World War ZZZZzzzzz...

Holy crap, was I bored by the horror (?) novel World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War.

I've been hearing about this book for years now, and what a great read it was, so when the movie came out, I thought, well, okay, I should really read this book.

Written in the form of an oral history, with an unnamed narrator conducting interviews with survivors of the worldwide "zombie war," you'd think this would have been a fast, if not creepy, read. But almost from the first pages I was bored:*

[In an interview with the former White House chief of staff, about when they were first warned of the global threat]: "Drop everything, focus all our efforts, typical alarmist crap. We got dozens of these reports a week, every administration did, all of them claiming that their particular boogeyman was the 'greatest threat to human existence.' C'mon! Can you imagine what America would have been like if the federal government slammed on the brakes every time some paranoid crackpot cried 'wolf' or 'global warming' or 'living dead'? Please. What we did, what every president since Washington has done, was provide a measured, appropriate response, in direct relation to a realistic threat assessment." (p. 59.)

Snooze. I did get the whole thing read, but I won't way that I didn't skip a lot, particularly in the narratives that really bored me. Mr. CR read it too, and although he liked it better than I did, he didn't seem particularly taken with it either. He thought perhaps the "oral history" nature of it, and the fact that very few of the characters telling their stories appear more than once, made it tough to care about any of them or the story. I don't know that that was it...I've read similar books (Robopocalypse, by Daniel Wilson, for one) that held my interest far longer.

On the other hand, maybe that means I will like the movie; I've heard this movie and book are quite different from one another. (And I never complain about seeing a movie with Brad Pitt in it.)

*Well, I take it back. The first few chapters, particularly the one where the Chinese doctor explained his first encounters with someone infected with the zombie "virus," were pretty creepy. But by the time the book got around to explaining zombie battles and global techniques for dealing with the pandemic, I was bored, bored, bored.

A disturbing juxtaposition.

This may be a bit heavy for a Monday, but if you're looking for some disturbing reading to put together (and therefore make it even more disturbing), you might try Ray Bradbury's classic novel Fahrenheit 451 and this latest article from Matt Taibbi.*

For whatever reason I decided last week it was time to re-read Fahrenheit 451, as I think I first (and last) read it in seventh or eighth grade. I'm not all the way through, but it's been interesting. I wish I'd kept a journal way back when, recording what I thought about this book, because I always remembered liking it and being struck by it, but I can't for the life of me remember WHY. And I suspect it has been a very different reading experience this time around, reading it as an adult.

This was one of the many parts that struck me, from the book:

"The bombers crossed the sky and crossed the sky over the house, gasping, murmuring, whistling like an immense, invisible fan, circling in emptiness. 'Jesus God,' said Montag, 'Every hour so many damn things in the sky! How in hell did those bombers get up there every single second of our lives! Why doesn't someone want to talk about it?'"

And from the article:

"The idea that we have to beg and plead and pull Capra-esque stunts in the Senate just to find out whether or not our government has "asserted the legal authority" (this preposterous phrase is beginning to leak into news coverage with alarming regularity) to kill U.S. citizens on U.S. soil [using drones] without trial would be laughable, were it not for the obvious fact that such lines are in danger of really being crossed, if they haven't been crossed already."

In both: the theme of "not wanting to know" is a disturbing one. And yet, I know why we don't want to look and don't want to know. We're tired and we've got to go to work and get the kids fed and I think the brakes are going on the car and Christ, how am I going to pay that $5000 medical bill that wasn't covered? I get it. But I salute both Bradbury and Taibbi for asking: what will it take to make us LOOK?

*Stick with the article. It's long but worth it.

Finally getting books read from last Christmas.

MonstrumologistLast Christmas a very dear friend of mine sent us a gift package that consisted of books for my entire household--it was wonderful. Mr. CR read his book right away and CRjr had his book read to him, but for months I didn't get around to my gift, which was Rick Yancey's YA horror novel The Monstrumologist.

Then, at the end of this past summer, when I wasn't in much of a nonfiction mood, I decided it was time to read it. No particular reason, although I was embarrassed that I had waited so long (just like I'm also embarrassed that it took me so long to blog about it after reading it!).

The story is framed by two modern-day individuals discussing the diaries they have found, written by one Will Henry, who has died at the age of (according to what he told his fellow nursing home residents and doctors) 131. And what is in the diaries? Well, the tagline for the book is "there are monsters among us...and they must be found," and that pretty much sums it up. Evidently, as an orphaned lad, Will Henry stayed to live and work with his father's former employer, a monstrumologist (or, one who finds and deals with monsters). The monsters the two are following in this narrative are "Anthropophagi"--suitably ucky monsters with devouring teeth, superhuman strength and wiles, and eyes in their stomach.

It's a pretty creepy read (even for me, as a supposed adult), and it would be a very good atmospheric read around Halloween time. I enjoyed the book very much, although one part of it frightened me so much it actually gave me nightmares. (And it wasn't one of the parts with monsters--it was one of the parts where the main character visits a home for the mentally deranged--ick.)

I had only one minor complaint with the book, and that is that the monstrumologist calls Will Henry by his full name just a little too often. There's a lot of this type of exchange:

"'And find my boots, Will Henry.'

'Of course, sir.'

I hesitated, waiting for a fourth command. The old man called Erasmus was staring at me.

'Well, what are you waiting for?' the doctor said. 'Snap to, Will Henry!'" (p. 6.)

But overall, it's still just a good, spine-tingling read:

"With each step my heart beat faster, for in my mind's eye I saw it beneath the stairs, crouching on all fours upon the sweating stone floor, a headless beast with blank black eyes set deep in its shoulders and a mouth overflowing with row upon row of glistening teeth, the lion in the savanna brush, the shark in the reef shadows, and I the grazing gazelle, the juvenile seal frolicking in the surf. It would rise as I descended. It would reach through the open slats and seize my ankle with its three-inch barbs..." (p. 91.)

If you know any YA readers who enjoy being scared, this one might make a good Christmas gift. I know that it was a gift I very much appreciated and enjoyed.

A nice atmospheric read.

MonsterAlthough I didn't re-read Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes for Halloween this year, I did read a YA novel that had kind of a nice autumn atmosphere. (Although it's atmosphere is decidedly not "nice"; it's both a bit scary and very sad, I just mean that the author did a nice job giving it an "autumnal" feel.)

I don't know where I heard about Patrick Ness's A Monster Calls, but I'm really glad I brought it home. It's a fascinating little book (which is actually based on an idea by YA author Siobhan Dowd, who died before she could write it into a story) and it's beautifully illustrated by Jim Kay. It's set in Great Britain, and it's about a boy named Conor who has more than a few problems. His mother is sick, he's getting picked on in school, his father's left him and his mother to start a new family in America, and the grandmother he dislikes is about to come stay with him and his mother to help out. If that weren't enough, a monster comes for him. This is how the book starts:

"The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do."

"A monster, Conor thought. A real, honest-to-goodness monster. In real, waking life. Not in a dream, but here, at his window. Come to get him.

But Conor didn't run.

In fact, he found he wasn't even frightened.

All he could feel, all he had felt since the monster revealed itself, was a growing disappointment.

Because this wasn't the monster he was expecting.

'So come and get me then,' he said." (p. 9.)

It's an interesting book, the illustrations are beautiful, and it can be read in about an hour or so. I'd recommend it.

The Something Wicked hiatus.

As you may know, every year around this time I generally re-read, and fall in love with all over again, Ray Bradbury's classic Something Wicked This Way Comes.

But I'm not going to this year. October is almost gone and although I have thought of bits of the book periodically (when I take walks with CRjr, and hear the skittering leaves and the whisper of broomsticks around corners, most particularly), I have not had the urge to re-read it that I usually do. So I'm not going to force the issue; it'll be there for me next year.

Instead I'm going to spend some time with an older book that I've had for years, purchased at some sort of library sale: The Dodd, Mead Gallery of Horror. I like a good horror story and hope I can find one in the collection to enjoy. Has anyone else read any good scary stories this year they'd like to recommend?

In the meantime: Happy Halloween to all of you, beasties. CRjr's a little young to go out and beg for free candy, but I'm looking forward to those days when I can steal some fun size candy bars out of his bag. Don't look at me like that. I gave that boy life, he can give me a teeny tiny Snickers bar every now and then.

A tale of two fictions.

Over the past week I've been trying to match the nonfiction I'm reading, book for book, with fiction. It's not working--the current count is three nonfiction titles, two fiction titles.

Historian The first novel I'm reading (well, listening to, as I do the dishes) is Elizabeth Kostova's title The Historian. It's a big old thick book which takes on the legend of Dracula, told from the multiple viewpoints (and during different time periods) of a historian's mentor, the historian, and his daughter. I wanted to like it, because it got a lot of good reviews, and the Lesbrarian* loved it. But I can't help it--I'm totally bored. I've been bored from the very first tape--and I'm only listening to the abridged version. (I do not believe in abridged books and would have preferred the unabridged version, but it wasn't available at my library.) It is so boring that I've actually started to make up my own dialogue for it. When the historian's love interest wakes up in the morning and discovers she has been attacked by Dracula, I supplied new dialogue: "Helen, you've been cheating on me with that mad fox Dracula, haven't you, you hussy?"**

In all fairness, I still have a tape to go; maybe that'll turn it all around. But the author simply takes too long to tell too little. Honestly, if I could tell modern fiction authors just one thing, it would be that you don't have to write a 600-page book to write a good book. Really.

Hunger The other fiction I've been reading is Suzanne Collins's YA novel The Hunger Games, which I loved. I had to summarize it for another project last week, and here's how I did so: "It’s set in a (maybe not too distant?) dystopian future, in which the ruling powers of Panem, ensconced carefully in their Capitol, keep the rest of the population under control by demanding 'tributes' from different regions of the country to compete to the death in the annual Hunger Games. The tributes are, of course, people’s children–every child between the age of 12 and 18 has their name entered in a drawing, and each region of Panem has to send a male and female tribute to the games. But when Katniss Everdeen’s younger sister is chosen, she does the unthinkable–and volunteers to enter the Games in her place."

I loved this book, and was happy to pass it along to Mr. CR, who blows through fantasy and science fiction at an alarming rate (and is thus difficult to keep fully supplied), and he also enjoyed it. In addition to liking the action part of the novel (which is rare enough for me; I usually prefer character-driven fiction to story-driven fiction), I loved the love triangle--both of Katniss's love interests are viable characters (unlike in Stephenie Meyers's Twilight books, which purport to feature a love triangle, but don't). And the best part? It's a very readable 374 YA pages. That's the way to do it!

*This post is dedicated to the Lesbrarian, who wanted me to read The Historian. Our tastes continue to be nearly exactly opposite! It's a wonder of nature, I tell you.

**Also, just once? I'd love to read a Dracula book where Dracula has a sense of humor. Really. I think you can be both evil and hilarious. In fact, I think a funny Dracula would be even more terrifying, in a weird sort of way.

October 24.*

Well, you know that every October I have to re-read and talk about Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes. My reading it this year was even better than usual because I had my very own copy, given to me by Mr. CR last Christmas with a card that said, "Now you have your very own copy!"

Why do I have to read it every fall? Well, because:

Bradbury "So it was on this night that blew warm, then cool, as they let the wind take them downtown at eight o'clock. They felt the wings on their fingers and elbows flying, then, suddenly plunged in new sweeps of air, the clear autumn river flung them headlong where they must go.

Up steps, three, six, nine, twelve! Slap! Their palms hit the library door.

Jim and Will grinned at each other. It was all so good, these blowing quiet October nights and the library waiting inside now with its green-shaded lamps and papyrus dust." (p. 13.)

I love autumn, and Bradbury's book is like experiencing an especially intense prototypical autumn. Every year I re-read it, and every year I find something new in it, and every year something in it soothes me like you can only be soothed when you know what it is to be up at three a.m. with worry or sickness (and most adults know what that is) and need something both completely removed from your surroundings and something which gives you the strength to accept your surroundings.

This year what particularly struck me was remembering that this book stands as one of my greatest readers' advisory triumphs and one of my biggest failures. I gave it to my sister and now it is one of our literary touchstones ("it reminds me of that part in Something Wicked this Way Comes..."); we both thought our Dad, who always liked Arthurian legends and myths and fiction, would really take to it, and so passed it along. He hated it. Hated it from the very start. He just brought it up to me the other day as the weirdest book he's ever started, and what was I thinking giving it to him? So that just makes me laugh. Now, I know my Dad about as well as one reader can know another, and I still am capable of misfiring on what he'll love or hate (he recently read and loved the religious allegory The Shack, which I had no time for). So, all you readers' advisors out there? Give yourself a break if you can't always find readers books they love. Books are bigger than we can always define, and know, and really, so are readers. So don't be so hard on yourself.

*"One year Halloween came on October 24, three hours after midnight."

Should I stay or should I go?

Well, the question is really "should I keep reading or should I stop?" but that's not nearly as catchy.

Drood All summer long I have been trying to read Dan Simmons's behemoth novel Drood,* set in nineteenth-century London, and I can't quite get it done. Either I don't get it started and it goes overdue at the library, or it just sits around and stares at me balefully while I pick up other books instead. But this week I decided to tackle it; one of my very favorite readers suggested I read it, and I want to be able to tell her that I tried.

And now I have a problem. Although the first fifty pages were pretty slow, I'm now at around the 150-page mark and things are picking up a bit. It follows the rather macabre activities of authors and friends, Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, as they chase down a shadowy creature named "Drood." (That's really about all of the story I've gotten so far.) So what's the problem?

The book is 775 pages long, that's the problem. I mean, really. Almost 800 pages? Do I really have the time or desire to devote 800 pages' worth of devotion to a book that I'm not really sold on, as of yet? Add that to the fact that I'm no Charles Dickens fan (although the novel is narrated by Wilkie, who is way more interesting than Dickens, mercifully) and I'm just not sure why I'm slogging through. What I'm feeling like doing is re-reading Michael Cox's The Meaning of Night (which was also long, but spectacular) and finding a good biography of Wilkie Collins instead.

So: what's the verdict? Anyone out there read this one? Should I keep going? Or cut and run?

*Shows how much I know: evidently Dickens's last (unfinished) book was titled The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Do I really have any business reading this book if that's how clueless I am about Dickens?

A woman with a Jane Austen problem...

... must be in want of any kind of Jane Austen spinoff, right?

Well, friends and neighbors, not if that spinoff is Seth Grahame-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (even if it IS "the classic regency romance--now with ultraviolent zombie mayhem."). I've had it home, I laughed at the title, I read the first few chapters, I looked at the pictures (which were quite well done, actually), I laughed at the author's blurb ("Seth Grahame-Smith once took a class in English literature. He lives in Los Angeles."), I was done.

Zombies I'll admit I don't want to read any more because I'm jealous that I didn't have the idea (the New York Times bestseller list idea that it turned out to be) first. But I also don't want to read it because I've never been a huge fan of the old genreblenders, or satire, or whatever you want to call it. Mainly because, of course, it's just a mishmash of the original with some zombie bits. Consider the scene where Darcy first slights Elizabeth Bennet at a ball:

"'Which do you mean?' and turning round he [Darcy] looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said, 'She is tolerable, but not handsome enought to tempt me; I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.'

As Mr. Darcy walked off, Elizabeth felt her blood turn cold. She had never in her life been so insulted. The warrior code demanded she avenge her honour. Elizabeth reached down to her ankle, taking care not to draw attention. There, her hand met the dagger concealed beneath her dress. She meant to follow this proud Mr. Darcy outside and open his throat." (pp. 13-14.)

Uh, yeah. Not for me.* It's been getting good reviews and all and they don't seem to mind it over at the AustenBlog, but if I have time to spend with Jane, I think I'll just re-read Persuasion, thanks.

*It wasn't for Christine Merrill, either. If I haven't convinced you, read her much funnier review.