December 5, 2011

November Reading Recap

Now that I'm rested and recovered after completing my November writing challenge, it's time for a report on last month's reading list before I get back to revision.

ZONE ONE by Colson Whitehead - I like and recommend this book, but it's not going to be for everybody, due to both the content and the style.

The premise of ZONE ONE involves zombies, but don't base your expectations on that, because you might be either disappointed or unnecessarily turned off. For a zombie book, there aren't that many gory, action-packed encounters with reanimated corpses -- but there are some. The story is perhaps more accurately described as a detailed, plausible exploration of a civilization trying to rebuild after global catastrophe. It's just that the catastrophe happens to be a contagion that causes the dead to shamble around seeking human flesh. You'd be better off deciding if you should read this book based on whether you like post-apocalyptic or survival tales, rather than whether you like zombie stories.

The narrative style is a prominent feature, with meandering passages that often halt the advancement of the plot. I became irritated by how often the protagonist lapsed into memory right as something exciting was about to happen, but overall I liked the slow and nonlinear way the story unfolded. You'll need to judge whether a book in this style is likely to appeal to you or get on your nerves.

Without giving anything away, I want to especially praise the ending of ZONE ONE. It's hard to end a novel, and I'm often disappointed by endings, but I found this one satisfying and fitting.

WIDE SARGASSO SEA by Jean Rhys - To explain this book, it's necessary to provide a spoiler for JANE EYRE, so if you aren't familiar with Charlotte Brontë's classic and don't want to know its big secret, skip the next paragraph.

The 1966 novel WIDE SARGASSO SEA is Jean Rhys's imagining of the life of Rochester's first wife, from her childhood in Jamaica to her sad fate as the madwoman in the attic. It's not a retelling of JANE EYRE -- the events of that book are compressed into only a few pages of madness at the end. For that reason, it's not necessary to be familiar with the source material before reading this book, and I can understand why I was assigned it in high school without reading the Brontë first. (Even though I'd read this before, nothing was familiar during my rereading.) The book is a beautifully written, but sad and disturbing story.

BLUE MARS by Kim Stanley Robinson - Still in progress. Until last week, I don't think I'd opened this book since mid-October, so it took some reorienting to get myself back into the story. But now that I'm back in, I've been reluctant to put the book down. The characters and situations in the third book of the trilogy are just as fascinating and compelling as in the first two, and I'm glad to be engrossed in the world again.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Jason Black tries to figure out the minor characters in his manuscript (as I did recently) and talks about swimming to find your characters: "You cannot see the rest of the iceberg until--and unless--you get into the water. You must swim down, under the cold water, to see the whole thing. The water, in this metaphor, is the writing. I will also argue that you cannot truly come to know who your characters are, in all their multi-dimensional glory, until you plunge in and get wet."

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