I’ve decided to start a new feature on Read. Write. Discuss. I recently went out of my way to acquire a hardcover first edition of a book that I haven’t even finished reading yet because I knew it was something I would want to hold on to and eventually pass down to my children and grandchildren. It was a beautiful book, with a gorgeous cover and ink-edged pages. The text was beautifully typeset, and the book had a good weight in my hands.
The thought of buying it not just for myself, but for a future generation of people who aren’t even born yet, got me thinking. This isn’t the first time I’ve purchased or deliberately preserved a book for my hypothetical children. I’ve been doing it for years.
It doesn’t take a psych degree to trace the behaviour back to my mother’s influence. She read to me constantly when I was little — every day there would be a foot-high stack of Little Critter and Bernstein Bears books that we’d gone through. Most of those books are now in plastic storage bins in her basement, waiting for the advent of grandbabies so she can pull them out again.
My mother handed down very few of her childhood books to me. She moved around a lot as a kid, and artifacts of her early years are scarce. But as adults, we constantly pass books back and forth. We share a deep desire to empathize with the way certain books affect each other.
That’s why I’m starting the For My Children feature. I want to share with many people the way in which these books-worth-preserving affected me, and how I hope they’ll affect future generations.
It seems like a good idea to begin this feature with another book that I bought for preservation before I’d even finished reading. In January 2012 I borrowed The Book Thief by Markus Zusak from the library. I’d seen a glowing review on Goodreads, and since I was in a slump of crummy books, I thought I’d give it a try.
By the time I got to the end of the second page, I was deeply, hopelessly in love with this book. I went out and bought a copy the very next day, but continued to read the library copy because it was already beat up. I didn’t have to worry about scuffing it, bending it, etc. Neurotic, I know. Since then I’ve read the copy I bought — very carefully — at times when I wanted to re-experience certain scenes.
The Book Thief was unlike anything I had ever read. The prose is nothing short of poetic, and the perspective of the narrator is pure genius. By telling the story of Leisel Meminger and her family from the perspective of Death, Zusak transcends the limitations of time, space, and mortality. While this is very much a story about one family, it is also a story about World War II. Death, omnipresent and immortal, has a very interesting view on life and humanity. The Book Thief moved me like no other WWII book ever did before.
Passing it On
The Book Thief is classified as a YA book and the protagonists are tweens, but I won’t pass The Book Thief on to my children until they’re at least in their mid- to late-teens. It takes a certain degree of emotional maturity to appreciate the story. Readers also have to be comfortable with their own mortality, to a certain extent, to read a story through Death’s eyes. When I was thirteen, I was barely at peace with this radical new thought that everyone I knew, including me, would someday cease to exist. The Book Thief would have freaked me out then. Five years later, I could have handled it. I could have relaxed enough to slip into the prose and become consumed in the story, as I hope my kids will someday.
In researching The Book Thief, I found this interview with the author. The inspiration for the book came from stories passed down by his parents. It’s a nice thought, that stories worth sharing between generations thousands of miles away can inspire others to preserve stories for future generations.
What about your children?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic — what books you’re preserving, what you hope your kids will get out of them. If you’d like to participate in the feature, please link up.