A quick trip to London over the weekend gave me 20+ hours of plane time to catch up on reading. I finished three books. The first two had been sitting on my Kindle1, while the last is dead-tree-only at the moment.

world war zAs I’ve mentioned before, screenwriters spend an inordinate amount of time thinking and talking about zombie invasions, so it was high time I read Max Brooks’s World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. It’s structured as a series of interviews with survivors of an apocalyptic zombie event, and while certain interviewees use words a bit outside their vocabulary, on the whole I thought it created a very believable world.

These are Romero-style supernatural zombies, as opposed to 28 Days/Weeks Later style biological zombies. That sounds like an esoteric distinction, but it has huge plot implications. These zombies won’t stop. Ever. They don’t need food, water, oxygen. They can’t swim, but they’ll walk along the ocean floor in giant mobs, later to walk up on beaches. Survivors are smart to head up above the frost line so zombies will freeze solid — but remember, they’ll thaw come spring.

As disaster movies love to show us, there’s something comforting about the end of the world, and Brooks’s book is no exception. J. Michael Straczynski is writing the big-screen adaptation, and while I’d love to see it, the material really feels better suited to a Lost-style television series. Regardless, the book is worth a read if you ever spend time contemplating zombie fortifications.

cakeSloane Crosley’s I Was Told There’d Be Cake is a collection of mostly-witty essays in the style of David Sedaris. Crosley is the centerpiece of most of the tales, and she’s likable enough. Barely. I can imagine being her friend: In my 20’s, I would have been her gay roommate and/or co-worker sharing eye rolls at perceived transgressions of a secret social code. In my 30’s, I would recognize that her minor misfortunes are invariably self-sabotage in the hopes of attracting attention, and would eventually stop returning her calls.

To her credit — I guess — Crosley seems to understand her negatives. Her story about volunteering at the butterfly pavilion accurately reflects how mostly-good intentions can result in drudgery, self-doubt and shame. In the best of the essays, Crosley serves as a bridesmaid to a high school friend she barely remembers. The story works largely because the former friend is such a needy monster that Crosley’s ambivalence feels fully justified. The conclusion is disappointing, but true to the spirit of the book: she’s not sure what she learned, or if there really is anything to learn.

I think Crosley will improve greatly with better editing. She’s a smart observer, but too often feels like she’s padding to reach a target word count.

silver bearThe last book of my trip was Derek Haas’s The Silver Bear. Haas is a friend and colleague, having co-written 3:10 to Yuma and this summer’s Wanted. His novel, which charts the rise of an assassin, is stripped-down and lean. Chapters following his pursuit of one target alternate with earlier episodes: his first kill, his first love, his first betrayal. It’s unapologetically genre fiction, romanticizing even as it attempts to deconstruct.

Considering they’re both assassin origin stories, Wanted and The Silver Bear couldn’t be more different. Where Wanted is all flourishes and suspension of disbelief, The Silver Bear is played straight. It reminded me most of Donald E. Westlake’s The Ax, in that murder simply becomes a job function.

It’s a smart, quick read, and recommended.

Links to Kindle versions: World War Z, I Was Told There’d Be Cake, The Ax.

  1. Mini review: I like the Kindle a lot. It looks awkward, but feels surprisingly good in the hand. The screen is terrific for books, but far too slow for reference materials. It’s good enough that I’ll always get the Kindle edition of a book if available.