Thursday, February 10, 2011

FEBRUARY 2011 BOOKERS MINUTES - The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

“The human race is unimportant.  It is the self that must not be betrayed.  I suppose I could say that Hitler did not betray himself.  You are right, he did not.  But millions of Germans did betray their selves.  That was the tragedy.  Not that one man had the courage to be evil.  But that millions had not the courage to be good.”
                                           John Fowles from The Magus

‘I have never been popular, but aptly was voted most likely to succeed by my peers.  We don’t need to be formally introduced.  I’m called a lot of things, though none are to my liking – they all sound so…dreary for lack of a better word – so, if you don’t mind, could you just call me Omega.  Think of me as the black crow to your white dove, the Ace of Spades to your Queen of Hearts, the second trump over the first, the box end to Alpha.  I understand none of you want to meet me on Main Street or in the produce aisle of Wal-Mart, but you all will shake my hand at some time.  My hope is that it is on your terms, not mine and you feel a gentler touch than you imagined possible.  I’m seen by some as both an ending and a metamorphosis…the conclusion of one phase leading into the existence of another path.  Marcus Zusak wrote The Book Thief using my voice to try to make sense out of the horrors of World War II.  He narrates a story about a young German girl, whose book-stealing and story-telling talents helped sustain her family, neighbors, and the Jewish man they were hiding.  19 of you met at the home of Jean Alexander to discuss this work of literature and Melanie Prebis, in her first review, did an excellent job of reviewing this story, especially since the novel was color- coded “RED,” and for good reason.  Speaking of colors, I see the world through the colors of the sky and today looks very gray, like Europe.’

We are delighted to have new member, Gail Fankhauser, joining us and adding to the growing number of educators we have in our group…Welcome Gail!  Our collective hearts mourn alongside Janet Noblitt and her family and hope healing soon begins to overtake grief.  You are in our thoughts and prayers.

The majority of Bookers at the meeting were singing praises for this novel with comments like, “best book I have ever read…one I would have never picked up on my own, but so glad I did…should be required reading…had to finish it…loved it.”  We are aware some of our members struggled with it and we certainly understand.  We were asked to close our eyes and try to picture death…to some (he) took on a human form, some pictured (him) with a long black robe but no facial features, others only a vapor, while a few heard a voice rather than forming a mental picture.  It is difficult to put (him) in an abstract form when the author humanized the character.  We all have our cups of tea and that’s what makes Bookers Bookers.
We are told this is a book about many things, “It’s a small story really, about, among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery.”  Our group unanimously agreed what this book was NOT about was the Holocaust.  Granted, it is set in the background of war in Nazi Germany in the midst of the tragic events surrounding this era, but the story is about survival, the human spirit, love and unbreakable friendships, decency, trust, and the power of words.  Hitler launched his war with words as depicted in The Word Shaker  “I will never fire a gun,” he said.  “I will not have to.”  The author sees nine-year old Liesel Meminger as metaphorically stealing words and freedom back from him.  “He is destroying people with words, but she is stealing books and rewriting history.”  Zusak’s unique style personified in his use of short chapters, short sentences, his all-knowing narrator, artistic renderings, the use of foretelling previewing “what’s next” in bold print created a personal look at the characters of this historic period rather than a textbook outlining the minutiae of the era.  His words, saturated with heartache and expectation, allows us to reside inside the souls of the story’s stars.  Even the book jacket typifies how even the most carefully planned endeavor can collapse with the touch of the hand.

A young mother is forced to give up her children in order to save them.  A foster family opens their hearts to give a young girl, who has already witnessed war’s tragedies, the safety of their home.  The boy next door and the young girl forge a life-long friendship, marked by stealing, the game of soccer, and the promise of a kiss.  A soldier pledges the impossible – to harbor “a man who was despised by his homeland even though he was born in it.”  The mayor’s wife, a mother bearing the loss of her only child, finds solace in becoming a secret angel of books for the young girl.  The young girl recognizes the power of words to calm, to distract, to entertain, to transport, and to open doors and shares her gift of reading with those huddled in fear.  The young foster child with her family, the boy next door, and the Jew hiding in their basement live on Himmel Street, which ironically means “heaven.”  To them it probably was.  And in the end, the narrator says, “I have seen a great many things in the world…I attend the greatest disasters and work for the greatest villains…but there are other moments…like giving Liesel The Book Thief rescued from the ashes of disaster…I am haunted by humans.”

There has been much discussion as to the prudence of young adults reading this novel.  A recent outing of Malakoff Middle School Gifted and Talented classes and English Language Arts students visited the Dallas Holocaust Museum to hear survivor, Mike Jacobs, relate his story.  The following are a few comments taken from thank you notes written to Mr. Jacobs by these students.  You can judge for yourselves.

            “You are one of my heroes.  This is my promise to you.  I will be an UPSTANDER and
            help the people who need someone to stand up for them.”

            “You’ve opened a door inside of me that’s never been opened.”

            “I hope our generation will stomp out bullying.  Sticks and stone might break my bones,
            but words will never hurt me isn’t true.  That’s how everything starts, with words.”

The author says that young adults will have to “step up” to read and understand his book.  These middle school students seem ready to take on any challenge.

On the business side:

As you know, our next meeting has been moved up a week to March 1st.  The book, Still Alice, chronicles the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease of a fifty year-old psychology professor at Harvard.  Jane Freer suggested anyone who has a loved one affected by this disease to bring a photo of them to display at the meeting.  She will have an “honor” table set aside for this purpose, which will include her mother’s photo.  The reality of this horrible disease is in the faces of its victims…and their families.  We thank Jane for thinking of this fitting tribute.

Normally our “year” ends with the May meeting, but by popular demand, we are going into June this year.  Also, MN and I were asked to continue in our roles with Bookers.  We graciously accept and appreciate your continued support entering our 8th season in September.

If you need a good book for winter weather reading, we suggest trying Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah that asks the question…how can a woman know herself, if she doesn’t really know her mother?  Two estranged sisters are “forced” into discovering the answer to this question when they begin to unravel their mother’s past. 


WHITE:                        Light read
PINK:                                    Moderately challenging
RED:                                    Challenging

                                    Still Alice by Lisa Genova
                                    Recommended by Kim, MN & JoDee
                                    Home of Jane Freer
                                    Reviewer: Kim Hand

April 12th:                     Room by Emma Donoghue
                                    Recommended by MN & JoDee
                                    Will probably be at MN’s house..  we’ll keep you posted as this is still a
                                                work in progress.
                                    Reviewers: MN & JoDee

May 10th:                     4th annual Wine and Cheese Evening Meeting
                                    WHITE or RED (wine, that is…your choice)
                                    1st annual “Book Share & Chat”
                                    6:00 PM @ the home of Melanie Prebis
            Pick one of your favorite books, give a brief synopsis at the meeting, and
                         offer to share your copy
                                    Bonnie Magee, food czar.  Please contact her directly if you would like to
                                                bring something.

June 14th:                      Summer meeting
                                    Details to be determined.
At times, we should ask ourselves…do I have the courage to be good?  Would I hide a Jew in my basement in Nazi Germany?  It’s a tough one to answer while staring into the faces of our loved ones.
Happy Reading

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