Thursday, 30 May 2013

My Favourite Books: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

My Favourite Books

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Warning: This post will contain spoilers. If you haven't yet read the book, please don't read this. You don't want a single sentence of this book to be spoiled for you.


“You see, to me, for just a moment, despite all of the colors that touch and grapple with what I see in this world, I will often catch an eclipse when a human dies. 
I've seen millions of them. 
I've seen more eclipses than I care to remember”  
- Death, The Book Thief.

 [The latest addition to my collection.]

The Book Thief is my favourite book in the world. It's the book that I think about every day without fail, the book I talk about all the time and the book that means everything to me. Already just writing this makes me want to cry, thinking about the story and the characters and the way it all ends. It's also a big part of this blog: the book cover image is my blog header, it's my Twitter avatar and my blog flavicon thingy. It's symbolic to me and thousands of other readers, and it makes me happy every time I see it.  It's a beauty.

I'll start with some history. I started work at Borders bookshop in September 2007 and bought my very first copy of The Book Thief not long after that. It 's the Bodley Head YA edition, a lovely hardcover with a cover depicting Liesel reading. I'd heard good things about it, I'd read a few reviews, had a fascination with WWII and had added it to the 'to-buy' pile. So I took it home and there it sat on my bookshelf for about nine months. NINE MONTHS when I could have been reading it for the first time. I kicked myself for that, believe me. Fast forward to August 2008 and it's chosen as the book of the month at my YA book club. I don't want to read my nice hardback so I buy a paperback reading copy featuring a cover of Liesel dancing with Death. The iconic cover. I read it that weekend, and it changed my life. I'm not being dramatic when I say that: I've never, ever read a book that has had even a modicum of this impact on me. And I don't think I ever will.

 [The first copy I bought. I now own five, including the lovely US edition with the dominoes on the cover.]

I remember reading The Book Thief for the first time that weekend, I was completely engrossed to the point where I stayed upstairs in my room all day frantically turning pages, missing meals and ignoring everyone who dared interrupt me. I got to the end in unexpected shock, went downstairs to my mum in a state of hysterical tears, jabbed the book at her and sat down utterly, utterly heartbroken. My mum thought something was wrong, so I had to explain it was the book. The book that changes everything. She hadn't read it at the time so didn't understand my teary rambling. I took it back, retreated to my room and started it again from the beginning. That's the only time I've ever done that with a book but I just had to read it again and be immersed in that writing. The writing is perfection on a page.

So what is it about The Book Thief that gets me? I wish I could explain all of it. It's partly Markus Zusak's emotive writing, partly the characters and their tragic story and partly the fact it's set in the Second World War and things like this actually happened. It's Death's narration that forces tears to the surface, his understanding of humans and their feelings. It's Liesel's love for Rudy, the boy with the hair like sunshine, that makes my tears spill over and the uncontrollable sobbing start. Part Ten absolutely destroys me, I can't control my emotions when I get to it. I know it's coming, I can recite some of it by heart, but still it gets me. Every single time, especially when Hans Hubermann's soul sits up and meets Death like the proud, kind man he is. It is the most heartbreaking forty-three pages I will ever have the pleasure of reading. It's a lot of things about this book that gets me, none of which I can pinpoint and say "Yes, that's it. That's why I love this book." I can't pinpoint it for sure, but I suspect it's sentences like this:

“I have hated the words and 
I have loved them, and I 
hope I have made them right.” 

- Liesel Meminger, The Book Thief.

My reading copy is battered and worn by now, due to how many times I've read it and how many times I've lent it to people at work. I recommend it a lot to unsuspecting customers at work if they make the mistake of asking me to tell them about a book. I hand sell a lot of copies and I can honestly say that's my favourite part of a day at work. If I sell a copy of The Book Thief, I've had a good day.

 [My reading copy. Pages are starting to fall out now.]

Since reading the book, I've read everything else Markus Zusak has written. I'm also still trying to get hold of the Australian edition with one of the best covers I've seen (you can see it in this post). I'll find it one day. If he ever tweets me, I favourite them. Pretty sad I know, but he's more famous than an actor to me, purely because he created this book and gave me this story. If I ever meet him and get my book signed, I'll either be speechless or likely to cry on his shoulder (sorry Markus). Until that happens, the jury's out on which one it will be. I'm guessing the latter, judging by how just writing this has made me want to wail like a tiny child.

 [Markus Zusak tweets to me. Fangirling at a pretty high level goes on right here.]

I've known The Book Thief for almost five years and it's still like a best friend to me. I bought it on my Kindle so I'll have it with me all the time, and I finally got my mum to read it though she didn't like it as much as me. It didn't have the same effect on her, which is the beauty of books - everyone has a different reaction, a different feeling. This one has left a lasting impression on me and, even if Markus Zusak never writes another book again, he can be safe in the knowledge that he's the author of a modern masterpiece. I hope he does write more, though. Many more. (Bridge of Clay, where are you?!)

I realise I've just rambled on for a while, but I've wanted to write about my feelings for this book for so long. It's the first review I ever wrote on this blog, in January 2009 which seems like a long time ago now. If you've read anything I've written here, I'm assuming you've read the book and know what it's all about. That's why I haven't gone into much detail about the plot, just in case anyone stumbles across this who hasn't read it. That way they can still discover the story of the book thief for themselves.

Anyway, I'll be quiet now. I just want to say thank you to Markus Zusak for giving me The Book Thief, and for giving me the most powerful story I will ever read. When I finally meet you, Mr. Zusak, you'll be getting a high five and a drink of your choice. *tips hat*


Leanna (Daisy Chain Book Reviews) said...

What a lovely post, Jenny! I haven't read this one, but now I really want to. Actually, I don't know why I haven't read it because WWII is one of the most interesting historical periods to me. Often though it takes me a while to get around to reading books set during the time as I took a lot of WWII courses at Uni and I guess I got a little jaded about it because of that.

thepagesage said...

There's nothing like a book that speaks to you. The Book Thief is an incredible story and it's awesome that Markus Zusak tweeted you! :D Love this post.

Dot said...

This post blew me away! I loved The Book Thief, it took me by complete surprise and I would never give up my copy. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and feelings, I think your reaction to the book just embodies why reading is so important and how powerful and incredibly special it can be.

prophecygirl said...

Thanks guys!

Leanne - I hope you love it as much as me when you get around to reading it. Tweet me your progress!

thepagesage - I'm glad you like it too!

Dot - Thanks :)