Thursday, February 11, 2016

Reading Challenged

At New Year's this year my daughter and I agreed to take on a reading challenge for 2016.  It was as close to a new year's resolution as I came.  Specifically, Better World Books posted a challenge to read books fitting a variety of categories.  For example, a banned book, a science fiction book, and so on.  Some of the categories are a bit random, such as a book published the year you were born and a book with your favorite color cover.  There are 25 categories in all, but one of them is "Books set on each continent," which I consider a pretty underhanded way to sneak in six extra required books.  (I have taken it upon myself to distribute the continents across the other categories, and I hope you don't think less of me for it.)

Not surprisingly, my reading list is rather eclectic, ranging from To Kill A Mockingbird (book you were supposed to read in school but didn't) to the graphic novel Marvel 1602 and authors from Barbara Kingsolver to Albert Einstein.  One of my first reads was I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak, a "famous author's lesser known work" and a double-counter as a book set on the continent of Australia.  The novel features 19-year old Ed, a relatively directionless protagonist, bright but with no discernible ambitions.  In the midst of his not-going-anywhere-particular life, someone starts leaving playing cards in Ed's mailbox with addresses written on them.  With no instructions, he eventually decides that all he can do is go to the addresses and see what's waiting for him.

Without giving away too much of the plot, Ed gradually learns to trust his intuition and acts into situations, despite not knowing what people's reactions or the ultimate results will be.  The acts that he believes are necessary in different situations vary wildly, from buying a tired, self-sacrificing mother an ice cream cone to kidnapping and threatening an abusive husband to spending evenings with a senile octogenarian pretending to be her long-departed husband.

Ed has become one of my new favorite literary heroes because of his simple willingness to engage the world, with good will if not good intel.  Through his large and small acts of boldness he comes to a greater understanding of who he is and what he wants.  But here's the main thing: The vehicle for this self-realization is relationships.  He is directed to a dozen different addresses, and in each place he directly engages individuals and forms relationships with them.  He doesn't call 911, he doesn't refer them to someone else; he tries his best to address what they seem to need with what he himself has to offer.

Fair warning: this book has a strange ending that people seem to either really like or really, really hate.  But the story itself conveys a "message" that I need to hear again and again.