I'm something of a ceaseless reader. Stephen King once wrote (in On Writing I think, though I could easily be wrong) that he never goes anywhere without a book, since you never know when you'll need a mental escape hatch. Those are the words of a kindred soul. I cart books and magazine articles with me everywhere I go which is sometimes less than wise. Walking and reading is, typically, not a good thing. Still, I do it all the time. That being the case I thought I'd start letting you folks know what tomes I've got my nose buried in. I love having someone recommend a good book just as much as I enjoy reading someone's evisceration of a bad one. Here I'll do both, depending on the book and my enjoyment of it.
The Passage is one of those annoyingly-oversold summer books. They're omnipresent on the display shelves of bookstores and pop up on all the mainstream "What To Read For Summer" lists as well as in the hands of multiple Subway and Bus riders. If an album/book/crocheted-panorama/whathaveyou is being enjoyed by everyone and talked about on Good Morning America, I'm sometimes perversely compelled to skip over it in search of rarer gems* (this is why, despite its cultural ubiquity, I have not touched Stieg Larsen's Millenium Trilogy). I freely admit that this is weird behavior, but it's not (entirely) snobby behavior. It's not that I'm "too good" for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo or anything. I'm just wired, seemingly from birth, to look for the underdogs. The snobby part, self-admittedly, comes from the fact that some of the things which the larger culture embraces completely tend to be - to me - kind of....average at best.
That said, I'm not immune to the larger conversation happening around me, or to Big Popular Mainstream Entertainment**. I've devoured Stephen King's books since I first discovered his book IT at age 12, read the opening scenes in which poor Georgie meets the scariest clown of all time and then promptly hid its nightmare-inducing cover under a stack of other, more benign books as though they'd help to drain away some of the pure terror that it induced in me through literary osmosis.
I bring King up because Cronin's book gets a glowing (sneaky pun!) back cover blurb from the Master of Horror. That's not what attracted me to the book, but I did find it interesting since the novel is so far reading like early King - specifically The Stand (there's even a seemingly-'special' kid, one of King's most consistently recycled elements). This is very much a compliment. I'm impressed by Cronin's skill with his characters, by the way in which he's unspooling this addictive narrative and by the economy and force of his prose. The sentence "Now I know why the soldiers are here," which appears some twenty-something pages into the book, perfectly sums up the sure-handed approach that Cronin takes with this potentially uber-pulpy material. Cronin doesn't fall prey to typical genre traps; his characters are uniformly well-rounded and struck through with shades of gray, his plot turns are deftly executed, and his writing is spare and evocative. The basic spine of this book's story could easily be a terrible Sci-Fi channel miniseries. There's little that's truly original thus far in the macro details of the story (Mysterious virus? Check. Shady Military involvement? Check. Vampires? Double-check, since every bit of entertainment that's produced is now contractually obligated to feature at least one vampire) but the skill of the storyteller elevates it far above that.
I'm only 100 or so pages into this one, but I'd already recommend it. It's compulsively-readable, literary without being difficult/boring, pulpy and appealing without being dumb/obvious. I'm as vamped-out as anyone (keep in mind: I've seen ALL the Twilight movies, thanks to The Lovely Wife) and if folks were prohibited from releasing anything undead-related for a year or two I think the culture as a whole would feel a lot less dull/repetitive, but if you're going to read one vampire-related novel this year, make it The Passage.***
What about you? What're you reading this summer?
*There's a strange, indefinable difference between entertainment that's truly been embraced on a massive level by the public at large (see: The DaVinci Code) and entertainment that's been wholly-embraced by the critical/media establishment, which is NOT the larger viewing public (see: Mad Men). I'm curiously compelled to avoid the former, not so much the latter. The reasoning behind this is as murky and elusive as you'd expect.
**Film especially. I'm always up for a good blockbuster. Make of this what you will.
***For the love of all that is good and holy, don't make that book Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.