Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Book #21 and Part of Book #22: All Quiet (God Help Me)

 Friday February 14 is the deadline for students, colleagues, ex- students and innocent bystanders to assign me books for this project.

I get a book with cute shoes on the cover and shoes in the title in curly font. #Love.

I get a book by Ron Burgundy. #jackpot

I get another copy of a book on surviving zombies. #pattern?

More James Patterson, more Nicholas Sparks.

My brother gives me that I couldn't believe even existed and will treasure forever. #youfurnishthebook

Then book #100 rolls itself poetically into place and I'm ready to dive back into reading.

Last week was hard, it was beautiful but it was hard. It was "Abuelo's Last Birthday Again."

He is old. He has been tired since Castro took his dream house, stole his business, and tore his family apart. Now, at 94, he doesn't complain so much about what he lost, he just lets it show in his wistfulness, his aches and restless stiffness.

 I didn't read a single book all weekend, didn't let myself disappear down the rabbit hole of a story, and I definitely came back with stories, not all the kind that would fit neatly here, now.

OK, one story.

I may or may not have extorted my poor protesting Abuelo to go on a boat ride on my brother's boat by saying, "When will you EVER ride a boat again? With the TWO of us? This is IT, now or never." 

He did it, he got on the boat, and as you can tell, he had a fabulous time and will thank me for it, forever.

As soon as I got to work on Monday I knew which book I'd read next.

The one assigned to me by the Dean.

The cover of the book proclaims in capital letters "THE GREATEST WAR NOVEL OF ALL TIME" and below the title it says "....on a threshold of life, they faced an abyss of death."

These statements sound like they're from a Fabio-covered romance, and I worry immediately the book is all sizzle and no steak.

I was wrong. This book is amazing before it even really starts.  The dedication blows me away.

 I'm hooked.

Dedication -- Book #21
For the rest of the day, waiting here and there, and before and after this and that, I follow a teenager into the trenches of WW1. I see what he sees, what he hides, what he faces.

Even though the names are foreign, the humanity is familiar.

 The men he fights with and against could be the same that come through my classroom, haunted, lucky, tired, changed.

When I finish the book I am shell shocked, tired, satisfied, thankful.

My students need to read this book. They need to read a few books, really, and I'm thinking seriously about revising that part of my syllabus because books like this take students places that textbooks and lectures and movies just can't bring them.

Thankfully, reading all of Book #21 in one day exhausts me enough that I fall asleep quickly.

The next morning all the tears come.

 I wasn't sure if my trip was the real, true goodbye to Abuelo. Maybe. Could be.

The thought filled me with such a heavy sadness that I had no choice but escape into another book.

Again, I expected it to suck.  I'm not a snob, I just like to be open minded, and part of that is to have NO expectations. So I'm ready for YAWN and UGH and tolerating a story.

Book #22 *should* be good, though, because it was hand delivered by someone not in my classes who said I would love it, LOVE IT, and she's got a good eye for good things. I trust her.

The back cover proclaims this is the kind of the book that can be life changing.

 Egad. No, please don't change my life, I answer back, I wouldn't know what to do.

I want to fall out of my head and into another world and the first page takes me there. It is amazing, more amazing than I could have expected. This book, set in Germany during WW2 fits like a puzzle piece into book #1. I would assign them both. I might, I just might. They tie together so beautifully they SHOULD be read together. I can't believe my luck at having these stories come across my life.

Hundreds of pages later I call my Mom to catch up on this and that and ask her if the boat ride killed Abuelo (it didn't) and also if she's read the book I'm reading because this book is amazing.

We are getting off the phone when she says, "I got it, I'm looking on Kindle to get it RIGHT NOW."

I hadn't told her the title. That was weird. "What book, Mom?"

"Do you think I haven't been listening? The book you want me to read is "God Help Me" and it's so good I need it right now."

No, no Mom, I say laughing so hard I can't explain what's funny.

Book #22 is The Book Thief. (This book is too good to keep secret; if you haven't read it, go get it, go borrow it, go download it, there is a reason it was a bestseller and will be a movie) I just keep saying "God Help Me" because it's that kind of a week.

We laugh, hard, hard enough to keep us going for the rest of the day.

Somehow I manage to wrestle  myself away from the book and write this up for you but I have to go, I have to finish it, I only have a few hundred more pages to go and don't you dare tell me how it ends.