I suspect many readers of The Writer have a problem with increasingly crowded
bookshelves. This crowding poses two options: Either continue to increase the
quantity of your books and find ever more shelving, posing storage and, occasionally,
marital challenges; or, constantly winnow, improving the quality of what you
have (from the standpoint of your reading tastes) and getting rid of as much as
I’ve tried to do the latter, with varying degrees of
success, and have found it helpful in my culling process to regard a book as an
actor. That is, it is something that is auditioning for a permanent space on a crowded shelf. Does it
pass the test? Is it something so good, so enjoyable, that I will definitely
wish to reread all or dip into portions of it in the years ahead? If not, out
it goes (in theory).
This is a roundabout way of noting an unusually successful
audition this week. I finished Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, all 550 pages of it, and this was a no-brainer: It
stays on the shelf, available for re-reading and borrowing. (If you don’t
return it, you’re in trouble.)
My immediate reaction was: This was a special book. Is it a
young-adult novel or an adult novel? (It was apparently marketed both ways at
times.) Is it children’s literature? Doesn’t matter. It became a smash
crossover success when it came out in 2006 and won a load of awards.
It’s a book about the experiences and moral growth of a
young girl in Nazi Germany, Liesel Meminger, and a most unusual narrator. It’s
not giving anything away to say that this narrator is Death--and, since a
horrific war is under way, Death has never been busier. But Death has a weirdly
interesting, even appealing, personality, and you’re not put off by him. It’s
just one of many accomplishments in this fine novel.
Onto the shelf it goes.
-- Ron Kovach, senior editor, The Writer