Sunday, September 25, 2011

Next week

Next week: James Patterson (yeah, that's right) and Marshall Karp's Kill Me if You Can.

The Book Thief

ZUSAK, MARKUS. The Book Thief. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. ISBN: 978-0-375-84220-7. Pp. 552. $12.99.

I think I owe an explanation for why I'm predisposed to dislike Markus Zusak's widely acclaimed young adult novel The Book Thief. As I mentioned to my mother on the phone last week, I don't see the point of writing a book for the "14 and older" set, namely because once a child is old enough to read The Book Thief, he should, I presume, be old enough to read "real" literature. My mother wisely reminded me that I may not be a fair judge, given that I went to a school where the reading list went something like this. Fourth grade: Natalie Babbitt's Tuck Everlasting. Fifth grade: Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Sixth grade: Brave New World. The latter I remember very clearly because of one particular scene in which a man playfully fondles a woman's breasts during a helicopter ride and I found this terribly presumptuous on his part. I also didn't know how sex worked and what, exactly, it entailed, even though the book is brimful of it. I should mention that when my sixth grade English teacher walked into the bookstore where I was working, ten years later, I wasn't sure if I should kick him in the groin or seduce him. (Answer: neither. I sold him a book.)

What I'm trying to say is, my educational background is completely lacking in YA experience and The Book Thief, like all YA I assume, just seems like a stunted adult novel. It's too sophisticated for the pre-teen set, but too naive for a high-schooler. Fortunately, there is an underground movement that is threatening daily to rise to the surface and become the "norm". The members of this movement are adults (real ones, with credit cards and spouses and mortgages, adults who aren't children's librarians) who swear by the literary value of YA. In fact, Gretchen Rubin is one such adult, but never mind that. These, I believe, are the dedicated readers of The Book Thief. Real fourteen-year-olds, I hope, are too busy discovering Ernest Hemingway and Robert Graves to bother with this kids' stuff. Call me a snob and an elitist. It's true. But I'd rather blame it on St. Anne's and Mr. D.

Nevertheless, (yes, nevertheless!) The Book Thief does have literary value. It is a (mostly) beautifully-written piece of poetic prose, which only occasionally smacks too much of writerly effort. For example, "They cupped their genitals in their hands and shivered like the future." What does that mean? And am I supposed to ignore it out of embarrassment over the mention of genitalia earlier on in the sentence? Or should I ignore it because the narrator is Death and therefore infallible? I make these complaints despite the fact that Death, the narrator, really is the best part of the novel. His is the most singular voice and the most intriguing character. If anything, Zusak is so swept up in perfecting his narration of the story (if there were a story, but alas, there isn't) that he all but forgets to pump any life into the figures that populate the novel. The protagonist, Liesel Meminger, doesn't hold a candle to her earlier counterpart, Roald Dahl's Mathilda, and a week from now, when I hear the name "Liesel," I'll still just think of the hot one from "The Sound of Music".

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Book Thief

I have, in fact, finished Markus Zusak's hugely acclaimed YA novel The Book Thief. Given the nature of the material, I do think I would like an extra week to mull it over and, additionally, read some more recently-published YA. Thanks. Here's a picture of Rat Girl when she was a kitten. At that age she was more of an undiscriminating destroyer of things, as you can clearly see. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Next Week

Next week: Markus Zusak's The Book Thief.

Clark Howard's Living Large in Lean Times

HOWARD, CLARK with MARK MELTZER and THEO THIMOU. Clark Howard's Living Large in Lean Times. New York: Avery, 2011. ISBN: 978-1-58333-433-1. Pp. 258. $18.00.

I'll make this short and sweet. This was the hardest (i.e. brought me the least pleasure, even less than George W. Bush's lame Texan quips and Nora Roberts's gender-bending misogyny) book I've had to read for the blog thus far. I was elbow-deep into a chapter on mortgages and actually found myself aching for my high school statistics text book. It was rough. I have nothing against Clark Howard, I don't think. But he has written a book for people in debt, who are also paying a mortgage on their homes and want to buy a car and a new phone. I'm not in debt, a don't own a home, I don't own a car nor do I plan on buying one any time soon. As for my phone, well, I let Mom and Dad take care of that. In return, I use a gadget that's turning six years old this year. That's right. It's old enough to start school.  Granted, if I ever were to take on any of these things--debt, a home, a car, a new phone, a credit card...--this would be a good reference book. What I suggest you do is go to your local bookstore, find the chapter that you're interested in and read it there. You'd be saving money, which would make Howard proud. I had no idea, until this week, that a man could be so passionate about saving money. I felt a bit sad. He should read Balzac.

Another reason to keep this review short is that my overly astute cat Rat Girl, sensing my displeasure over reading this book, tore it up for me. It's still in readable condition, but it would be rude to ignore her hard work. She's already ripped it apart, so why should I have to?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Next week

Next week: Clark Howard's Living Large in Lean Times.

5 Love Languages

CHAPMAN, GARY. 5 Love Languages. Chicago: Northfield Publishing, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-8024-7315-8. Pp. 201. $14.99.

I was wrong. There really are only five love languages: Words of affirmation ("You look great in that stained wife-beater"); quality time ("Let's drink a handle of whiskey together tonight"); gifts ("Here's a bag of Cheetos, Merry Christmas!"); acts of service ("Could you clean up the cat vomit?"); and physical touch ("I'm bored. Sex?"). These are all valid expressions of post-nuptial love, I suppose, but according to Dr. Chapman, we each have our own special "love language," one that takes precedent over the other four. There's a poorly constructed survey at the end of the book for husbands and wives to take in order to figure out what one's love language is. Apparently, the most romantic day Koch and I could spend together would involve him cleaning the kitchen for me followed by some heavy Risk-playing.

I think I would have appreciated Dr. Chapman's book a bit more if he weren't so...old-fashioned. Granted, this book was first published almost twenty years ago, but apparently 1992 was actually 1952. Of course, how would I know? I was only five years old in 1992. All the real-life couples Chapman has helped over the years and have made their way into his book are uncompromisingly preachy and "gender-normative". The wives don't have jobs because they have to stay home and clean house, raise children, and cook. The men work hard, hunt, and do the yard work on the weekends. Sunday is for church. The perfect wife "would be a wife who would come home in the afternoon and fix dinner for me. I would be working in the yard, and she would call me in to eat. After dinner, she would wash the dishes. I would probably help her some, but she would take the responsibility. She would sew the buttons on my shirt when they fall off." Dream big. Women, naturally, are more interested in gifts and having their husbands' attention.

The fixity of gender roles pervades even the more abstract passages of the book. For example, "love touches may be implicit and require only a moment, such as putting your hand on his shoulder as you pour a cup of coffee." Notice that, in this hypothetical situation, it is the wife who is serving her husband coffee. On the following page Chapman suggests "Hugging your spouse before she goes shopping may not only express love, it may bring her home sooner". Again, Chapman automatically assigns the wife the task (or hobby) of shopping. And, when death comes to the family, "nothing is more important than holding her as she cries". Women, I should add, cry a lot in this book. The husbands keep it all inside. Tears, we all know, are unmanly and betray weakness.

Still, I was glad to learn, upon administering the survey to Koch while he was playing video games, that his primary love language is "Quality time" (a womanly love language, mind you). This requires of me quite a bit of effort, given that I'm a terrible conversationalist, and talking plays a large role in Chapman's definition of "Quality time". I, on the other hand, favor "Acts of service," (a more manly love language) which will be harder to wheedle out of Koch, since our respective chores have been rigidly established since we started living together two years ago. Still, yesterday he offered to make me lunch. (Unfortunately, I had leftovers to finish and had to turn down the offer.) Nevertheless, that's a nice little victory. Thank you, Dr. Chapman.