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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Gem on Every Page- The Book Thief

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Last month I read Markus Zusak's The Book Thief, a story of a girl who steals books during World War II in Nazi Germany.  It is beautifully written, and interestingly enough, written from Death's point of view.  That might sound strange, but I promise you that it works.  Here's some of my favorite lines from Death:

The minutes dripped past.

The desperate Jews - their spirits in my lap as we sat on the roof, next to the steaming chimneys.


*** A SMALL PIECE OF TRUTH***
I do not carry a sickle or scythe.
I only wear a hooded black robe when it's cold.
And I don't have those skull-like
facial features you seem to enjoy
pinning on me from a distance. You
want to know what I truly look like?
I'll help you out. Find yourself
a mirror while I continue.


At the end of the novel there's an interview with Zusak where the interviewer said, "Your use of figurative language seems natural and effortless.  Is this something you have to work to develop, or is innately part of your writing style?"

Zasak replied, "I like the idea that every page in every book can have a gem on it.  It's probably what I love most about writing- that words can be used in a way that's like a child playing in a sandpit, rearranging things, swapping them around."

I love that.  Two of my favorite books- The English Patient and Memoirs of a Geisha read like poetry in some sentences.  The language adds to the story, never detracting from it.

What about you?  Do you have gems on the pages of your novels?  Do you like reading books that use figurative language?

26 comments:

Lorel Clayton said...

I'm about to read that book. It looks great! I love figurative language, but if you tell me I've got to write poetry I freeze up. I prefer to have what I call "something that sounds good" on every page.

Stephanie Thornton said...

Lorel- My favorite part of writing is when I'm at the stage where I can add "something that sounds good" on every page. I think you'll really like The Book Thief- it's great!

Just Another Sarah said...

Yes, I do enjoy figurative language...and I think I'm going to have to read this book no matter what!

Valerie Geary said...

This book gave me chills! I loved every page! And yes... I am a figurative language junky. That's half the fun of writing for me! (The other half being the vast quantities of chocolate I get to eat.) :D

Stephanie Thornton said...

Sarah- You should definitely read this one. I can only handle so many Holocaust books at a time, but this one is so unique I think everyone should read it!

Valerie- I got chills too. And shed a few tears too. Chocolate is great- I'm on my way to have some right now!

Rebecca @ Diary of a Virgin Novelist said...

Thanks for the rec. Beautiful writing!

Jemi Fraser said...

This is another book on my Please Buy Me list. I've heard so many good things about it. :)

Dangerous With a Pen said...

This book is sitting on my shelf waiting for me. It sounds so good, I'm just finishing up some other books.

I love language "gems". Some people will read for just story and not really care about writing style but if the writing doesn't grab me, I lose interest. I love Margaret Atwood for her language. :)

Susan R. Mills said...

That book is on my list. I'm glad to hear you liked it. I wish I had a gem on every page, but I'm still working on that.

Amalia T. said...

Wow, this sounds like a really interesting book! Is it a downer though?

I thought that The Time Traveler's Wife had a lot of moments like this where I just loved the language. Figurative language which I wish I had thought of first :)

laurel said...

I can't not write figurative language, which is why I have to call my novel "literary YA" rather than simply "contemporary YA". Once you get a taste for the poetic, you crave to take it in and create it also.

L. T. Host said...

I think sometimes too much. I have to be careful, especially when writing in the first person, not to let too much of my figurative voice slip in.

Stephanie Thornton said...

Rebecca- You're welcome!

Jemi- I was hesitant to read another Holocaust book, but this one is lovely!

Dangerous With a Pen- Atwood does have gems on every page, that's for sure.

Susan- I don't get to the gems until around Full Edit #5. But it's my favorite part!

Amalia- Time Traveler's Wife was lovely. The Book Thief isn't an upper, being about the Holocaust. It's tragic in a beautiful way, if that makes any sense.

Laurel- I agree. Once I get on a roll, it's hard to stop with the figurative language!

Stephanie Thornton said...

L.T.- I've tried writing first person, but it never feels write. I think because I'm always writing someone else's story.

Julie Dao said...

Oh I love that - a gem on every page. I'm reading Possession by A.S. Byatt right now, which is so beautiful and lyrical that my heart aches when I read certain passages. I love that feeling when you're reading a book.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Yes and yes! I have lots of "gem moments" in my favorite books and love figurative language. You MUST read The Underneath by Kathi Appelt, Stephanie. :-)

Bane of Anubis said...

I try to avoid trying to write too literary for the most part b/c I think it too often comes across as bombast (at least for me). I read the first few pages of MZ's book, and while I understood the appeal, I felt it was a little too self-aware (or, to put it a little less euphemistically, it felt a bit like mental masturbation)...

Sometimes, a more lyrical nature or literary prose can match the tone/mood of the piece or create more atmosphere, but it has to seem effortless, and reading Z's opening it felt like the author was talking to me half the time and not Mr. Reaper.

Stephanie Thornton said...

Julie- I haven't read that one, but I definitely love the feeling!

Shannon- Ohhhh! I'll look that one up on Amazon. I'm not allowed to buy any more books until I get some more off my TBR shelf. I can't cram any more books on the shelf right now!

Bane- I had a feeling you wouldn't like this one. Have you read The Hunger Games? That seems more your style. :)

Bane of Anubis said...

Oh yeah, THG's right up my alley :)

Elspeth Antonelli said...

I'm going to have to read this book - so many people have mentioned it over the last few months.

I don't know about gems on every page - but I'm hoping there's a few scattered through my writing. I was enraptured with REMAINS OF THE DAY. It contains some of the most beautiful writing I've ever experienced.

Lyn South said...

I love, love, LOVE The Book Thief. It's poignant, heartbreaking, funny in the right spots (Rudy + Jesse Owens = Hilarious), and you will hate when it's over.

One of my favorite books..ever!

Oh, and I loved The Hunger Games & Catching Fire. Can't wait for Mockingjay in August.

Cheers,
Lyn

Charles said...

The Book Thief sounds awesome. Thanks for shaing it. And, thanks for maintaining a terrific blog.

Not to burden you with another Holocaust story, but consider "Jacob's Courage." This coming-of-age love story is a historical novel presenting scenes and situations of Jews in ghettos and concentration camps, with particular attention to Theresienstadt and Auschwitz. It explores the dazzling beauty of passionate love, powerful faith and enduring bravery in a lurid world where the innocent are brutally murdered. From desperate despair, to unforgettable moments of chaste beauty, Jacob’s Courage examines a constellation of emotions during a time of incomprehensible brutality.

Read some of the reviews here: http://jacobscourage.wordpress.com/. A syllabus is here: http://jacobscourageaholocaustlovestory.blogspot.com/. The novel is available thorugh most major retailers, I think that your blog readers would find it thrilling and passionate.

Dawn Simon said...

I hope I have gems on every page!

I bought THE BOOK THIEF, but haven't read it yet! I want to--very soon!

VR Barkowski said...

How funny, Stephanie, I'm reading TBT right now! It is gorgeously written. I think the ability to fit figurative language into popular fiction seamlessly without sacrificing character, plot, or pacing is the mark of a truly fine writer. Honestly, I'm not convinced it's a skill that can be learned. I have moments where it happens and it all comes together, but more times than not my figurative prose sounds overblown and pretentious, and ends up excised, consigned to my "cut" folder.

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

I think I have a few gems, but I guess it's subjective. One writer's treasure is another's trash. lol.

I hope more see it as treasure.

Stephanie Thornton said...

Elspeth- I've heard that one's good. I'll have to check it out!

Lyn- The Jesse Owens part was hilarious. I was snarfing out loud!

Charles- I think I've heard of that one, but I definitely haven't read it. I'll add it to my list! Thanks for the links!

Dawn- Let me know what you think of it. It's really beautiful!

VR- I think writing like Zusak's is a gift. It might not be for everyone, but it really is beautiful.

Karen- You are so right! I've loved books that others have hated and vice versa. I just read a NYT bestseller that was one of the worst books I've ever slogged through. Taste is definitely subjective!