Books: Death With Interruptions

My lifestyle no longer affords me the luxury to devour books the way I once did. It took me a long time to accept this. Being a librarian – a ‘book’ person – and all, I kept reaching for the prize winners – thick volumes bound in hardcover. I would lug them home and cart them around. Seldom, however, would I finish them. I’d blame long hours at work, a crazy home life, late nights at the disco, but it doesn’t really matter ‘why’. The important thing is that I’m through pretending. The days and nights of unfinished books sitting at my bedside collecting dust are done. I now judge a book by its cover (and by its word count).

Death With Interruptions
By José Saramago. Translated from Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa.

Books on the “new book shelf” have little stickers on their front cover to remind me of that pesky two week loan period (regular loan periods offer a much more accommodating 21 – 28 days). I try to avoid them, but their clever art work frequently sucks me in. On this day I had an appetite for something of substance and Jose Saramago, Nobel Prize winner and author of Blindness (recently made in to a movie starring Julianne Moore) spoke to me with a slim little 256 page novel.

What’s the story?

Ever had one of those days when you get to work and think: “Why am I doing this?” Maybe you’ve even thought about leaving it all behind or found yourself daydreaming about how great it would be to take things slow for a little while. You know – reflect, catch up with friends, go to the gym – that sort of thing. Sound at all familiar? Of course it does. We’ve all had days like that.

In a cold uninspired room, surrounded by towers of paperwork with nothing but a scythe for company, Death – who happens to be a woman – is having one of those days, only she does something about it:

On the first day of the new year, no one dies. This of course causes consternation among politicians, religious leaders, morticians, and doctors. Among the general public, on the other hand, there is initially celebration—flags are hung out on balconies, people dance in the streets. They have achieved the great goal of humanity: eternal life. Then reality hits home families are left to care for the permanently dying, life-insurance policies become meaningless, and funeral parlors are reduced to arranging burials for pet dogs, cats, hamsters, and parrots. (publishers description)

Not quite a cheery pick-me-up of a book, but I didn’t put it down feeling any more depressed by the emptiness of organized religion, insurance companies, medical systems or politicians than I was going in, either. The concept alone is clever enough and Saramago, a great satirist, had me chuckling to myself over and over.

Final analysis: highly recommended, even if you do have time and energy to read a thicker one.

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