I Hate Zombies, So Why Did I Like This Book? Max Brooks’ World War Z

World War Z

Besides being the best zombie book I’ve ever read, World War Z is also a great horror novel. Please note that this comes from a person who doesn’t like zombies (more on that later). I read World War Z for the first time over a decade ago. I bought the book at my local B&N because I liked the cover. Yes, sometimes I buy books because I like the cover, and the results are often surprisingly good. When I recommended World War Z to a friend he loved it, and asked me where I’d heard of it. When I told him how much I liked the cover he gave me a strange look.

Anyway: I reread World War Z last week. I realized I was reading a great book when Mr. Brooks informed me that those who transformed into zombies while driving have no idea how to unbuckle their seatbelts, and are thus stuck in their cars for all eternity. Great detail. I have relatives who live in Yonkers, and the author’s description of that city is dead-on, down to the A&P (which is now an ACME). What can you do but tip your hat to such attention to detail?

I won’t even go into Mr. Brooks’ masterful description of other cultures, the way he puts the zombie apocalypse into a socioeconopolitical (is that a word?) perspective and his successful use of over twenty different voices, all of which sounded distinct. After all, this is an oral history of the zombie wars, and the survivors interviewed all have riveting stories to tell.

Speaking of telling stories, I have no idea why Max Brooks (who is filmmaker Mel Brooks’ son) hasn’t written another horror novel. Besides his zombie material (three books), he wrote a graphic novel called The Harlem Hellfighters, a comic series titled The Extinction Parade and a Minecraft novel. It’s a damn shame Mr. Brooks hasn’t followed up, because World War Z puts him in the pantheon of great horror writers of my generation.

I was surprised by how much I liked this book, because as a rule I don’t like zombie novels. I can tolerate zombie movies if they are funny (Return of the Living Dead, Shaun of the Dead) or have an interesting twist (28 Days Later, Pontypool), but I don’t like reading about them.

Actually, I don’t like zombies period. I have trouble taking a monster that combines the speed of a grandpa on his walker with the motor skills of an overstimulated toddler seriously. Here’s an idea: why not wear a winter jacket and three pairs of snow pants if you’re scared of being bitten?

Yes, you may say, but there’s millions of the undead! True, but there are billions of the living. Many of my fellow humans have been stockpiling baked beans and guns for years, eagerly awaiting the day civilization collapses so that they can declare themselves the Lords of Weehawken, N.J. That’s truly terrifying. And I’m supposed to be scared of a smelly corpse?

How did there get to be millions of zombies anyway? I’m going to guess it went something like this:

  1. The first zombie searches for a hearty meal of brains.
  2. ???
  3. Earth is overrun by zombies!

Another reason I don’t like zombies is because they are so unhealthy. Zombies crave brains, which are high in cholesterol and can also cause you to contract kuru, the human version of Mad Cow Disease. Yes, I know zombies are dead and thus don’t care about their cholesterol levels, but that just proves another point. Zombies are dead but they don’t rot, because don’t think about it. If zombies were subject to the Law of Conservation of Energy, they would not even have the strength to shamble, unless the zombie in question was getting three square meals of brains per day. It would probably take more calories than that, but whatever.

Anyway… apologies to any of my classmates who love zombies. I’m sorry for hating on your favorite monster; I know my favorite monsters are just as unrealistic. I’m guessing my dislike stems from working retail for years. Give me a horde of bloodthirsty zombies over a mob of last-minute shoppers on Christmas Eve any day!

3 Replies to “I Hate Zombies, So Why Did I Like This Book? Max Brooks’ World War Z”

  1. George,
    I didn’t really think on the cultural aspects of the story until you said something. To me, it just made the story more authentic and I just accepted it as it was. I loved how that he made it feel like it was so real. I know I identified a lot with the military who gave accounts of their story. I wonder who really came up with the idea that zombies crave brains. How can something be reanimated and all of the sudden want brains? It doesn’t make sense. I enjoyed the oral history. If you haven’t listened to the audio check it. The story takes on a whole different tone.

  2. Hey George, I was not a fan of WWZ. You point out some strong details that Max Brooks worked into the book though. I am not a total hater of his work though. If you have not looked at THE EXTINCT PARADE definitely do so. Creatively speaking, I think its a lot stronger than WWZ. Its zombies vs. vampires at the end of the world. I think it would have made a much cooler movie than the WWZ movie.

  3. Hey George,

    Like you I had something against me when I started reading World War Z. I’m not a hater of zombies, nor am I really a lover. I’m sort of on the fence. I enjoyed them when I was younger and there’s some works today that I still like, but I think they’ve become a bit oversaturated in the market. I’ll still give them a chance though. What the book mainly had going against it for me was the format. I don’t like books that are designed as a series of interviews. That works fine in radio and television for me, but for a book it’s not my favorite technique.

    Despite that though I ended up really liking World War Z. I think in part because of all the little details that Brooks described to separate his work from the others. You pointed out the zombies trapped in cars, I also enjoyed the Q’s and the ferals, and how this outbreak effected the world at large instead of just one group of people. It was a life altering event, and as such some things about our society were completely changed, so it was refreshing to see something go beyond the day to day survival that most zombie works focus on. I was glad that it was assigned for the class, because outside of it, I probably wouldn’t have given it a chance.

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