Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Fears Resolved

I learned as a teenage not to overdose on my favorite music. I'd listen to the same song overandoverandoverandover until I couldn't stand it anymore--my relentless affection was ruining all the good stuff. I've learned since then to always listen to a variety of music so that I don't get sick of it too quickly.

The same principle, I was afraid, might apply to books. When I finished reading The Book Thief, I was head-over-heels in love with it. So much so that I have never been able to open it up again. I was afraid that it would somehow be different, less than I remembered it, or that it would become soiled by being over-read. I bought several copies and eventually gave them all away as gifts because I wanted to share this beautiful thing with other people.

The author, Markus Zusak, is coming into town this week, so I ordered a new copy of the book to get signed. I cracked it open, hesitantly, just to read the first page, and let me tell you something: it was pure love again. It was even more gripping, like coming home to the most magical and transporting words I've ever read.

Twenty-three minutes later, when the train stopped, I climbed out with them.

A small soul was in my arms.

I stood a little to the right.

The tone of this novel is brilliant. Serious, poignant, and humorous all at the same time. It's narrated by Death.

Please, trust me. I most definitely can be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that's only the A's. Just don't ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me.

I've been thinking about my own writing, how incredibly shallow it is in comparison. And that's fine, for now, because I have a specific project I'm working on for a young audience. But reading these words stirs something in me--a fear, a courage, a longing to be more true to myself as an author. I love this discomfort, because I know it will push me to further introspection and, hopefully, more self-understanding.

So again, Mr. Zusak, thank you for this 550-page gift. And thank you for reminding me how beautiful words can be.


  1. I haven't been able to read that book again since - I can't believe he was here, and I didn't know it! I have plans to read that book as soon as grad school is over. Love that you love it too.

  2. I just finished reading Jane Eyer for the first time, and was similarly inspired by it: its writing and brilliant vocabulary are of the kind we don't see much of lately. I sympathize with your longing to transcend in your writing. I wish I was profound. I will read The Book Thief.