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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Sat, Jul 31, 2010 4:32pm

I read this as well–the 800-page hardcover–and I agree it’s fantastic.

The vampire-virus premise did remind me of another excellent vampire novel, The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. Also the first part of a trilogy, the second part of which is coming out soon:

I’m not sure why del Toro’s book didn’t get as much marketing push as Cronin’s is getting; it’s equally deserving, IMO.

Sat, Jul 31, 2010 4:37pm

Also: Is that image you used actually on the cover of any version of the book? The one I have (and that I see in all the stores) has the one with the image of trees. I like yours better.

Sat, Jul 31, 2010 4:41pm

The cover is from the British edition, which is much more evocative than the U.S. version.

Ide Cyan
Ide Cyan
Sat, Jul 31, 2010 11:37pm

That cover reminds me so much of Night of the Living Dead. Going by your description of the plot, the resemblance could be intentional.

Sun, Aug 01, 2010 2:11am

It sounds like an amazing premise – I’ve added it to my To Read list. Thanks for sharing!

(I think I’m going to like this new feature :) )

Sun, Aug 01, 2010 3:31pm

About 1/4 through this one and loving it. Very happy to get more book recommendations coming down the pipe in the future!

Sun, Aug 01, 2010 3:57pm

You know what book you should read: The Overton Window by Glenn Beck. It is hilarious in its awfulness. In the book, a PR guy named Noah discovers a plot by left wing corporations to take over the government and shove tea-party activists into concentration camps. Noah discovers this nefarious plot on a powerpoint slide in the bad guy’s office (I swear to God). Here’s a sample: this is when the hero, Noah, first meets the love interest, Molly:
“Something about this woman defied a traditional chick-at-a-glance inventory. Without a doubt all the goodies were in all the right places, but no mere scale of one to 10 was going to do the job this time. It was an entirely new experience for him. Though he’d been in her presence for less than a minute, her soul had locked itself onto his senses, far more than her substance had.”


When Noah first flirts with Molly…

“So Noah [from the Bible] comes home after he finally got all the animals into the ark, and his wife asks him what he’s been doing all week. Do you know what he said to her?” Molly asked.
“No, tell me.”
“Molly patted him on the cheek, pulled his face a little closer.
“He said, ‘Honey, now I herd everything.’”

and of course Noah later tells Molly, “You don’t tease the panther.”

Definitely worth checking out:)

Read more:

Sun, Aug 01, 2010 4:45pm

@David: I’m totally going to order that for the store! It can be on the new books table next to Idiot America and Empire of Illusion and Collapse!


Mon, Aug 02, 2010 9:45am

I love the idea of talking about books here. And this was a fabulous pick. I work in a very large used/new bookstore and we have been selling this book alot. But I have to be honest here and say I was sad to read you had read it on a kindle. As someone who has spent many hours of my life working in bookstores in California and Oregon since the early 70’s, the kindle is not good news. We have already lost some classic bookstores and more are struggling daily to stay open. Bookstores are going the route of video/dvd stores. I know I cannot stop technology and I confess to carrying my blackberry with me everywhere I go. There has been a lot of news lately from Amazon about the sales of kindles and the Andrew Wylie story a few weeks ago certainly created alot of talk in the old bookstore.Here is a taste of that story if any of your readers missed it…
“Fear and loathing among the movers and shakers of America’s publishing industry have reached new heights with both Random House and Macmillan denouncing the literary agent Andrew Wylie’s move into digital publishing.

Home to 700 authors and estates ranging from Philip Roth to John Updike, Jorge Luis Borges and Saul Bellow, the Wylie Agency shocked the publishing world yesterday when it announced the launch of Odyssey Editions. The initiative has been set up to sell ebook editions of modern classics – including Lolita, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Updike’s Rabbit tetralogy – exclusively via Amazon’s Kindle store, leaving conventional publishers out of the picture.

The move provoked an immediate reaction from Random House, which publishes in print several of the authors involved with Odyssey Editions. The publisher fired off a letter to Amazon “disputing their rights to legally sell these titles”, which it said were “subject to active Random House publishing agreements”.
Anyway…did not mean to go off on a rant here about the pros and cons of kindles. And they are here and there is nothing I can do about it. Perhaps this could be a topic here.. how many people who regularly read your site also use kindles? Would be curious to know.I don’t see them in use but I live in a smallish town in the Northwest. The only kindle I have seen in person was being used by a good friend who now lives in Germany and was visiting this summer. Meanwhile hope you keep talking books too along with movies tv etc…Thanks!

Mon, Aug 02, 2010 12:46pm

I too lament the decline of independent book stores. I blame corporate publishing and corporate booksellers for that, however, not readers. Readers are going where they have to go if they want to be able to afford to read these days. Corporate publishing has made books so expensive — like with multimillion-dollar contracts for star authors, while also failing to subsidize smaller books by new authors or nonstars with those megabooks. And with the wastage of the traditional industry, which often produces books only to pulp them.

That doesn’t excuse copyright violations such as the Wylie story you mention (if, indeed, there are violations happening there). But that’s a separate matter from whether e-publishing is a good thing in the current environment.

I think it is. The rise of e-publishing is starting to bring a little bit of equitableness back to the industry. Now, independent authors have a hope of getting their work read by an audience, and getting paid, if modestly, for their work. I bought my Kindle to see what the experience is like, because I’m getting into e-publishing, too.

It does feel like everything is falling apart at the moment. My experiements with e-publishing are me kicking in the quicksand, hoping to stay afloat for a little while longer…

Mon, Aug 02, 2010 1:33pm

I love the idea of doing some book discussions here!

About the Kindle, I don’t have one yet, but really want one. What I wish for, though, is to buy book in hard copy and get an e-version along with it.

Schlepping big books on the train can be a real pain. When I finally got around to reading War & Peace last year, I had to get a paperback, chop it into 4 pieces and bind it in duct tape so it was manageable…but I hated myself just a little bit for mangling a book.

Only buying the e-book worries me though, becuase Amazon (or whomever) can delete or revise items at will. I’m not a conspiracy nut or anything, but I just think that’s a bit creepy.

Mon, Aug 02, 2010 2:14pm

Dokeo – you took the words right out of my mouth (or off my fingers, really, what with the typing). I don’t think I’ll ever give up physical books unless they stop being made, I love them and especially old copies of books from second hand shops.

What I really hate is having to have a huge bag to fit a book in, and dragging it in, out, and around London every day. I’d really like a Kindle just for the train, really. Then I can copies of the actual physical book as well.

Oh, and great book recommendation MaryAnn – it’s on my wishlist for the paperback edition (I don’t buy hardbacks – too heavy on train! – unless it’s something I really want to last, like my Harry Potters. I always buy Barbara Kingsolver in hardback, too.