Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Byman Student, Always and Forever

Currently Reading: David Copperfield by Charles Dickens and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

Let me start this post with a declaration: I am in love with David Copperfield. I forgot how much I loved Charles Dickens, and I have read enough of him to recognize with pleasure that this is not a love born from obligation (i.e. Charles Dickens is the epitome of a great novelist, therefore I must read his work and love him because otherwise librarians and professors will throw tomatoes at me), but in a "Mr. Dickens, it is truly awe-inspiring the way you can spin words into sentences that I want to hang on my wall" kind of a love.

What can be better than this: "God knows how infantine the memory may have been that was awakened within me by the sound of my mother's voice in the old parlour...The strain was new to me, and yet it was so old that it filled my heart brimful- like a friend come back from a long absence." Or this: "I am glad to think there were two such guileless hearts at Peggotty's marriage as little Em'ly's and mine. I am glad to think the Loves and Graces took such airy forms in its homely procession." Yet it's difficult to pull out specific quotations and air them on the line individually, because it seems the entire book is one sonorous quotation, winging along and imprinting itself into my mind. Every sentence I read makes me thirsty for more, which is why I am so pleased that I have over 700 pages to indulge in.
Stay tuned later this month for my list of favorite children's Christmas books. It will by no means be a comprehensive list since there are an unbelievable amount of Christmas kid books in this world, but the list will include my favorites, old and new.

For tonight, I will spend some time discussing Bernhard Schlinck's The Reader, which I finished about a week ago. (Ahem, Mary, if you are reading this... please go get it and read it pronto.) This book surprised me. I saw the movie about two years ago and was intrigued by the plot, so I naturally assumed that the book would be good and worth checking into. Oh baby. Was it ever. Do not be fooled by the dearth of paper between the covers- while short, this book is mighty. I was completely blown away by the intensity and the depth of this book. Quickly, I entered "Professor Byman-class" phase, where I instantly started analyzing the smallest details and posing questions for fellow classmates about the significance of the title, of Michael's desire to pursue a career in law, of how Hanna's fate and Michael's reactions mirrored Germany's fate and the perspective of the post-war generation in Germany. Once a Byman student, always a Byman student, I guess.

I loved this book. (If you haven't caught on yet, I say I love a lot of books. I don't give my love away to just any book, but I am not afraid to give books the "love" stamp of approval if they deserve it.) To make it brief: the book takes place in the decade after Nazi-era Germany. Our narrator, Michael, tells his story as an older man, reflecting back on the trajectory his life took when he was 15. For at that age, he entered into an affair with an older woman named Hanna (for sensitive readers, it does get a bit graphic but not in an unnecessary way). After a happy but tumultuous relationship, Hanna disappears. Michael does not see her again until years later, when he is a law student. There he comes face-to-face with the woman he thought he knew and the secrets she hid from him- and the world- for so long. It is haunting and moving and kept my thoughts chugging along to the point where I had to stop, rewind the CD (I listened to it as an audiobook... the narrator was fantastic), and listen again to the paragraphs I had just missed. As someone who is not only passionate about history but also connected to Nazi Germany through my family history, it raised questions that I have pondered before and led me to ask deeply personal questions as well: who must accept responsibility for what happened in Germany in WWII? At what point are we free from any responsibility or guilt for what happened in the past? How can we accept the role our loved ones played in that terrible time? Is there such a thing as innocence, even for those of us who weren't there? What is the cost of keeping secrets and to what lengths are people willing to go to preserve their self-worth? These thoughts have always been with me- Holocaust class brought them painfully into focus for me when I was in college and The Reader continued this reflection. While I don't have any answers, the book caused me to ask more questions.... which is exactly what a good book should do.
So if you are desperate for a thought-provoking, fascinating read, I highly recommend The Reader. And I would love to hear your perspective on it as well.
Tonight, the Christmas tree is going up and I'm busting out more carols.

Hobbes says "Merry Christmas"!Hope you're having a great week too! I'll be back on Friday with more poetry.


  1. Ok, so I'm a little late.... but I just have to say that you say exactly what I want to when it comes to Dickens. I am in love with his work, as you know, and I appreciate the words you use to praise him. :)
    Also, I have a lot of those questions too...


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