World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

by Max Brooks

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Cover, linked to Wikipedia

Those who know me know I am not a fan of zombie stories. I don’t like the idea of the undead going around and eating people’s brains. It’s disgusting. So why did I decide to read World War Z? It turns out that I ended up seeing the movie World War Z a few years ago with some friends when it came out in theaters. I found the story much more compelling than I had anticipated. I liked the element of a virus infecting people to be similar to rabid dogs rather than some supernatural necromancer calling upon his servants to feed. Since then I had been intending on reading the book. I finally got around to listening to the audiobook. I am so glad I experienced it in this format!

The novel is written in the form of an oral history. The narrator is an employee of the United Nations Postwar Commission to the “Zombie” war. The narrator interviews specific people from all around the world about their involvement or some life event that happened during the war, especially during the “Great Panic,” which was when countries and people actually began to recognize the epidemic for what it was. I appreciated that there was a healthy denial phase, despite that being detrimental to the world’s well-being. It felt more real to life. People do not want to accept something as insane as a zombie outbreak until they see it with their own eyes, but then it may be too late.

The first interview starts with the doctor of “patient zero.” The boy had been on a treasure hunt with his father when he was attacked and bitten by something in the water where they were diving for treasure. The father never returned home with the boy. Although he is classified as “patient zero,” that history is left ambiguous by the fact the health organizations immediately worked to quench the danger before it spread. The way they acted efficiently with military personnel made me believe that there had been other situations similar to this, but rest of the narrative did not address it and moved under the assumption the boy was “patient zero.”

I appreciated that the audiobook was published with a full cast of characters, one for each person the narrator interviewed. As he was interviewing people from all over the world the accents matched their country and it seemed as if the narrator was genuinely flying around the world to get these interviews. While there were times I did not always clearly understand the speaker, as I was listening to this book on a long car ride recently, it did not matter. The authenticity and the over-arching story allowed me to understand everything I needed to know. My only disappointment is after researching to write this blog post, I realize that I listened to the abridged version published in 2007. It seems the author, Max Brooks, was instrumental in getting this audiobook published and the reason it had such a large cast of voice over actors. I would still be interested in listening or reading the whole book one day.

I highly recommend this story as it addresses the idea of humanity and the need for survival in a very real way. I love how the people discuss their lives. There was even one interviewee who could be considered an unreliable narrator, as she was diagnosed with psychiatric problems shortly after her rescue from a plane crash. I would like to believe her, as her story is much more romantic and exciting, but you just never know. The humans did what they could to survive and the world had to learn to work together in ways they had never considered before. It is amazing how tragedy can bring people together.

As a side note: This is my “Book that was turned into a film” novel for the 26 book 2017 Reading Challenge. I probably will not complete all the categories on the list as defined in January. However, if you count my comics and other fun novels I read, I should surpass 26 books this year. That makes me happy at least!

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Little Women

By Louisa May Alcott

At first I thought I had made a mistake listening to Little Women on audio book (published by AudioGo) rather than reading it, but now I am glad I went ahead with listening to the book rather than reading a physical copy. I am not sure I would have made it past the first handful of chapters. By the end of the book, which I have come to realize is only the first volume originally published in 1868, I finally felt an attachment to the characters. The Good Wives, the second volume (1869) and not titled by Alcott, wasn’t included in this edition even though they have traditionally been combined since 1880. I am disappointed in the lack of volume 2 because I was finally starting to like the characters and, like others who demanded more, wanted to know what would happen to our protagonists. Therefore, I hope to read the second half of the story eventually. I will continue to write this ramble, and count it as my reading, because the novel is Alcott’s completed book before she was encouraged to write more about the sisters.

The story follows the four March sisters: Margaret (Meg), Josephine (Jo), Elizabeth (Beth), and Amy. It takes place over a year from Christmas to Christmas. The girls’ father is out helping with the Civil War and their Mom is at home raising them. I selected this book for the 26 book 2017 Reading Challenge for a character with the same name as me, Amy. Amy is an artist and strong-willed. I liked that about her. However, she was also a brat and burned another character’s collection of writings out of vengeance. I did not like that. I mostly found her whiny and annoying, which disappointed me as we share the same name. I hope she improves as she ages in volume 2!

I will praise this book for two major themes: 1. Girls can be independent and 2. The love of family is strong. Their Mom, Marmee, encourages the girls to be confident, marry for love and not for money (if they even want to be married at all), and be self-reliant. For a book written in the 1860s, I am so glad Little Women became a phenomenon. How many young ladies have been influenced by these characters to go out and achieve their dreams? The love of family, blood related or not, is also a major theme I liked. The March sisters, while very sheltered, are deeply loved. Their Mom never fails to care for them, regardless of their transgressions, and regularly encourages the young ladies to be good and moral citizens. Marmee’s unconditional love is what we all hope for in a mother. Humans simply want to be loved and trust that our families will be there to have our back in all of our choices in life. I am extremely blessed with a Mom and Dad who encourage me in every opportunity that I pursue. I can relate to the March sisters in that regard. If anything has held me back, it has been my own lack of confidence. I understand others may not have been as lucky and I hope they found other family or friends to surround them.

While I related to the characters toward the end, I had such a hard time connecting with them at the beginning. The Mom and girls were too perfect, regularly referencing The Pilgrim’s Progress, and doing this or that in the most Christian and upright way. The novel felt overly preachy, like a run-on sermon. It did not help that the voice actress was doing different voices for each character, which made all the girls sound like spoiled brats, yet “perfect little angels.” Not sure how that works, but it is how I feel. The changing voices annoyed me. Another complaint I have is that, despite some character development, nothing much seemed to happen over the course of the year until two family members fell sick. My favorite scenes tended to be when Jo read the newspaper or they would put on “performances.” It reminded me of the playtime scenes in To Kill a Mockingbird or The Bridge to Terabithia. I really enjoyed those scenes!

In reflection, this coming of age novel was actually fun even if it won’t ever make my top 5 favorite novels. When listening to the last handful of chapters, I realized I actually cared what happened to these young ladies. I wondered if Meg would agree to marry, if Jo would continue to write, if Beth would sing and play the piano professionally, or if Amy would continue to improve her art skills. After reading a summary of the second volume’s plot, I am actually quite excited about Amy’s portion of the story and look forward to reading how that will play out in Alcott’s own words.

The Extra Key

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I am excited to say I finally completed The Extra Key by Kevin Polman. I started it shortly before my best friend’s wedding in March and it got put on the back burner, unfortunately. Considering the overall plot and ending of the story I think it would have been timelier to have completed it before her wedding. Live and learn.

I was excited to purchase this book at one of the author’s readings in the Summer of 2016. Full disclosure, Kevin Polman was one of my high school teachers. He taught Chemistry and my A&P class. He was a great teacher and I learned a lot. I will admit he intimidated me a bit, but that’s not a bad thing. I felt like he challenged me to be a better and more independent student.

Now for the part y’all actually care about: the ramble review. The Extra Key is a slice of life story about a man, Corey, who loses his wife in a terrible car accident. Corey wallows in depression for a while, but then discovers letters from his late wife. In those letters she encourages him to move on. A shy man wary of doing anything outside his comfort zone, he is also greeted by little “talking” dogs that help him on his journey to recovery. Throughout his recovery he touches on various issues that many of us deal with: death, work environments, weight gain/loss, and low self-esteem. Through the protagonist tackling each problem, the audience may also feel compelled to reflect on their own problems and evaluate how they are handling each issue they come across.

I loved the prologue to this novel. In a letter from a woman named Sarah, she reminds Corey of the importance of having an extra key or the importance of asking others for help when it gets to be too much. “…many would rather jump off the ledge than ask for help. In the same way that humans are ashamed to admit that they might need an extra key for their car because it implies that they are capable of making a mistake, they might also be ashamed to admit that they need to have on hand the loving care and advice of other people to deal with certain types of problems. Unfortunately, the love key is the one extra key that humans have the most trouble asking for, acquiring, and using, even when it is fully accessible.” (p. 7). I related a longer quote than I normally would, however, that whole segment seems to perfectly sum up the theme and tone of the novel. Corey, as one who has lost his whole world, needs to remember how to love again. It is necessary for him to rely on others who love him and want what is best for him. There are many times when he expresses being alone or lonely, but the author clearly illustrates that there are people around him who are willing to be there for Corey at a moment’s notice. He is never completely alone.

Overall, it was a solid book and story and I highly recommend reading Kevin Polman’s first published novel. He has a collection of short stories and an illustrated book available for purchase as well, but I have not had an opportunity to check those out yet. For the 26 book 2017 Reading Challenge, which seems less likely I will complete (unless I don’t worry about the categories and count all the hundreds of comic books I’ll read), I will make this my “Book published in the last year” check box, since my copy was published June 14, 2016. Feel free to check out Kevin Polman‘s blog on WordPress too! Personally, I enjoy his updates.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying-Up

By Marie Kondo

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I listened to an audiobook version

I debated waiting to write this ramble until after I had tried out the KonMari method, or at least a modified form that fits my style. But since I thought I would start in early April, I figured I would at least gather my thoughts on the book first. The KonMari method allows its participants to create a home filled with only the items they love. In a way, it feels similar to the minimalist living that I have heard so much about lately.

Before diving in, I will give my mom a shout out for all she has taught me about organizing, planning, cleaning, etc. I realized I knew quite a few of the “tricks of the trade” already thanks to my mom’s dedication and example.

The KonMari Method of Decluttering

With the KonMari method you do all your decluttering at once. At first, this terrified me. How am I supposed to declutter my entire house in one day?! However, Kondo doesn’t expect that to happen. She means you tackle everything in as short of a timeframe as possible. There are only two steps to the process and you absolutely must do them in order.

Step 1: Discard (donate, throw away, get rid of in some form or fashion)

Step 2: Decide where to keep or store things

Kondo said it is essential that you don’t consider where you might keep an object while you are decluttering. The point is to only keep those items that bring you joy. In turn you must respect and thank those items you are discarding. No one has ever had trouble finding space for the remaining items after this process, so there is no need to consider its place in your house until you have finished decluttering.

The KonMari method requires you to think of your objects in categories, rather than cleaning room by room. A room by room method causes problems because most people keep the same item in more than one room for convenience sake. This category method intrigues me. I like the idea of knowing that everything I own in a specific category is in a central location before I assess what I should and should not donate or throw away.

The categories are:

  1. Clothes
  2. Books
  3. Papers
  4. Komono (Miscellaneous items)
  5. Sentimental items

Kondo does not tell you what you should or should not keep. In fact, she declares that her clients have the final decision on what they should do with their own belongings. The only way to effectively declutter, and not rebound, is to hone your own decision-making skills and understand what brings you joy personally. Something may bring joy to one person, but be absolutely pointless to another. There is no standard there. Therefore, the best way to declutter is to gather everything up step by step in the categories as listed in order. Clothes are the easiest. There is often less sentimental value associated with them and it is a great way to practice honing your decision-making skills, which will be needed in the later categories.

Before You Start

Before beginning the decluttering process, Kondo says we must answer these questions:

  1. What do you want your life to look like post-clutter?
  2. Why do you want it to be that way?

During the process, for each and every item you hold you must examine and ask yourself: does this item bring me joy? Your goal in the decluttering process is deciding what to keep, not what to get rid of. That is a very important distinction. If you decide it does not bring you joy anymore, you must thank the item for its role in your life and be willing to part from it clean, like a breakup gone right. When she says each item, she means each item. You must touch every single item you own during this process, no exceptions. This will probably mean touching thousands of items over the course of the project, but that is a good thing. When done this way, you can be confident you are not making mistakes and you will know exactly what you own.

After Effects

Decluttering the home declutters the mind. It is through decluttering that we are able to not only organize our living space, but we also have a clearer mind with less distractions, such as “I should clean this space instead of thinking about actual issues I am dealing with right now.” Kondo points out that people often use cleaning as a distraction to keep them from focusing on their next test, big project, or life event. Through the KonMari method we are only surrounded by items and things we love, so we don’t have that excuse anymore and are able to more fully focus on living our lives to the fullest. Kondo states that this method allows people to gain self-confidence in their own decision making skills in general and allows people to move forward with their lives.

Kondo argues through decluttering we will also be able to change our life both inside and outside the home. She says that at the core people do not really change, but the way our passions are manifested may change over time. As people consider what objects in their home truly bring them joy, they in turn realize what brings them joy in life. People have switched their careers and been so much happier because, through decluttering, they rediscovered their passion that had been buried under all the mess. An example she used was a young employee for a corporation (I don’t remember her details) went through the KonMari method with Kondo. After she had finished, she realized the only books she had left were on social work. She recognized that had actually been her passion all along, but she was so busy with everything else that she hadn’t noticed. After a year or two, she had been able to become a social worker and is much happier. This situation will not happen to everyone, nor is it a sure-fire way for fixing our lives, but it helps us think and gain confidence in our ability to make big life-changing decisions ourselves.

Organizing

Kondo also gives tips on organizing and setting up the home post-decluttering. I will not go into too much detail at this time, I may make it a post in the future, but one thing that stuck out to me was emptying my purse when I get home for work. There must be a reserved place for the contents while I am at the house, but it gives the purse a chance to rest and allows for me to know exactly what I did that day. It also allows for less confusion when switching purses, as I am fully familiar with the contents at all times. The most important take-away for organizing is that we must respect our belongings by being grateful for their service to us and know that everything has its place and it must be returned to that place for rest when our need for the item that day is done.

Conclusion

I am interested in this process mostly to have a better grasp of what I own. I also like the idea of it helping with processing what brings me joy in life. Why own a bunch of items that you don’t like? It just sits there unused and unwanted. It reminds me of Toy Story 3, when Andy gives his toys to the girl who loves them and plays with them again. While Kondo regularly talks about discarding this, throwing away that, she really emphasizes the need to respect what we own and focus on the positives of the objects that we do want and/or need.

Criticism

I sometimes did not like her attitude and she also boasted a lot. Granted, she has been extremely successful, but constantly being reminded about how great her method is was not enjoyable. Also, she seemed harsh on what she thinks should be thrown out. I know she’s trying to challenge her clients to really get to the meat of their items, but sometimes she came across as rude. Though I would not say she was ever judgmental. To the contrary, she was very respectful of all her example clients and their idiosyncrasies. Lastly, I believe she does not own an animal. If I am wrong, I will be surprised. She never addressed what to do about litter boxes or anything related to toys or other pet supplies. I would have liked to hear her thoughts on how to keep tidy with a pet.

Final note: This book is part of my 26 book 2017 reading challenge as my “non-fiction” book.

VLAD

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The fifth novel for my 26 Book 2017 Reading Challenge has probably been my most disappointing so far. I read/listened via audiobook to Vlad by Carlos Fuentes, a short novel originally written in Spanish. I had such high hopes for the novel. Dracula, by Bram Stoker, is one of my favorite books due to the grotesque descriptions that are almost beautiful. I was under the impression that this short novel was meant to be a follow-up to the Dracula legend. The basic plot is Yves Navarro and his wife, Asunción, help a new gentleman, Vladimir Radu, set up a home in Mexico City.

While the novel was well written, had vivid descriptions, and caused a deep uncomfortableness to set in at just the right moments, it felt lacking in something. Maybe I expected it to be a retelling of the Dracula story in Mexico City and it really wasn’t? The story focused on Navarro and his relationship with his wife. They had lost a son to the sea. Navarro said they need to move forward and live on. However, Asunción would have drained the sea to discover a body. She never fully recovered from their son’s death. Their individual decisions at the end of the novel echo how well they were or were not able to survive following their son’s disappearance. They had a daughter too. She ended up being an important part of the novel and a foil to the short lived life of their son, but you hardly see her until the little girl until the end. Since the book is from Navarro’s POV, the lack of discussion of his daughter demonstrates that Navarro did not really pay attention to her until he desired to rescue her from the vampire’s clutches. He discussed his wife throughout the novel, but mostly when describing their sex life in great detail. She seemed to be merely an object of his life otherwise consumed by work. Work was the most important thing to Navarro and he had done much to make sure he succeeded in his job as a lawyer.

Overall, it was an intriguing and grotesque story. If you enjoy reading magical realism novels by Latin American authors you would enjoy it. His writing style matches many of the short stories I read in my Spanish classes in college. Latin American storytelling tradition has a beautiful way of incorporating magical realism into its stories, which is probably why I had expected so much from Vlad.

Someday I’ll Be Redeemed By Kelly Blanchard

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My next novel in the 26 book 2017 Reading Challenge is Someday I’ll Be Redeemed, a self-published novel by Kelly Blanchard. This blend of fantasy and sci-fi is a work of art. I love the combination of the kingdoms. Each kingdom is unique and has its own sets of codes and values regarding technology, magic, and morality. Blanchard has woven together a fantastic tale of love and hate that makes you eager to pick up the next book in the series.

I’ll start off by saying I discovered this author through an online writing group. I liked her encouragement and support in the group. Some time after learning she had a sci-fi fantasy book published, I ordered a signed copy through her directly! I love supporting local authors when possible and am always excited to see what kind of stories they craft.

I am an odd reader in the sense that if there is a book I truly enjoy I want to sit down and plow through it, but if my schedule doesn’t allow for this I put it on my desk in plain view for a time when I can sit down and finish it with fewer breaks. Therefore, some of my favorite novels will sit on my desk right before the crazy action is sure to begin. It will sit and wait. Wait for me to return. This is a horrible habit of mine. This situation occurs most often when I am reading The Dresden Files for some reason. It happened with this book, which means it must have caught my attention and I was super excited about what would happen next in the story. Right before Blanchard takes us on the journey to finding answers I stopped reading for a few busy weeks. I wanted to have the time to sit down and read it all at once. Eventually, I picked it up again and was not disappointed.

The characters are fun and intriguing. However, I had a difficult time keeping up with all the characters, not to mention remembering what country they were from. I ended up determining who my favorite characters were: Lorrek, Vixen, Therth, Erita, and Heldon. Then I focused on their stories and simply kept in mind the other characters they interacted with regularly. Part of my difficulty had to do with changing character perspectives. At the beginning of the novel I would finally get used to one character and their voice, but then I would be yanked to another character who I hadn’t built any connection with at that point. Building connections with characters is extremely important to me, which is why I was so excited when we would be delving into Lorrek’s head at a certain point of the story. However, it ended up reading more like a global flashback than a memory that belonged to him alone. Regardless, this section was still my favorite part of the novel, as the author continued developing the world and the plot in a concise and stunning way. I will also note that the transitions got much smoother in the later chapters and by the end of the novel I hardly noticed the changing perspectives.

Overall, I recommend this novel if you’re interested in sci-fi, fantasy, or both. Blanchard builds a beautiful world and crafts an intricate plot. It is a good read and makes you want to know more and see where the journey takes our protagonists.

Writing and Scrappy Little Nobody

Last week I participated in the NYC Midnight Short Story writing contest! It was intense, but I had the chance to expand my writing skills. The contest works like this: you are assigned a genre, subject, and character and then you have 8 days to produce a short story. I had horror, retirement, and a security guard. In case you were unaware, I don’t write or watch horror. Though, I read some classic horror, such as Edgar Allan Poe. So, I tried to channel my favorite story of his, The Cask of Amontillado. One of the reasons I love that story so much is that it isn’t necessarily scary, but does it make you feel wholly uncomfortable. The contest was a lot of fun! My best friend and fiancé went over some of the drafts with me to help with developing the characters and increasing the elements of suspense. I went through at least 4 different drafts before settling on one to send. I still feel that it is lacking, but I had a 2,500 word limit. I doubt I’ll formally publish it, so maybe after I get feedback from the contest judge, I’ll post it on here for y’all to read!

A photo by Aaron Burden. unsplash.com/photos/xG8IQMqMITM

I also finished listening to Anna Kendrick’s Scrappy Little Nobody (2016). Anna Kendrick is one of my favorite actresses. As she is not an author, I am using her book for the 26 book 2017 reading challenge for the category of “a book by someone who isn’t a writer.” One thing I do enjoy about these celebrity novels (I’ve also listened to/read Tina Fey’s Bossypants and Amy Poehler’s Yes Please) is that they remind us how human celebrities are, amidst all the celebrity worship. They have fears, courage, love, joys, and sorrows just like every other human on this Earth. I prefer reading these autobiographies over magazines of interviews with them. I don’t need to know all the latest scoops about their personal lives, but I want to know what they think is important to know about them.

Anna Kendrick is a down to earth girl from Maine, who knew she wanted to be in theater since she was five or so. Her parents and brother were supportive and even helped her take theatre opportunities in New York. When she was seventeen she moved to LA, where she had no money, no car, and no friends. While it did not happen quickly, she eventually made friends and caught breaks in some big movies, such as Up in Air and Pitch Perfect. The first movie I noticed her in was Twilight, as Jessica. Her discussions of what happened in those movies were great. I love that she was only on set for two weeks of the final movie, which was nice for her because it was supposedly super cold. They filmed in Canada.

It was also nice to learn about some of Anna’s insecurities. She experiences impostor syndrome in that she feels fake in a world of glam. It was comforting to know that someone who has won and been nominated for so many awards still suffers the same insecurities I do. By admitting this, she challenges readers (me) to just go out and do it. Be who you are and the rest will fall into place. It will feel weird. It will feel uncomfortable, but that is how you grow as a person and as a professional. I am glad I took the opportunity to read/listen to this autobiography by Anna Kendrick.