"I have dreamed nightly of your face and walked the streets of my daily life with the rhythms of your writing singing in my silent brain. I have called you my Muse, and so you are, or might be, a messenger from some urgent place of the spirit where essential poetry sings and sings." (page 211)
About the Book(from amazon.com): Winner of England’s Booker Prize and the literary sensation of the year, Possession
is an exhilarating novel of wit and romance, at once an intellectual
mystery and triumphant love story. It is the tale of a pair of young
scholars researching the lives of two Victorian poets. As they uncover
their letters, journals, and poems, and track their movements from
London to Yorkshire—from spiritualist séances to the fairy-haunted far
west of Brittany—what emerges is an extraordinary counterpoint of
passions and ideas. An exhilarating novel of wit and romance, an
intellectual mystery, and a triumphant love story. This tale of a pair
of young scholars researching the lives of two Victorian poets became a
huge bookseller favorite, and then on to national bestellerdom.
I must confess- I had to really commit to completing this novel but it was definitely worth the effort. Possession by A.S. Byatt (Vintage International, 1990) is written in a complicated structure, interwoven with Victorian poetry, prose and letters. Weaving two separate stories from two different time periods, Possession explores the contrast between male and female relationships of the past versus today and how society's perception of acceptable behavior has developed.
As English Scholars Roland Michell and Maud Bailey study Victorian Poets Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte, respectively, their studies draw them to one another as they stumble upon clues that link the two poets together. As these two worlds collide, a slew of characters aid in bringing a secret love story to light, resulting in the creation of a new romance between Michell and Bailey.
"Somewhere in the locked-away letters, Ash had referred tot he plot of fate that seemed to hold or drive the dead lovers. Roland thought, partly with precise postmodernist pleasure, and partly with a real element of superstitious dread, that he and Maud were being driven by a plot or fate that seemed, at least possibly, to be not their own plot or fate but that of those others." (page 436)
Cataloged as a romance, Possession is also sprinkled with a dose of mystery, tragedy, and fairy tale. It is a study of the social classes and the act of conforming. Love is at the root of all the themes that run under the surface of the character's personal journeys. The profound academic vocabulary can slow the reader down exponentially but also aids in the full digestion of the content. Language is almost a character in itself. Byatt layers intricate research, historical insights, and beautiful prose as only a master writer could.
Book Club Suggestions: Possession may not be the best book club selection for all groups. If your group is interested in historical literature, poetry, or more challenging reads, Possession will offer a lot of topics for discussion. Have members select a favorite poem, past or present, and recite it at the meeting or encourage each to write a love letter to their significant other.
Today I am linking up to Book Beginnings hosted by Rose City Readerwhere readers share the first sentence of the current book they are reading.
"They had been on the road for six days, a clan of five bouncing along in a tired wagon, when Bam White woke to some bad news. One of his horses was dead. It was the nineteenth-century equivalent of flat tire, except this was the winter of 1926. The Whites had no money. They were moving from the high desert chill of Las Animas, Colorado, to Littlefield, Texas, south of Amarillo, to start anew."
I recently learned of The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan from The Relentless Reader, Jennifer's fantastic book blog, and thought this would be an interesting and also educational read. I immediately downloaded it and am looking forward to delving deeper into the stories that will be told. From the introduction, the reader senses the weariness that the character is feeling and the direness of the family's situation to propel them to journey across The Great Plains with nothing more than hope for a better future. This is a book with heavy content but one that is sure to be inspirational.
About the Book(from the New York Times): The dust storms that terrorized the High Plains in the
darkest years of the Depression were like nothing ever seen before or since. Timothy Egan’s critically acclaimed account rescues this iconic chapter of
American history from the shadows in a tour de force of historical reportage.
Following a dozen families and their communities through the rise and fall of
the region, Egan tells of their desperate attempts to carry on through blinding
black dust blizzards, crop failure, and the death of loved ones. Brilliantly
capturing the terrifying drama of catastrophe, Egan does equal justice to the
human characters who become his heroes, “the stoic, long-suffering men and
women whose lives he opens up with urgency and respect.
About the Author: Timothy Egan is an American author and journalist. For The Worst Hard Time, a 2006 book about people who lived through The Great Depression's Dust Bowl, he won the National Book Award for Nonfiction and the Washington State Book Award in history/biography. In 2001, The New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for a series to which Egan contributed, "How Race is Lived in America". He currently lives in Seattle and contributes opinion columns as the paper's Pacific Northwest correspondent.
Have you read The Worst Hard Time? I would love to hear your thoughts.
"It's the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting, he thought, as he looked again at the position of the sun, and hurries his pace."(page 11)
About the Book(from Barnes and Noble): Paulo Coelho's charming fable will enchant and inspire readers
for generations to come. The Alchemist is the magical story of
Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a
worldly treasure as extravagant as any ever found. From his home in
Spain he journeys to the markets of Tangiers and across the Egyptian
desert to a fateful encounter with the alchemist. The story of the
treasures Santiago finds along the way teaches us, as only a few stories
have done, about the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts,
learning to read the omens strewn along life's path, and, above all,
following our dreams.
Alchemy: a medieval chemical science and speculative philosophy aiming to achieve the transmutation of the base of metals into gold, the discover for a universal cure for disease, and the discovery of a means of indefinitely prolonging life. (Merriam-Webster)
The Alchemist (Harper Collins, 1993) is a simple and beautiful story about fulfilling one's purpose in life and the journey that lies between a dream and reality. As the reader travels along with a young sheep herder, Santiago, in the quest to achieve his Personal Legend, we discover the importance of truly living in the present. The Alchemist is a calming read. Written in the style of a fable, the story is largely dialogue. There is a sense of mystery in the characters and their interaction with Santiago. Each individual he encounters offers him a life lesson that works to benefit him along his course but he also must learn to be the director of his destiny and have the courage to make his own decisions. In the end, Santiago finds that his final destination led him directly back to his beginning but he had to complete the circle in order to fulfill his legend and reap the rewards of a full life.
"The wind began to blow again. It was the levanter, the wind that came from Africa. It didn't bring with is the smell of the desert, nor the threat of Moorish invasion. Instead, it brought the scent of a perfume he knew well, and the touch of a kiss- a kiss that came from far away, slowly, slowly, until it rested on his lips." (page 167)
This is a book that has a strong lingering effect. Long after you have finished the last page, its contents will continue to ruminate in your thoughts and reactions. Coelho's words are a breath of fresh air in today's world where everything is expected to occur instantly and in our favor. The Alchemist reminds us that the journey is more important than the destination. Our purpose is determined by our spirit and gratitude, as well as our ability to listen and learn. The world provides us with many guides but we must practice awareness in order to see an omen as it is presented. Santiago's adventure teaches us that time is irrelevant in our pursuing of our dreams or purpose. As long as we still have life, we still have the opportunity to reach our goal.
Book Club Suggestion: Have each member reveal their Personal Legend- a dream or goal that they have yet to achieve. Next, have everyone write down three action items that they could begin in order to make a step in attaining their dream. Continue to encourage each other throughout the upcoming months and provide a support system for personal growth and development.
For more information about Coelho and his other works, visit here.
About the Book (from Random House): Markus Zusak's unforgettable story is about
the ability of books to feed the soul. It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is
holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still. Liesel
Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager
existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t
resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns
to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as
well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement. In superbly crafted writing
that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.
"Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like clouds, and she would wring them out like the rain." (page 80)
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is so creatively and beautifully written that for an instant, one forgets the weight of the subject matter and the darkness that surrounds and suffocates the characters. The story of Liesel and the community on Himmel Street is eloquently narrated by Death. The narration is captivating, and it is easy for the reader to sympathize with Death as a completely different perspective on storytelling unravels. While Death can be swift or lingering, in Zusak's crafting it is also compassionate and exhausted by the effects of war.
Set during World War II, a young girl, Liesel, finds herself living with Hans and Rosa Hubermann, struggling to adapt in a broken world and find purpose when surrounded by devastation, evil, and loss. Her prized possessions become her books and she quickly learns that through reading she can briefly escape her bitter reality and envision a better world. When the Hubermann's begin to hide a young Jewish man in their basement, Max Vandenburg, Liesel discovers the beauty in sharing words, books, and ideas. Their friendship allows them to begin to accept the loss they have each encountered and to embrace the power words possess when shared.
When Liesel takes her first book from the burial site of her brother, "The Grave Digger's Handbook," she has yet to learn to read. The book itself provides her with solace, a physical connector between the girl she is and her future self. Her bond with Hans Hubermann is solidified when he teaches her to read, giving her the gift of literacy which she unabashedly devours. It is when she begins to share this gift that Liesel finds her true strength. As residents gather together in a basement during air raids on Himmel Street, she reads aloud to them to quieten their fears and distract them from the horrors of war.
The Book Thief is a story of survival but it is through friendship, family, and faith that Zusak's characters find their voice and share it with the reader. It is a compelling story as Liesel's tragic journey comes to a heart-breaking end. Yet one can't help but think that the sun will rise on her future and she will continue to find comfort through words, leaving us all better for having read her story.
Click here to learn more about author Markus Zusak.
Who would we be without the gift of words? Have you read The Book Thief? Watched the film adaptation? I would love to read your thoughts.