That's how I felt this week after finishing "All the Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr. The book, set against the backdrop of World War II, just plain old knocked my socks off.
Can you tell?
And therein lies my dilemma. Is this novel really as good as I think it is? Or did I just happen to read it at exactly the right moment in time so that it spoke to every last little scrap of me?
That happens sometimes. Ask my friend Kim what her favorite book is and she will tell you without hesitation that it's "The Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett. And then she will immediately follow up by telling you that she also read it at precisely the right time in her life.
I've read a number of books at precisely the right time in my life, too. "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle when I was in the sixth grade. "The Chosen" by Chaim Potok when I was in middle school. "LOTR" by J.R.R. Tolkien when I was in high school. The Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy by Sigrid Undset and "Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack" by M.E. Kerr when I was in graduate school (in both cases, incidentally, I was supposed to be reading something else). "A Long Way Down" by Nick Hornby when we were in the thick of dealing with a chaotic illness in our family. All of these titles affected me profoundly in one way or the other. They became part of me. Like skin.
The problem arises when other people are all "meh" about the book you love. In fact, it's hard not to get in a snit. You want to buttonhole them and say seriously? How could you not just devour this book and then lick the plate clean afterward?
Another person's lukewarm reaction to a book you're crazy about can also make you doubt your own taste. Was your judgment off somehow? Because, you know, you read a book at exactly the right time and loved it madly for reasons not wholly related to the text itself?
I wouldn't mind hearing what Trib readers have to say about "All the Light We Cannot See." The novel tells the parallel stories of a blind French girl living with her father and of a German boy living with his little sister in an orphanage before and during the Second World War. Along the way it examines with rare lyricism all the emotions and desires that reside within the human heartlove, fear, guilt, cruelty (both casual and institutional), abiding kindness, despair, ambition, loyalty, courage and wonder.
Wonder, most of all. The German boy carries with him a notebook in which he writes down questions about the natural world. Why do some fish have whiskers? Is it true that all cats are gray when the candles are out? When lightning strikes the sea, why don't all the fish die?
As I read the book, I was filled with a sense of wonder, too about our heartbreakingly beautiful world and the people, for good and bad, who inhabit it.
Read it. And let me know what you think.