Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tuesday Books for Writers! The Book Thief

Two things first.

1. In recent months Tuesday Books for Writers has been all but non-existent. The idea behind it: to better articulate why a book works...which, for me, is a difficult thing to do. I decided to give myself the challenge and have, more often than not, failed to get the posts up. So I have decided to retire the idea and talk about the books I read in another way.

2. Yes, I realize I am quite possibly the last person on earth to read Markus Zusak's The Book Thief.

Now this.

I read The Book Thief during Hurricane Irene. I curled up in it on the couch, then the bed. Back and forth. It is quite possibly the best book to get lost in during a hurricane. But it is not necessarily the best book to finish during a hurricane. Mainly because it is not a book you can easily leave behind. It's hard to look up from a book like this one and put yourself back inside the day.

I have never in my life sobbed so hard for a group of characters. I have shed tears over words and pages...but not like this. This was the kind of emotion I would only be able to sum up in cliches because it would be too exhausting to find the right way to say how it made me feel.

There are so many reasons a writer should read this book. I'm not smart enough to know all of them and list them here. But here is what I can tell you:

The world of this book is huge, all-encompassing. You are in it and you know it. You feel the streets. You know what it means to be there. A remarkable thing.

The words and the way they are strung together are beautiful. Even though so many of the words themselves are strange and ugly. I would never think to put them next to one another and, yet, when I saw them together I would think, there is no better way to say this. Even if there are a million ways to say it.

The characters are really wonderful (understatement of the year.) And you only need to read the book to understand. There's not much more I can say about that.

But there is one device in the book that is used over and over again. And it's the only thing I was able to define and pass along to you and think about using in my own work. (The rest, I could only hope to absorb through a powerful kind of osmosis.)

The Bomb Theory!

Which I learned about from Mr. Alfred Hitchcock. Have you heard about it?

Two people sit at a table having a conversation and Boom! a bomb goes off. That's 15 seconds of surprise.

Two people sit at a table having a conversation and we, as viewers, see a ticking bomb underneath their table. And we wait. And we know what's going to happen. That's 15 minutes of suspense.

You know which method Hitchcock used.

As I read The Book Thief, I could think of no better example of how to effectively use the bomb theory in a book. It's hard for me to say it's a device because it sounds gimmicky and it is not used that way in this book. But almost every chapter begins and gives away the outcome of the scene. And we read, desperate to find out how the book gets to the place we already know it will get to. It's bold. It's risky. And it works in this book.

There is a lot more to say about this wonderful book but this is, at least, some kind of start that will have no end.

I do feel it is a good place to end Tuesday Books for Writers until I find a new way to talk about the books I read on this blog.

If you've read the book, please let me know your thoughts!


  1. This has to be my favourite book of all time. It's so beautiful.

  2. You're not the last one, cos I haven't read it yet. But I will, now, thanks to what you have to say about it :)

    Stopping by via the campaign, and hope to become a regular visitor!

  3. I haven't read this book yet, although I have wanted to for some time. It definitely sounds worth reading!

  4. I haven't read it, either, but everything I've heard is positive (and a warning that I will cry).

  5. Not the last. I haven't read it, although I intend to, as soon as I can.

  6. I've heard about this book, but haven't read it yet. Thanks for sharing. It sounds like a must-read!

  7. Sounds great. I'll have to put it on my list!

  8. OOoh, I love this book. Bawled my eyes out at it, but the writing was just so wonderful, and the story so heart-wrenching.

  9. Hi Melissa,
    I haven't read the book, but it is nice to see that you were truly moved by it. Your blog is beautiful!

  10. Sounds like a great book. I just finished reading a not-so-great book, and need something to fill up the empty places.

  11. My wife (a sixth grade teacher) loved this book! I've heard many good things about it, I just haven't been able to take the time to read it yet. Now I have to :)

  12. I haven't read my copy yet, but I look forward to reading it. It sounds moving, and I love heartrending, emotional reads.

  13. *hides face* *whispers* Uh, er, I haven't read it yet. Shhhh. But I will now, girlfriend. Thanks to you! Love the bomb theory. I hadn't thought of it in a long time. (((hugs)))

  14. This book is beautiful. Thanks for dropping by my blog. It's so fun getting to know you :)