I take reading for granted sometimes. I’ve been reading for, oh, I don’t know, 25 years now, long enough that I don’t remember learning how to read or the first “real” book that I read. I can’t even guess how many books I’ve read in that span of time, nor can I estimate how many books I’ve owned in my life. A lot. A lot is how many I’ve owned.
I finished The Book Thief a couple of weeks ago and still catch myself thinking about it. It got stuck in my head, forever probably, in a way only the best books do, the characters wandering through my brain, hanging out with the likes of Harry Potter and Elizabeth Bennet and Jo March. They play games sometimes and let me tell you, Jo caught on to Wizard Chess as quick as anything.
As with so many great books, I don’t even know where to start with The Book Thief. It’s a book about death, narrated by Death, actually, and I don’t feel like I’m spoiling anything by telling you that. Death intentionally spoils some of the events that take place in the book, but it doesn’t take anything away from the story. No. It’s to prepare you for the inevitable. And yet you still find yourself hoping it won’t end the way you know it will. Because, you see, this book takes place during WWII. In Germany.
The Book Thief is a book about books, about reading, and how it can change you and everyone around you. Liesel is our book thief, a young girl sent to live with a foster family in a German village called Molching. Leisel steals books before she can properly read them, and her foster father, Hans, her Papa, teaches her how to read during the stolen moments at night when she wakes up from terrible nightmares. Death tells Leisel’s story, how she came to call Hans her Papa, how she befriended a young Jewish man named Max, and how her love of books affected them all. Leisel’s story is full of death, as you’d expect, but full of life, too, and love and bravery and small moments of comfort in an extremely harsh world.
Liesel never takes books for granted. She can count on one hand the books she owns. She not only loves the stories, she loves the packages they come in, the book covers, the pages, how the smell and feel of these books lends to the experience of reading as much as the stories themselves. She relishes the stories, reading chapters at a time, doled out like sweets, never knowing where her next book will come from. Her books are her most prized possessions.
I can’t imagine my life without books, without knowing I’d have new books to read whenever I please, yet, at this very moment, there are stacks of unread books in my house, books from the library, from the used bookstore, from library book sales and garage sales, and I’m wondering if I’ll ever have time to read all of them. I feel a bit greedy, having all these books and not reading them. I’d send them through a book portal, if I could, straight to Leisel, but some quick Googling tells me that this isn’t possible. YET.
There’s so much more to this book than all that but, without giving anything away, I can say that you won’t be the same after reading it, which is the highest praise I can offer. I should also tell you to keep plenty of tissues on hand, because The Book Thief made me ugly-cry like I haven’t ugly-cried since The Fault in Our Stars or Rose and Ten at Bad Wolf Bay. (SPOILER ALERT. Also, why did I just watch that?)
What I’m trying to say is, you should probably have someone around to give you a hug as soon as you finish this book. You can thank me later.