Apocalyptic Summer Reads

Reading Time: 4 minutes
apocalytic reads
Image By Rebecca Angel

I recently reviewed Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel for our June Between the Bookends. It’s a post-apocalyptic tale about artists and musicians and what defines humanity after the collapse of the world as we know it. One of the main storylines takes place at an airport, and that made me think of another post-apocalyptic book with an airport as a central location: Warm Bodies. And that made me remember other books I’ve read about the end of modern civilization.

Summer is the best time to read crazy tales. Winter? No way. I’m easily freaked out, and winter is already a tough time of year to get through–disaster novels would give me nightmares. But sitting on the warm grass, a bowl of ice-cream, and a side of zombie plague novels? That’s just fun. So here is a list of my favorite apocalyptic books:

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion is a top read for me. It’s a sweet romance that happens to involve a zombie plague. No, this is not a literary classic, but it touched me and inspired me, and after two weeks I didn’t read another book because I wanted my mind to stay with those characters and world.

It’s a love story, a classic Romeo and Juliet (“R” and Julie) but with the undead. And they don’t die in the end, mainly because he’s already dead in the beginning. Julie is cool and so full of life. “R” is all heart, even when he barely remembers what love means. I like quirky, and this certainly is. It’s first person narrative from a zombie’s POV, and he is funny and endearing. Could Julie possibly exist? Nah, she’s a bit perfect. But that’s ok. “R” is not perfect, and I love that. He doesn’t know how to save the day but just keeps trying anyway. The people around try hard, and together they manage to figure things out. Love really heals. Sappy, but what the hell is wrong with that? I like when authors show that a story can be told about good things happening to flawed people in a horrible world. I was inspired enough to write a song about it (see end of this post…)

Continuing on the zombie theme is World War Z by Max Brooks. A friend handed me this book and I handed it right back, “I’m not a horror novel person, sorry.” He handed it to me again, “But this is a GOOD book. Trust me.” I did. And it was very good. It is really a collection of short stories told in a linear timeline of the zombie plague that almost wipes out humanity. Besides being a page-turning thriller, what makes this book stand out is the diversity and international scope of the characters. It is still a horror novel, and I had a hard time with it because it was gross and depressing and sometimes downright scary. There was a point in the book when I was going to put it down because I just couldn’t take it anymore, and the very next chapter was Japan. And then… holy crap! Those who have read the book know what I’m talking about. Just make it to Japan, people, so kick-ass. And the guy is freakin’ blind! BLIND!

Into the Forest by Jean Hegland is one of those books that has stayed with me since I read it twenty years ago.

Maybe it’s true that the people who live through the times that become history’s pivotal points are those least likely to understand them. I wonder if Abraham Lincoln himself could have answered the inevitable test questions about the causes of the Civil War.

It’s about two teenage sisters who live far enough outside of town that their family can live a rural, self-sufficient life. They are homeschooled: Nell reads and studies in hopes to get into Harvard, Eva takes lessons and dances hours a day to join the San Francisco Ballet. They try to cling to these dreams while their lives crumble around them, both small-scale in the loss of their parents, and large-scale in the collapse of society as we know it. Life becomes a re-discovery of basic survival. I say “re-discovery” because the girls start to live as the native people did: learning from their parents’ extensive library to simple trial and error. It is both a frightening look at how easily our world can end, and a beautiful novel about relationships with people, and the land we depend upon.

This body is yours. No one can ever take it from you, if only you will accept yourself, claim it again–your arms, your spine, your ribs, the small of your back. It’s all yours. All this bounty, all this beauty, all this strength and grace is yours. This garden is yours. Take it back. Take it back.

When mentioning what I was writing my post on this week, my son reminded me about The Swarm by Frank Schatzing, a novel my dad gave me to read, and I passed it on to the son to enjoy. Enjoy? Or be terrified of ever going into the water again? The ocean has had enough of wasteful and polluting humanity and is on the rampage! Water is our life blood, but our species may go extinct when it turns against us. This is a big honking novel, but you will race through it. I loved the mix of detailed science writing and catastrophic action sequences. The tidal wave section. Holy crap! It is probably the most memorable scene in the book. Destruction porn to the max. Maybe not the best beach read. Heh-heh.

And finally, The Stand by Stephen King. I have only read a few King books–again, not into horror–but I do recommend this one. The epic battle of good and evil in the form of Mother Abagail and Randall Flagg is gripping. There are sequences that have stayed with me, like the passing of the plague: “death in a tip,” and characters I love: “M-o-o-n.” The Lincoln Tunnel scene still makes me wince in memory. Although the survivors of the plague find themselves split into two distinct forces, every character embodies the spectrum of grey in their souls. How far would you go to survive?

And since you asked (ah-hem), here is the animated music video for my zombie love song, “Your Undead Heart“: