Review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

My intention when I finished this book a month ago was to do a video on it. I’ve now changed my mind due to the delay and the fact that I have other things to deal with now. The review was written immediately upon finishing the book.

Lale Sokolov is the tattooist of Auschwitz. He meets Gita Furman one day during the course of his work tattooing the incoming prisoners, and over the following three years builds a loving relationship in hell on earth.

I have several issues with this book. Most notably is that its depiction of life in Auschwitz borders on misinformation. The book makes Auschwitz seem livable and hardly focuses on any of the negative. Sure this is meant to be the story of Lale and Gita, but in telling the story through this lens there is almost no mention of the brutality and horror of life in the camp. It seems extremely disingenuous to write a story set in Auschwitz in this manner. When reading I thought of Elie Wiesel’s Night. The books are polar opposites. One aims to give the reader the true experience of life in the camp. This book does not.

The book lacks any depth or detail. It spans more than three years and is written in the span of roughly 260 pages. Again, this tells me the author made no attempt whatsoever to tell an accurate account of life in the camp. It’s a nice love story found in the absolute worst place on earth, but a love story isn’t reason enough to gloss over every other detail that could provide insight into the camp.

This fails on so many levels and should not be considered historical fiction. 1 star.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Snow Day Reading

Much of the US is in the midst of a cold snap right at the tail end of winter. Houston is no different. Today is the third time I’ve gotten to see snow in person. But it’s the first time it hasn’t melted away almost immediately.

Do you have any preferred snow day reads?

Puzzles, puzzles

This likely won’t be a revelation to some, but just last night I started working on a jigsaw puzzle I recently bought. I have very limited experience with puzzles. I can really only remember completing one in 2017 and none since. Well circumstances are always changing.

I’d previously purchased a 1000 piece puzzle of A Starry Night. I still think it’s a great one, but there was little chance I’d actually be able to finish it with my experience. More likely I’d throw the pieces at the wall and give up. So I downsized. I found a 300 piece puzzle of bookshelves I like. I started working on it last night.

I can imagine you reading this far and wondering how this relates to books in any way. Well it does and it doesn’t. What I realized last night after devoting about an hour to making progress on it is that I felt the same feelings of relaxation and calmness that I do when I read. When reading it’s difficult to multitask. Either you’re focused on the book or you aren’t. It’s similar with a puzzle. It’s not something you’ll finish if you’re mind is occupied by 5 other things.

Debut novel sells for how much?

First, it’s always great for a debut author to be given the chance to publish their work. It’s not a chance many are given.

Last week it was reported by multiple outlets that TJ Newman had agreed to a publishing deal for her debut novel and an additional book. It isn’t often that this would be newsworthy. But the difference here is it was a 7 figure book deal. Before a single reader has read a page (the first book is forthcoming) a bidding war began for the right to adapt the debut novel. Not one copy has been sold. Not one review written. But an unproven author gets this kind of money and media treatment. My curiosity took over. I looked her up on Twitter. Less than a thousand followers, so no one can say she has a large following expected to increase sales.

When reading about the author it made me wonder if any of this happens for the same person who is Black or Hispanic. I think we know the answer. Publishing has been one of the slowest institutions to improve diversity among its ranks. It’s great that this author will experience the joy of her books being published. The idea of an unknown and unproven author getting this type of publishing deal just doesn’t make much sense. But what do I know?

Books are back?

Most of 2020 was clouded with bad news, but maybe there’s a flicker of good news mixed in. Across the board all genres of books saw sales gains from the previous year. According to Nielsen Bookscan the total number of books sold was 751 million. This was the best year for book sales since 2010!

Just writing that is amazing. The top selling book of the year was former President Obama’s A Promised Land. Unsurprisingly. There are several factors at play here and who really knows what will happen in the coming years, but people are buying and reading books, and there’s not a single negative when that happens.

The bestselling books of 2020:

A Promised Land – Barack Obama

Midnight Sun – Stephenie Meyer

Dog Man: Grime and Punishment – Dav Pilkey

Too Much and Never Enough – Mary Trump

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes – Suzanne Collins

Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens

Untamed – Glennon Doyle

The Deep End – Jeff Kinney

White Fragility – Robin DiAngelo

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse – Charlie Mackesy

Did you read any of these last year?

Giving New Authors a Chance

One thing readers struggle with is finding new authors who aren’t the James Pattersons of the world. It’s so easy to pick up what everyone else already has. It might even make you feel like you’re joining the cool club. But that doesn’t help the little guy.

A few times a year a debut novel will become an instant bestseller. There are plenty of factors behind this, but for every one that’s able to do the impossible, there are dozens that struggle to sell any copies at all. Again, there are many factors that play into when this happens.

What I’ve decided recently is to make a concerted effort to try new authors, specifically debut authors. I’m sure 20 different people could come up with 20 different ways to do this, but my initial plan is simple. The Edgars. The Edgar Awards are awarded annually to the best (mostly) in mystery. It may be a stretch to say they’re the Oscars of mystery books, but not by much. There’s a category for ‘Best First Novel’. I’ll use the category to read debut authors, and I can keep going back year after year if I choose to do so.

January Reading Recap

At the start of the year I decided to set a reasonable pace for my reading and stick to it rather than just seeing what happens. The goal is to avoid the multi-month frenzy I had toward the end of last year. Yes I reached my goal, but I’d prefer to avoid an 11 book December. In January I read four books.

All Quiet on the Western Front

This was my second book set in WWI in recent months. It tells the story from the German perspective. Most notable about this book is that it may be the most antiwar book you ever read. Rated 4 stars.

To Selena, With Love

Chris Perez waited more than a decade to tell his side of their love story. The beauty of this perspective is he isn’t trying to describe the budding superstar, but the person he knew and loved. Rated 5 stars.

D-Day: Minute by Minute

Jonathan Mayo describes the events of D-Day during WWII from first person accounts. Could be a general. Followed by a corporal. Then a journalist. He doesn’t describe it as you’d normally expect, but literally minute by minute. Though different, the format is very well done. Rated 5 stars.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz

I have many thoughts and issues with this book I’ll save for another post when I share my review. But for now, rated 1 star.

Those are the books I started the year with. What did you read last month?

Amanda Gorman is About to Take Over

I wrote last week about Amanda Gorman’s extraordinary inaugural poem. It seems every few hours she’s making more moves.

In March her inaugural poem will be published with an initial printing of one million copies. In September a collection of her poems (along with her inaugural poem) will be published, also with an initial printing of one million copies. She recently signed with IMG Models and will be taking part in the Super Bowl festivities in less than two weeks.

In any scenario all of this would be such phenomenal news, but I know I’m not the only one ecstatic that all these things are happening for a young African-American woman. Amanda Gorman isn’t going anywhere any time soon. And maybe her prediction of one day running for president (she told Hillary Clinton she would run in 2036) isn’t so far off. I’m excited to see what comes next.

Top Five Wednesday – Required Reading

Years ago I used to participate in Top Five Wednesday all the time. Then I abandoned the blog and the channel. Recently I’ve been more interested in the topics, but this is a really old meme, so at this point there’s a whole lot of repetition. But when I find a topic I like, I’ll go ahead and participate. I have no idea who is running it anymore, but you can find the Goodreads group here.

With today’s topic I chose five books that are commonly assigned in schools, and that I believe should continue to be.

The Diary of a Young Girl

Anne Frank’s diary during WWII is one of the most read works of the 20th century, with good reason. It provides the child’s perspective during that dark time.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee’s great American novel. The story gives insight into the Deep South in the US in the post Civil War era. Though the country had moved forward, nearly 100 years after the war it was still slow going.

Night

The shortest book of the bunch. Elie Wiesel’s most known work tells of his time in Auschwitz. It’s a brutal, honest, and heartbreaking read.

Dracula

This book still influences the vampire genre today. It’s the epitome of good vs evil and man vs monster. As you read you cannot help but pull for the group to defeat the Count.

Outliers

Malcolm Gladwell doesn’t write mediocre books. This one tells the story of successful people. So often we hear about or see targeted ads that claim to have the secret to riches or success. This book shows the secret is hour after hour after hour of hard work.

What are some of your favorite assigned reading books?