It is so nice to have more time for reading these days. While I wish I could have packed up many of the books on our shelves at home, they are tightly packed away in storage. I told myself that I would only buy and read books on the Kindle app on my iPad, but my love for a physical book that I can hold and dog-ear pages in and smell the scent of a bookstore on has gotten the better of me. I have been shocked at how expensive books are here at a new bookstore; both books in Spanish and in English can start around 20-22 euros (roughly 27 dollars). Thankfully, I've run across a couple of used bookstores, one better stocked than the other, that allowed me to pick up several good reads. And thus begins my reading journey in Spain!
A friend back home gave me this book after her book club finished reading it, and I'm glad she passed it along. I suppose I'm a little late reading The Book Thief, because it was recently made into a movie. I don't like to see movies before I read the book, so now I feel like I can see the movie!
This was a beautifully crafted, hauntingly quirky book about an orphan who is placed with a foster family in Munich during WWII. She quickly bonds with her foster father, who stays up late at night teaching her to read. The character development was impressive, and I finished the book so sad to have to leave these characters. The book is told from the perspective of Death--strangely perfect for this haunting tale of love, friendship, devotion, and the destruction of war. It was special to visit Munich so soon after reading this novel.
I haven't seen this movie yet, either, and when in The Munich Readery (see my blog for this wonderful bookstore's link) I realized I haven't read one thing by W. Somerset Maugham. Being the English major that I am (and kind of a bad one, seeing as there are so many holes in my reading...) I knew I had to remedy that fact, and so I purchased this novel. His writing style is lovely, and I can hear the early 20th century Brit in his writing very clearly. The Painted Vale is a story of an adulterous and naively selfish wife, a knowing husband, and an obnoxiously egotistical lover, set in the city of Hong Kong and a tiny village plagued by cholera many miles away. It's a story of the selfishness of the heart and the possibility of redemption. What the main character struggled with in her own heart is a good picture of how we all struggle--perhaps not with adultery as she did, but with doing the things we want to do that we know hurt others as well as the things that we don't want to do but do anyway. (Which immediately reminded me of Paul's words in Romans 7, "For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.") And the beautiful thing about this novel is that it doesn't just fixate on the problem and the main character's struggles over and over again, it points to the chance for redemption and a new start. There is hope.
If you've read anything by Marilynne Robinson, you know she is an incredibly gifted writer. She has a way of saying things that I would never in a million years think of phrasing that way. Housekeeping was an almost otherwordly novel about sisters who are passed from family member to family member due to abandonment--sometimes purposeful, other times necessary. In their transience, they both learn how to cope in different ways and discover more of who they really are in light of their sad, lonely upbringing. Largely character driven, the novel is also heavily influenced by the setting and landscape. (If you read the book, this cover is absolutely spot on.) I highly recommend this novel.