World War Z
On June 21st, the latest Brad Pitt movie hit theaters: World War Z. It looks to be your typical big-budget summer action movie flick–you’ve got your zombie outbreaks, your apocalyptic end of the world terror, your epic locations and sense of scale. It’s a fun movie to watch while shoveling popcorn into your face, and a cut above your standard zombie films–less gore, more of a broad sense of scale. Fun stuff!
Of course, there’s a book called World War Z, written by Max Brooks. But the book and the movie aren’t all that similar. If you’ve already read the book, you’ll probably be either surprised or disappointed by the changes they’ve made for the big screen. That’s not to say the movie looks bad, by any means–but the book is very different in tone.
The book doesn’t follow one character, like Brad Pitt in the movie. It’s actually something called an epistolary novel, or a book written as a series of documents. In the case of the World War Z novel, it’s a bunch of interviews with people describing the history of this zombie pandemic. We get to see the story from multiple different viewpoints: doctors struggling to keep the infection from spreading, smugglers helping refugees sneaking out of quarantined areas, infantrymen fighting in the war, generals coordinating the defense effort, everyday people thrust into the paths of danger–all sorts of different angles on the same story.
It’s a very creative and interesting way to do a book like this. Each chapter operates as an individual, self-contained short story, all working together to paint an overall picture of the decade-long struggle. I highly recommend the book for your summer reading–it’s a fascinating page-turner. It also gives attention to some deeper themes. You can certainly read it just for the battles against zombies, but World War Z also has elements of social commentary: how effective (or ineffective) governments can be, human short-sightedness, the wealthy versus the poor. There’s a lot of meat on the bones of this post-apocalyptic horror book. A lot of this isn’t going to be translated onto the screen in the movie, but if you go out and enjoy it, you’ll probably enjoy the book, as well.
If you’ve already read World War Z, or pick it up and want to jump to other things, I can make some more suggestions for your summer reading pleasure.
If you just want zombie stories, you can try JL Bourne’s Day by Day Armageddon series, which is a guilty pleasure of mine. They’re not the best-written books in the history of the world, but they’re entertaining enough if you want your zombie fix.
If you’re interested in the style of the book more than the content–the epistolary novel, the collection of letters and interviews and documents and the like–there are a lot of great examples out there. You can go with something classic, like Bram Stoker’s Dracula or, to bring it to the twentieth century, Steven King’s Carrie. Both stick close to the horror format of World War Z, just with a different target threat. My favorite recent epistolary work is House of Leaves, by Mark Danielewsi–a very creepy book indeed.
Whatever style you enjoy, I hope you take some time this summer to pick up a good book. Trust me, it’s a lot more fun to read something when you’re not expected to write an essay about it at the end. Happy reading!