By Jane Boursaw
Movie: The Book Thief
I haven’t read Markus Zusak’s book upon which The Book Thief is based, but now I want to. I love this movie. It’s one of those rare films you can call a “quality film” and actually mean it.
And not only is the PG-13 rating on target, but it’s a good film for teens to see — to learn more about World War II from the perspective of a German kid, and also learn about a time when books were burned in big heaps in the village square. It’s the sort of thing that seems almost unthinkable to American kids, but there it was.
The Book Thief was filmed in various locations in Germany, including Berlin; Görlitz, Saxony; and Studio Babelsberg, Potsdam, Brandenburg. Much thought was put into every single detail, from the train station to the authentic wardrobes, cars and homes. And the film itself seems to have been washed in a vintage patina that brings that era and location alive.
Like the book, the film is narrated by Death (Roger Allam), who explains that he rarely cares about the stories of the living, with the exception of young Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nelisse). In 1938, Liesel is riding on a train with her frightened mother (Heike Makatsch), who’s rumored to be a Communist, and her sick little brother (Julian Lehmann), who dies before they reach their destination.
During an impromptu funeral in a desolate graveyard along the way, Liesel steals The Gravedigger’s Handbook as a memento. And thus begins her noble life of crime. She’s soon delivered to her childless foster parents, a gentle painter named Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and his curmudgeonly wife Rosa (Emily Watson).
Hans discovers Liesel’s book and teaches her how to read, using not only the book, but the walls of the basement, where she writes word after word. Liesel befriends her neighbor, a tow-headed boy named Rudy Steiner (Nico Liersch) who runs fast, idolizes Olympic idol Jesse Owens, and fends off schoolyard bullies.
When Hans and Rosa agree to hide a young Jewish man, Max (Ben Schnetzer), in their basement, Liesel forms a friendship with him, reads to him when he’s sick, and helps her adoptive parents hide him when the Nazis come around. As the war progresses, Max — who teaches Liesel to resist hate, even as the regimen closes in — realizes that he’s putting all of them in danger.
The Book Thief is at turns heartbreaking and joyful, and acting vets Rush and Watson are wonderful as a bickering married couple who clearly love each other. Nelisse is spot-on as the feisty, optimistic Liesel, who manages to overcome the worst circumstances a young child could endure. Her heart remains open, even as the people she loves disappear from her life.
The Book Thief is a story of hope, loss, perseverance, literacy and love, both for the people in our lives and the books on our shelves.
Book: Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) – Jerome K. Jerome
By Pamela Douglas Webster
How does a travelogue first published in 1889 remain continuously in print to the present day? By being gut-bustingly funny.
Victorian author Jerome K. Jerome meant his now-classic tale, Three Men in a Boat, to be a travel guide describing a journey on the Thames between Kingston and Oxford. But while people continue to duplicate the journey themselves—many of the pubs depicted in the book still exist—most of us read it as comic literature.
The story opens with Jerome recounting his many ailments. His self-diagnosis came from consulting a medical encyclopedia. With each reading of a new set of symptoms, Jerome discovers another disease he’s suffering from. In fact, he finds himself suffering from every malady—typhoid, cholera, and diphtheria—everything except for housemaid’s knee.
When he talks to his friends, Harris and George, the author finds they also suffer from lethargy and an extreme reluctance to work.
As far as I could tell from the book, George is the only one of the three men with a job. Or, as Jerome explains,
“George goes to sleep at a bank from ten to four each day, except Saturdays, when they wake him up and put him outside at two.”
And as for Montmorency, the dog of the title, he lives at the expense of the author.
The three humans decide to take a wooden skiff up the Thames to escape the stress of 19th century life. Despite making his displeasure unknown, the fox terrier is outvoted three to one and the trip is on.
The three men are on a lark and continually afflicted with misadventures. As the book progresses, I found it hard to imagine any three characters less equipped for an adventure that involved rowing, towing, and sailing. (Jerome’s description of the three getting tangled in the sails had me relieved that they spent most of their time at the sculls.)
But they are just aiming to have fun, which they do between misadventures. Montmorency has greater aspirations.
“Montmorency’s ambition in life, is to get in the way and be sworn at. If he can squirm in anywhere he particularly is not wanted, and be a perfect nuisance, and make people mad, and have things thrown at his head, then he feels his day has not been wasted.”
The dog somehow ends up being the most rational character in the book.
Jerome alternates comic stories with descriptions of the burial places of famous people, historic events, and scenic views. His description of his friend Harris becoming lost in the Hampton Court maze was one of his funniest stories.
But some of his historic descriptions are purple and overwrought. I found myself skimming his discussion of King John’s face-off with the barons at Magna Carta island. But frankly, the book is so funny overall that one might be grateful for relief from laughing.
To this day, Three Men in a Boat is read by British school students. It has been made into three different films, including one that was adapted by Tom Stoppard and starred Tim Curry and Michael Palin in 1975. And many people read it over and over.
I laughed out loud throughout the book. At his best, Jerome K. Jerome could be the love child of P.G. Wodehouse and David Sedaris. The humor has aged well.
And at the time of year when we’re approaching the darkest days of the Northern hemisphere, Three Men in a Boat, is a charming escape. You might even find yourself rereading it every solstice.
Disclosures and Photo Credits: The Thames Skiff is by Hackworth on Flickr. The Hampton Court maze is by bobgjohnson on Flickr. Both are used under a Creative Commons license. The book link takes you to Amazon. If you buy a book after using that link, I will earn a few cents but your book will not cost you more. Thanks for your support.
Book: A Cold and Lonely Place by Sara J. Henry
As I write this, a cold wave is chilling the Western U.S., threatening the East, and slowing down travelers. Albuquerque airport is closed. Dallas is digging out. Here in Tucson, we covered plants last night anticipating a freeze. By the time you read this review of a mystery set in Wisconsin, the cold wave may have passed. But if you are curling up with A Cold and Lonely Place: A Novel, better bundle up.
That’s because Sara J. Henry provides an appropriately bone-chilling atmosphere for this who-dun-it–The Saranac Lake Winter Carnival. From her description in the book, or the web site of the event (which next takes place in the first week of February, 2014), you will get an idea of a winter travel destination with plenty of beauty and thrills.
If your experience of New York State is limited to New York City, you might be surprised by the Adirondacks. Northern New York (north of Albany) is bordered on the east by Vermont and on the north by Canada. The area is rugged with the forests of the Adirondack Mountains, and studded with lakes, like Saranac Lake, lower Saranac Lake and Tupper Lakes.
The area was thought of as a healthy place in the 1800s and today much of it is protected in parkland. The town of Saranac Lake is the largest Adirondack village with about 5000 people, but nearby Lake Placid, “about twenty minutes away if you don’t get stranded by tourists” is more famous for having sponsored the Olympic Winter games.
Fortunately, not every Saranac Lake Winter Carnival includes a dead body frozen in the ice, which is the start of freelance writer Troy Chance’s investigation in A Cold and Lonely Place. She is in Saranac to take photos and notes for a story about the building of the ice palace. Volunteers are cutting the 2′ x 4′ blocks of ice to build the Ice Palace when they discover the body.
I know a lot of freelance writers since I’m one of the breed, and as far as I know, none of them have ever chanced across a dead body–frozen or not. But Troy, a former small town sports writer (just like Sara J. Henry), seems adept at stumbling over mysteries of this sort–and getting personally entangled. This one lands her a dream assignment, as well as a lot of personal turmoil. She recognizes Tobin Winslow, the dead guy, as the former boyfriend of Jessamyn, who rents a room in Troy’s Lake Placid house.
Add in a cub reporter who gets vengeful when his prose is rewritten, natural journalistic curiosity about the surprising “dirt” Troy is uncovering, small town gossip and a little drug dealing, and the whole situation goes from uncomfortable to sometimes downright dangerous for the writer.
We know we can trust Troy, because she owns a big dog named Tiger, whom she describes at “a half German shepherd and half golden retriever, and just about the best dog on the planet.” In the story, Troy spends a lot of time making arrangements for Tiger to be taken care of when she has to be away. I appreciated that, because I’ve seen books where the authors treated dogs like those books people line there shelves with because the covers are the right color–simply decorative.
Troy also spends a lot of time telling us everything she has eaten. I sometimes had the feeling if she were my Facebook list, I’d unfriend her if I heard about one more peanut butter sandwich or name-brand fast food place. If A Cold and Lonely Place were a blog instead of a book, we’d have had food pictures every morning noon and night.
But all that detail sucks you right into the story. You feel the cold every time someone has to bundle up to go outside, or can’t wait to get inside to a hot cup of coffee. Sara J. Henry writes atmosphere. She also writes great character sketches. Nearly every character is introduced with one scapel-carved sentence that nails him or her, but each character also contributes to the general ambiance and definitely to the story. The book has you cheering for Troy and her friends and wanting to help get to the bottom of all those family secrets that eventually thaw out with the ice block that encloses the body.
So stir up a little hot chocolate, cuddle up under a comforter, and read A Cold and Lonely Place. Or get on line and book your travel to the Adirondacks for this February’s Saranac Lake Winter Carnival.
Looking for another chilling mystery? Have you tried The Boy in the Snow?
Note: The book was provided by the publishers for review, which is routine, and does not affect my opinion. I tell you what I like and what I don’t.
I am an Amazon Affiliate, and links to book titles and covers lead to Amazon. When you do your shopping at Amazon through my links, it costs you no more, but shows support for A Traveler’s Library. Thank you!
Book: The Blind Masseuse by Alden Jones (NEW November 2013)
From time to time someone asks me if I can recommend a book that focuses on Costa Rica. In nearly five years now, I have not come across any books other than guidebooks that feature that traveler-magnet country. However, at last, a book at least partly about experiences in Costa Rica. And an excellent book it is.
In The Blind Masseuse, Alden Jones writes about long stretches of living in countries and cultures not her own. She is particularly drawn to Central and South America, so it starts with Costa Rica, includes Bolivia, Nicaragua, Cuba and then a more fleeting glimpse of Cambodia and Burma and Egypt.
Like most travel memoirs, the book tells us as much, if not more, about the author than the countries she is visiting. Unlike most travel memoirs, The Blind Masseuse is thoughtful and literate, leaving you with much to think about.
The title of the first chapter clearly sets out her thesis for the book. The title is, The Charm of the Unfamiliar, and she begins, not with boring us with travel philosophy cliches, but with the concrete description of her reaction to bumping into a cow on a small village street.
The buzzing in my head was the feeling of exoticism. It was the delight of having something bizarre or unfamiliar happen, and knowing that, from thej point of view of anyone inside those concrete houses I passed, it was absolutely unremarkable. It was bizarre only because of cultural context. ..These moments of absurdity made me feel so alive I almost felt high.
What a crystalline explanation that is of the addictive quality of travel. I think every travel has felt that way some time. Or if they are so unaware that they missed the moment, we pity them.
Throughout the book, she relates the stories of what happens as she enters different cultures. It is a very personal and intimate book, with the usual number of romances that pepper memoirs of young-ish women on the road and ends in the classic style with a marriage. But at the same time, the stories illustrate principles universal to travelers as well as little tidbits of information about each country she visits.
An editor named Francis Steegmuller ransacked your files [letters] and decided it would be a good idea to take these pages and bind them together as a book. He called it Flaubert in Egypt.
Jones’ “Letter to Flaubert” could be a stand-alone essay, and perhaps that is how it started out. It ponders why people travel, how it affects the traveler and the place traveled to. She relates to Flaubert as a scholar who has studied his work, and as a writer, who like Flaubert has suffered rejection and found subjects beyond her grasp. She compares the rigors of travel and the true separation from the familiar that travelers suffered much more than travelers today.
I found the book enticing reading, but one sentence continues to haunt me. “If you want the delight of the unfamiliar you leave yourself enough time between trips to activate the added kick of nostalgia when you return. ”
I know exactly that feeling. It is why, although I generally choose to go to as many new places as possible, I continue to yearn to return to Greece, and although I had never put it in words, I know it is that combination of experiencing the unfamiliar, and remembering my own prior visits that makes it so special.
Several of the chapters in this book appeared in periodicals and were listed in “Best American Travel Writing” in 2000,2004,2005,2007 and 2010.
Tell me–do you believe it is important to return to a place to fully appreciate it?
Note: The publisher provided the book for review, a standard practice which does not affect my opinion. The picture at the top is form Flickr, used with Creative Commons license. Click on the photo form more info. I am an Amazon affiliate, and the books mentioned here are linked to Amazon. When you shop at Amazon through my links it costs you no more, but helps support A Traveler’s Library. THANK YOU.
Do you have one book you read over and over at Christmas? Do you like Christmas-themed books? Do you need some new suggestions for Christmas books?
While we’re talking about what you like to read at Christmas time, let me remind you of the high percentage of people who cannot enjoy the simple pleasure–and sometimes the critical need–of reading. That’s why I’m enthusiastic about the Passport With Purpose effort this year to provide schools and adult literacy programs in Mali. If you have not yet learned about buildOn, the organization that helps local people build their own schools, please take a look at this video.
Then click to Passports with Purpose and select a prize you’d like to win for your $10 contribution. See that thermometer on the right? Keep track of how we’re doing at reading the goal. And be proud of being part of that effort.
BUT BACK TO CHRISTMAS READING
Are you still re-reading The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens every year? You can choose from audio books, pop-up books, children’s editions, annotated books, e-books–not to mention DVDs of various productions. Charles Dickens, you know, made money from his books by serializing them in newspapers, writing the next installment as the readers were still paging through the last one. What would he have thought of all those new ways to read,listen to or watch his story? I think he would have loved it!
The edition pictured here looks like a particularly decorative book, but since it really is a rather short book, you might want to get a collection of Christmas books that includes the Dickens classic.
Publishers of books and magazines all but beg writers to produce holiday-related material, because Christmas Sells! Everyone, I’m sure, is looking for the next “Christmas Carol” or “Twas the Night Before Christmas, or A Visit with St. Nicholas“. Christmas books of that quality are few and far between, although Dr. Seuss did create an immortal new Christmas character with The Grinch.
In time for the holidays, Penguin published Edie Kiglatuk’s Christmas (A Penguin holiday E-Special). After reading The Boy in the Snow, which I reviewed here, I was happy to read Edie Kiglatuk’s Christmas. This very short novel starts out as a rather bloody mystery that had me wondering what in the world is “Christmasy” about this? But, as the publicity release says, “This is a stunning short mystery with a magical and heart-rending twist.” If you have not read one of the Edie Kiglatuk’s mysteries yet, the e-book also tempts you with excerpts from the first two novels in the series, The Boy in the Snow and White Heat.
Are you a mystery fan? Every mystery writer, it seems, cranks out a book featuring Christmas. But if you want to save time, just get the new compilation: The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries. This is a collection of 60 short stories by well known (Agatha Christie, O. Henry, and Mary Higgins Clark, Ed McBain) and not-so well known writers. I haven’t read it but think I’d like to. A reviewer named Carole on Amazon says, “ If you like a little holiday reading that’s not so glycemic this is your sugarplum antidote.” Sounds good to me.
In the past we have given you some books written specifically for Christmas. In an article last year, Pamelas Douglas Webster suggested Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory among other Christmas books.
I laughed myself silly over Comfort and Joy, the antidote for all the holiday perfection pressure. Do give it a go. It may become one of your favorite Christmas books.
What do you read at Christmas time? Re read the classic Christmas books, or dive into a brand new mystery or romance with a holiday theme? Make a list in the comment section.
A reminder: I am an Amazon affiliate. The book covers here are linked to Amazon, as are some other links on this page. When you do your shopping at Amazon, would you please get there by clicking one of my links? It will not cost you any extra, but it will help A Traveler’s Library stay in business. THANKS!
by Kerry Dexter
Destinations: Ireland, Scotland, Brittany, Cape Breton, and Celtic communities across the world
Music: Narada Presents: The Best of Celtic Christmas [Narada Productions]
by Natalie MacMaster, Cathie Ryan, Kathy Mattea, Altan, The Boys of the Lough, Dordan, Frankie Gavin, and a whole bunch of other musicians
In Ireland, Scotland and other Celtic countries and communities across the world, the four weeks of Advent, the time of Christmas, the turning of the new year on up through Epiphany/Three Kings Day early in January are known as the festive season. This gets to the heart of Celtic Christmas time, a reminder of and invitation to celebration, connection, storytelling, joy, contemplation, and faith. All these things come into play in the music on Narada Presents: The Best of Celtic Christmas.
If you might be thinking, wait, Christmas isn’t really my holiday or hey, I’ve heard way too much holiday music — read on. In this musical celebration of Celtic Christmas you will find gems to enjoy even so.
One disc of this two-disc set is music by Dordan, four women based in the west of Ireland. Flute player Mary Bergin, singer Martina Goggin, fiddler and violist Dearbhaill Standun, and harper Kathleen Lougnane draw on backgrounds that include classical music as well as deep immersion in the traditions of Ireland to create a program that invites to the joy, thoughtfulness, and sharing that make up the anticipation of Christmas.
Their clear instrumentation, lively collaboration, and graceful singing and playing enliven songs and tunes you may know by melody if not by title — the Enniscorthy Carol, for example and Don Oiche Ud i mBeithil/ Because of a Night in Bethlehem — along with original music from the band members, including Mary Bergin’s good welcome for travelers in any season and of any faith called Wayfarer’s Welcome and her evocation of winter and mystery in Draiocht na hOiche/ Magic of the Night.
The music of Dordan offers a fine gateway to the music shared on the other disc of The Best of Celtic Christmas. If you’d like music which suggests winter and adds just a hint of jazz to Celtic tradition, then you’ll want to make time to listen The Snowy Path from Altan.
The band members of Altan come from Ireland’s far northwest, in Donegal, where it does indeed often get very snowy in winter. A touch of jazz also flavors Christmastime in Ashland, a tune from whistle master Cormac Breatnach and guitarist Martin Dunlea. Both men hail from Ireland, but they wrote the tune inspired by a winter trip in Virginia.
William Jackson from Glasgow, one of the Celtic world’s most renown harp players, and Mairi MacInnes, a gifted singer from South Uist in Scotland’s Western Isles, join together for a thoughtful exploration of Silent Night, which MacInnes sings in Scottish Gaelic. Nouel is a traditional hymn celebrating the Christ Child, sung in Breton with echoing harmonies by Ensemble Chorale du Bout du Mond from Brittany, a group formed to carry on the strong Celtic traditions of that area of northwestern France.
Fiddle player Natalie MacMaster comes from Cape Breton in Atlantic Canada. Here she joins up with country and bluegrass Grammy winter Alison Krauss as the two offer a song for those weary at the holidays called Help Me Make It Through December, which was written by fellow Cape Bretoner Gordie Sampson.
Kathy Mattea often finds inspiration and renewal for her award-winning country and Americana music through time she spends in Scotland, and it is to Scotland’s Western Isles she turns for the traditional song she offers here, Christ Child Lullabye.
Cathie Ryan, first generation Irish American, honors that community with her choice, and her quiet, understated version, of a carol written by two Irish American writers, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.
There are many more gems to discover on Narada Presents the Best of Celtic Christmas, from seasonal jigs and reels to carols to hymns. Whether your travels take you to the lands and communities of Celtic Christmas or not, you may travel there in your imagination with these musicians. Through all of this music you’ll find good and lasting companions for your own travels, during a season with a story of travel at its heart.
Read more about these and other Celtic Musicians in a series at Music road.
Note: It is the policy of A Traveler’s Library to let you know about affiliate links. There are links in this article to Amazon, where you can listen to bits of the album, and do your shopping if you wish. It does not cost you any more, and you will be benefiting Music Road and A Traveler’s Library.