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The Book Thief
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Book Club Discussions > July: The Book Thief - Markus Zusak (Please mark spoilers!)

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message 1: by Hayes (new)

Hayes (hayes13) I'll be reading this while on holiday, so will catch up with everyone when I get back.


message 2: by Misty (last edited Jul 01, 2009 09:28AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Misty | 1505 comments I started this over the weekend, and I am having a mixed reaction. There is a part of me that loves it stylistically, and there is a part of me saying "Enough already, we get it." I loved the first page and thought 'this is neat,' and then by the third page: 'really? we're still doing this?' But then I start liking it again, until something else is too much. It settles a bit as Death really gets into the story, but sometimes, even though the clever/interesting little turns of phrase are clever/interesting, that doesn't mean you have to throw in every one you think of (Mr. Zusak...)
Anyone else having this reaction, or am I just being picky?


Laura (apenandzen) I didn't have that reaction, Misty, I loved the book and his unique style with Death as the narrator. Not to say you're being picky. You may just need to get used to the feel of it before it feels natural to you. I hope you can get past it though, it's a brilliant novel in my opinion.


Misty | 1505 comments It wasn't that it didn't feel natural. There was a lot of it that was really interesting. but he has this intentional talking-in-circles style, and there is a fine line between neat and too much, and sometimes it was just too much. Mostly I love the book, sometimes I want to shake it.


Laura (apenandzen) Hmm. I see what you mean, but I wanted to embrace that rather than shake it, I think.


Leslie | 15 comments I loved that "Death" was so personable (?); You connect with him/it rather than just fearing or repelling!

What really bothers me most about this book is that, because it was listed as YA, it hasn't gotten a lot of promotion (or maybe this is just me?). I read it when students at my school were first reading it (I'm a school counselor), but I still feel like it is so well written that adults would like it (those who liked "Skeletons at the Feast" and other WWII recent releases.).

I like the author's style, although I agree at times I was thinking 'enough'. I haven't been drawn to any of his other books--have any of you? (Is it ok to ask that in this thread?)


message 7: by Misty (last edited Jul 01, 2009 08:18PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Misty | 1505 comments Leslie wrote: "I loved that "Death" was so personable (?); You connect with him/it rather than just fearing or repelling!

What really bothers me most about this book is that, because it was listed as YA, it..."


I think that any time a book has young main characters, it almost always gets classified as YA, and I think that's a shame. The YA label keeps a lot of adults from reading really great things, and makes the rest of us skulk around in the YA section like adults who wish we were still in high school (and who in their right minds would ever want that). For the things that truly seem YA, I always say the books are written by adults, so they come from an adult talent. Plus, why would I want to miss out on a great book just cause I was born late? But it is a shame to have to make excuses, and a lot of adults miss out on reading great things because they're too mature (maybe we really never do leave high school).


Inoli | 17 comments Misty wrote: "I think that any time a book has young main characters, it almost always gets classified as YA, and I think that's a shame. The YA label keeps a lot of adults from reading really great things, and makes the rest of us skulk around in the YA section like adults who wish we were still in high school"

I smiled at this post. I'm quite far along in being middle aged. I've loved what I've read so far, make no excuses and have been suggesting to some friends that they read these YA books. In my Barnes & Noble the YA section is labeled Teens but it never occurred to me to be self conscious, even when I had to ask help to find the Georgia Nicolson series yesterday (haven't read any of it yet but wanted a peek). I'm sure that a lot of adults do miss out because of the YA classification but if not for that the reverse may be true so I'll vote for the status quo.


message 9: by Jennifer W, WT Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jennifer W | 1289 comments Mod
Misty, I know what you're saying! I feel like whenever I go into the YA section in the library I need an excuse (uh, yeah, I'm here picking up some books for my nieces and nephews...) to be wandering around in there. And I certainly don't miss high school!!

Leslie, I read his I Am The Messenger recently and while it was enjoyable it was not written the same way The Book Thief was, I much prefer The Book Thief.

There was a rumor circulating somewhere that we might get Markus to come chat with us, any word on that? I would love it if he could.


Misty | 1505 comments Jennifer W wrote: "Misty, I know what you're saying! I feel like whenever I go into the YA section in the library I need an excuse (uh, yeah, I'm here picking up some books for my nieces and nephews...) to be wanderi..."

!! Exactly! I refuse to anymore. I shamelessly read a couple picture books called the Tushy Book and Being a Pig is Nice the other day. Adorable.
(though to be fair, the children's librarian handed them to me and told me to look through. But still. I sat there in my tiny chair and laughed aloud as I read them, and just smiled like a loon at anyone who gave me 'the look.')


Cassie (cassielo) It wasn't until I joined this group that I realized that pretty much every book I've read before and read now is classified as YA. It doesn't bother me, but I do feel a little self-conscious in the Juvenile section.

I just recently read The Book Thief, and I did end up loving it. The beginning definitely gave me the "enough already" feeling, enough so that I was considering not finishing it. It wasn't until I reached the end that I recognized the beauty of the story. Despite the initial feeling that the story was dragging on and long, I wouldn't want a thing changed about it by the end.


Laura (apenandzen) Jennifer W wrote: "Misty, I know what you're saying! I feel like whenever I go into the YA section in the library I need an excuse (uh, yeah, I'm here picking up some books for my nieces and nephews...) to be wanderi..."

I'll keep everyone posted re: Markus - at this point, I haven't heard back from him, but I'm thinking of exploring some other avenues of reaching him soon. I haven't given up by any means. I think our members would love to chat with him.




Laura (apenandzen) Also, for anyone who is interested, Zusak is coming out with a new book due to be released this November. Here is some information about it from his site:

"Speaking of the next time around, I’d also like to tell you a bit about what I'm working on at the moment. For three years now, whenever people have asked the terrifying question – “So what’s your new book about?” – I’ve stuttered my way through a whole range of incoherent responses. I’ve talked about a murderer. I’ve talked about a mule and five brothers, and a girl on a roof.

Of course, everything I just mentioned plays its part in the new book, but not one of them is the heart of it. I guess sometimes it's easier to tell people what surrounds a story, rather than the story itself.

When all is said and done, I think I finally see that the book I'm writing is actually simple:

It's about a boy.
His name is Clay.
He's building a bridge.
And he wants that bridge to be something truly great and miraculous.

Now I just have to finish writing it, and I'll do everything I can to make it right.

Thanks again, and best always"





Jennifer (JenJen1221) | 623 comments Thanks Laura for the mention of the new book...I'm excited!!!


Kristen Harvey | 1046 comments I started reading this weeks ago (I've read it once before) and finally broke down and nabbed the audio from the library. It's a bit hard adjusting to the audio version, but I've already knocked quite a bit of it out! I really am enjoying this book, so I hope you guys do too!


JG (Introverted Reader) This immediately became my very, very, very favorite book. I just fell head over heels in love with it. It's one of those rare books that left me thinking that I needed to take a break from reading for a little while so that I could just process it and keep that warm fuzzy glow of reading a new favorite going for a while. I don't know how long that actually lasted... :-) I checked this out from the library and I hated to let go of it and return it. I had to give it a great big hug before I dropped it in the return box! Luckily, I got my own copy for Christmas about a month later. I just can't describe exactly how much I love this book.

I am so disappointed that this is classified as YA. It's a book that everyone should read. I think it' much more common for the teens to drift into the "adult" section than the other way around. I think the marketers did themselves a disservice with that decision. I feel sure it would sell much better from the adult section and more people would be exposed to this book that I love so much.

Sorry that some of you are a little frustrated with the style. I don't remember feeling that at all.


JG (Introverted Reader) Leslie wrote: "I haven't been drawn to any of his other books--have any of you?"

I was afraid to pick up any of his other books, thinking that I could only be disappointed in them. Thanks to Laura's pushing ;-) I finally picked up I Am the Messenger. It didn't become a new favorite, but it had a great message and it was a really good read. I never had issues about comparing it to The Book Thief because the two are so very different. You'll probably enjoy Messenger if you ever pick it up.


message 18: by Jennifer W, WT Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jennifer W | 1289 comments Mod
JG, I had the same reaction when I finished reading it, too. I didn't want to read anything else for a few days just to keep that wonderful feeling I had after reading this. I, too, borrowed it from the library and then soon after had to go buy it so I could have a copy of my own to love!


Becky (beckyofthe19and9) I remember when I read BT for the first time. I was in a local discount store, and they buy overstock books and resell them at DRASTICALLY reduced rates. I was drawn to the title and the cover (dominos) and I bought it right then and there for $3 in hardcover.

I read it through that day, and was breathless at the end. I know exactly how you felt JG, because I felt the same way. Zusak's writing is amazing. I've still never read anything like it. He gives texture to everything in a way I've never even thought of. Colors have tastes, thoughts have smells, words have weight and substance in a way that is so honest that it amazed me that I'd never thought of them that way before.

I immediately went back to the store, and bought Messenger, read that, and loved it, but not the same way as I loved BT.

I then gave both books to my mom for Christmas, who used to read a LOT but hadn't read anything in a while because she just had no time. She read BT and Messenger both in a day apiece, and was shocked that she put everything off to finish the books. I was thrilled that she loved them.

I then bought another copy for myself, again for $3 in HC, gave that away on GR, and now I have a PB. I'm not giving this one away. LOL

I think it's a testament to a great book that I am willing to buy copies and give them away (even if they are ridiculously underpriced) just so that others can experience it.

Please please read this book and give it a chance. It's so... different and wonderful.


message 20: by April (last edited Jul 05, 2009 01:06PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

April (booksandwine) | 312 comments I too, read this book in a day, in Feburary. I feel that I am not able to put into words what so many others have already said, how fantastic this book is. I loved everything about this book, I loved the characters, I loved how real everything felt. I thought Death was a pretty believable narrator, then again I am willing to suspend my disbelief at the drop of a hat. Like Becky, I've passed around my copy. Right now my copy has been lent out to three people and as soon as the person currently reading it finishes it, I plan on mailing it to a girl whom I did teaching/observations with. My copy is definately making the rounds.


Laura (apenandzen) What a terrific book, I wholeheartedly agree with everyone's comments of praise for this one. A real bound diamond it is.


message 22: by Misty (last edited Jul 07, 2009 01:23PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Misty | 1505 comments Becky wrote: "Colors have tastes, thoughts have smells, words have weight and substance in a way that is so honest that it amazed me that I'd never thought of them that way before."


One of the more interesting things he does is called synesthesia. It's used in poetry a lot, but it's actually a brain condition where senses get sort of mixed (like "this tastes purple"). I actually do like that about the book, but I think he slightly over does it. It's like using really big or unusual words. If you use a few or don't use them often, when you do they stand out. If you use 7 in every sentence, they start to mean a little less. I think he does synesthesia really nicely, he comes up with some very interesting ones, but sometimes I think a little less would be more. He uses a lot of neat personification, too, but even that is sometimes...But it's certainly interesting.



Becky (beckyofthe19and9) Yeah, I know about synethesia (my boyfriend's ex actually had it), and I understand what you're saying, but I don't agree that it was overused in this book. It would have been awkward if halfway through, Death had STOPPED describing things the unusual way that he was inclined to see them.

I think that for a person to associate the color blue with the flavor of chocolate is one thing, but it's entirely another to be able to make someone else understand that association too. And I think that Zusak did that.

I don't read poetry, and try to avoid verse if at all possible, so maybe I haven't been as exposed to that 'technique' as some, but it still didn't feel gimmicky to me, as some writing styles are prone to.

I felt that this book was honest. Zusak's family had personal experience with Nazi Germany, so he wrote a story that was close to him. I think if it was written any other way, it wouldn't have worked. Some stories can only be what they are, love them or hate them. :)


Misty | 1505 comments Becky wrote: "It would have been awkward if halfway through, Death had STOPPED describing things the unusual way that he was inclined to see them."


That's not what I'm saying at all. That wouldn't make any sense. I just thought that they sometimes feel forced. Kind of like, "I'm Death and I have an original take every where else, so what's my take here?"
Like I said, most of the time I really like it, and sometimes it's downright brilliant. I think you are dead-on when you say that making someone else get it is key. He is very good at that. It's not even so much that it's overused, exactly. I just think some would stand out more if there were more distance. One gem to really shine, you know.




Becky (beckyofthe19and9) I can understand the "less is more" thing, and generally I'd agree with you. But in this case, again I'm going to disagree, haha.

What else does Death have to occupy his time with? He people watches, or more accurately, he LIFE watches. I doubt that I could relate to Death as a narrator if he wasn't seeing the world VASTLY differently than I do. So, in a way, the fact that everything he shows us is colored by his perception helped me to accept and understand and even like Death's character.

It was either this "extreme" (and I put that in quotes because I don't feel it was one) or Death's character had to be completely inhuman, which I imagine would alienate a LOT of readers and take the focus away from the story that is really being told: Leisel's coming of age in Nazi Germany.

I can't imagine the story being told another way, honestly. I loved Death's insights on the world so much that I actually wished there were more of them. :)


Misty | 1505 comments Becky wrote:I can't imagine the story being told another way, honestly. I loved Death's insights on the world so much that I actually wished there were more of them. :)"

And this is why I would never discourage someone from reading something (though I wouldn't discourage someone from reading this, because despite my pet peeves, I do like this). But I wouldn't want someone to not read something because I dissed it, because what drove me nuts (like the asides in Despereaux) might make the book for someone else.

So good discussion.
*shakes hands*


Becky (beckyofthe19and9) Yep... Everyone has different tastes and opinions, which is cool, because if everyone thought and acted the same way, life would be incredibly boring! (And then what would Death have to entertain himself with? :P)

Have you read any of Zusak's other books?


Emily | 25 comments I'm about halfway through - thank you to whoever nominated this book and to everyone who voted for it! I absolutely love it and might not have found it otherwise. I'll be back after I'm through for real discussion, just wanted to revel in how much I am enjoying this book!


Misty | 1505 comments I have marked I Am the Messenger as to read, but I don't know when I'll get to it. I've heard good things, though. I know he has others, but those seem to be the two that wow people.


Misty | 1505 comments Just finished reading (finally). Still sniffling a bit.


Jennifer (JenJen1221) | 623 comments I warned my sister-in-law to have some tissues with her when she reads this book.


message 32: by Laura (last edited Jul 09, 2009 10:04AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Laura I read The Book Thief earlier this year. While I didn't find it to be completely successful I did really like the personification of Death. Death was actually my favorite character in the story. Good call on the tissue warning!



Emily | 25 comments Yeah, I bawled my eyes out at the end. What got to me about Death was not the descriptions/synesthesia thing, so much as the fact that his omniscient narrator status really took the work out of reading the book. Having Death point out that the Mayor's wife might have left the window open on purpose sort of irritated me. For that reason I do think the book was rightly classes as YA. That said, I didn't think that Death's POV took anything away from the suspense or emotional impact of the book, which is a testament to Zusak's ability as an author.

I thought it was inspired to have Death be the narrator of a story set in WWII Germany. Having a narrator as feared and reviled as Death be the one to tell a very human story of a people who are villains in every one of our movies set during that era was a great decision.


Misty | 1505 comments Emily wrote: "I thought it was inspired to have Death be the narrator of a story set in WWII Germany. Having a narrator as feared and reviled as Death be the one to tell a very human story of a people who are villains in every one of our movies set during that era was a great decision."

And making Death seem more humane. He's "haunted by humans" as he says, and he finds the things we do disturbing. He's not this beast relishing in war, he;s disgusted by it. I think that adds a level, too.


Linda I was hesitant to start this book because it looked long. But it was on my shelf and thought I could benefit from this discussion, so I started it yesterday and wow, it has grabbed me; I am breezing through it rather quickly. It definitely helped knowing that the narrator was Death, and I actually like his perspective and his brief, inserted commentary and translations. I love the characters Zusak has created, and look forward to finishing the book - maybe today!


Misty | 1505 comments I think my favorite thing about Death's narration were the bolded parts. You know, definitions and memories and notes and such. They were interesting and got to the heart of things.


Jennifer (JenJen1221) | 623 comments Misty...I loved those parts as well...those were the parts I would usually read to my mom.


meleah (meleahreads) I loved those parts, too. It was an interesting approach and I definitely agree that they got to the heart of things. I just love how Death was represented. I thought it both strange and interesting when I first read that Death was the narrator, but it brought something new and refreshing and interesting to the story that would have been lacking otherwise. And it was nothing like I thought it would be - I mean, when you first hear that Death will be the narrator, beauty and sensitivity and wonder do not come to mind. But from now on maybe they will.


Lydia (loverofinformation) | 596 comments I have been reading and recommending this book since I read the review in the New York Times. I have not had one person, young or old, to whom I recommended who has not thanked me. In fact, this book has been on the Teens Best Seller list for the NYT for awhile.

It was surprising to me that I reacted to The Messenger the way most of you who have read it did -- it just wasn't as gripping to me. Usually I enjoy first novels because they tend to be the author's all. (Grisham is my best example, since it seems at some point he started writing screenplays and let the novel go.) I have read all of Zusak's books and TBT is my absolute favorite, in many categories.

I love the introduction and how Death brings you into his perspective. Yes, indeed, Death is personable, memorable, and has a distinctly unique perspective of human life.

I have a question for you: what do you think of the significance of music in this book? I cannot help but think of how much music Death would be exposed to and thought there was a deeper meaning that may have been escaping me. Any thoughts?


Jeannie | 24 comments I was assigned this book for one of my Master's classes last semester, and was very hesitant to read it. I am not a great fan of Holocaust literature, mainly because of my emotional response to the suffering. However, my Professor suggested I listen to the book on audio, and I think this was a great way to go. I really liked the way Death was woven into the story. I also think that the way that Zusak develops his characters made me able to get through the story and even enjoy it. Zusak's ability to show humanity even in the worst situations was what kept me going. I don't know if I will read the Messenger, but I'm glad I tried this novel. My discussion group in class also felt that this would be a great adult read, no matter the ages of the characters...just like so many other posters did.


Jeannie | 24 comments meleah wrote: "I loved those parts, too. It was an interesting approach and I definitely agree that they got to the heart of things. I just love how Death was represented. I thought it both strange and interestin..."

For me, music is deeply tied to memory and emotion. Maybe something along this line was meant by Zusak? It has been a few months since I read the book, so I am trying to think back to the music aspect....


message 42: by Gail (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gail | 12 comments Emily wrote: "I thought it was inspired to have Death be the narrator of a story set in WWII Germany. Having a narrator as feared and reviled as Death be the one to tell a very human story of a people who are villains in every one of our movies set during that era was a great decision."

And making Death seem more humane. He's "haunted by humans" as he says, and he finds the things we do disturbing. He's not this beast relishing in war, he;s disgusted by it. I think that adds a level, too.

Excellent observations!!


Linda Finished it - loved it - hated for it to end! It's not very often that a book leaves the feeling with me that I can't wait to read it again, because I don't often read books more than once (except Jane Austen!)


message 44: by Hayes (new)

Hayes (hayes13) Really enjoyed this!! It got off to a slow-ish start. I liked it, but was wondering where it would take me... by the middle I couldn't put it down, and I just adored it by the end.

What a great story.


Becky (beckyofthe19and9) Jeannie, Messenger is VERY different than TBT. It's a lot more upbeat, and has a completely different feel. There is still some amazingly powerful and heartfelt stuff in it, but it is also funny and uplifting as well. You should definitely give it a try.


Jeannie | 24 comments Becky wrote: "Jeannie, Messenger is VERY different than TBT. It's a lot more upbeat, and has a completely different feel. There is still some amazingly powerful and heartfelt stuff in it, but it is also funny an..."

Thanks, now that I know this I will give it a try. I have been reading quite a bit this summer (I'm on my break from teaching), and I am looking for new stuff to read. I have discovered Sarah Dessen, and am reading through her stuff. I needed a little break from vampires and fairies! I will put The Messenger on my list!


Becky (beckyofthe19and9) Jeannie wrote: "Becky wrote: "Jeannie, Messenger is VERY different than TBT. It's a lot more upbeat, and has a completely different feel. There is still some amazingly powerful and heartfelt stuff in it, but it is..."

I'm glad to hear that, and Laura will be too! She loves Messenger! :) Please let us know what you think when you've read it.


message 48: by Meg (new) - rated it 5 stars

Meg When I started reading this I was excited & hesitant. I didn't want to become too attached to the characters b/c of the setting. I usually have an overwhelming emotional response w/ Holocaust topics b/c I so desperately want there to be a different historical outcome. I still became very attached to the characters in the story. And though I will always wish for a different outcome historically I didn't feel an overwhelming sadness. After reading the last page I sat perfectly still in silence for over half an hour & immediately reread the first few chapters. I have recommended it to multiple people & for the first time I am finding myself not wanting to part with my copy. I loved this book so much I want to keep it by my side for just a little longer. Does that sound bizarre?
I would easily say it's on my top 5 best list. I am so glad it was chosen. I would have probably put off reading it for a while longer b/c I have a stack of books waiting to be read. Thank you.



Misty | 1505 comments I loaned mine to a friend literally hours after I'd finished it, and it felt a little weird seeing it go, even though she borrows books from me all the time. It was like it hadn't settled yet...


message 50: by Meg (new) - rated it 5 stars

Meg Misty wrote: "I loaned mine to a friend literally hours after I'd finished it, and it felt a little weird seeing it go, even though she borrows books from me all the time. It was like it hadn't settled yet..."

Exactly. I lent it to my mom this evening. I guess I could have visitations if I need. hahaha. She does not read anything different than her comfort zone of mysteries so I really interested to see how she feels about the writing & the story.


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