30 September 2007

Celebrate Banned Books Week (29 Sept.- 6 Oct. 2007) by reading.

Some of my favorite books make these lists--maybe not this year, but much too often. These include Harry Potter, Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five and Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. My favorite from this year's Top Ten is Beloved, by Toni Morrison.


25 September 2007

Anthony Burgess, The Wanting Seed. 1996: New York, W.W. Norton [© 1962].

Tristam Foxe knew that history goes in cycles, and that he was simply unfortunate enough to be caught between the Pelagian and Augustinian phases, between the belief that people are good and will regulate themselves, and the belief that people are bad and must be controlled. Tristam knew this because he used to teach history (fifth form) a the South London (Channel) Unitary School (Boys) Division Four.

Tristam knows that some sort of normalcy will be restored soon. This interphase, though, is a long way from any kind of normal. The crisis has come because an over-populated world, led by human example, has stopped reproducing. In a world where China's 'One Child' law has long been in effect, nothing grows.

All of nature finally rebels, and Tristam ends up in the army working to restore order and a food supply. When his men go into battle, Tristam learns exactly what the government is doing about the crisis—the central horror of this book that, once accepted, allows us to see the humor, and the similarities to our own situation, in this deep dark black comedic gem.


Marcus Zusak, The Book Thief. 2006, New York: Knopf.

A friend asked why I read children's books. I answered, glibly, "because they can hold more truth." This was before I read The Book Thief.

The Book Thief is a title. It belongs to an adopted German girl during World War II, and later to her story as related to us by Death, who is somehow always nearby. (Incidentally, Death is an informative, entertaining, and completely trustworthy narrator.) She earns the title, but wears it well: she steals books from the mayor's wife, but reads them aloud to get her neighbors through air raids.

But the Book Thief is more than an avid reader. She is also fiercely compassionate and stunningly brave, traits learned from the man she calls Papa, who calms her nightmares, teaches her to read, and hides a Jew in his basement even as others wearing the yellow star are paraded down the street toward Dachau. She must be strong, to survive this story told by Death.

While told from the child's perspective, this is not really a children's book, any more than Anne Frank's diaries are for children. No, The Book Thief is a good book, and maybe an important one; and like any other good book, it is suitable for anyone who wants to keep reading. It holds an awful lot of truth.