Category: The Bestseller Code 100 (page 1 of 7)

#BestsellerCode100: World War Z Wrap-Up Poll

Time to wrap up the discussion of our latest novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listWorld War Z by Max Brooks. The conversation started here.

Note: Post does not contain spoilers.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War* by Max Brooks (2007)

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

We are reading these books because they were picked by the computer algorithm in The Bestseller Code by Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers as the best of the bestsellers.  Do you agree with the computer that this book should be on the list?  Why or why not?

 What was your final opinion of World War Z?

Do you agree with the computer that this novel is one of the best of the bestsellers?

 

You can also join us on social media:

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 86. Easy Prey by John Sandford (2001) -mystery (series)- Discussion begins May 29, 2017.

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Analysis of World War Z by Max Brooks

It’s time to wrap up our discussion of  World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks with a review from a writer’s perspective  (discussion started here). We’re going to focus on the traits emphasized by the authors of The Bestseller Code (see previous review).

This post contains spoilers.

 

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War* by Max Brooks (2007)

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

World War Z is an epistolary novel. In this case, the author wrote the book as a collection of transcripts of interviews with survivors of a zombie outbreak. Because the reader is seeing the characters through the filter of an interviewer/narrator, it gives some emotional distance from the personal accounts, and also gives a unifying connection between the diverse stories.

In her recent review, Karen tackled the topics/themes (The Bestseller Code Chapter 2) of the novel and the emotional turns or beats (The Bestseller Code Chapter 3).  I’m going to take up where she left off and discuss points made in Chapter 4 and 5 of The Bestseller Code.

Style (The Bestseller Code Chapter 4)

Each author has an individual writing technique. An author’s word choice, sentence length, paragraph length, grammar, etc. determine the tone and pacing of a novel. In The Bestseller Code, Archer and Jockers point out that the first line of a novel should give the reader important insight into the writer’s style.

First Sentence of Introduction to World War Z:

It goes by many names:  “The Crisis,” “The Dark Years,” “The Walking Plague,” as well as newer and more “hip” titles such as “World War Z” or “Z War One.”

What do you notice about this sentence? To me, the author uses a nonfiction tone, as if relating a list of facts. The sentence is grammatically complex, with the inclusion of a colon, which reveals a certain comfort with grammar. It’s also a bit conversational in tone, particularly the slang term “hip.” The tone is a nod to the fact that this is an “oral” history.

Other things to consider are whether there are numerous contractions (indicating realistic-sounding dialogue), use of ellipses (which also indicate good dialogue), and fewer adverbs and adjectives (resulting in shorter, cleaner sentences). Without a computer it is difficult to accurately assess how well Max Brooks met those criteria, but simply flipping through the pages it was easy to spot contractions and ellipses.

 

airplane-max-brooks

Title and Characters (The Bestseller Code Chapter 5)

 Title:

The Bestseller Code analysis suggests the best titles for novels are places, events, things, or a character’s role. Using these categories, World War Z fits right in because it is an event.

Taking the analysis a step further, the full title, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War is a similar title to The Good War: An Oral History of World War II by Studs Terkel. This is not by accident. According to an interview at NPR, Max Brooks listened to Terkel’s history as an audio book and it made a huge impression on him. He liked the idea of a series of stories that people could read in order, or pick and choose what they read.

Characters:

With over forty characters, Max Brooks set himself up with a difficult task by having to create a unique voice for every single character. Some reviewers have suggested the characters sound too much alike, but I thought he changed the flavor at least some of them enough to give the impression of different voices.

For example:

Former U.S. Army Infantryman Todd Wainio throws around technical terms and slang.

You had tanks?
Dude, we had everything:  tanks, Bradleys, Humvees armed with everything from fifty cals to these new Vasilek heavy mortars.

Director of Department of Strategic Resources Arthur Sinclair, Jr. talks like a college professor.

To be perfectly candid, our supply of talent was at a critical low. Ours was a postindustrial or service-based economy, so complex and highly specialized that each individual could only function within the confines of its narrow, compartmentalized structure.

Mercenary T. Sean Collins speaks in lists.

Maybe I was a mercenary, but you’d never know it to look at me. I was clean-cut, nice car, nice house, even a housekeeper who came in once a week. I had plenty of friends, marriage prospects, and my handicap at the golf club was almost as good as the pros.

Conclusions:

World War Z is an odd mix. In some ways it seems like a brilliant analysis of war. In other ways it seems like a parody. It is hard to give weight to a novel that treats zombies as a threat. On the other hand, the horrors of war and the human behaviors under stress it depicts are very real. Whether you like the book may tip in one direction or the other depending on your own experiences and interests.

Have you read World War Z by Max Brooks? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 86. Easy Prey by John Sandford (2001) -mystery (series)- Discussion begins May 29, 2017

#BestsellerCode100: World War Z, A Reader’s Review

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks.  This book is categorized as Apocalyptic Horror and is a follow-up to Brooks’ zombie survival manual, The Zombie Survival Guide.  A movie with the same name was made from World War Z in 2013, starring Brad Pitt.

This post does contain spoilers.

 

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War* by Max Brooks (2007)

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

Zombie War Interviews

World War Z is different from any of the other books we’ve read so far in that it is a series of interviews of survivors of the Zombie War, which decimated the earth’s population and drastically altered the political and religious makeup of the world.  Since the interviews are of survivors, it’s obvious that humans won the war against the non-humans, although there are still millions of zombies “surviving” in the cold zones of the world and in the depths of the oceans.  In addition, the interview format creates a “distance” from the events that seems to minimize the “horror” aspect of the story, which was good for me, as I am definitely not a fan of horror anything.

In my last review (Weird Sisters), I mentioned that I was going to read The Bestseller Code again in an effort to make more sense of how the books we’ve read so far made it on the bestseller list and hopefully better appreciate the subsequent books we plan to read.  In fact, both Roberta and I wanted to read The Bestseller Code again, so we decided to give ourselves a three -week window for reading and reviewing World War Z.  As so often happens, though, life intruded and I have not yet completed The Bestseller Code, but it’s time for this review, so I’ll go with using the information gleaned from the first two and a half chapters.

Understanding the Theme and Topic

Chapter Two of The Bestseller Code talks about theme and topic, and Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers, the book’s authors, often use those two words interchangeably, which I found rather confusing. I was taught to think of theme as being the main idea or underlying meaning of a book, while topics (or subjects) being the avenue used by the author to present his underlying meaning.  In high school English class, theme seemed to be an important thing to figure out if you wanted to pass the test, but it doesn’t seem to have much bearing on whether a book is a bestseller or not.  Instead, the topic is much more important and The Bestseller Code goes into great detail about what topics are used most frequently in bestsellers and those rarely used.

It’s easy to confuse theme with genre.  One of the most popular book genres is romance novels, but the theme of romance novels isn’t really “romance” as much as it is the experience of love.  Readers want to feel an experience – an emotional, mental, imaginative experience.  And in order for the author to convey that experience, the topics they choose are vital.  Equally important are the percentage of topics used within the novel.

Signature Topic – Human Connections

Surprisingly, the computer model created by Archer and Jockers showed that some of the least successful topics to use if you want to write a bestseller are sex, drugs, and rock and roll.   The most successful topic is human closeness and human connection.  The most successful bestseller writers who have mastered writing about “human closeness” and “human connection” are Danielle Steele and John Grisham.  In Chapter Two, The Bestseller Code states that these authors “have only one signature theme, not two, that takes up a whole third (on average) of each of their novels.  This likely helps with their branding.  All the many other topics each writer employs are used in tiny percentages.” (This is one instance where the authors use the term “theme” when it really seems they mean topic.)

So how does a book about zombies and a global war become a bestseller?  It does so by employing the topic of “human closeness and human connection” in each and every chapter.  World War Z main theme is a social commentary on several fronts, including government ineptitude, corporate greed, and isolationism.  Each chapter highlights this theme by interviewing another zombie war survivor who relates his/her story of family loss, fleeing zombie-infested zones, and fighting side by side with comrades.  Each chapter is a roller coaster ride of emotions – anxiety about which family member might present symptoms of the zombie virus next, fear of being found by zombies and infected themselves, hope when they discover other non-infected humans they can band with, and relief that they might just survive after all.

The Story Beat

These emotional highs and lows in each chapter, or moments of conflict and resolution to use more literary terms, produce a “beat” that is discussed in Chapter Three of The Bestseller Code.  Those beats, or emotional turns, as Archer and Jockers refer to them, cause the reader to “feel” the book like one would feel club music.  “The more frequent the peaks and valleys are, the more of an emotional roller coaster for the characters and for readers.”  The Bestseller Code presents 7 different graphs that plot out the moments of conflict and resolution, and while they don’t reveal which of these graphs go with each book on the 100 Bestseller book list that their computer algorithm created, World War Z obviously fit one of those seven graphs.

World War Z is not a book I would have chosen to read on my own and while it was a bestseller, it didn’t impress me much – a week after I finished reading it, I could remember only one character from one chapter.  Possibly that is because I never bought into the whole “zombie” or “undead” premise, so it was difficult to become emotionally encumbered by any particular character or the book as a whole.  I did find certain themes thought provoking, though.  Specifically, I had an interesting conversation with my husband about the fact that during the Zombie War, the least useful individuals in the new world order were highly educated professionals and business people.  In a world without electricity, without modern day conveniences such as computers and cell phones, CEOs and accountants and computer specialists were essentially dead weight, while people who had a skill or had worked what were considered “menial labor” jobs – farmers, plumbers, carpenters, etc. – were suddenly at the top of the social hierarchy.  World War Z highlighted a disturbing trend in our present day world, where so many people can no longer do simple repairs or grow their own food, and only know how to rely upon technology to find an answer to a question.

What did you think of World War Z?  Were any of the characters memorable to you?  Did it inspire you to tell anyone about the book or discuss any of its themes?

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective
  4. After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 86. Easy Prey by John Sandford (2001) -mystery (series)- Discussion begins May 29, 2017

#BookBeginnings World War Z by Max Brooks

Today we’re featuring the next book in The Bestseller Code 100 challenge, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted at Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

Max-Brooks

Max Brooks’s World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War*  (2007)

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:   World War Z is an example of an epistolary novel.  It is written as a collection of witness accounts of the survivors of a zombie apocalypse.

First Sentence:

It goes by many names:  “The Crisis,” “The Dark Years,” “The Walking Plague,” as well as newer and more “hip” titles such as “World War Z” or “Z War One.”

Discussion:

The quote is from the “Introduction,” which reads like the introduction of a nonfiction book.

Neither my co-blogger, Karen, nor I are fans of horror, so this is going to be challenging for us to read. Hopefully the journalistic voice will help distance the reader from the more gruesome events.

Zombies were a popular topic when this book was written. Do you think it has remained relevant?

Have you read this book? What do you think?

Four New Novels by Authors On The #BestsellerCode100 List

Are you looking for new novels to read for summer? Four of the authors on The Bestseller Code best 100 list (our ongoing reading challenge) have books coming out.

 

New-Novels-By-The Bestseller Code-List-Authors

 

Let’ take a look at them in the order we have been reading, starting with Number 100.

We read Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island starting on November 7, 2016.  In the novel, U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels travels to the Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane on Shutter Island to find out what has happened to a woman who mysteriously disappeared. As the investigation deepens, Daniels uncovers more questions than answers.

Lehane’s newest, Since We Fell*, was released May 9, 2017. It features Rachel, who suffers from agoraphobia and panic attacks. What happens when she spots her husband somewhere he isn’t supposed to be?

 

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Want to find out more? There’s an interview with Dennis Lehane and book excerpt at Here and Now.

#####

We read Number 93, which was Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer-Prize winning collection of short stories, Olive Kitterage, starting February 13, 2017.

Her newest, released April 25, 2017, is also a collection of short stories.

Anything Is Possible* by Elizabeth Strout

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

There’s an informative article about it in The New Yorker.

#####

We’ll be reading Number 86, John Sandford’s Easy Prey, in a few weeks.

His newest in the series, Golden Prey*, came out April 25, 2017

 

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

John Sandford discusses his most recent book at a book signing at Poisoned Pen Bookstore.

#####

Finally, we have Paula Hawkins, who wrote Number 45, The Girl on the Train.

Her new novel, Into the Water*, came out May 2, 2017.

 

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Paula Hawkins  recently chatted live on FaceBook, sponsored by USA Today Life.

Looks like some great new novels to pick up for your summer reading.

Have you spotted any new books by authors on our list?

#BestsellerCode100: Starting Number 87 – World War Z by Max Brooks

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listWorld War Z:  An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War* by Max Brooks (2007)

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

What it’s about:   World War Z is written as a collection of witness accounts/interviews of the survivors of a zombie apocalypse. The journalistic tone gives this imaginative work a nonfiction feel.

Genre:  It is considered to be horror or apocalyptic horror.

Have you read World War Z:  An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective
  4. After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our wrap-up poll.

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about World War Z:  An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks? Feel free to add a link to your review here.


__________________

What are we reading after World War Z?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 86. Easy Prey by John Sandford (2001) -mystery (series)- Discussion begins May 29, 2017

#BestsellerCode100: The Weird Sisters A Reader’s Review

Weird Sisters, by Eleanor Brown, is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  For a synopsis of the book, check out Roberta’s Writer’s Review.

This post contains spoilers.

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Women’s Fiction

Weird Sisters is categorized as Women’s Fiction, a genre I normally do not read much of, and this book reminded me why that is so.   If you like reading a book that leaves you with a vague sense of feeling good and some gentle moral reinforcement, then this might be the book for you.  I expected more from a bestseller.  Here’s just a bit of what disappointed me:

– The main characters – the three sisters, Rose, Bean, and Cordy – were stereotypical.  Why was it the youngest who was irresponsible and became an unwed mother?  Wouldn’t it have been more interesting for the eldest, responsible Rose, to make some crazy mistake and be the unexpectedly pregnant daughter?

– The plot was slow and boring (was there a plot?).  Mom has cancer, so all the sisters come home ostensibly to take care of mom, but in actuality to hide from and ultimately resolve their secrets.  There were small moments of despair and moments of success, but nothing momentous.

– The ending was predictable (halfway through it I guessed correctly how things would end up for 2 of the 3 sisters).

Sisterhood Voice

Also, as Roberta mentions in her review, the narration is written in the omniscient first person plural, as the voice of the combined sisters, which I found confusing.  I was never quite sure if just one sister was speaking or if they were narrating as a combined sisterhood.  It was unique, but just didn’t work for me.

Time For Another Read Through

As I was reading, I kept asking myself why this book was chosen by the computer algorithm from The Bestseller Code.  I certainly wouldn’t have considered it a bestseller.  Since I seem to be having similar thoughts about several of the books we’ve read, I’ve decided to reread The Bestseller Code.  Hopefully now that I’ve read 12 of the books on the list, reading the book another time and reviewing how the list was created will make more sense and lead to a better appreciation of the subsequent books we plan to read here at The Bestseller Code Reading Challenge.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first few lines of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 87. World War Z by Max Brooks (2006) – Discussion begins May 8, 2017.   This book is categorized as Horror or Apocalyptic Horror.

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Analysis of The Weird Sisters

Let’s take a look at The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown from a writer’s perspective. (The discussion began here.)

This post contains spoilers.

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

What it’s about: Three grown sisters return to their hometown when their mother falls ill. Although they grew up together and all were named after characters in Shakespeare’s plays by their father, the three sisters couldn’t be more different. Will the crisis pull them together or break them apart?

Characters

The three sisters are the main characters, and they share the mantle more or less equally. They are — in birth order — responsible math instructor Rosalind (Rose), chic New Yorker Bianca (Bean), and transient hippie Cordelia (Cordy).

Their mother serves as impact character. Because of events that happen to her, she drives the plot. When she develops breast cancer, the sisters return to their childhood home to be with her. Later, another trip to the hospital changes the dynamic between the sisters. Interestingly, the mother remains unnamed through the novel. She is simply “mother.” Because she appears to drive the plot without having much other relevance, she could be called a MacGuffin.

Their father, James Andreas, is a professor who teaches Shakespeare at the local college. In the novel, he serves as a contagonist of sorts, reacting strongly when Cordy reveals she is pregnant.

Setting

The novel is set in the fictional town of Barnwell, Ohio. It is a typical small Midwestern college town where the faculty and students outnumber the local residents. Rose’s dream is to land a permanent position at the college.

As in most small towns, the residents have known each other for a long time. Their pasts intertwine.

 

College-Ohio-The-Weird-Sisters
Photo credit: Larry Miller via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC

Unique Voice of The Weird Sisters

One of the unique features of the novel is that it is written in omniscient first person plural. At first the three sisters speak in unison, as if their minds connect into one. Ironically, they speak as one while explaining they aren’t all that loving and cohesive:

We see stories in magazines or newspapers sometimes, or read novels, about the deep and loving relationship between sisters. Sisters are supposed to be tight and connected, sharing family history and lore, laughing over misadventures. But we are not that way. We never have been, really, because even our partnering was more for spite than for love.

As the book progresses and the sisters mature, however, the first person plural starts to fade somewhat as the narration follows each sister. Is it because they have now established their own identities or because the author tired of it as a device? I suspect the former.

Have you read the book? What did you think of the first person plural voice?

Themes

The main theme of the book explores how birth order effects the sisters and their destinies. Even the title refers to it, because the word “weird” takes on the older meaning of its origin word, “Wyrd” or fate. Are the sisters’ fates determined by birth order or can they break free?

A lesser theme is that of stealing or theft. Each of the sisters steals something during the course of the book. Bianca (Bean) is the only one who commits a serious theft and is caught, but even she isn’t made to face severe consequences. She’s merely asked to pay back the money she stole and loses her job. Why do you think the sisters steal? How does it reflect on their characters? Their Midwestern upbringing?

Comments

Reading The Weird Sisters really drives home how different all the novels on this list are. This one is a sweet, close examination of the relationship between three sisters. How did it end up on the same list as the next book, a horror novel about zombies? Perhaps it is time to revisit The Bestseller Code (reviewed here) and see what traits the authors used to pick the novels on the list.

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 87. World War Z by Max Brooks (2006) – Discussion begins May 8, 2017

#BestsellerCode100: Number 88. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listThe Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

This post does not contain spoilers.

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

What it’s about: Three grown sisters return to their hometown when their mother falls ill. Although they grew up together and all were named after characters in Shakespeare’s plays by their father, the three sisters couldn’t be more different. Will the crisis pull them together or break them apart?

Quirky fact:  This book is written in the first person plural.

 

weird sisters

 

Have you read The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first few lines of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown? Feel free to add a link to your review here.

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 87. World War Z by Max Brooks (2006) – Discussion begins May 8, 2017

#BestsellerCode100: Unaccustomed Earth Wrap-Up Poll

Time to wrap up the discussion of our latest novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listUnaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. The conversation started here.

Note: Post does not contain spoilers.

Unaccustomed Earth* by Jhumpa Lahiri

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

We are reading these books because they were picked by the computer algorithm in The Bestseller Code by Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers as the best of the bestsellers.  Do you agree with the computer that this book should be on the list?  Why or why not?

 What was your final opinion of Unaccustomed Earth?

Do you agree with the computer that this novel is one of the best of the bestsellers?

 

You can also join us on social media:

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 88. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (2011) – Discussion begins April 24, 2017.

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