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09/12/2010 / Lynn Rabbitts

Chapter 9: Written on a Friend

My friend Audra gifted me Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief under this pretense: This is not a book you lend out, it’s one you give. And she was right. It’s a story about words and less about stories, how words can save a life, the power Adolf Hitler had over words and how stolen words and given words have the ability to shape and make life.

The one promise I will make is not to spoil the book as everybody should read this. I’m bolstered the narrator of this story, Death, who does spoil the ending at the onset of it, and it still works. Some books read like a meal: you know what you’re getting, you savor every bite and immediately want to tell your friends about it.

We’ll be looking at how The Book Thief works in conjuncture with  Communication and Culture’s 9th chapter, written genres.

As it opens, the book thief is quite young, being displaced as the Nazi’s come to power in Germany. One of the first books she steals is from a book burning, the cruelest application of “gatekeeping”. Hitler and co. were seeking to destroy a culture, creating their own and erasing all the knowledge and memories put into a permanent form (CC pg 148) and thereby negating the power of the author (CC pg 149).

The book also deals with the power of Hitler’s penned “My Struggle” juxtaposing it versus the journal kept by Max, a Jew hiding in the Book Thief’s basement. Hitler used his words not just to anticipate what his “audience” wanted (CC pg 150) but also as a form of influence. While Hitler’s Kampf was used as a source to empower him (CC pg 156), Max in the basement used his journal to show how words can set you free.

Writing and authorship are also given time within the book. The Book Thief is a writer who unknowingly leaves her own book for the narrator to find. All writing is something with an intended audience, an author is an individual who is held credible for their work (CC pg 163).

When Zusak wrote The Book Thief it took three years to find the voice of his narrator, in this case: Death. At first Zusak wanted Death to be greedy, ravenous, gleeful in the genocide the world was performing on herself. But as Zusak continued to edit, and re-edit, tear-up and write again, Death became tired, weary of what he was doing.

Communication and Cultures pulls the punch on this aspect. Editing is the most important aspect of written genres. When you communicate through a written medium, it should be both to a level above yourself, and your reader, but without losing sight of the character within the communication or your audiences ability to grasp its intent.

Lastly, books and words should be prized as close as friends. They are creatures who gobble-up information, not greedily, but freely and available to whomever wants to hold their spine, gently turning the page.

Being someone who enjoys the crackle of the record on a turntable and the violence of a typewriter, I still cannot condemn the Kindle. It’s far more important for people to read than an attitude on how it should be done. Ignorance does not behoove words, no matter in what form they are assembled. The argument over electronic readers is in the same vein as people who argue what should be read and what should be burned.

Whether it’s summer trash or a banned book all are parts of our culture–they all should be considered friends.


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