The Book Thief Readalong: Week Three

October 18, 2013 2013, markus zusak, readalong, the book thief, Wendy 46

Hello, hello!

Welcome to the third week of our readalong of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, which we’re all reading together for the first time here on the blog.

Let’s get right to the discussion.

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The Book Thief Readalong: Week Three

Pages 304 – 403 (Part 8)

Kate:I switched to the audio version of the book this week.  It is So. Much. Better.  The bolded bits aren’t as intrusive; they’re more like an aside from the narrator.  Allan Corduner makes a lot of the things that bothered me on the page more palatable in this format.

Wendy: I mentioned last week that Bonnie said it was better! I should have listened to her and switched over, too.

K: I’ve never really gotten into audios. I just don’t think it would be the same. I think the voice in my head would get offended. But I’m glad it’s made it easier for you, Kate.

Kate:I like the passage about war from Death’s perspective, and how it is not Death’s best friend, but rather “…it is like the new boss who expects the impossible.  He stands over your shoulder repeating one thing, incessantly: ‘Get it done, get it done.’”

K: Yes. I think perhaps it’s meant to humanize Death — an attempt at getting readers to sympathize with him…which is a feat because how can one sympathize with Death? Funny how it’s human actions that enslaves Death. It puts things into perspective about how we’re doing so much damage that even Death can’t keep up.

Wendy: Max’s illness makes me so worried. This is the section of the book where I felt the most anxious, not only for his sake, but also for Liesel’s. It’s scary to be that age and think that you’re responsible for something so huge. I love the little presents she brings to him when he’s sleeping–that a button, a candy wrapper, a feather, or a cloud could help keep someone you love with you is such a poignant expression of hope.

I thought for a moment that he’d died, by the way. It was a terrible, terrible thing and I couldn’t quite believe I was wrong about his future. I was very relieved when it turned out all right, and I enjoyed how Liesel finds out he recovered.

Kate:I felt pretty confident that he couldn’t die until the scene from the movie trailer (which is not the author’s fault) where he’s hiding under the stairs when the Nazi guy (whose likeability made that scene very, very stressful for me, by the way–well done, Zusak!) inspects the basement, but I was worried, too, otherwise.  I loved the scene with Rosa and Liesel at school when he wakes up.

K: I also really loved Liesel’s presents to Max. How ordinary things are made special. The descriptions in this part — so random and mundane yet somehow beautiful — really worked. I especially loved Liesel’s description of the cloud eclipsing the sun as “a white beast with a grey heart.”

Kate:Re: Max calling the snowman “A midget.”  …Here’s the deal.  I know that it was a different time.  I totally get that.  But I HATE when–especially in a book about a people being oppressed–a charming, likeable character says something that makes most of the audience laugh but would make a person from an oppressed group feel legit uncomfortable.  Zusak hasn’t had anyone use the N word, you know, even in all that talk about Rudy’s blackface run around the track, because it wouldn’t be appropriate to this type of story.  And I think substituting the N word for whatever pejorative your character is using is a pretty good litmus test here.  Like, if the snow was dirty, so the snowman was dark-colored, and Max said, “A n—-,” that would be uncomfortable and not charming.  So maybe don’t use “midget” either.  Particularly in a book intended for young readers.

Wendy: I know what you’re saying, but I wonder if “midget” has as negative a connotation in Australia as it does here in the States? I know there’s a surfer who goes by “Midget” and I think I’ve seen the word use to note a diminutive more commonly. Given Joseph Mengele’s infamous experiments on dwarves at Auschwitz, however, it does seem like an unfortunate–and unnecessary–choice in words.

Kate:Oh, good point.  Although I am reading the American version of the book, so if this is, indeed, a case of cultural differences between our countries, I wish the American editors had changed it.

Wendy: I didn’t even notice it when I initially read it, but it did give me pause when you pointed it out.

Kate:Here is an example of how I find Death’s weirdly limited omnicience to be confusing:

“Melt it did, though, but somewhere in each of them, that snowman was still upright.  It must have been the last thing they saw that Christmas Eve when they finally fell asleep.”

He so frequently knows everything–down to ridiculous details that no one would ever recount–of what people saw and heard in situations (like Rudy’s story about the monsters in coats visiting to get him to go away to Fancy Nazi Master Race School) where Liesel was not present, yet she was present here, and we’re getting speculation about what people saw and felt.  It’s a really odd choice, and one that does not work for me. He also describes things the same way Liesel does, and when stories from other people show up in Liesel’s book, the descriptions are also in her voice.

Wendy: Yes, the inconsistency with Death’s narration is an ongoing struggle for me, too. His selective omniscience is frustrating.

K: I have one question. In Death’s Diary: Cologne, Death witnesses a bunch of girls looking at empty fuel containers…he says he notices something quite unique. But reading that part twice, I didn’t really understand. Was he simply comparing their situations? How the humans are collecting empty fuel containers while he collects soulless, spiritless corpses? Was that it?

Kate:I had to listen to this section more than once for reasons that I’ll explain below, and I did not get it.  Maybe a commenter can explain it to us.

Wendy: Good lord, where would we be without our fellow readers to explain things in this book to us? I’m just grateful they’re so patient with our bumbling through all this.

Kate:“Rosa, it started with Adolf” is an excellent line, and I love Hans for telling Liesel that she had to build the snowman.  Very sweet.  His refusal to let Liesel blame herself for what is going on is just lovely.  Knowing–because a commenter told us–that Death is reading to us from a book Liesel wrote, I really, really, really love the characterization of Hans.  This is how I would have written my father when I was a child.  He was magical and perfect and could do absolutely nothing wrong.

K: What I find really endearing between Hans and Liesel (and yes, even Rosa) is how such a bond can form between non-biologically related people. I don’t know if Zusak was at all trying to suggest what I’m thinking in any way or if I’m reading way into this but considering the tragic events of this book, about a time when all structure of life is altered if not destroyed, and when you really just have to make the best of things — that family is really what you make of it. Liesel lost her brother and mother and yet was able to form another set of family with her foster-parents. Strangers made into family. Broken pieces coming together to make each other whole again. Blah, I make no sense.

Kate:I found myself thinking about the whole, “It takes a village to raise a child” thing while I was reading this, actually, so I totally get what you’re saying.

Wendy:  I love this.

She gave The Dream Carrier to Max as if the words alone could nourish him. 
I do like that the power of words is such a present theme in this book. Sometimes it is less successful than I think was intended, but sometimes it is quite lovely.

Kate:I liked that part, too.  I also think it’s funny that all Liesel’s books have titles that are the types of titles Zusak uses himself.

K: I was going to say that I just realized how Zusak personifies words and language. Words are always stumbling out of somebody’s mouth. Words are always making itself known to the person it’s being said to, heavy with truth. Words in The Book Thief injure and heal. Sometimes it’s very beautifully done.

Wendy: Possibly the only time Max’s illness didn’t hurt was at dinner. There was no denying it as the three of them sat at the kitchen table with their extra bread and extra soup or potatoes. They all thought it, but no one spoke.

I appreciate that this was included. One of the moments when you truly feel the war time setting, as well as how much the family sacrifices to help Max.

Kate:Yeah, I really liked this, too.

I was about to point another one of Death’s bolded interjections that didn’t work for me, but I think I’d rather just put myself on record withdrawing my statement (made during week one of our discussion) that this device is awesome.  I do not like it at all.  It pulls me out of the story and makes me roll my eyes.

Wendy: I don’t really like it as a whole. It’s occasionally amusing, but mostly it just makes me want to punch things. And I will go on record as saying I would like this book at least a half a star’s worth more if Death wasn’t so intrusive.

Kate:When Hans told Liesel not to get caught when she told him that a nun gave her the book… I loved this.  It felt so real and sweet. Because of course he knows that she’s been stealing. 

K: After Liesel reads the final page of The Whistler, I believe, Hans is taken aback by the obviously disturbing premise of the book and exclaims again that a nun had given that book to her…so at that point, I thought Hans believed Liesel’s lie…

Kate:Oh.  Hmm.  I may have tuned the audiobook out at some point, because I don’t remember that AT ALL.

Wendy:  

Liesel?…I’m afraid,” he said, “of falling asleep again.”
:-(

Kate:I know.  Poor Max.

Wendy: I do like this bit of Death’s narration at 60%, with the five hundred souls. Although I don’t like that he feels tired. And then he feels cold and shivers–I don’t really understand the purpose of anthropomorphizing him in this way. Well, I guess I understand the purpose, I just don’t like it.

Kate:I agree with all of this.

Wendy: “They were French, they were Jew, and they were you” is an effective line, though. I understand where he’s going with that and the whole “look in the mirror” moment, that it is humans who have done this atrocity to themselves–but the storytelling device, as we keep saying, keeps me from really feeling it. There are moments where I see a flash of an inspired idea or lovely writing, but as a whole I’m so distracted that I have trouble connecting in a deeply emotional way.

Wendy: The scenes with the raids are well done. I like that Liesel reads to them from The Whistler. Poor Max, all alone. I have to say, every time “Himmel Street” is used, ie “was untouched” or “From a Himmel Street window,” he wrote, “the stars set fire to my eyes” I automatically substitute “heaven” in there. Which I’m sure is deliberate. Again, I should not be analyzing the technicalities of the writing so much.

But this: “You’ve done enough.” Oh, Max!

Kate:I know.  Max is the love of my heart.  He feels such guilt for things that are beyond his control.

K: Considering our feelings towards this book, not many moments have really gotten to me. But that got to me.

Wendy: The moment when Liesel finds Mama fallen asleep over her husband’s accordion was also incredibly touching. It’s an unexpected glimpse into Rosa, and not overly written at all.

Kate:Yes.  What a beautiful moment.

K: Rosa’s my home girl.

Kate:There is a part where Death says a girl has “period freckles,” and I thought he was referring to menstruation–like, that they were that shade of red or that they were hormonal pimples–until he added later on that her freckles had lengthened to look like commas.  Then I laughed, because, seriously, how dumb of me. 

Wendy: Hah hah, Kate!

K: Not dumb, Kate. Just a bad choice of word — another insight into Zusak’s lack in comprehending female intuition.

Wendy: I quite liked The Word Shaker as well. I find that I love this author’s picture books much more intensely than I do his real book, which is a shame. I like the simplicity of them, as well as the purity of the emotion. Also a point in their favor: uncluttered by Death.

Kate:I’ll have to scroll through the e-book to find this–obviously I did not experience it in the audiobook. 

Wendy: I’d actually like to leaf through a physical book to see the illustrations better at some point, because straining to look at them on my Kindle doesn’t really do them justice. 

 

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What did you think?

 

And there you have it! This week was short, but there were some poignant moments as well as the signs that the conditions are worsening for Liesel and those she cares about. What did you think of this week’s chapters? 
Don’t forget that next week we’re finishing up and reading to the end of the book. We look forward to hearing everyone’s thoughts.

 

Wendy signature teal
 

 
 
 

46 Responses to “The Book Thief Readalong: Week Three”

  1. Lisa Mandina

    I just started reading this book on Saturday, so I’m actually not going to read too closely this post, since it seems this is much farther than I am at the moment. I’m really enjoying the book so far, although the first couple chapters were kind of confusing. It is all filling in well now. Great post!

    • Kate Bond

      We were all pretty confused at first, too–especially about whatever happened to Liesel’s mother–but it all starts to make sense in later sections.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Vivien

    I’m still really bothered by Death. His narration is very inconsistent. He knows things that he shouldn’t and doesn’t know things that he should. This for me is probably the biggest flaw with this book. I feel that had TBT been first person from Liesel’s pov it would have been a lot more solid. I would have loved that with some bits of Death’s omniscience thrown in instead of the other way around. I think this would have been the perfect use of this tool, because I do love getting Death’s pov.

    I did finally make more of a connection with Liesel when Max is ill. This part of the book also felt really solid and the time really flew.

    I find it curious after reading the comments about the use of ‘period freckles’. It completely bothers me when the vernacular of a country isn’t used and is edited for a ‘US edition’. And in this case, in turned out poorly because the meaning is completely lost/off. The thing I love about reading foreign authors novels (there has to be a better way to say this) is the language. I mean, how else do we find out that when the British say ‘car park’ they mean ‘parking lot’. It adds character and bolsters our limited knowledge of foreign nations and their language. Especially with other English speaking countries, where the language is so similar yet has a different flair. (A genuine pet peeve of mine if you couldn’t tell:p)

    I almost wish the author hadn’t chosen to add humanity to Death. To me, Death is ambivalent to it all, so this didn’t work for me. I do agree that certain phrases of the TBT were absolutely lovely and that other times it didn’t work. Certain parts during the audio made me pause what I was doing (working) and I loved them. I feel so strongly that if his pov had been sparsely interjected, he would have had a stronger impact.

    I think the author used the German in this book very well. And I really enjoyed how he chose to translate them for those who didn’t know the language.

    “They were French, they were Jew, and they were you”
    is one of my favorite lines from the book. It’s times like these that I find the writing stands out the most.

    My, these comments seem so random and ranty. GAH, sorry. I had many feels while reading this, and felt things on different levels. It’s frustration leaking through because I wanted to love this book. I’m very intrigued to see how the movie turns out because I think Death might have a stronger impact on me than the book did, if done the way I think it has to be done.

    • Kate Bond

      The inconsistencies with Death…ugh. I know. I can’t really say much more about it than I have already, but it is just never going to stop bothering me.

      Max’s illness was handled well all around, I think. There’s so really lovely stuff in there.

      And I think a big part of my personal frustration with the book, Vivien, is that it could have been SO GOOD if the author had just gotten out of his own way, you know? So much of the writing just feels…I don’t know. It feels WRITTEN. And that gets in the way of the STORY. Grrrrrr.

    • Kate Bond

      Oh, and your thing about changing the terminology in books based on country of publication: Ugh, I know. It’s really annoying. The period thing is such a good example of this.

  3. Melanie

    OMG MAX. LOVE. HIM. Kate, I agree, I listened to this as an audio then read the book and not only was it easier to go through, but also the narration makes the book so much better with the suspense, emotional scenes and just a amazing-er book in general.

    Can’t wait to see what you ladies think in the end. <33

  4. Lyn Kaye

    I forgot about the scene after Max wakes up, which is sad, because I LOVED that scene! It was a warm cinder in a cold, cruel book.

    Great discussion!

  5. Sam (Realm of Fiction)

    I haven’t ever considered picking up the audio of this, but now you have me curious! It’ll be interesting compare how Death’s narration comes across. I do completely understand how his selective omniscience can be frustrating, though for me, the inconsistency there was a part of the mystery and the appeal. And Max! My heart ached for his character. I’m glad you’re connecting with his parts, at least. Thanks for being so honest, ladies! Interesting discussion. :)

    • Kate Bond

      I love Max so, so much. Part of what is so heartbreaking about him for me is that he feels like he would have been a lot like Neil Simon’s Eugene Morris character if he had grown up in the US instead. Very, very sobering.

      And the audio version is very good. I recommend it, although the narrator seems to be doing a Neil Gaiman impression. Maybe listen to about a minute of it before you buy it/check it out from the library. Just in case.

    • Wendy Darling

      You are clearly a much more patient reader than I am, Sam, or a much smarter one, or both! Heh.

      I adore Max. As much as I like Hans, it’s Max who makes this book for me.

  6. Lisa

    I realized last week I was a section off. I ended up reading father than I was supposed to so some of this weeks reader isn’t so fresh in my mind. I’m not sure if I’m still off (probably) and if I’ve been off from the beginning so some of my comments might not have made sense.

    I’m with you guys in being bothered by Death’s selective omniscience. There is still a lot of missing backstory that would be useful to know, and Death should be able to tell us.

    I love Ilsa even more than I did before but I’m not sure if that was from this reading or the next so I’ll hold my tongue. I loved Hans giving the Jew in the parade some bread. That part really touched me, and I say that as someone who, like the three of you, doesn’t have a strong emotional connection to this book. In fact, the entire parade was something that brought out real feeling. Hans is such a great character. He and Max are still my favorites, along with Rudy.

    One thing that bothered me was Death’s spoiler that Hans was going to survive WWII (he said in an earlier section that Hans escaped him in two wars). It took away some of the anxiety and pain around him being drafted, which of course distanced me from the characters, who were feeling fear. I’m with Kate in wondering how this book will translate to film, where Death will probably be less involved.

    I agree that Max’s guilt is heartbreaking, and it was so sad that he didn’t come back. His character is very much missed. I hope we see him again. I want to hear the story of what he’s been up to. I’m guessing we will at some point (hopefully.)

    As for the period freckles, that description doesn’t work for me either. It seems superfluous because it’s basically saying the freckles look like dots. Also, I agree that it was a poor choice or words. Although I didn’t misinterpret it, I can see how someone would.

    I wish I was someone who could listen to audiobooks but I have a hard time paying attention. Maybe it’s the books I’ve tried (one of them I ended up hating but was still able to get through the print version), but I think I need the visual representation of the words to make myself concentrate. I could see how this book would be improved by listening to it.

    I have to say that while I’ve had some issues with the narration and I’m not super attached to the story, it’s still been a quick read. It’s one of those books that when I put it down I don’t feel a strong urge to pick it up again, but when I do I don’t have trouble reading for long periods of time.

    • Kate Bond

      I think I listened a little too far in the audiobook, too.

      Oh, the bread/parade thing was wrenching.

      Kim and Kalasyn both commented above to tell us that in the Australian version, they’re called “full-stop freckles,” so the period thing isn’t an issue. Also, Kate above thought “period freckles” meant TIME period–like, as she said, Tudor freckles. Awesome.

      And I guess at least he didn’t compare the freckles to stars in the sky or something.

      I hope we hear more from Max, too. My gut tells me he’s not being set up to die, but who knows.

      Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which is a book that started out as a BBC miniseries, was my first audiobook, and I think that helped ease me into the medium. I also really like Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness series, and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series in that format. Oh, and Malcolm Gladwell’s nonfiction, which he reads himself, is great. Otherwise, I am not a fan, either. Part of the problem is that it takes MUCH longer to listen than to actually read the book.

      My friend Allison, who is super duper smart and really enjoyed the book, said that I should have read it all in one sitting, and I am inclined to agree with her. I’ve had too much time to think about what doesn’t work.

    • Wendy Darling

      The first part was really difficult for me to get through (no surprise that I’ve tried to read this several times before without success), but after that I agree the book moved very quickly–I think I read the rest pretty much straight through.

      Death is a big fat bummer–it annoyed me that we know about Hans in advance too. Later on–well, we’ll talk about that next week.

      I am EXTREMELY picky about audiobooks too, Lisa. I literally reject about 90% of the ones I sample, which is why I don’t listen to too many. But sometimes I find when I’m not hugely enthused about some books (um–don’t hit me, but the Harry Potters, for example), I find them more enjoyable as audiobooks, especially since the narrators for both the US and UK versions are excellent. They’re great for traveling in particular, or for those nights when I’m lying in bed in the dark next to my husband and I can’t sleep!

      Audiobooks I’ve enjoyed: Kristin Cashore’s Graceling trilogy, Carrie, The Shining, I Am Legend…I know there are more.

    • Lisa

      After reading further I realized my memory wasn’t 100% correct about Death’s spoiler. He said Hans escaped him twice in two different wars, not that he survived. In any case, the spoilers are annoying.

      Don’t worry, I won’t hit you for not being enthused by Harry Potter. It just means I can safely admit that I didn’t like the fifth book (I read the first 200 pages of it when it first came out and stopped, and didn’t finish it until book six came out), and I wasn’t crazy about the last one either. I loved the first four, and really liked the sixth, though.

      I’ve heard the audiobooks are great. The UK ones are narrated by Stephen Fry, who I love, so I’ve always wanted to give them a try. If I wasn’t so keen on actually reading the UK editions for the November readalong I would maybe try listening to them instead.

  7. kalasyn

    Hi ladies, I just wanted to let you know I am enjoying your commentary. As an Australian, I wasn’t aware of midget having negative connotations. To me, it simply means small and is a little funny. Also, in my edition of the book, the freckles are described as full-stop freckles.

    • Kate Bond

      I think it’s the “is a little funny” bit that makes it an offensive term to people who actually have dwarfism, Kalasyn. “Little Person” is the term commonly used for these people in the UK, Canada, US, and New Zealand. I’m not sure why it’s different in Australia. It’s problematic here because, as Wendy pointed out, dwarfs were experimented on in pretty horrific ways in Auschwitz. I wish this had been changed for the US version of the novel.

      I am excited about the full-stop/period thing. Kim mentioned that in her comment above, too. This is the wonderful (and terrible, if you consider the “midget” issue) thing about translating literature for different cultures/languages, you know? The meaning can get lost so easily.

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh kalasyn, thanks so much for clarifying that for us! I had a feeling “midget” wasn’t something that was as much of a no-no in Aus. It’s become very politically incorrect to use that term here, and the fact that it wasn’t changed for US audiences is a rather unfortunate oversight. I normally don’t like it when terminology is changed (jumper to sweater, etc, etc), but sometimes it does make sense–like thongs for you are very different from thongs for us. ;)

    • Kate Bond

      Thongs and jumpers are my favorites of these, I think. When a man in a novel puts on a jumper I laugh every time.

  8. kate

    I’m still holding on for Team Death. He softens my cold cold heart.
    I thought for a little while that Max was going to die, what with the chapter heading referring to the “Jewish Corpse”. I thought that was a clever little trick by Zusak. After all, he telegraphs other peoples’ death, so why not Max’s? But I think Rosa’s appearance at the school made up for the stress of that.
    I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who was confused by the “period freckles” thing, although I didn’t get it until Kate explained it. I thought he meant period as in “period piece”, and was trying to imagine Tudor or Georgian freckles. Also confusing because I have freckles, and have never thought of them as punctuation.
    I missed the illustrations to The word shakers, what page was that on?

    • Kate Bond

      OMG, I love that you mixed up the period thing IN A DIFFERENT WAY from me. That’s really wonderful and exciting.

      The issustrations start at 82% in the e-book, which my Kindle tells me is page 445.

    • Wendy Darling

      You support Death all you want, kate! Heeeeee.

      Yeah, Zusak pulled a fast one on me with the way that scene ended and with the “how to get rid of a Jewish corpse” thing. I never really believed it–I flipped through VERY quickly to see if it was true–but I was worried for a minute there. It was clever, but I also felt a bit manipulated, tbh.

      TUDOR FRECKLES.

  9. Keertana

    AHHH, I love Max. I’m so glad you ladies are loving this; I should probably try it on audio someday if it’s so good!(: Wonderful discussion post, as always!

    • Kate Bond

      The audiobook is really good. Listen to a sample before you buy it, though, because the author’s voice is pretty deep, and when he does the voices for young or female characters, it sounds almost like he’s mocking them. I like it because it makes me laugh, but it could come off annoying.

    • Wendy Darling

      Hmm. I am weirdly picky about audiobook narrators so I would have to sample it for sure. Too late to switch now for me, though.

  10. Kim

    as a P.S., I’m reminded from re-reading the book that a lot of the lines that we see in the movie trailer are not in the book at all. The “It wasn’t always mine” gimmick about the books that Liesel and Max repeat, there’s a scene of Max saying goodbye I presume? where he says “You gave me life” and it’s very touching but we know that Max’s goodbye was much more traumatic, abrupt and less poignant than that…I don’t know. I am so excited but also very apprehensive of the movie. It’s weird to have those dueling emotions. I guess we’ll just see when we see! Do you think you’ll all make a post on the movie when you see it. You’re planning on seeing it, right?!

    • Kate Bond

      I am definitely planning on seeing it. I think movies based on books are most successful for me when they take the leap and branch out from what is on the page in the novel. A lot of lines that feel poignant when I’m reading come off as kind of cheesy and on-the-nose when I actually see a person saying them.

      I also wonder what they’re going to cut out, because they can’t cram it all in there.

    • Wendy Darling

      Just what Kate says above. I think a successful adaptation doesn’t adhere too faithfully/literally to its source material, so I’m pretty open-minded about treating them as separate beasts, just so long as the spirit and intent of the original is somehow captured.

      Definitely seeing the film, but I’m not sure we’ll do a formal discussion here on the blog! Maybe we’ll do a Facebook post/short discussion there. You’re planning on seeing it, I presume?

  11. Kim

    Hi, Gals! I’m excited for Week 3 discussion! Woot!

    @Kate & K: Yes, I think it’s certainly meant to for you to sympathize with Death, to understand and feel the full ramifications of the atrocities going on in this period. As Death said in the beginning of this book, “I am not malicious. I am a result.” And in this story, far more the result of malicious human actions than any natural causes.

    @Wendy: Max’s illness is a total heart-wringing section of the book for me. I like Death for liking that Max fought him off on that one occasion. Don’t you take my Max, Death! Everything you say is spot on about the poignancy of Liesel’s gifts and how scary it is to not only deal with the serious illness of a loved one but feel a weight of responsibility at such a young age. Poor Max. Poor Liesel.

    @Kate: you are totally right re: “midget”. It’s disappointing to see a hurtful and marginalizing word being used in a way that’s supposed to be “funny” and coming from a protag. I get especially sensitive about this stuff in YA. Even if it’s a bit culturally different in Australia the American editors should absolutely have changed it. Grr.

    Oh god that Russian cover is so creepy! Incidentally, the first I knew this book existed was from seeing it in a London airport bookstore so I’m rather partial to the UK cover. A young girl and the Grim Reaper dancing? Yes please! It just drew me right in!

    @Kate: I don’t think I can say anymore about Death’s weirdly limited omniscience because it just makes my brain hurt to think about it. You are all just obviously much smarter and sharper than me because I never even noticed! :p I’m just sorry that it makes it less enjoyable for you :(

    @K & Kate: I think the “unique” thing is the children’s innocence of the repercussions of the situation, of understanding what it all means. Like, here’s the result of this terrible thing, a bombing and there are children doing what children do: being somehow both innocent and oblivious but also resilient.

    @Kate: Love Hans for not letting Liesel blame herself. Liesel and Hans relationship has always been my favorite in the entire story. Later on in Part 7 we see Liesel as the comfort for Papa after Max has to leave (the line that she thinks of only later to comfort him “No, Papa. You’re just a man.” breaks my heart!). I love how much Liesel loves him and how clearly that comes through in the story. One of my very favorite portions of the whole book is “Champagne and Accordions”. What a magical little passage. Liesel writing “Who else would do some painting for the price of half a cigarette? That was Papa, that was typical, and I loved him.” Oh it guts me.

    @K: I think you’re spot on. The messaging is on purpose. How wonderful and hopeful it is to think that family can be made again even if you’ve already lost yours *tear, tear*

    @Kate & K: When Liesel finishes The Whistler the line is: “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.” Hans couldn’t resist an incredulous tone. “A nun gave you that?” He stood up and made his way over, kissing her forehead. “Bye, Liesel, the Knoller awaits.” So the “couldn’t resist an incredulous tone” always seemed to me like Hans was definitely joking with her. The casualness with which he just gets up and says goodbye implies this isn’t really a surprise to him. I don’t know but maybe that it clears it up a little?

    @All re: the “period freckles”…to be fair, in Australia a punctuation period is a “full stop” so that was most likely changed by the American editors…it is rather awkward though, gah! and Kate, not dumb at all…that’s one of the rare moments (for me) when the use of that style he has was just “meh…really?”

    I wonder if you all would much more enjoy The Book Thief if it was Liesel’s “actual book” you were reading? I do personally quite like the little snippets we get of what she wrote and I would’ve happily read that book!

    As always, thanks for letting me blab here. You’ve really all been so nice and it means a lot :)

    • Kate Bond

      I love your comments. Thanks for stopping by and explaining what we missed to us every week. It’s really helpful.

      The “midget” thing is SUCH a bummer. Could you imagine being a person with dwarfism, and how that line would make you feel?

      I agree with you about the covers. The Russian one sets a very odd tone. Ha.

      And the thing about Death’s onmiscience… I think it’s just how my brain works. I’ve always had unusually high reading comprehension (I tested at 16th grade level when I was in elementary school), and it gives me what feels like an almost autistic catalog of details and inconsistencies in my brain while I’m reading. I ALWAYS see all the plot twists in movies and books a mile away. But the flip side of it is that I can be pretty put off by purple-y prose and really scornful (in a bad, snobby way) of writing that feels (to me) like it’s trying too hard to convey emotion.

      I love that Liesel doesn’t think to say that sweet line to her papa until later. That felt so real to me.

      OK, so you’re saying that Hans DOES know that Liesel is stealing the books, right?

      This is not my first time making the “period” mistake. Someone called something a “minstrel show” in front of me once, and my husband had to explain to me that they had said “minstrel,” not “menstrual.” It was embarrassing. That said, the period/full stop thing is a FASCINATING cultural translation thing.

      I think I would enjoy TBT much better if I were reading it from Liesel’s perspective–although I get why a man might not want to write a book from the POV of a little girl who grows to be a teenager in the course of the story–and I’m really interested in seeing the movie, because I actually LIKE the story; I just am not a fan of the author’s writing style in this instance.

    • Wendy Darling

      Yes, I actually did enjoy it when Death said he came to visit Max on several occasions during his illness. That whole section with his illness and Liesel and the family’s fear and hope was just really well done. Basically, I love all the Max parts, hah.

      I’m glad you find the Russian cover creepy! I did, too. It’s been fun finding the different editions for different countries for these readalongs, I figured it’d be boring to just look at the same American one all the time.

      I think you’re right in saying we would probably be enjoying this more if it were Liesel’s actual book–or if the author had just chosen to tell us the story in a way where Death was less intrusive. I think the seriousness and urgency of what is happening would feel more immediate if we were with Liesel more, and if Death’s perspective were severely curtailed, if included at all. But then again, this device is exactly why the book is lauded, why it stands out from other books about this era, and why so many people do like it.

      And my goodness, thank YOU, Kim, for being so nice to us! It’s a difficult position to be in, not warming up to a book as you expected, and to host this big event. I think the next readalong book we chose has to be vetted out more thoroughly, hah. I have very much enjoyed reading it with Kate and K and our readers, though, and certainly I very much appreciate the discussion.

  12. Sharmaine

    I love love love this book. So heart-wrenching and beautiful at the same time. I can’t wait for the movie :)

    • Kate Bond

      I am fascinated by the movie. I am interested in seeing just the story without the intrusion of Death’s narrative voice, you know? Because the basic story, and the relationships between Liesel and the people in her life, are pretty good on their own.

    • Wendy Darling

      Aw, I’m so glad you love it, Sharmaine–just about everyone I know does!

      I think there’s a chance they’ll expand somewhat on the basic plot in the movie. I sort of hope so.

    • Kate Bond

      What I’ve heard (although I didn’t know it was narrated by Death–I guess there’s not as much as in the book–so maybe my friends have bad memories) is that everything is explained a bit better. Like, the stuff with Liesel’s mom makes sense in the movie, apparently.

  13. Mary @ BookSwarm

    I definitely agree that Death’s selective omniscience can get annoyingly frustrating at times. Why doesn’t he know everything? Max is by far my favorite character. *hugs to him*

    • Kate Bond

      I just hope we’re not spoiling it for you too much, Savannah! I’m pretty excited to see the movie- because there isn’t a narrator or a “Death” listed in the cast. I’m interested in seeing the story without the parts I don’t particularly enjoy (which are pretty centered on Death and his narrative voice).

    • Wendy Darling

      I think I remember someone saying there is a “Death” in the film–maybe it’s just voiceover narration? I think it’s probably going to be easier to take in a film than in a book.

      I am definitely interested in seeing the film. Very curious to see how they adapt it.