You know those books that everybody talks about but you haven’t read? And then they make a really well-received film about the book and then you feel like you can’t possibly go and see the film without reading the book? And then years pass and everyone has seen the movie or read the book except you and you just sort of smile and nod when people talk about it, because now you have to seek it all out on your own or risk being the person who can’t follow along with important cultural touchstones?
Well, for me, that’s The Reader.
I hadn’t really heard much about this book until the 2008 movie with Kate Winslet, but I didn’t want to see it until I had read it. And even though it won tons of awards and was part of the 2009 Academy Awards hosted by Hugh Jackman (in my opinion, the best Oscars ever – just check out the opening number!), I never got around to seeing it. Or reading it. To tell you the truth, I actually kind of forgot about it.
And then I came across a slightly beat-up copy at the thrift store and thought it was time to bite the bullet. I’m so glad I did. For a slim book, it deals with really weighty subject matter (is there ever a time when the Holocaust is light? I don’t think so). In fact, I learned a brand new word when I was trying to figure out how to describe The Reader – Vergangenheitsbewältigung. It means the struggle to come to terms with the past, and it is often used to describe post-1945 German culture and literature.
It’s the perfect word to describe The Reader, which is moving and confusing and sad – all the emotions that this type of book really ought to be. The Reader presents complicated issues and moral dilemmas in a way that isn’t always satisfying, but is very realistic. I thought about it for a long, long time when I was finished – and isn’t that the mark of very good writing?