I buy books. And sometimes I read them. This blog is for the times when I do more than just store shelf candy.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

I Flipped the Pages of Bernhard Schlink's The Reader

Bought: 2007?
Read: September 2009
ISBN: 0375707972
Reason for Buying: I liked the cover. Yes, because there is a book on it.
Reason for Reading: Husband was pressuring me to watch the DVD, so I had to read the book first.

I have a confession to make. I don't really like reading book reviews. They spoil the thrill of discovery and affect my judgment of the book. I prefer to be surprised. I don't really want to know much more than what's on the blurbs on the back of the book. For The Reader, however, I chanced upon some reviews -- and they were mixed. And that's why it took me some time to get to reading this.

My review is mixed as well. The Reader has a titillating beginning, a humdrum middle, and an ending that broke my heart into a million achy pieces. Overall? It just might end up in my 2009's best reads. Not because it is one of the best written, but because it got to me. Unexpectedly. Because it made me cry; no, bawl is more like it. And sometimes, that's a good enough reason for me to like a book.

The beginning: In post WWII Germany, 15-year-old Michael falls in love and has a torrid affair with Hanna, a woman twice his age. And even though this is no longer an extraordinary tale now that cougars are considered cool, I can't help but be drawn into the story as pithily narrated by Michael. Hanna's character is hard to like. But the part that makes me fall in love with their love affair, the part that makes it less indecent than it really is the part of their relationship spent reading. Michael read books aloud to Hannah, who seems to be more into those literary activities than into the sex and romance. Maybe it's just me; maybe it's because it's a constant source of frustration for me not to to be able to share my love of books with my husband, and so this part I found achingly romantic.

The beginning of the story ends with the affair abruptly ending.

The middle part is all tedium. Moralizing, contemplative, rambling tedium. Painful, please-stop-this-misery, teeth-gnashing tedium. On hindsight, maybe it was designed to be so. Because the end of their affair actually killed any sense of joy in Michael. But still. It was unbearable tedium.

And just as I was about to give up on the book, something about the ending struck me. And hit me hard in the gut. And reminded me again that I should not read while driving. More precisely, I should not read books with sad endings while driving because visibility could be terribly compromised. A sad, sad, beautifully sad ending that made me forget about that horribly tedious middle. But more than just being an ending designed to pander on the emotions of a hormonally imbalanced female who is a sucker for a good cry, it was an ending that had a message for me to chew on. A message about regrets and about how much we waste our lives not doing what we ought to do while we waffle about the things we think we ought to do. Okay, I don't expect you to understand that. Like I said, it's a message for me.

And that affirms to me what this year's reading journey keeps on telling me -- that for this reader, it's not always about how well written a book is that makes it worthwhile reading. It's not just about entertainment either. It's about how the book connects to me personally, emotionally, that makes it worth the read.


  1. I loved this book and like you, got terribly entrenched in the two characters. It was a sensuous, touching, unexpected, heartbreaking story. Sigh.

  2. I haven't read it yet but your review made me want to. Going to secure a copy as soon as I can. Your words are just good - not too much excess or fanfare, something that affects on a personal level, like a friend. ^_^



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