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mmmm….booooook….. November 20, 2006

Posted by marymac in books, Feeling historical, Me me me!.

When I was a kid, I was afraid to close my eyes in the bath, which made rinsing my hair a long, complicated process. (Don’t laugh — it isn’t even the looniest of my childhood fears, I promise.) This was because of my dad’s little habit of watching horror movies while my (very young) person was in the room and (he thought) preoccupied with a book or a game or a fight with my little brother (also, we only had one tv with cable and he liked to be the boss of it). I have, however, always been good at multitasking and absorbed a lot more than he realized at the time.

The movie that inspired The Bathtub Thing is The Changeling. It’s about a guy who moves into a house where a kid was drowned in the bathtub and Scary Stuff happens. Or something — seriously, even now reading the plot summary creeps me out, so you’ll have to do it yourselves. I’ll wait here under the covers. With all the lights on.


See? Scary, right? Even people who like that kind of thing say so. You’d be traumatized, too.

The thing is, it’s just movies. I can read scary novels and not bat an eye (okay, yes, Lord of The Flies freaked me out, but that wasn’t really written as a horror novel per se). I read every ghost story collection on my elementary school library’s shelves before moving on to Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe, and (of course) Stephen King. Meeting the devil in the New England forest, hearts that continue beating after being buried under the floorboards, psycho killer clowns — no problem. As long as I don’t have to see them anywhere but in my head. (I know they say that what you imagine in your head is always worse than what they can show you on screen, but my imagination is apparently really good at applying petroleum jelly to the lens so that nothing is too sharply focussed. I can’t explain it.) (This also helps when reading long, boring descriptive passages in highfalutin’ books, in case you were looking for tips on getting through, say, Dickens.) (Who wasn’t highfalutin’ in his day, but that’s another post — or just click that link.)

I grew out of most of my childhood fears eventually (I know you were concerned); my reasoning is that I started to acknowledge all of the real-life scary stuff in the world. These days I’m more likely to avoid the news if I don’t want to be frightened than to worry about what might be hiding in the closet (having the box spring on the floor eliminates that pesky monster under the bed thing). And if I want to read something scary I’ll find a memoir or a history (though to be honest I mostly read stuff that I don’t think will freak me out because I’m kind of an NPR junkie).

And then sometimes somebody comes along and combines it all for you in one package. Max Brooks’ new book, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War is a novel (in case the “Zombie War” part didn’t give that away)…and a history…and a memoir. Of something that hasn’t happened. Yet.

Presented as an oral history written by a former employee of The United Nations Post(Zombie)war Commission whose survivor interviews were deleted from the UN’s final postwar report for being too “personal”, World War Z describes the Zombie War from the first reported cases of the disease that caused the dead to reanimate to the aftermath of the strategic plan that allowed the living to survive. Each interviewee “speaks” with a different voice, and the attention to reality-based detail is incredible — obviously, one suspends one’s disbelief when one reads fiction — especially science fiction — but if you’re capable of believing that war and disease (and poor governmental responses to both) exist, you’re capable of believing in the premise of this story.

Be forewarned, though, World War Z isn’t a light read — realistic descriptions of military strategy and political maneuverings can get dense, and you may need to refer back to earlier chapters to refresh your memory about who is speaking at a given time (the book is presented in three parts: before, during, and after the height of the conflict).

I’d love to tell you that if you like x genre of books, you’ll love this one, but I think the genre of “future histories” is pretty small. I will say that you don’t have to be particularly fond of horror novels or zombie tales to enjoy it (though a high tolerance for gore is probably a good idea; about what you’d need for any graphic war story should do it). Oh, and this is definitely a book for grownups and/or those grown up enough to handle some of the more disturbing aspects of war (and I’m not just talking about violence here).

Rating: Four out of five zombies jamboreeing (back to back, belly to belly…).

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1. lewlew - November 20, 2006

Hi Marymac,

This is my first visit to your blog. Terrific book review. I’d really like to read World War Z, based on your review. I’m not a huge sci-fi fan, but it sounds like you don’t need to be to get into this book. It features an interesting concept– that of being a future historical novel.

2. Karen - November 20, 2006

I’m going to have to put The Changeling on my Netflix list.

3. oldladypenpal - November 23, 2006

I will definitely check that out!
You know what still creeps me out to this day? The short story The Boogeyman by Stephen King. Ugh. Have you read that? Creepy. I always have to have my closet door open, which seems contrary, but no.

Ps- Buy my yarn!!

4. lewlew - November 30, 2006

Marymac– I finished WWZ last night. It was a page turner. Your review note and you may need to refer back to earlier chapters to refresh your memory about who is speaking at a given time is spot on, but I don’t think it detracts from the story much.

My only complaint– the scatalogical references got old quickly, but thankfully they were used on a fairly small scale.

Now I want to read the Zombie Survival Guide that Max Brooks wrote before this book. Thanks again for reviewing the book.

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