There. I said it and I accept it. Because the majority of my friends really, really loved this book. And I fear they will rejectI have biblio-cooties.
There. I said it and I accept it. Because the majority of my friends really, really loved this book. And I fear they will reject me now that they know that it did little to nothing for me. I shall have to sit alone in the library, other readers keeping a wide berth for fear of contagion, but I cannot tell a lie and I stand by my pronouncement: Hi, my name is Amanda and I did not enjoy World War Z.
In the past, I have ripped into books I disliked with a gleeful, almost maniacal abandon, and so there are some who may suspect that I will do so here. But this is an entirely different case, for World War Z's fault is not that it's a bad book. It's well-written, it's got an intriguing conceit (the tale of the zombie apocalypse told in journalistic hindsight from the perspective of those who survived), and some imaginative scenarios (sure, we've all thought about zombies on land, but what about zombies underwater?).
In fact there's no fault at all here other than the fact that, as far as undead ghouls go, I'm Team Vampire. I've never really found anything that frightening about zombies, other than a certain "Eww" factor that compels me to think about how I need to stock up on hand sanitizer and wet wipes in a zombiefied world because they're leaving nasty bits and pieces everywhere. To me, there is nothing more frightening than intellect coupled with either undeniable evil or with moral apathy. Since zombies are basically husks driven by a biological imperative instead of conscious thought, they're not my monster of choice. The only zombie flicks I've enjoyed have been Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland. Humor + zombies = a win. Horror + zombies = not so much.
So I knew going in that this was likely a swing and a miss, but it had received such rave reviews that I couldn't resist. I thought the journalistic style might appeal to me, but few of the voices were clearly differentiated enough for me to connect with any one character. There were 3 or 4 stories that really engaged me, but not enough to enjoy the overall experience. What was really frightening, however, is that Brooks does an excellent job of showing how ill-equipped we are globally to deal with any type of rapidly-spreading contagion. He also captures the fear and panic that comes out of facing an unknown. Particularly in first world countries, we are so complacent with "knowing all the answers" and controlling everything that the mental toll of facing a problem we can not solve would be just as damaging as the physical threat. Brooks does an excellent job of realistically portraying this.
So, I'll say it again: not a bad book. Just not for me. Now I'll go sit in my corner and wait for someone else to catch biblio-cooties. It shouldn't be long. I just have to wait for someone to write a 1 star review of an Orson Scott Card or Janet Evanovich book and my transgressions will be forgotten.
Why did I love this book? Two words: Raylan Givens, my favorite kick ass modern day cowboy with a fondness for ice cream.
Pronto, however, is not exclWhy did I love this book? Two words: Raylan Givens, my favorite kick ass modern day cowboy with a fondness for ice cream.
Pronto, however, is not exclusively Raylan's story, though he figures as a prominent character once he does arrive on the scene. This is actually the story of Harry Arno, a bookie who has decided that in one more year he's going to retire and go to Italy. Italy holds a special place in Harry's heart because he once shot a deserter there during World War II and it was there that he saw Ezra Pound (not once, but twice). This leads to a peculiar obsession for a man like Harry--he's an expert on Ezra Pound (the English teacher in me loved this quirky little twist), can quote lines from memory and reads Pound biographies despite the fact that he doesn't really understand his poetry (does anyone, really? And if you thought to yourself, "Why, yes, yes I do", then I think you're a damn liar). It's also amusing how his fixation on Pound affects those around him (his girlfriend, Joyce, memorizes all of the terrible things about ol' Ezra and even Raylan, after being assigned to escort Harry, goes to the library and checks out some of Pound's poetry, though he's puzzled by everything he reads and soon gives up). But I digress.
Harry's plan seems simple and obtainable, but, in true Leonard fashion, things go caddiwompas. The police want to bring down Harry's boss, Jimmy Cap, a 350 lbs. mob boss with a penchant for butterflies and sun tanning. So what do they do? They indirectly inform Jimmy that Harry's been skimming from him. The problem is that Harry has been skimming--for years, in fact. Jimmy Cap puts out a hit on Harry and, ciao, baby, Harry decides to move up his retirement date and leave the country. Raylan Givens is the U.S. Marshal who decides to go to Italy and try to save Harry from himself and from the hitman he knows has followed Harry.
I will readily admit to knowing nothing about the character of Raylan until watching Justified on FX. On the series, Raylan is a BAMF in a Stetson. That's played down a bit in the book, but I enjoyed it just the same. In the novel Raylan comes off as being a few bricks shy of a load--a good ol' boy in over his head, until you begin to realize that's the persona he's trying to project. It catches people off-guard and gives him an edge. No one knows exactly how to take him, but, make no mistake, Raylan is smarter than your average bear and is capable of extreme violence if necessary. If Raylan has a flaw it's that his sense of justice is so old school black and white that it creates a type of naiveté. In a world where words mean little, Raylan still expects a promise to mean something (after all, it's his willingness to take Harry Arno's word that allows Harry to elude Raylan's grasp twice and thwart his hopes of a promotion with the Marshals service). With his Old West code of ethics and hardscrabble Kentucky coal mining background, Raylan is a complex and entertaining character who makes for an intriguing juxtaposition with the world of Miami's crime syndicate. I'll definitely be reading Riding the Rap and tracking down the Raylan Givens' short stories to sustain me until the next season of Justified.
The premise of this book was very inventive, but I never really felt like I was reading a Neil Gaiman book. True, it was co-authored with Michael ReevThe premise of this book was very inventive, but I never really felt like I was reading a Neil Gaiman book. True, it was co-authored with Michael Reeves, so perhaps his was the overriding influence of the novel. There are some Gaiman hallmarks: wonderfully strange ideas about alternate universes that are created each time a monumental decision must be made (thus creating a separate universe for the possible outcome of each alternative offered by that decision) as well as fantastic creatures inhabiting these different versions of earth. In particular, I found the idea of the Hex empire (a world ruled by magic and sorcery) at battle with the Binary empire (a world ruled by science and reason) for possession of these multiple earths to be an intriguing premise, but it's been done better in other Gaiman novels (most notably the battle between the old gods and the gods of technology in American Gods). This book will probably satisfy a young adult audience and is a good introduction to Gaiman as a writer, but those seeking more substance and conflicts without glossed over resolutions should perhaps look elsewhere). If I were 15-16 again, I would have loved it. As it is, it was a quick and entertaining read that made me want to revisit previously read Gaiman works....more
Until I read Neil Gaiman's rewrite, I had never heard of Jack Kirby's Eternals series. And I think I'm rather glad about that. The conceit is an intriUntil I read Neil Gaiman's rewrite, I had never heard of Jack Kirby's Eternals series. And I think I'm rather glad about that. The conceit is an intriguing one--the gods of the ancient world still exist among us today. The problem with this is Kirby's explanation for their existence. They are the products of alien life forms known as the Celestials who came to our planet (in ginormous robot suit, apparently) and created three species of life: the humans, the Eternals, and the Deviants. These alien "gods" would check in every now and then and see how things were going (they were awfully fond of "smiting" when they found things had gone awry). Yeah, that's all just a little too muddled for my liking.
The first half of the book was well-written and absorbing (hence the 3 stars); however, the second half was full of slipshod explanations for events, an ending that felt unnecessary and unfinished, and a rather strange attempt to incorporate the Eternals into the Marvel Civil War universe (cameos by The Avengers, Iron Man, and The Fantastic Four). Is that the way it was in the original series? I have no idea, but it felt rather forced here.
I don't think my disappointment with the book is necessarily Gaiman's fault. As a premise, I just didn't like what Kirby was trying to do here--it just felt too New Age-Scientology for my liking. I think Gaiman pulls off a similar and superior "gods live among us" narrative in his novel American Gods. ...more
For me, Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried is the most powerful book that I have every read and it's the standard against which I judge all thingsFor me, Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried is the most powerful book that I have every read and it's the standard against which I judge all things O'Brien. In The Things They Carried, O'Brien utilizes a nonlinear and fragmented narrative structure, magical realism, and the power of storytelling to capture the visceral truth that telling the real story can't quite capture. For O'Brien, we must sometimes turn to fiction to capture what is "emotionally true" and, in doing so, be less concerned with an objective reality. In a way, If I Die in a Combat Zone makes this point for him. Written 15 years before Things, If I Die is a memoir of Tim O'Brien's experience in the Vietnam War. There is no metafiction razzle-dazzle, but rather a straight-forward, linear narrative that begins when O'Brien is drafted and ends as he boards the Freedom Bird headed toward home. It's powerful stuff, but not nearly as powerful as his fiction work. Despite that, anything by Tim O'Brien is better than almost anything else out there--fiction or non-fiction.
Having grown up in the post-World War II glow of American military might, O'Brien was raised in the ask-no-questions patriotic culture of the Midwest. Real men were expected to fight. Real men were supposed to look forward to war. Real men craved the opportunity to serve their country and protect their families. O'Brien doesn't reject these values, but these views are complicated by his own philosophical inclinations. He questions the nature of bravery, as well as how American intervention in Vietnam is protecting the average American's right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In the aftermath, he's left with no certain answers: "Now, war ended, all I am left with are simple, unprofound scraps of truth. Men die. Fear hurts and humiliates. It is hard to be brave. It is hard to know what bravery is. Dead human beings are heavy and awkward to carry . . . Is that the stuff for a morality lesson, even for a theme? . . . Can the foot soldier teach anything important about war, merely for having been there? I think not. He can tell war stories."
And that's what O'Brien does in the novel--he tells war stories. He tells of the tedious days of repetition, punctuated by brief bursts of action; he tells of military incompetence and the frustration of not knowing who the enemy is in a land where farmers by day picked up guns at night; he tells of how cruel being sent on R&R was, knowing the brief return to normality would not last. And he does all of this without being preachy; he simply shows us what life was like for the average soldier and leaves us to draw our own conclusions. His language is at once poetic and precise, getting to the heart of all things. No one can capture the peculiar mix of fear, adrenaline fed excitement, and remorse of a soldier's most introspective moments like O'Brien.
At one point, O'Brien ruminates on Ernest Hemingway's fascination with war: "Some say Ernest Hemingway was obsessed by the need to show bravery in battle. It started, they say, somewhere in World War I and ended when he passed his final test in Idaho. If the man was obsessed with the notion of courage, that was a fault. But, reading Hemingway's war journalism and his war stories, you get the sense that he was simply concerned about bravery, hence about cowardice, and that seems a virtue, a sublime and profound concern that few men have." It's a concern that permeates all of O'Brien's work and his treatment of it is indeed sublime.