on the one I am currently on, I will be so lucky 🙂
I also got Alice in Wonderland but I donated it to my niece, since she had never read it (and I have, but never in English), and because we went to see the new movie version starring Johnny Depp. I hope she likes it.
Easter was a fairly good time, I’m no longer a stickler for traditional festivities, but it’s always good to have collective holidays to fill up the roads and parks with people who wind down and eat too much. There is a vibe that fills people and they move at a different pace, the rhythm is somewhat less mechanical. Normally it’s “off the train, to the stairs, on the bike, at the job, move to lunch, walking home, fall in bed” but these days it’s like people don’t yell at the person next to them if they miss the train, or rush the food in just to get to the next appointment. They’re not over the top serene, flower-picking mellow, carefree, just not panicky. It’s nice.
I am reading “Et stille umærkeligt drab” by Kaaberbøl/Friis, a Danish crime novel duo. Borrowed it from the library, that somehow has managed to give me the one copy in the Kingdom that dropped all the pages between 96 and 129 only to double back to page 129 and repeat every word when I hit page 163. Confused? So am I. I am seriously thinking if this is some kind of literary experiment of some sorts. Maybe you don’t or can’t know what is going on on those pages, because life is like that. Sometimes you get cut off, and have to pick up at some random place, and sometime life is a big deja vu. But I don’t know; maybe I just put too much into an organizational mistake.
Happy April. Keep using ye ole noggin.