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Following the defeat of the zombies and the end of World War Z, the United Nations commissions a report as to the nature of the war – how did it begin?; who spread the zombie infection?; how did it end?. As the unnamed narrator writes in the introduction to this book, government bureaucracy and political correctness stepped in sanitizing the report and removing personal recollections and emotions about the war and leaving the narrator with no choice but to publish the deleted sections of his report as a book.

Thus the book reads like a series of transcripts – it would have made a great audiobook, I’m sure – as the unnamed narrator travels around the world interviewing politicians, doctors, military personnel, and citizens of countries around the world in the wake of the zombie scourge.

The member of my book club who nominated this book heard all the groans at the word “zombie” and promised the novel actually addresses society and its economic structure. I was very glad to find that was actually the case because I would have passed on this book as soon as I read the word “zombie”.  Zombies sound entirely outside the realm of possibilities given what we know about science and the human body yet the transmission of the zombie virus is so believably written that it does not seem too far fetch. People do travel to other countries to purchase kidney, liver, and other organs; China, where the zombie infection is said to start in Brooks’ novel, is a major destination for such purchases.

And the response of countries to the outbreak was absolutely fascinating. I’m not sure I can believe Israel would offer “right of return” to Palestinians when deciding to self-quarantine given recent events in the region (the novel was originally written in 2005), but I can see how some countries would turn on their people and how some would abandon them entirely. And the part with the celebrities who quarantined themselves and filmed the whole thing? Fantastic commentary on our current society’s obsession with reality stars and putting your life out there for the public to view.

I would have liked the section on how society adjusts after the war to be more in-depth because I thought its suggestions were very interesting, particularly how the US government dealt with fringe groups who managed to survive the zombie invasion and declared themselves sovereign rulers of their land. Would the world return to the borders held before then? Obviously, the case of the new Holy Russian Empire and the one-state Israel/Palestine suggests otherwise, and this is the aspect I’m most interested in discussing with my book club next week. Overall, a surprisingly thought-provoking read given the genre and one I easily devoured.

Book Mentioned:

  • Brooks, Max. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. New York: Crown, 2006. eBook. 342 pgs. ISBN: 9780307346605. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Crown. Retrieved: August 26, 2014.

Although I have seen the 1939 movie adaptation several times and a few other stage and movie adaptations, I never felt a desire to read the original novel until I finished slogging through Gregory Maguire’s prequel to Braum’s tale. The novel tells the story of a little girl from Kansas named Dorothy who is swept off to the land of Oz by a tornado with her house and her little dog, Toto. The house lands on top of the unnamed Wicked Witch of the East, whose silver shoes are given to Dorothy in thanks by the Glinda the Good Witch of the North and the Munchkins, and Dorothy wears them during her journey to the Emerald City to beseech the Wizard of Oz to help her home. Along the way, Dorothy makes friends with a cast of characters who all claim to be missing a vital characteristic – brains, a heart, and braveness.

The introduction to the edition I borrowed from the library explains how this is the first American fairy tale and how Toto is actually the unsung hero of the book. It is Toto who leads Dorothy to Oz after heading into the house rather than the storm cellar during the approaching storm, who reveals the Wizard’s true identity, and who saves Dorothy on more than one occasion during her cross-country voyage home to Kansas. Having now read the book, I would certainly agree with that assessment – poor Toto deserved more than being held by his ear!

One aspect I loved about this novel is – spoiler alert! – the fact that the characters are searching for what they already have. The Scarecrow laments how he lacks any brains yet, when we first meet him, it is the Scarecrow who instructs Dorothy on how to get him down from his perch. It is the Scarecrow who figures out how to save Dorothy from the toxic poppies with the Tin Man. The Tin Man says he has no heart, but his story before he was turned into tin and his actions afterwards show he is capable of forming relationships with people. The Cowardly Lion does not hesitate to leap across places along the Yellow Brick Road where the bridge has crumbled away. And even Dorothy, despite her fervent desire to go home, is able to craft a home-like environment and new family in the land of Oz. The whole purpose of the novel, therefore, is not to travel to the land of Oz but to show readers that sometimes what you think you lack, what you are searching for is something you already have.

I always thought the transition from black and white to color in the film, which completely surprised me the first time I saw the movie, was a clever film technique meant to show off the availability to create films in color. In actuality, the “technique” is codified in novel with Braum using drab, dreary words to create Kansas and more colorful words to describe Oz. (Although, silver shoes are decidedly less colorful than red.) Auntie Em is a cold woman unaccustomed to a child’s laughter unlike the film where she is actually very loving towards to Dorothy, and it struck me as odd that Dorothy was so eager to leave colorful Oz for drab Kansas. But, I suppose, Dorothy noticed how easily people can become blinded to the important things in life by false coloring and imagery.

I can certainly understand why this tale is considered a classic and why, according to the introduction, this book became so immensely popular when it was first published in 1900. I only wish I had read it when I was younger – either before or after I saw the movie – as I think it would have really captured my imagination just as the film did.

Others’ Thoughts:

Book Mentioned:

  • Braum, L. Frank. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. New York: Signet Classics, 2006. Originally published 1990. Print. 220 pgs. ISBN: 9780451530295. Source: Library.

The Classics Club:

I read this book for the Classics Club, which challenges participants read and discuss fifty or more books considered to be classics within a five year period. My personal goal for this project is to read seventy-five books in three years ending on August 15, 2017. You can find out more information by checking out my introductory post, project post, or spreadsheet of titles.

Book Cover ® Signet Classics. Retrieved: August 21, 2014.

Convinced their grandfather hates them, the Alden children run away following the death of their parents so they cannot be forced to live with their grandfather and stumble across an abandoned boxcar. The children work hard to set up the boxcar as their new home with Jessie and Violet keeping house and a watchful eye on their little brother, Benny, and Watch the watchdog while older brother, Henry, performs odd jobs for the doctor in the next town over.

I was recently reminded by Warner’s series, although I cannot recall exactly how or why now. The Boxcar Children, the first book in the series, was one of those novels that sparked my imagination as a child. I turned my bedroom into a boxcar casting my dog as Watch and gathering provisions in a box in my room. Milk in a water bottle packed amongst ice pack still spoils, if you were wondering.

Having now reread the first book in the series, I’m amazed at how clearly I remember every event and detail — the visit to the dump where Benny finds his pink cup, the mean woman at the bakery, the foot race, and the ending, of course. I’m not sure I could say the same of other childhood favorites, and I enjoyed my returned to the boxcar. Almost makes me want to revisit more in the series (my public library has three shelves full!), although I cannot recall if I ever read more than the first book in the series so it may not be a return by rather an introduction.

Book Mentioned:

  • Warner, Gertrude Chandler. The Boxcar Children. Park Ridge, IL: Albert Whitman & Company, 1989. Originally published 1942. Print. 154 pgs. ISBN: 9780807508527. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Albert Whitman & Company. Retrieved: August 19, 2014.

I can remember the first time I discovered “Little House on the Prairie” on the television during a day I was home sick from school. I’m not exactly sure how I failed to find out about this marvel of 1970s television until then considering how much I adored and reread Laura Ingalls Wilder’s series but I was held in rapt attention for the next two hours. The show was the best part of being sick and, during hot summers in Texas where I couldn’t stand to do anything but lay inside in the air conditioning, the best part of summer. I’ve seen all the episodes (I think) and even now I can very easily become sucked into the series if I find it playing on the television.

Arngrim’s memoir caught my eye during my free trial to Oyster mainly in response to the photographs of that evil Nellie Olsen on the cover – like most viewers of the television show and readers of the novels, I hated Nellie Olsen until she graduated from school and married Percival (on the show). But the title made me laugh and I’ve always planned to read the memoir of Melissa Gilbert, who played Laura Ingalls Wilder on the show, so I figured why not.

Turns out, Arngrim’s memoir is one of the funniest books I’ve read in a while. There are some very, very heavy topics; Arngrim suffers horrific sexual abuse at the hands of her brother and I cried when she discussed the loss of her dear Percival to AIDS. But, overall, the book is a humorous take on the odd experience of being a child actor on a period drama: Michael Landon’s refusal to wear underwear and heavy consumption of whiskey in the morning;  Katherine MacGregor (Mrs. Olsen) telling everyone how to act and being a larger than life personality; the fascination of all the child actors with the beautiful and kind Miss Beedle, who played their teacher; the writers’ fascination with putting Nellie into very murky water or having her and Laura duke it out.

Most of all, I was struck by Arngrim’s explanation that playing Nellie helped this quiet, abused girl learn to find her voice. People expected her to be a bitch affording her the opportunity to actually be one when the moment called for it. She didn’t have to worry about people hating her because most already did due to their inability to separate the character from the actor. A fellow student at Arngrim’s school called her a bitch after the first episode with Nellie aired, and Arngrim was actually knocked down by people at a fair who wanted to defend Laura.

In reality, she and Melissa Gilbert got along very well and are friends to this day. I spent much of the book laughing over their antics – peeing in their wetsuits during a particular long take, taking an advantage of the lack of audio during their fight scenes, sleepovers at each other’s house. Fiction does not always mirror reality. Although, I have to say, I always felt like there was something off about Melissa Sue Anderson, who played Mary Ingalls. I’m not a huge fan of Mary in the books, but I hated television Mary with the exception of a few episodes after she marries Adam. She’s so hoity-toity, and it was interesting to read that she was just the same in real life. (Now it’s her turn to write a memoir explaining why. I’d read it.)

Book Mentioned:

  • Arngrim, Alison. Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated. New York: HarperCollins, 2010. eBook. 251 pgs.  ISBN: 9780062000101. Source: Purchase.
Book Cover © HarperCollins. Retrieved: August 18, 2014.

McCullough’s book focuses on three events during the opening phase of the American Revolution – the Siege of Boston (April 19, 1775-March 17, 1776), the Battle of Long Island/Battle of Brooklyn (August 27, 1776), and Washington crossing the Delaware River (December 25-26, 1776) made famous by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze’s 1851 painting. The book does not focus on the most well-known event of 1776: the Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776), although I would argue that while most people know the date, they erroneously think July 4 is when the Declaration was signed and adopted.

But McCullough’s decision to concentrate on battles rather than documents certainly filled in gaps in my own knowledge about the beginning of the American Revolution, and his focus on a year rather than the entire war (1775–1783) allows him to create a more illuminating portrait of both the war and the people engaged in it.

I had heard of the Siege of Boston before; I’ve hiked to the top of the monument at Bunker Hill in Charlestown. My textbooks in school often glossed over the event stating that it was a victory for the Americans but barely mentioning that the residents of Boston starved for much of the nearly yearlong event or that the Battle of Bunker Hill was really a victory for the British. I can thank my dad for my knowledge about the importance of Dorchester Heights during the event, and I very much appreciated McCullough’s detailed attention to the event.

Boston has changed rapidly in the last 238 years. The area known as Back Bay, which the Americans traveled across at low tide to escape the British, is now home to the Boston Public Library, numerous hotels and shopping centers, and several public transportation hubs. It’s hard to imagine Copley Square as the swampy, marshland it once was, but McCullough manages to weave enough vivid details into his narrative that it is almost possible. The same can be said of Dorchester Heights, which was such a pivotal and strategic stronghold for the Americans during the Siege of Boston, and I cannot be the only one who laughed at the absurdity of the British not noticing the Americans moving cannons behind a line of hay bales towards Dorchester Heights, can I? But, apparently, the British did not see Dorchester Heights, the heights point in Boston, as an area they needed to control since they held Boston Harbor.

The focus on New York City, particularly Brooklyn, was surprising to me because I had heard nothing about the battles there. I suppose the history teachers I had did not want to concentrate on losses, but McCullough presents the Battle of Brooklyn as a major turning point in the war. The losses were so large and so shocking that many of the colonies started to recall their troops or refuse to send replacements and men began to desert left and right. Once again, the Americans managed to move themselves and their equipment without the British noticing thanks to a thicket of fog.

Yet the guerilla-style warfare and lack of bright red uniforms often championed by my teachers as an advantage to the Americans, but McCullough points out that the lack of regiment behavior – standards of appearance, clean uniforms – amongst the American troops meant disease was a constant scourge for them but not for the British. I spent much of this book feeling like my understanding of the American Revolutionary War was being turned on its head and for that I’m thankful that my father encouraged me to read this book.

Book Mentioned:

  • McCullough, David. 1776. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. eBook. 388 pgs. ISBN: 9780743287708. Source: Gift.
Book Cover © Simon & Schuster. Retrieved: August 14, 2014.
September 2014
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