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precarious since 1997 | by maryann johanson

my reads: ‘The Passage’ by Justin Cronin

Here’s something I’ll try on the weekend for a bit, see how it plays: a little talk about something I’ve been reading. Not book reviews — you won’t find me getting into anything like the kind of depth I do with my film and TV writing — and I’m not likely to devote much time or attention to books I didn’t enjoy. This is more a way to open up the conversation a little so we can all discuss other entertainments we like, and to recommend books to you so that, if you match my taste in movies, you might find something good to read, too.

I admit I fell prey to the summer-blockbuster-read hype that got whipped up around The Passage, the first mainstream novel by literary writer Justin Cronin. Vampire novel! But sorta literary! And it had sold 18 bazillion copies before it had even been released. But mostly it was the vampire thing — I was ready for an antidote to Twilight frenzy.

And I loved it. In a can’t-put-it-down kind of way. It made my long subway rides — required to get anywhere interesting from where I live — fly by.
Cronin’s totally gripping story isn’t like the traditional vampire story, which tend to be about lone bloodsuckers or small, secret covens: These monsters are more like rage-zombies, immortal and ravenous and damn near unstoppable. The book is broken into two major sections: one as the zombie virus first gets loose from a government lab a few years from now, and the other a century later, when civilization is all but destroyed, and a few lone survivors huddle behind a walled town, unaware if they’re the last unchanged people still on Earth. (At one point, a character estimates that there’s probably 40 million of the vampire creatures roaming North America, though they could be starting to starve, since even the wildlife is running thin.)

Reading The Passage was like discovering Stephen King’s The Stand for the first time. (I’ve reread The Stand three or four times since, and I expect I’ll do the same with The Passage in coming years, too.) Cronin’s book feels the same in a lot of ways: Epic sweep but seen through the eyes of a few characters who are so vividly draw that they instantly feel like people you’ve known and cared about forever. There’s certainly plenty of action and melodrama to keep things moving along at a good clip, but Cronin has a heartbreaking talent for boiling down into a few words how profoundly some emotions or personal discoveries move us, from the grief at the loss of a friend — or of a love — to the unexpected way a pregnancy hits us.

Good stuff. There’s another book in the series coming. I can’t wait.

Also: This is the first book I read in its entirety on the Kindle I bought this spring. It was a very pleasant reading experience, not the least of which was for the fact that I did not have to haul around an 800-page hardcover with me. The Kindle is also easier to hold than a big book would have been while also juggling my big purse — which also frequently contains my laptop — and other stuff (like bags of groceries) on the subway. I can hold the Kindle in one hand and use my thumb to turn “pages” while I hold on to a pole with the other hand. Because the screen is not backlit, it’s easier on the eyes than a computer screen or smartphone screen; though it does mean you need the same amount of light to read a Kindle that you need to read a dead-tree book.



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