Recent Reads: People of the Book, graphic Farhenheit 451, and (cough) Zomnibus

Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book: Hanna Heath is a prickly rare-book expert/restoration guru from Australia, and she’s called into the middle of the Bosnian war to a beleaguered museum to restore the Sarajevo Haggadah: one of the first Jewish religious books to be filled with colorful images.   Hanna uncovers and researches wine stains, hairs, and other discoveries, and a fictionalized history of a book that managed to survive wars, the inquisition, and book purges unfolds.  While the historical details are fascinating, Brooks smartly focuses on the people of the history, instead of just the history.  A stunning, and moving book.

“Well, from what you’ve told me, the book has survived the same human disaster over and over again.  Think about it.  you’ve got a society where people tolerate difference, like Spain in the Convivencia, and everything’s humming along: creative, prosperous.  Then somehow this fear, this hate, this need to demonize ‘the other’–it just sort of rears up and smashes the whole society.  Inquisition, Nazis, extremist Serb nationalists…same old, same old.  It seems to me the book, at this point, bears witness to all that.”

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Adaptation:  Reading this on the heels of the Brooks novel (ostensibly about a book that barely survived its own burning many times and over centuries) heightened the creep factor for me.  The Illustrator, Tim Hamilton, does a commendable job with tone and mood; capturing the essence of such a well-read classic, I would imagine, is no small task, and Hamilton succeeds.  Further, the pared down text of Bradbury (dialogue and a few captions like “It was a pleasure to burn.”), with his instantly recognizable rhythm and strangeness, adds to the unshakable sense of unease.

Zomnibus Volume 1: I bought this to bring up my amazon order to be in the free shipping range, okay?  And, I’d heard good stuff about Robots vs. Zombies, too, and wanted to read it.

So this book gives you three zombie comics.  The first is Zombies: Feast.  Underwhelming, but not entirely insulting, at least.  A prison bus crashes in a remote country town where zombies have killed almost everyone.  Yup.  You can easily imagine the rest, and that’s just it.  No surprises or deep thought required; comfort food, I suppose for zombie fans.  The second comic was flat out deplorable, from multiple background scenes of rape, to the laughable insertion of a stereotyped wise old Japanese gentleman who happens to be a samurai warrior.   Um, yeah, let’s move on.

The final comic, and the one I should’ve just bought by itself, is Robots vs. Zombies.  This is fun, smart, and beautifully drawn stuff.  The story itself is purposefully goofy, but smart goofy.  And it’s the artwork that makes this comic a must read.  It’s unlike any that I’ve ever seen.  Almost impressionistic in its approach, there are panels that look like a complete mess, and your eye has to linger to figure it out.  That moment of ‘aw, what the hell is that?’ is a brilliant way to build suspense and even out pacing.

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