"A house without books is like a room without windows." -Horace Mann

Friday, July 30, 2010

Survival in Auschwitz

by Primo Levi

I was actually planning on writing about one of my favorite childhood books today, but last night I caught the end of a great old movie, Judgement at Nuremberg, about one of the Nazi war criminal trials.  It has some of the best actors and actresses including Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, and Judy Garland.  Even a young William Shatner appears.  I read later that many of these big names took reduced pay for the film because of the importance of it being told.  If you've never seen this movie, you should.  It is one of the best court room dramas ever, not to mention it reminds us about just how easy it is for good men to be corrupted by doing what is easy instead of what is right.  The ending will make you think long and hard about how you might have acted, given the terrible choices of the time.

Perhaps the subject matter was why I didn't sleep well last night, and I woke up this morning reminded of the book Survival in Auschwitz which I read for a class in my MFA program.  It is a hard book to read, as any Holocaust account should be, but it is an important one to read as well.  It covers the horrors of the concentration camps but also reminds us of the strength of the human spirit to persevere in unimaginable circumstances.  What I loved most about this book is the chapters that talk about the daily living of the camps, detailing the work they did, and the intricate trading system between the inmates.  There are even brief moments of humor, however absurd it may seem.  These brief chapters of normalcy interspersed with chapters of horror brought a unique perspective to the book.  Levi also delves into the workings of the human mind and how different people dealt with the reality of the death camps in different ways.

Levi was lucky to have been put in Auschwitz towards the end of the war so only spent 9 months there, but at the end of the book he details the equally horrific events that occur after the Nazis abandon the camps and leave the starving, sick, and wasted inmates to fend for themselves until they are rescued.  This part of the ordeal is a subject I had not read about much in other books, but the chapter titled "The Story of Ten Days" is one that I will never forget. 

Read this book, if only to once again remember what should never be forgotten.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

by Allison Hoover Bartlett

I felt it appropriate to start my recommendations off with a piece of nonfiction that delves into the world of literary obsession.  The title alone was enough to hook me and the story is fascinating.  It is the story of two men, both obsessed with literature, who go about feeding their passion in two very different ways. John Gilkey is a master book thief who simply views rare books as status symbols more than good reading material.  He believes he is simply a different kind of book "collector".  Ken Sanders is the man who goes after Gilkey with equal passion, and finally brings him to justice.

Who knew the world of rare books could be so exciting?! 

I loved the book because it talks about books, bookstores, rare books, book conventions, booksellers, personal libraries, etc.  It was fascinating to learn about a man that could so utterly convince himself that stealing books was not really a crime and that he deserved to own them, even if he couldn't afford them.  The details about rare book collecting were fascinating, as well as the ingenious techniques Gilkey used to steal books.  The story of Ken Sanders and the lengths to which he goes to catch Gilkey will keep you turning pages.  If you too have a literary obsession, read this book and find out if you are really as obsessed as you think.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fact and Fiction

Fact: I love reading.  I love books.  I love holding them, smelling them, owning them, giving them away to be read, having them come home to me again.  I love talking about books. 

Fiction: I am the most well-read person you will ever meet. 

I read a lot, but not compared to many.  My own mother has me beat by a long shot.  In fact, I get great glee when I come across a book I can recommend to her, since it is so often the other way around.  The more I have studied literature and read books, the more I realize just how little I have read.  And how much there is that awaits me.  It almost makes me salivate to think of the next book I will stay up late devouring. 

I find myself often asked for book recommendations.  It doesn't take much to have me overflowing with words, lists, titles, authors.  And yet, there is always another that I remember later.  Always another.  May it ever be so. 

This "room with windows" will be my bookshelf.  Here I will collect and converse about all good books.  Other opinions will differ from mine, as would be expected.  Opinions are both fact and fiction.  And as one of my favorite quotes reads, "Fact and Fiction are different truths."  I hope you find your own truths within a few of these books.