Markus Zusak’s “The Book Thief”

“People observe the colors of a day only at its beginnings and ends, but to me it’s quite clear that a day merges through a multitude of shades and intonations with each passing moment. A single hour can consist of thousands of different colors. Waxy yellows, cloud-spot blues. Murky darkness. In my line of work, I make it a point to notice them.”

― Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

If you haven’t read “The Book Thief” you should. The novel’s narrator is Death. That’s right, the Grim Reaper himself. But his persona is gentle and wise and he is an entity who as a heart…and this heart is often broken when he witnesses pain experienced by the human race.

Our poor narrator is Death

in Germany

during the Holocaust,

so, needless to say, he is a busy reaper.

“Death” is correct in saying people only, “observe the colors of the day at its beginnings and ends”. How often do we comment on the gloriousness of the sunrise, or the passionate vibrancy of the sunset but never do we take the time DURING the day to notice not just the colours that surround us,

but the sounds and smells and tastes that we encounter as well?

We are too busy trying to get from point A to point B, or mentally checking off lists of tasks that we miss, or rather dismiss, anything of substance because they seem insignificant to some success that we hope to achieve in the future.

The beauty of the day is subtle. Just like the beauty of life is subtle. If it had to hit us upside the head with it’s obviousness then it is more garish than delicate.

When we are children basking in the morning light of our life we want to touch and taste everything. We find joy and fascination with everything we encounter whether it be mud or marshmallows.

And then, when we age and get closer to the light of the sunset, we go on the search for beauty and meaning, trying to fill our remaining days with all the loveliness and “newness” we can find,

or we give up looking for it because we figure there is nothing left in this world that we would find enchanting.

So, today go out and look. Really REALLY look and the “waxy yellows” and “cloud-spot blues” that come across your path.

And see what kind of day it will be.

Thoughts on Jane Urquhart’s “The Stone Carvers”

Tomorrow I will get my English students to pick a passage out of “The Stone Carvers”, one they found particularly profound or poetic, and then respond to it personally.  This is one I wrote to use as an exemplar.  If they are brave enough I will have them post their responses in the comment section…and they are brave and brilliant little lightbulbs so I know they will!

“…[Klara] began to believe that, like the fog that was everywhere except indoors, she was not really inside the house of her mind.  Or perhaps it was that unlike the fog she was in that house and nowhere else.  She decided then to let the outside atmosphere into her rooms, and she opened every window, every door, and watched the white, odourless smoke crawl over the threshold and sill, curl around the legs of chairs, and spread itself over tables and beds.  She unlatched cupboard and closet doors and pulled open drawers in various dressers so that the fog touched even her most intimate underclothes and crept around her dead mother’s good dishes.”  The Stone Carvers by Jane Urquhart.  pg. 32.

Have you ever felt like Klara?  Like you weren’t inhabiting your own mind

or living in your own body?

Where you’ve felt too exhausted to engage in your own life or too traumatized to emotionally invest in your own experiences?  So you’ve severed yourself from the reality of your situation and have merely shifted into perfunctory actions,

neurons and synapses firing

(but it seems as though not of your own accord).

So,

you need some sort of invasive force to permeate your being, your space even

(metaphorically)

to tangibly weave and insinuate itself into and around your being  just to prove that you exist.  That you actually do live

and breathe

and walk

and think

and be.

That it is you taking up space and oxygen in a room.

That you consume rather than are consumed.

I get Klara.  I understand why she needs the fog as a manifestation of her confusion- a visual of her “blurred” state.  Making thoughts that are too scrambled and vague to make sense

visible.

Even if it’s absurdly vulnerable in nature.

But what to do when there is no fog.  No natural phenomenon to serve as words to your thoughts?

Do you just sit in confusion until you can claw your way through and serve as your own catalyst

jarring you from your inertia?

Or do you speak or draw or create or cry?

Or wait?

For something.

Or someone.

As ethereal as fog.

For the Love of Tomes

Today I bought two books.

Tomes actually.

Any day a book is purchased is a good day.

I was a farm kid. The farm was a wonderful place for a child to cultivate an imagination, no matter how peculiar.

My sisters and I defended tree forts from imaginary marauders. Cooked witches brew in an old metal kettle above an invisible fire.

And pushed the cat around in our doll carriage and attempted to feed it water out of a plastic baby bottle.

But

once in a while I would find a quiet corner rifle through my mother’s bookshelf and cozy in for a good read. Often I would fall so far into a book I would pack it around and bury my nose in it wherever we went, even if it was to the neighbor’s barbeque,

or sitting on a bench in a shopping mall as my mother shopped for shoes.

The larger the book the better… it meant I’d have something to do for a

good

long

while

– a world to visit for days on end.

Those bulky books with bounteous pages included: Gone with the Wind, Christy, Little Women and Little Men (both in the same volume!), Desiree, Queen of Sweden.

I loved them so much I used to pick a character and read aloud all of his/her dialogue….using voices…a skill that now comes in handy when I try to hook high school students onto Macbeth (I make a pretty convincing first witch).

And now,

when I find a book a good 500 pages or longer a feeling of contentment comes over me knowing I will have some place to “go” for 800 pages

and in this particular instance in New Zealand for the 832 pages of Eleanor Catton’s Booker Prize Winning The Luminaries

and

771 pages (and 11 years of waiting) for Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.

Are you a fan of big books? What are some of your childhood favourites? If you’ve read “The Luminaries” or “The Goldfinch” let me know your thoughts!

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