Book Recommendation: The Choice, by Edith Eger

The Author

Edith Eger is a fascinating woman. At 90 years old, she wrote The Choice, which tells the story not only of her teenage experiences in Auschwitz but also of her life after that terrible time. She emigrated to the USA; she became a mother, a teacher, and a psychologist with a particular knack for helping people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder; and she took what she learnt from Auschwitz to discover an extraordinary amount of wisdom.

This is a wonderful (and short) YouTube clip in which Eger talks about life lessons she learned in Auschwitz, including the striking line ‘That’s the hardest thing…not to think that the Nazis were some monsters. They were beautiful children who were taught to hate.’ There are many other clips of Eger available online, including this TED Talk entitled ‘What my mama told me,’ which is also worth watching.

The Book

The Choice is a confronting book in many ways, which is not surprising from a book about a young Jewish girl’s experiences in the Holocaust. Eger does not hold back from sharing the terrible things that happened to her, from her mother’s death in Auschwitz to her own near-rape by one of the GIs who rescued her at the end of the war.

However, unlike many other Holocaust memoirs, The Choice also goes on to tell the story of what happened to Eger after the war. Much more of the book is taken up with Eger’s post-war life than with her life in the concentration camp – though, of course, everything that happens to her in adulthood is filtered through her experiences under the Nazis. For example, she tells the story of an incident that happened not long after she moved to America, in which she accidentally sat down on a bus without paying the driver. He – a man in uniform – shouted at her impatiently. She – a Holocaust survivor with little English – collapsed on the floor of the bus, crying, because in a concentration camp, provoking the anger of a man in uniform is a very bad thing indeed.

There is also an unusual element of self-help book to The Choice, with Eger taking the time to share the wisdom she learnt not just in the concentration camp but also in the following decades as she worked to come to grips with what had happened to her. She closes the book with these grandmotherly words of advice:

You can’t change what happened, you can’t change what you did or what was done to you. But you can choose how you live now. My precious, you can choose to be free.

Edith Eger

Why I Love It

Though there were aspects of this book that I didn’t love as much (sometimes the psychology/self-help elements were a bit more prominent than I was really looking for), there were many, many things I did love. Perhaps most importantly, I was drawn to the fact that this story didn’t end with Eger’s release from captivity, but followed her life through the ensuing decades, which is something I haven’t seen before in Holocaust memoirs. This had the dual effect of putting the Holocaust in its place (a terrible event, and a torturous period that took up proportionately more of the book than any other equivalent time period – but still just one event in a long life well lived) and helping me to see the enduring impact of the Holocaust on survivors.

I think the latter is particularly important, because it’s easy to think of traumatic events in an almost cinematic way: young girl is trapped by the Nazis, young girl suffers horribly, the good guys rescue her, young girl reaches her happy ending. But of course that’s not how it works. Suffering through an event like the Holocaust, as The Choice reminds us, impacts a life in many ways: family members killed, youthful dreams lost, marital issues arising because shadows of the past stretch across the decades, enduring fears of sirens and men in uniform and barbed wire. Eger makes a triumph out of a tragedy, but she also helps us see that the tragedy never really goes away.

Where To Get It

I was able to order this book through my local library, then promptly ordered my own copy from Book Depository.

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The Fine Art of DNF-ing

Having set myself an ambitious goal to read 10,000 books – a goal that will last me well into retirement and relies on me enjoying a long, healthy life with plenty of time for reading – you would think that putting books on the DNF (did not finish) pile would be the last thing on my mind.  One thing I’ve learnt in the last year, though, is the importance of discarding a book which is simply not working.

For me, the most important reason for making the DNF decision is that trying to read a book I’m not enjoying slows me down.  I procrastinate.  I pick the book up, read a few pages, and put it down again.  I lurk on Facebook.  I wander across the internet, reading silly things that require no brain power, and waste hours in the process.  I play games on my phone.  In other words, I throw away my reading time.  It’s silly, it’s pointless, and I’m making a concerted effort to focus my attention on all the brilliant books which are out there waiting for me rather than wasting my time on something that I’m not enjoying.

Often, one of the reasons I stick doggedly to a book I’m not enjoying is because I’m trying to think of it the same way someone else does: a friend recommended it to me, or I found it highly recommended by a blogger I love, and I think If I just persist, I’ll find what they see, and I’ll enjoy it, too.  Really, though, that’s silly.  We all love different books, and I’ve yet to meet a single person whose opinions match mine every single time.  At times, I’ve also tried to persist with a book because ‘it’s short’ or ‘I’m over halfway’ – but giving in to those impulses makes a mockery of my reasons for choosing an ambitious reading goal in the first place.  I want to read 10,000 books because there are so very many wonderful books out there – and even more that haven’t been written yet – so why would I waste my time on something I don’t enjoy?

Of course, while there are risks to sticking with a book beyond the point of enjoyment, there are also risks to discarding it too early.  Sometimes, the beginning of a book is slow or confusing, or simply doesn’t match my preconceived ideas of what the book would be about.  Sometimes I sit down with a book when I’m not in the right mood for it.  Sometimes I’m trying to read a serious, complex book when I’m tired, stressed about work, or in a noisy, crowded environment.  Sometimes I’m trying something new, and it’s uncomfortable to realise that I’m unfamiliar with the genre or uneasy with the author’s beliefs.  In all of these scenarios, persisting with the book – or revisiting it at a different time, or in a different place – can lead to a marvellous reading experience.  For example, when I first picked up Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, I was less than drawn by the first few pages.  In fact, if I hadn’t heard so much hype about the series, it probably would have failed my ‘quick skim’ test – and what a loss that would have been!

Bearing all these things in mind, I’ve begun to form some guidelines for myself so that I can artfully DNF books that aren’t worth my time right now, while persisting with those that need a little work to uncover their inner beauty.  It’s an ever-evolving list, but here is what it looks like right now:

  1. If the writing style is driving me crazy, to the point where I’m distracted from following what the author is actually saying by the way he or she is saying it, the book goes on the DNF pile.
  2. If the protagonist/s of a novel consistently make stupid choices without ever learning from them, the book goes on the DNF pile.
  3. If there are repeated historical inaccuracies in an historical novel, the book goes on the DNF pile.
  4. If a science fiction novel is deeply focused on technological aspects of living in the future, the book goes on the DNF pile.  Some readers love that stuff, but it’s really not for me.
  5. If I’ve read around fifty pages, and tried a couple of times in different settings, and the book still isn’t gripping me, it goes on the DNF pile.  I might revisit these books at a later date, or they might just be works of art best suited to a different audience.

Overkill?  Am I over-thinking this?  Or are there other rules I should consider adding, to streamline my process of getting to the good stuff as quickly and efficiently as I can?

A Brief Biography of a Bookwyrm

I’ve been a bookworm as long as I can remember – and a bookwyrm ever since I first saw the ‘book dragon’ meme floating around on Facebook.  I was the kid who was genuinely excited for silent reading time at school, and who never minded seeing book-shaped packages under the tree at Christmas time.  I was the teenager who picked up ‘Gone with the Wind’ from the school library because it looked like fun, and I was the young adult who discovered Harry Potter in my first year of university and persuaded all my friends to give it a go even if it was a children’s book.

Now, as I plunge headlong towards forty, I am the sort of person who has piles of books everywhere.  Books I’ve bought and read are stacked on my shelves, still looking for a permanent home in a logical place (alphabetically by author for fiction, grouped by subject for non-fiction).  Books I’ve bought and haven’t yet read are piled haphazardly in the living room, on my bedside table, and on the top of bookshelves.  Library books cluster in cheerful piles throughout the house, sorted and re-sorted by topic, by priority, by due date.  Even my Kindle is full of books I’ve downloaded in a burst of enthusiasm but haven’t yet found the time to read – 55 of them in a folder marked ‘To Be Read,’ while others lurk in other places, forgotten until I find them while browsing.  I like to have interesting reading material always at hand, though I do sometimes wish I could find a way to make the piles more manageable.

Why have I decided to begin a blog?  Well, because out of all the reading that I do, there are certain books which stand out – beautiful books, brilliant books, thought-provoking books which I long to share with others.  There are books I want to discuss, and books I want to write about so that I can get my thoughts about them in order.  I have wonderful friends and family who read certain types of books (self-help, fantasy, historical romance), but no one who shares my interest in discussing the books I read, and no one who is quite so enthusiastic about leapfrogging across the library catalogue to sample different authors, different genres, different topics.

So here I am, slowly figuring out how WordPress works so that I can establish a little corner of the internet to share my thoughts on an eclectic array of wonderful books.  I’m sure it will take some time to get my head around what I want to do with this blog, but I hope that in time it will welcome other bookwyrms like myself, folks who might just devour a Holocaust memoir, a Jennifer Cruisie novel, and a tome of epic fantasy in one week, all with equal enjoyment.

So many books, so little time. – Frank Zappa