A couple of months ago I walked in the bookstore adjacent to my school in order to whale away the leisure half an hour I had till my class began. As I was roaming the isles of piled up books and tracing their spines with a finger, my gaze fell upon the name of Markus Zusak on a quaint cover and obstinately refused to be extricated. I am not a diehard fan of Markus Zusak – perhaps I would have turned out one if I had managed just for once to reach the “The End” of “The Book Thief” instead of going halfway four times.
Nevertheless, when I laid my eyes upon “I Am the Messenger” I was, to put it mildly, intrigued since I have had a sip of his enticing writing style. It invades every fiber of your soul and entangles you completely in the story. Markus Zusak’s rendition takes my breath away. It leaves me speechless. So instead of trying to describe the sublimity of his language, using my own awkward words, I am going to show you.
“The violence interferes. It sticks its fingers into everything and tears it open. It all comes apart and I loathe myself for waiting this long to end it. I despise myself for waiting this long to end it. I despise myself for taking the easy options night after night. A hatred is wound up and let go in me. It hacks at my spirit and brings it to its knees, next to me. It coughs and suffocates as my own hatred for myself becomes overwhelming.”
I think that elucidated why I reluctantly put the book down and headed for school and why I couldn’t dissemble my unbridled enthusiasm while I was reading. I was laughing my cheeks off in a crowded bookstore and people were throwing suspicious glances at me but I couldn’t care less. By the time I finished the first chapter my mind was conquered by a single thought: “I have to read this book. I have to learn why Ed Kennedy is desperately helpless in sex.”
Ed Kennedy is an underage cab-driver, which by the way is illegal, but he’s doing an excellent job concealing it. He has only 3 friends with whom he plays cards frequently. He reads a lot. He lives alone in a filthy shack with a caffeine-addicted seventeen-year-old dog. He’s haplessly in love with his best friend whose supreme credos are indifference and detachment. He has nothing to anticipate except the next card-game. “It makes me think of my life, my nonexistent accomplishments and my overall abilities in incompetence.” In other words, he’s an underdog and is well-aware of it.
Until one day he impedes a bank robbery.
And becomes the town’s hero, praised, loved and revered by grateful local people of all ages.
No. I am kidding you.
All he gets is a miserable article in the newspaper. Well, that and a playing card in his mailbox. This is a turning point in both Ed’s life and the book which as you’ll see in the end are intricately intertwined. The card is succinct. Only three addresses and times are jotted down. As Ed gets round to visiting them, he faces iniquity, solitude and docility. It takes him a long while but eventually he comes to grips with the fact that he’s supposed to right the wrongs.
Ace of Diamonds.
Ace of Clubs.
Ace of Hearts.
Ace of Spades.
“It’s like I’ve been chosen. But chosen for what? I ask. The answer is quite simple:
Ed Kennedy’s supposed to be the one human being in the commodious apathetic world who cares – cares about some strangers as much as he cares about his three messed-up friends and himself. But copious care is not enough. . Regret wouldn’t take back the sardonic words. Apologies wouldn’t amend the broken hearts. No feelings wage change but sometimes a diminutive gesture could cause an upheaval. “I guess it’s true – big things are often just small things that are noticed”.
The challenge facing Ed, though, is to fathom out what it is that the next address calls for: Christmas lights, an empty shoebox, an ice cream or just a hand to hold? True care should provoke thoughts but unfortunately we’re not hard-wired to think. “That’ll kill you,” Marv warns. You’re better off not thinking at all.” However, only through his considerate deeds could Ed Kennedy spread around joy.
Thus a recondite question arises. “How well do we really let ourselves know each other?” The horrendous answer is one of the few well-founded reasons I am never ever putting on a white gown. Seldom do we realize that when we make acquaintance with somebody they’re already a whole developed person, who has worked their way up to becoming who they are today. New Year’s Resolutions, countless goal and ultimatums, hardships and mishap, or just good old experience have propelled them to alter and adapt. We have the propensity, though, to regard our friends as who we deem them to be, not who they really are, especially old friends. We never grant them the permission to improve or deteriorate. We fix them with a stamp which they could never outgrow and as time goes by, we end up estranged from each other, which is queer for we’ve never really known each other to begin with. So when they need a shoulder to cry on, or a sympathetic ear to hear them out – we could provide nothing more but hollow support. Markus Zusak has illustrated this paradox outstandingly in “I Am the Messenger”. He has emphasized the difference in the way one approaches strangers and one approaches one’s friends.
“It’s funny how when you watch people from a long distance, it all seems voiceless. It’s like watching a silent movie. You guess what people say. You watch their mouths move and imagine the sounds of their feet hitting the ground. You wonder what they’re talking and, ever more so, what they might be thinking.” You wonder who they are for real and more often than not your guess is auspicious for you bear no prejudices and are quite open-minded.
The cards in Ed’s mailbox enchanted me as well. As you’re yet to notice, I’m obsessed with the meaning of life. That’s probably why I can find it covered in every book I pick up. After all books belong to their readers and the way you understand them speaks only about your persona, right? What fascinates me most about the enigma of life is whether we all contribute to the universe uniquely and individually or as a whole – as the race of human beings; whether your purpose on Earth has been predetermined or it is constructed as you advance in life based on the decisions you make and the adjustments you undergo. Markus Zusak provides us with astounding answer to each question as the story unravels.
“We all have our duties here. We all suffer. We all endure our setbacks for the greater good of mankind.”
That’s why I loved the ending. Throughout the whole book a single question mark is flustering us. Why is all this happening to an imbecile taxi driver? What’s the meaning of it? What’s its purpose? I believe we get the most satisfactory, unexpected and unprecedented explanation. It’s undoubtedly worth reading all 371 pages to figure it out.
“Beginnings and endings merge and bend.” and when they do the message is deciphered.
*All cited quotes are taken out of “I Am the Messenger”
In which John Green kicks off the Crash Course Literature mini series with a reasonable set of questions. Why do we read?
As I was on my usual quest to find yet another book, that will keep my mind of the dullness of reality, I came across ‘The perks of being a wallflower’ by Stephen Chbosky. I hardly knew anything about the story behind the quite eye-catching cover except for the motion picture that was soon to be on screen. As a huge potterhead there was no way I was missing a movie with Emma Watson and therefore the reading of the book became inevitable.
The story is about a boy named Charlie, who begins his first high school year completely friendless. He is sweet and charming but his shyness prevents him from socializing easily. That’s when he meets the eccentric Patrick and his beautiful half-sister Sam. Through their friendship Charlie leaves the comfort zone of a silent observer and becomes a participant of his surrounding activities. His coming out of the shell is filled with funny and sad moments and the total confrontation with three of the biggest ‘deals’ in life: sex, dugs and the rocky horror picture show.
Set in the 90s the humble story of Charlie gives a somewhat timeless feeling. Freed from the complications of the new technologies the book somehow becomes more humanly friendly and the reader can more easily focus on the problems in the boy’s everyday life. Also a lot of us have witnessed the era of tapes and radios and are not entirely unfamiliar with the surroundings.
Another thing worth mentioning as an interesting fact is that Charlie does not keep a diary but tells his tale in letters. He addresses them to complete strangers but always regards the recipients as ‘dear friends’. The unconventional choice of the genius Stephen Chbosky gives his book an endearing and very personal touch.
The title of the book is not randomly chosen. To be a wallflower means to be a quiet and yet charming person just like a flower that’s waiting to bloom and show its beauty to the world. It gives you a sense of hope that even the most enclosed people are able to overcome shyness and dive head first into the pool of life.
Moreover Stephen Chbosky presents to his readers an abundance of cultural themes through the characters’ good taste in music and books. Charlie gets the opportunity to read great classics and to exchange various mix tapes which gives another insight of his inner world. Personally I learnt about great bands and authors that otherwise I probably would know nothing about.
To put it all in a nutshell ‘The perks of being a wallflower’ is an outstanding novel that will give you a nostalgic feeling towards the awkward days in high school. And yet those are the moments we cherish and preserve with great compassion. Stephen Chbosky makes an unexpected plot twist just at the end, but don’t try to guess it! The only way to find out is to keep on reading.
She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain.
– Louisa May Alcott
Actually this is the second time I’ve read “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien. The first was when I was eighth grade which makes me fourteen or thirteen years old. Back then I used to read a lot of sci-fi books primarily because of their exceeding plethora of frenetic adventures. I would read in order to get absorbed in some fictional world that fails to pass the muster on the morality scale. That’s the main reason I picked up “The Hobbit”. I am abashed to concede that I didn’t take note of any allusions, recurrent themes, quotes – anything at all. I was in just for the thrill. Candidly, the thrill wasn’t as mind-blowing as I had anticipated. Yeah… I was quite an insinuate reader but I believe, or rather hope, that this stage is a hallmark of any reader’s childhood. And I am definitely, glad that I’ve outgrown this vapid reading habit. I see the way my peers turn the pages of books so disgracefully and disrespectfully – indignance wells up in my heart. I simply refuse to dwell on the fact that I once picked up “The Hobbit” in order to relish the action. Common! Don’t be so judgemental. We’ve all got shady pasts.
One thing I learned, though, is that science fiction resembles poetry in myriad ways. If only you would bother to look deeper! See, the profound message in poems is usually concealed behind a breath-taking description of a blooming flower, or a mid-spring drizzle, or the magnificence of an azure bay. In sci-fi books, on the other hand, the crux of the books is cloaked under dragon slaughter, pickpocketing of trolls, disturbance of goblins and the perkiness of having a good meal after a year-long journey into the wild and the unknown territories of precariousness. Unfortunately, few people (like me at the age of 13-14) neglect to peek behind the decorum.
The story which was published 76 years ago tells of a conventional reputable hobbit Bilbo Baggins whose insouciant being revolves around meals, tea, silver utensils and smoke rings until one day an unexpected party pitches up on his front porch. It consists of 13 most peculiar dwarves and a wizard, who we learn is particularly adept at fireworks. The merry gathering throws the host in a huff since they are glutton and insist that he take part in their journey to the Lonely Mountain where he must do his burglary magic and puff! kill the dragon. It’s safe to say that Mr. Baggins had never before been called a burglar and didn’t quite appreciate it. That’s when the author interferes, however, to tell us that Bilbo is a descendant of the amazing Took who was well-known for his valour and audacity. This ambiguity in Baggins’ character makes him extremely believable. He doesn’t swoop in the adventure at once; he has his qualms and misgivings during the whole novel and even the promised profits fail to dismiss them. The struggle between the Tookish in him and his love for his prosaic life first irritated me, but later on I started to sympathize with the poor little thing, and in a dozen of pages he had won me over.
I liked most of the dwarves, especially Fili and Kili, and I shed few tears in the penultimate chapter. I look up to Thorin because of his bravery to fight for his father’s land and his readiness to take back the misaddressed words and apologize for his wrong judgements despite his dragon-sickness – his boundless avarice. I also found Gandalf very benign. I saw him as the mother figure in the book who is there to look after the little hobbit, Thorin and Co. but after a while lets them go and cope on their own because this is their adventure after all, and there’s no way they could come out successful if they are always depending on somebody to hop to aid, or clean up their messes. They have to learn that sometimes the wrong things have to be done for the right outcomes and that often benevolent intentions upset the ones there were aimed for.
I admire Tolkien for his nimbleness at winding the leitmotif of the journey so skilfully into the whole plot. On whichever page you open the book, there it is staring you in the face, regardless of the hobbits’ whereabouts. I have studied a lot of literature which is entirely based on the theme of travel, but never before have I been able to take stock of it. It’s a ubiquitous symbol but nonetheless in “The Hobbit” it is indescribably profound. The author has done a marvellous job depicting the way the unbeaten track can alter you for good, how it shifts your principles and priorities. A broadened horizon can implement great changes in the way people treat you, and the way you see yourself. “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God”, as Vonnegut wrote.
Bottom line, even if you peruse the novel, you would still figure out what Tolkien has tried to convey in numerous ways. Nothing that befalls upon one, influences only one; it has a knock-on effect in the whole wide world. One petty hobbit can make a difference, can have a say in what goes on in the big picture. An amazing novel!
The writing was beautiful and witty. The poems and songs were outstanding, and I strongly recommend you give the book a second chance if the first time round you had been looking forward to the battle with the dragon.