Beginning and Ending a Year of Books

Last year I blogged about reading lists and enjoying the curl-up-in-bed book All the Light We Cannot See http://bit.ly/2CuB8vJ by Anthony Doerr. I mentioned being surprised at how many books I’d read in just a few weeks. Keeping lists can do that for you.

I start 2018 similarly surprised by how many books I managed to read last year.

Some of those include: Bloodlines by John Piper, Questioning Evangelism by Randy Newman, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Gospel Boldness by Rod Thomas. Rod is a Christian missionary in Japan and it is clear that his book Gospel Boldness flows from his work in that country. He encourages Christians to confidently share the gospel, saying that clarity in this area is ennabled by God’s Spirit and is something that can be cultivated. Bloodlines by John Piper is an honest and thought-provoking discussion on the gospel of Jesus Christ and racism. ‘The achievement of the cross [on which Jesus died],’ says Piper ‘in reconciling all ethnic groups through faith in Christ is part of how the work of Christ on the cross magnifies the greatness of God’s grace.’ Piper urges Christians to abstain from partiality and to support God’s plan to gather a diverse and unified redeemed people.

I appreciated Questioning Evangelism for its fresh approach to engaging people in respectful, intelligent discussions about Jesus. Newman is funny and supports genuineness, caring and listening – the antithesis of the one-size-fits-all, in-out, disrespecting sales pitch approach to people I have seen in the past.

But my favourite (and only fiction) book on this list has to be The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005). This is my second reading and I relished it perhaps more the second time around. The narrator (death) is well-developed, the characters perfectly individual, the descriptions unusual, and the subject matter (Germans who didn’t support what the Fuhrer was doing in WWII) deeply touching. The style is such that you simply cannot get lost, or confused. The short sentences and chapters make for easy reading, and even though the narrator explains what is to come before it happens, these revelations don’t spoil the story. I cried as my eyes raced across the pages and as my heart ached for Papa, Mama, Rudy, Max and Liesel. The Book Thief is on the shelf of my bookcase reserved for lifetime favourites.

The Book Thief was my last read of 2017, All the Light We Cannot See my first. How interesting that both had WWII as their subject, and children as their protagonists.

I look forward to my 2018 reading material. Here’s to a fruitful 2018 of books!

Feldman journeys with the reader to finally unpack his heavy bags

Carry-On Baggage by Howard Feldman

A review by Brenda Daniels

The blurb of Carry-On Baggage describes the author, Howard Feldman, as “a high-flying commodity trader, living a seemingly perfect life, with a perfect wife and perfect children, in an unbelievably perfect world.”

It then goes on in a more sinister tone to say that Howard “gets attacked. And attacked again. Then he gets sick. His business folds. And his carry-on baggage simply gets too heavy to hold.”

Concerned that this “sort-of autobiography” might be just another moralistic misery memoir, I nevertheless was attracted by the travel theme, and decided to give it a go. I’m glad I did. Carry-On Baggage is neither miserable nor moralistic. Nor is it self-indulgent.

It is an entertaining, descriptive, easy-to-read book, written with humour by an author with an obvious interest in other people.

In this story Howard describes his family and business life in South Africa, Israel and the USA. He speaks candidly of family and business difficulties, of personal faults, and how crime in South Africa deeply affected him and his loved ones. Although the crime experienced was devastating and, for Howard, ultimately life-changing, the incidents aren’t belaboured or inappropriately revealing.

Feldman writes with obvious affection about his extended Jewish family, and manages to portray his natural people skills without pride or affectation.

The blurb preps the reader for a change in the author’s life and therefore psyche. The revelation, however, occurs only at the end of the book where Feldman describes psychologically “unpacking his bags” and “lowering his banners”. Although I found this arrangement a little puzzling I really enjoyed the journey.

I was left with a hope that I might one day meet Howard Feldman face to face.

Carry-On Baggage by Howard Feldman is published by Tracey McDonald Publishers. An e.Book is also available.

Visit www.thewriteoutlook.com for more info on Howard.

Photo: Brenda Daniels

Photo: Brenda Daniels

The Book Thief moves, teaches, impresses

A review by Brenda Daniels

The Book Thief is the story of young Liesel Meminger who lives in Germany during World War II. Unable to keep her children, Liesel’s mother sends Liesel and her younger brother by train to a village in Germany to live with foster parents Hans and Rosa.

In the opening moments of the film, Liesel’s brother inexplicably dies leaving only Liesel to start a new life with strangers. During a quiet burial ceremony beside the train tracks the cleric drops a book which Liesel picks up and keeps.  It’s title? “The Gravedigger’s Handbook”. This introduction sets the scene for the film: a film about death, about book theft, and about the relationships forged by a young girl through and around those books.

Based on the book of the same title by Markus Zusak, The Book Thief depicts the desperately sad effects of war – and death – on real, small people. Death surprises its victims – depicted in the film by juxtaposing beautiful music and calm narration with violent content. But somehow the subject of death is not morbid and by the end viewers are simply left with a sense of how close death is to each of us. Relationships in The Book Thief are acted with depth and finesse, especially by Geoffrey Rush (Hans), Emily Watson (Rosa) and Sophie Nélisse (Liesel). And it is the relationships that are forefronted; Germany and WWII form only the backdrop.

The film follows the same lyrical quality as the book. It is a beautiful portrayal of how important relationships are in the face of suffering. It is a film that teaches, that moves, that leaves a lasting impression. I will treasure it along with my copy of the book.

The Book Thief opens at NuMetro cinemas in South Africa on 24 January. It carries an age restriction of 10PGV.

Illustrated page from The Book Thief  (Source: Creative Commons)

Illustrated page from The Book Thief (Source: Creative Commons)