Tuesday, October 6, 2009

World War Z

When I decided that the 50 books I would read in the coming year needed to be by 50 different authors, I hoped it would help me to get out of a rut I was in, and it seems to be working. For example, I had read Jen Lancaster’s Bitter Is The New Black over the summer, and put her two other books on my library hold list. They both arrived last week, and I returned them immediately, since I can’t count them and don’t currently have the time to read books that will not count toward my total. No offence intended to Ms. Lancaster, I think she’s a riot and look forward to reading more from her – but only after I’ve discovered some other fun authors I’ve not yet read.

 So what do you read when you can’t fall back on the familiar? Well, for one thing, I’ve moved into other sections of the bookstore, which is where I ran across Max Brooks’ World War Z. I honestly don’t think I would have read this one if I had not challenged myself. The jacket illustration says “guy book” to me, and the zombie theme says “schlock,” or maybe “cheeseball crap,” or “lowbrow,” or any number of other things that would have led me to think this book is only for guys below a certain IQ level.

Because my husband no longer reads my blog, I can safely make the following statement: I was wrong. Oh, so very wrong.

If you’ve been following along with my blog recently, you will know that I have become somewhat fixated on zombies. But apparently I’m not the only one: Zombies are currently in some obvious places like the movies (Zombieland), and in some unexpected ones, like regency literature (Pride & Prejudice & Zombies). Zombies are this year’s vampires. But why?

A recent CNN article asserts that zombies personify our fears. I think this is pretty close to the mark. Last year, when the world’s financial systems seemed to be melting down, who didn’t have thoughts like, OMG what am I going to do if all my money is worthless? What will happen if our society completely breaks down and we are banging sticks in caves trying to rediscover fire? You can admit it: You did. I did too. And my neighbors. And my sister in law. And everyone else. It was a big, scary problem that threatened to ruin us all and we were all, individually, powerless to prevent it. If you weren’t scared during the financial panic, how about global warming? Same thing. It’s very scary. I personally worry. A lot.

Zombies are simple, and unknowable. They aren’t complicated like vampires or superheroes, with alter-egos and human desires: They’re just gonna get you. And you don’t really need to have complicated thoughts about how to handle that. There’s no negotiating with zombies, no discussing how their deprived childhood/reckless greed made them evil, or how society created the zombie through reckless consumption and driving too many SUVs. It’s just so simple: Oh look. A zombie. Fight. Or. Flight.

Now take this terror on a vast scale, and put it into an incredibly detailed, well-written book, and here you have World War Z. Brooks takes you around the world, repeatedly, to cover each aspect of the Zombie Apocalypse from the point of view of the participants – so each segment is a first-hand, personal narration. The characters range from military combatants to profiteers to regular people – everyone giving a very unique point of view.

It all works because the accuracy of the depictions is stunning. Traveling from country to country, Brooks simply nails the cultural aspects – each country’s approach is true to its national character and history. Israel, early on, takes immediate, draconian action to get the infected out and seal its borders. It was so true to life. Ever been to an El-Al airport terminal? Big guys with big guns stand guard. Those guys don’t fuck around with their security. They’ve learned through years of war how to keep their guard up. And so they do in the book.

The personal detail is so accurate, too. Each character is so carefully drawn and real. I absolutely loved the suburban mom – totally absorbed in the minutiae of her life, oblivious to the news, and as her kids get wind that something is happening and start acting out on their fear, she gets everyone prescriptions for Zoloft and Adderall and then complains about how health insurance doesn’t cover the cost of the zombie vaccine. I’ve been on the PTA with her. Some days, I am her, except I don't have an SUV.

No aspect of a global war seems to have been overlooked, either. Battle descriptions are amazing and I could absolutely visualize each scene. The combatants tell the stories, so they are very human – I was moved by the descriptions of the human/dog interactions in K-9 units. We see those who survived, those who snapped, and how the people, landscape, and governments changed over the course of the war. The story arcs are not simplistic, sometimes going off into very unexpected directions.

So, yes, I love zombies and I loved World War Z. I will read more from Max Brooks, but before I do, I’m so excited about what other new things I might discover this year.

15 books down. 35 books to read. 34 weeks to go.


  1. I just bought this book last night! I'm not sure if I am into zombies, but this looked like a good one to try. I didn't read the whole review, but I get that you liked it, so I am looking forward to reading it now.

  2. I know what you mean about Jen Lancaster, she's hilarious. I have two of her books on my shelf right now that I'll get to when I've read a bunch of other stuff! When I can't fall back on the familiar- I don't know. I guess I just wander through the bookstore, or my own shelves, and find something that looks interesting. and I have NO idea what the whole zombie thing is about!

  3. Is it ironic that I love your blog, but hardly ever read? I could say I don't have time, but if I really wanted to I could make time.

    Thanks for the pup advice! I had no idea about that organization. When I grow balls or she wizzes on my carpet again (not sure which will happen first) I will check it out!

    And I also thank you kindly for not sicking PETA on me. Even if I could totally kick their arse anyway.


  4. Hey, I just wanted to stop by again & say thank you for commenting on my FTC post yesterday. You folks got a great discussion going! :-)

  5. I read this one last year and loved it to bits! Maybe that's why I clicked on your post from the RIP IV review site to check if you (and others) liked it as much. Great review by the way.

    And I like your personal challenge of reading books from different authors. I'll come back and read some of your previous (and well present) posts when my internet connection isn't as wonky as nowadays.

  6. Great Review! You nailed it perfectly! I just finished this book last weekend. It came highly recommended from a library patron-I put it off for weeks because zombies really aren't my thing. So glad I read it-great writing! Great story! Now I will be the one recommending to the patrons of the library LOL!


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