I hate choosing favorites. I don’t know why, really. Maybe it’s an inherent, quirky part of my personality, or maybe it’s just indecisiveness, a bad habit reinforced over time. Who knows. I can assuredly say that Reese’s peanut butter cups are my favorite candy and the Braves are my favorite baseball team, but it pretty much stops there. If someone asks what my favorite song, podcast, or book is, I’m likely to answer differently depending on the day of the week, my mood, or the weather.
Evan loves to make fun of me for this habit, so when I plopped into bed the other night and declared, “That was the best book I ever read,” he did not believe me. But this time, he didn’t need to be skeptical; I can say with absolute certainty that All the Light I Cannot See is the best book I’ve ever read.
A few days ago, I posted to Instagram that all I wanted to do was hole up somewhere with an enormous cup of tea and not get up until the book was finished. The next day, after the boys were asleep, Evan asked, “Want to watch an episode of our show?” “No,” I replied. “I want to finish this book.” I didn’t think I’d actually be able to finish it that night, but lo and behold, I did.
I was close to tears as I turned the last page. I wasn’t so emotional about the story, exactly (though it could certainly make you cry), but about the entire experience. I was–quite literally–overcome by how wonderful the book is. I promptly declared, “That’s the best book I’ve ever read!” Since then, I’ve been mentally running through all my other “favorite” books, trying to determine if any of them compare. And truthfully, they don’t. All the Light feels like it’s in a class of it’s own.
Since elementary school, I have loved reading anything and everything about World War II. (Though it feels awful to say I “enjoyed” reading about a war; you know what I mean, right?) After awhile, I’ve started to wonder if another story about that era will feel unique. All the Light is so masterful because Anthony Doerr managed to do something no other book has done: it made me empathize with a Nazi. (I cringe just writing that sentence!) The novel introduced Werner Pfennig as a child, and my heart broke for him as he grew more and more entrenched in the Nazi movement, swallowed up in the forces swirling around him. My attachment to Werner never wavered, and all I wanted for him was good.
Besides that, the writing just transported me. Doerr does not waste a single word, but the sentences are still beautiful, elaborate, descriptive. I could feel Saint-Malo’s saltwater mist on my skin, hear “Clair de Lune” playing over the old radios, taste Madame Manec’s sweet peaches. I read and reread certain sentences and passages because they were so exquisite. (And I have spent too much time Googling photos of Saint-Malo.)
I feel as though I’m carrying Marie-Laure and Werner and Jutta and Etienne and Frederick and Volkeimer around with me, like old friends whose memory I don’t want to shake. I am thinking about them constantly–their triumphs and failures, their families, their stories.
I will reread this book one day, but in the meantime, I will be jealous of every person I meet who is reading it for the first time.
I also learned something unexpected from reading All the Light, but I’ll share more about that another day.