What Did You Read This Reading Week?

It’s just the beginning of reading week as I am writing this. With the whole week ahead of me, I just feel like diving into a book with a cup of hot chocolate and literally do some reading (ha-ha, I know!), curled up next to a fireplace. But let’s be real. I live in a student housing and there is no fireplace or hot chocolate for that matter. So, I really just feel like reading a book, sans accessories. To share the joy of reading, I thought I’d recommend some of my favourite books to you, with my reviews. To be fair, I haven’t read these in a while, but they have changed my life in small, little ways.

Talking about changing my life, my favourite book of all time has to be I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak. The story is told from the perspective of the protagonist, Ed Kennedy, who has a strained relationship with his mother and lives alone with his dog, the Doorman. Ed has three friends, one of whom, Audrey, he is in love with. One day, Ed accidentally comes in the way of a robbery and is dubbed a local hero. A few days later, he receives an envelope containing an Ace of Diamonds, three addresses and times written on it. At one address he finds a woman who is being raped by her husband, at another a girl who runs barefoot everyday and still keeps losing at her track meets. The third address is of a widow. The story follows Ed as he comes up with unique solutions to take away these sorrows from these people while putting himself through emotional and physical agony. More Aces keep showing up after he accomplishes these tasks. His own life takes a backseat in the process as he is consumed by curiosity – he doesn’t know who is sending him these cards. However, the character development of Ed, and how his relationships grow because of that is the central idea of the book. I call this book life changing because it reinstates the idea that you don’t have to change the world to be proud, or a good person. Even if you are just the messenger, like Ed, you can still change the lives of only a few people and that would change the world for them. After reading the book, I remember seeing the people around me in a new light. More often than not we are so consumed by our own life that we forget that the people around us have their own struggles, thoughts, conscience, and it is unfair of us to perceive them with biases that often fog our eyes. I highly suggest reading this book if you would like to refresh your perception of the world around you, or even for just a quick light read. You will not be disappointed.

Zusak is better known for The Book Thief, easily his most popular work. This book follows the life of Liesel, a young girl who loses her father and moves in with her foster parents. The book is set in Nazi Germany. Her foster father, Hans, a gentleman realizes the importance of teaching Liesel how to read in this destructive environment. Liesel befriends Max, a boxer they are hiding in the basement, and also Rudy, a neighbour who ends up falling in love with her. Liesel starts stealing books that the Nazis are trying to destroy and reading them. While the story itself is heart-clutching, to say the least, what struck me the most about this book is the narrative. Zusak introduced Death as a narrator in this novel. We see Death personified as gentle and caring. It makes sense to have Death as its own character because he sees everything. In the Nazi regime, death was so prevalent that only Death could accurately describe the happenings. The mortality of everything around Liesel is what makes this book so beautiful, heartbreaking, and touching. The reader feels for her as she risks her life to read books that she isn’t allowed to read. She proves to us that unbiased learning is worth everything that you can give. This book made me cry real tears of sadness for this girl, who despite her courage and maturity is faced with numerous obstacles that she needs to overcome before she can obtain the knowledge she deserves. I recommend reading this book if you are a history enthusiast. It is in no way a light read but once you start reading it, it is almost impossible to put it down. Just, read it for Liesel.

The next book I really enjoyed reading is The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. In this book, Niffenegger tells the story of Henry DeTamble, a librarian suffering from a genetic disorder that lets him time-travel. He cannot control where he goes and for how long, but usually ends up in places significant to his life. He also can’t bring any belongings with himself. When he reaches the past or the future, he always ends up naked. Consequently, he teaches himself skills like lock-picking and self-defense. When he meets his wife, Clare, for the first time, she has actually known him for all of her life. This is because once he does meet Clare, he starts travelling to the past all the time to go visit Clare in her childhood. The book follows the life of Henry and Clare as a married couple and their struggle with this disorder. I enjoyed this book so much because of its cathartic nature. It highlights very real problems which are exaggerated by the inclusion of these extraordinary circumstances. I also really thought it was mind-boggling that while most of us consider time-travel as a superpower, Niffenegger reimagines it as almost a disease. The feminist in me loved this book because of Clare’s strong character. She is there for her husband and supports her family through Henry’s unexplained and unpredictable absences. You will love this book if you enjoy science fiction and are a little bit of a romantic at heart.

Finally, I want to bring your attention to The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. The setting for the book is a dystopian republic that has replaced the United States of America. The story follows Offred, a handmaid who has been employed to bear with and for her commander. The “ceremony” for this happens silently, dispassionately, and with her commander’s wife holding her hand. She is not allowed to leave the house, except for shopping trips with a peer. The Eyes, a secret police force, are always watching her and other handmaids. In the novel, Offred breaks rules by befriending her commander, being friends with a member of an underground rebellion, and having an affair. She recalls events leading up to her becoming a handmaid and misses her daughter from her free life dearly. The mystery develops as her commander’s wife promises to reconnect her with her daughter, in return for a favour. My favourite part about the book is that Offred, even in this situation where she cannot help herself, shows courage in any way she can. Little anecdotes in that are dispersed throughout the novel display the author’s genius in shining light on how rebellious Offred can be. I love Atwood’s way of writing a feminist story when the whole setting is sexist. This book is in no way an easy read. I took a number of breaks just to catch my breath from the stress of reading it. Nonetheless, it was so worth it. You will definitely love this book if you are a feminist or like strong characters in your prose.

The Book Thief has also been made into a motion picture that you can watch if reading is not something you like to do. The Handmaid’s Tale is a TV show as well. All four of the books I have mentioned are really relevant today despite being set in various timelines. As you can tell, I enjoy catharsis and books seem to do the trick for me. This list is in no way complete. There are so many beautiful books out there! I hope you find a format that you enjoy, or maybe even a different book. If you have read or are reading any of the books I mentioned, or if you have any recommendations for me to read, feel free to reach me at iwarrior@uwaterloo.ca.

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