Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Book Thief (and other January Reads)

I finished 12 books in January:

Reversible Errors by Scott Turow
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Dark Tower by Stephen King (reread)
Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
Behold the Bones by Natalie C Parker
Limitations by Scott Turow
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman
The Ketogenic Diet by Kristen Mancinelli
The Silver Witch by Paula Brackston
Winter by Marissa Meyer
The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne

Two of these books were monsters- giant books that wrapped up a series (The Dark Tower and Winter), so I am surprised that I managed to read this many books this month. Two of these were audiobooks (The Book Thief and The Grimm Legacy), so that did help.

Overall, the month was full of great reads. But I’m going to talk about just one.

The Book Thief. If you have not read this book, it is set in World War II Germany. It focuses on one girl who has been sent to live with an older couple. This couple also takes in a Jewish man, hides him, protects him, saves him.

While the story focuses on young Liesel, it is told by a narrator who stands just outside her story. He does not clearly identify himself, but we know his job. His job is to gather the souls of those who have died. His job brings him near Liesel at the start of the story, where she catches his attention. Intrigued by her, he keeps an eye on her over many years and tells us her tale.

Like every book I have read set in World War II, there were parts of this story that horrified me, parts that made me cry, parts that made me angry, furious. What was different with this book was that it planted a little niggling nugget of confusion. A worm has lingered and wandered through me, growing and changing as time  has passed.

All because of when I listened to this story. I started listening in late December and finished in early January. Unlike previous WWII stories I have encountered, this time I lived in a world where I could see the potential for the events of this story to happen in my world, my country, in my lifetime. This time, I wasn’t reading a story that showed me a piece of history, that gave me an opportunity to learn from past horrors. This time, I was presented with a past that could be repeated. I saw how it could happen.

Since I finished this book, our country has changed dramatically. The thing that maybe, might could happen has started to happen. I feel like I am at the scene of train wreck. I am watching the slow-motion slide into disaster. I want to be rid of this worm.

None of my lingering response to The Book Thief is what Markus Zusak intended. There is no way he could have, no way he could have seen the world shifting in the way it has.

Had I read this book in 2006 when it was released, my response would have been completely different.

Which has me thinking a lot about storytelling and what it can do. Stories have the ability to change people, change the way they view themselves and the world around them. That’s huge.

It’s a huge responsibility as a writer. The words that you write have power.

This responsibility has made me question what I am writing. My stories are not political statements, they are not morality lessons. I worry that the stories I tell don’t say enough.

I considered changing what I plan to write next. I considered writing a story with an agenda. A story that had a clear point, a clear moral. A call to action, perhaps.

I hesitated. Those aren’t the stories I am driven to write.

And that is okay.

My stories still have something to say. Their message is smaller, quieter. But no less valuable.

Some stories give us a message of hope. A promise that we can have the lightness, the joy, the happy that we want. They remind us what we are fighting for.

My point is, write your story, no matter what it is. We need them all. Make us laugh. Make us cry. Make us smile. Make us frown. Make us love. Make us rage. Make us dream.

“Stories make your heart grow.” — Winnie the Pooh

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