My Heart is a Book

I’ve written more than one book review about Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, so doing that again and adding to the gargantuan web pile of reviews might be redundant, if not ridiculous. So instead, I’d like to share a bit of what I’ve learned about the author.

I’ve been to two Zusak speaking engagements, one in which he demonstrated the elements of story and answered questions, and another in which he shared his writing process (for The Book Thief, in particular). When I met him, I opened with, “I needed this book.” I still do. I need it like I need water.

I was particularly struck by Mr. Zusak’s reminiscent remarks about the final days of his writing of the book. He had holed up in a hotel room. The publisher was on him, hard; the finished manuscript was due. Those days were tortuous, not only because of the deadline, but because of what he had to do to his beloved characters. When he vacated the room, the blotter on the desk was stained with his tears. This, alone, proves that his vocation is not primarily about selling books; it is about the writing. He made his characters so real that he felt he couldn’t leave them (Incidentally, readers tend to feel the same affection for his characters).

Zusak inadvertently identified himself as the author of The Book Thief. Surely, there was never a doubt that he authored it, but in his speaking, he demonstrated the same humor, descriptive ability, humility, and sentimentality he uses in his prose.

He changed his narrator numerous times, finally settling on what I consider to be nothing short of ingenious. He took a risk that the book simply couldn’t do without.

Zusak rewrote the first 80 pages of the book more than 150 times. This is encouraging to the right people; it proves that success is not a product of talent, but of toil.

He particularly enjoyed titling the chapters — which is evident in The Book Thief. The first time I read it, I was taken by his knack for this.

Mr. Zusak regularly reverses gratitude, showering it upon his admirers with genuine words and a virtually unparalleled humility.

Zusak has struck a glorious balance between my two favorite types of fiction:  literary and historical. His descriptions are poetic, painting unforgettable pictures in the mind.

Thank you, Mr. Zusak. Your book arrived just when I needed it, and years later, it’s still changing the way I read, the way I write, and the way I live. My heart must be a book, because The Book Thief has stolen it.

Hear words from Markus Zusak here.


5 responses to “My Heart is a Book

  1. Pingback: Book Review: “The Book Thief” (2006) « Hungry Lindsay

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