The awesomeness and awfulness of human beings

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Liesel is a young German girl in the early 1940s, and her story is so interesting that it attracts the attention of Death himself. And Death narrators her story to us.

And it’s amazing.

Hopefully everyone’s going to go read it before they see the movie, and with this optimism I will try not to include any major spoilers in this book.

On the way to her foster home, Liesel finds her young brother dead on the train. As she goes forth into her new life, she carries that trauma forward, into one of the most traumatic and terrifying historical events.

This book is amazing, it’s beautifully written and Death, as a character is incredible, so removed and moved by the incredible kindness and cruelty of us. And it did a really beautiful job of the war. Of the beauty of the world and humanity in the midst of crippling, merciless criticism of our own nature.

When we tell World War stories, they are often very much good guy versus bad  guy, them versus us, victim versus villain versus hero and The Book Thief doesn’t do that. It’s told from the point of view of innocent Germans, because those people lived and suffered and died. Some of them supported Hitler. Some of them didn’t. Some of them were afraid to resist because when you have to choose between trying to help someone knowing that it could lead to the imprisonment, torture and death of your family its not evil or even selfish to choose not to try. Some who resisted as best as as they could. This isn’t the story of a Schindler, who saved thousands of lives. It’s the story of a family who tried to save one, and each other. It’s a story of fathers making choices to save their family, choices that kill them. It’s the story of people who cannot recover from what they have witnessed and participated in. The Allies are our good guys, but they are responsible for the deaths of characters we love. The Jews are the victims, barely more than animals, but one of the worst dehumanizing scenes in the book is when the starving Jews fight each other over dried bread. Humanity isn’t one or the other.

The idea that there are innocents anywhere, even among the children who watch their loved ones die, just seems so laughable at the end of the story.

I’m not sure which shelf this book belongs on. It’s not a kids book. It might be a young adult book. I think it’s an important story for people to read. Because the way we talk about war, the way we have always talked about war doesn’t reflect the realities of it.

Death has a theory that words matter, a theme that runs through the book. So maybe, if we change our words and our stories we can change everything.

p.s. That’s an amazingly obnoxiously deep ending. I apologize.

Last movie I watched:

I have absolutely no idea.

Last TV show I watched:

Charmed! With a baby!

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The anti-Potter

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

Just straight up, this book was really fun. I enjoyed it immensely but when I think about it really critically I have a more complicated reaction to it. On the one hand, it made my feminism feel a little prickled but on the other hand, it was really cool in its pretty direct opposition of the genre that Harry Potter spawned. Like, I could have a T-chart about it. Actually, I will probably do that. On the other side of the description obviously.

Sophie Mercer is a witch, she’s known that since she was twelve years old and her powers manifested. What she didn’t realize was that if she used them in front of mortals and therefore threatened the safety of all Prodigium, that is shifters, witches or fairies, she would get sent to Hex Hall. A school for kids like her.

So there are lots of obvious similarities with Harry Potter. Two kids who aren’t in touch with their magical parents, raised unaware of their own standing in the magical community and sent to a school where they would learn how to control their powers.

But what I thought was neat was the complete oppositeness about it. There isn’t a  Dumbledore character in this – the Head Mistress is a kindly, but aloof woman who seems found enough of the main character, but doesn’t have a particularly close relationship with any of the kids. Instead of have the grumpy Snape teacher you have an aggressive woman who teaches self defense. Instead of Sophie being the ultimate force of good she might well be the ultimate force of evil. Her parents aren’t dead. Hogwarts is beautiful, Hex Hall is old and crumbling. Hagrid is a half giant, Cal is a sexy lumberjack like gamekeeper who is also a super human healer. Sophie doesn’t make a crew of friends but she does develop a core of mortal enemies. It’s immediately clear that romance and crushes are going to drive the story. The kids don’t fight each other over issues like prejudice or bullying so much as dresses and boys.

And that’s where my feminism gets rubbed the wrong way. On the one hand Sophie and her best friend Jenna (who is gay and it’s so beautifully handled I could cry) are both pretty kick ass ladies in their own way, powerful and feminine and motivated and driven. On the other hand, the apparent evil characters are three…. for lack of a better word, bitches. And they literally get into a near fatal battle over a dress. Which is just, I mean while I firmly support anyone who loves clothes, I’m partial to them myself, but honestly…. murder over an outfit? Is that really what we like our teen girls to read? That’s a thing?

But it was also a good story with delightful turns, great supporting casts, lovely descriptions of outfits and a powerful heroine who’s pretty easy to love.

Last movie I watched:

Ummmm probably still Fingersmith

Last TV episode I watched:

The same Charmed. Unless you count part of  a Daily Show. In which case that.

Oh superhero comics, it has been so long

Nightwing Free Fall by Peter J Tomasi, Rags Morales, Don Kramer and Michael Bair

Well, this was the most comic book of comic books I’ve read in a while, complete with mostly dead superheroes, lots of guest appearances and super-weird superpowers.

In this story Dick Grayson moves to New York to investigate some grave robbing, which turns out to be part of a giant super villain plot to get an even more giant supervillain army. It’s super filled with capes and aerial battles and mortal frenemies.

My favourite part about this one is the way it balanced Dick Grayson with Nightwing. Sometimes there’s quite a slant towards the superhero and less of the other person, but here we see Dick moving, getting a new job, new girl (who I predict will die or turn evil any minute now) and interact with his Batfamily. And I love that stuff.

The weirdest part was the superhuman who gives birth to a hundred babies at a time, is constantly pregnant and watches all her children age and die prematurely. What the hell is that about?

Overall though, fun read!

Last movie I watched:

Ummm, probably  Fingersmith. Still awesome

Last TV episode I watched:

Charmed. Cole and Pheobe are getting married guys. I wonder if that’s going to end well….

A great book to read with boys – but read it with them

Chomp by Carl Hiaasen

This is a serious, and funny, and seriously interesting book. I enjoyed it. Loads. But it’s got some pretty complex content that adults should at least be ready to talk about. But that’s okay ’cause it’s short and funny and I’m pretty sure regular adults would like it too.

Wahoo Cray isn’t exactly a normal kid. His father, Mickey Cray is a professional animal wrangler who specializes in alligators, snakes and reptiles. But Michey Cray hasn’t been able to work for a long time, after a frozen iguana fell out of a tree and gave him a serious concussion. Wahoo’s mom left for Shanghai to work so they could make up a few mortgage payments and Wahoo decides to accept an easy job with the reality TV show called Expedition Survival. But the show’s star, the ridiculous Derek Badger is more then anyone bargained for. Wahoo and Mickey find themselves in the Everglades with a TV crew, a survivalist who can’t survive a night without a 5 star hotel and one of Wahoo’s classmates, a girl named Tuna who’s on the run from her drunk and abusive father.

So, the reason this book should be read with kids, girls too obviously, but it’s got short sentences and lots of action which would probably appeal to boys particularly, is because of the ultimate villain: Tuna’s father. Child abuse is a pretty heavy subject and Chomp does a really straight up job of it. Tuna is both a victim and a hero, just for surviving as long as she has. There’s no glossing over, not even a perfectly satisfying ending for the bastard. The alcohol abuse isn’t shown off stage, or made into a kind of stoic brooding drinking. It happens there and includes all the other rather nasty aspects of heavy drinking. On top of that there’s lots of complicated concepts like invasive species, first aid and minor gore, plus some pretty devastating critiques of the celebrity culture and “reality” TV.

But here are all the reasons adults won’t mind reading it. One: it’s funny. Both the short, blunt, to the point writing and the almost impossible but somehow totally plausible situations the characters find themselves in. Two: there are adult jokes slipped in and they are funny. Three: the characters are great. Four: All the reasons your kids should read it. Because it’s a great book about real stuff and reading encourages empathy, even for people who aren’t real.

Also, as a Canadian I found it really weird that everyone just has a gun hanging around. For serious guys, why does everyone have a gun?

Last movie I watched:

Fingersmith! My first ever period piece lesbian love story. It was great.

Last TV episode I watched:

Charmed!

On a non-related note… ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK ENDED LIKE WHAT!?!?