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Book Review: World War Z

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Who reads these pesky books anymore?

While it does feel like if you wait long enough, a movie adaptation will eventually appear if you don’t feel like reading the book, I can’t begin to figure out how Hollywood can churn out a movie even remotely resembling this book. Strangely enough, it isn’t because of incredibly written characters, emotions, or settings. It’s only due to the unconventional nature of the storytelling.

I love to read. I also love zombie lore. So why is it I haven’t read any zombie apocalypse novels until now? I guess I didn’t know where to start. Or, hell, that zombie apocalypse novels really existed. Plus, admittedly, one of my main attractions to zombies is the guiltless gratuitous violence. Reading about bashing zombie brain matter ain’t quite as gratifying in text as it is in a video game or *some* movies. When I saw ads for a zombie apocalypse movie with Brad Pitt’s face plastered all over I knew I was going to see it. When I learned it was based on a novel, I was obligated to read said novel.

Here’s my theory: The author, Max Brooks, probably isn’t an idiot. I’m sure he and his publishing company know that zombie stuff isn’t generally taken very seriously by critics, literature snobs, and the general public (See if I save your asses when the apocalypse DOES arrive). Therefore, they probably had a closed door discussion during which his agent and such said, “Nobody but the same dead head crew that read the Survival Guide is gonna read a freakin’ zombie novel.” So they had to get critics to rave about the book. And what better way to get lit and critiquing snobs to rave about a book than to do something different. Seriously. I can picture some of my creative writing professors waxing poetic about this novel just because it takes an unconventional approach to book writing. These would be the same professors who swore off the fantasy and sci-fi genres. And don’t get me started on NY Times reviewers. I tried reading movie reviews on their websites a couple of times before. Exhausting is all they are.

The book is built as a compilation of interviews the “main character” conducts ten years after World War Z actually takes place. There are significant pros and cons to this storytelling approach.

The pros I examined: You get a holistic view of the entire world’s reaction to the zombie virus outbreak. The author is very tuned into each country’s political, social and economical situation before the war. This is a theme laced throughout the book. The interviewees are constantly pointing blame at their inept government leaders. And yet each situation is unique to each country, which I thought was pretty cool. He also didn’t have to worry about writing a main character that a lot of readers wouldn’t click with. The main character asks a few questions to his interviewees throughout the novel, and that’s about it. Well, except for the beginning when he sets the stage for the big “Why.” I’ll give you a hint: it isn’t because we just like gratuitous zombie violence.

I’ll admit, I have a hard time finding more pros to writing a book this way. There’s no main character to relate to. By the time I got into one character’s history and story he was moving on to someone else. The common threads of pain, despair, and loss are all there, and I have particular images still stuck in my mind, but I had a hard time weaving a fluid tale from it all. Hell, after I read the book I looked at the summary on Wikipedia and was like, “Oh, so THAT’S how it all went down!” Also, everything is passive. One basic and helpful writing advice I was given while paying a state university a stupid amount of money for a creative writing degree was, “Show, don’t tell.” This book is all telling and no showing. Therefore, while reading, there’s little to no anticipation or fear felt by the part of the reader. It’s all over. Mankind survived. Here’s a little bit of how they did it.

World War Z has taught me it isn’t necessarily bad that zombies aren’t taken seriously. I guess I’m conditioned to appreciate them in their B-movie gratuitous violence glory, and not in the literary sense. With that being said, I’m still open to reading more zombie apocalypse-centric novels that maybe don’t try so hard. Please help me out with any suggestions for reading material!

I do plan on seeing World War Z in the near future. I am bracing myself for the possibility of enjoying the movie more than the book for the first time, no matter how loosely based I’m sure the film is.

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