I have a soft spot for good vampire books. I love the original Dracula, particularly it’s fast-paced epistolary style. I also enjoyed the first few books in Anne Rice’s original series. And I’m sure that if I started Twilight or any of the other currently popular brooding-emo-vamp series, I’d guiltily enjoy those, too.

But Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan have written a larger, more intense book than the current crop of tween sensations. This is a vampire novel that strikes deep at the heart of our modern fears of terrorism and biological weaponry. The protagonists have all the technology of the modern-day disease fighter at their disposal, pitted against an ancient — but intelligently updated — foe.

For me, The Strain is just what vampire books are supposed to be. It is fast-paced. It’s villains are sometimes cunning, sometimes brutish. It’s heroes are flawed but basically good. And the odds are heavily stacked against them.

If I have one complaint, it is that volumes two and three in this trilogy are not to be released until 2010 and 2011. What a pain in the neck. (See what I did there?)

BOOK REVIEW: The Wild Party

Joseph Moncure March wrote this tale of debauchery and deception in rhyming couplets in 1928, just before the world descended into the depths of the Great Depression.

Decades later, artist and author Art Spiegelman (of MAUS fame), found a copy in a used bookstore and fell instantly in love with the darkness and depravity of March’s lost classic. In 1994, nearly 70 years after the publication of The Wild Party, Spiegelman published this illustrated version.

March’s short, taut thriller beautifully captures the grim determination of a group of down-but-not-out actors, dancers and vaudeville performers as they use drink and sex to mask the depression of their everyday lives. Spiegelman’s woodblock-style illustrations add the perfect touch of dark sensuality that at times turn to stale, harshly lit reality. The poem builds to an inevitable climax of violence that nevertheless leaves the reader sitting up straight and waiting for the end.

William S. Burroughs said of The Wild Party: “It’s the book that made me want to become a writer.”

Highly recommended.

Book Review: Quiet, Please

Scott Douglas’s memoir of his life as a librarian is hard to put down. So hard, in fact, that I took some additional bathroom breaks at various points just to keep reading.

Douglas loves libraries, but not for the reasons you might think. In fact, this look behind the curtain shattered many of my notions about who librarians are and why they choose to be librarians. (Hint: It’s not about the books.) I appreciated Douglas’s look at his profession as an example of public service.

Douglas is skilled at allowing his personality to come through without it taking over the story completely. Case in point: I was very surprised when he identified himself as a conservative Christian about halfway through the book.

Because the book is nonfiction, several of the storylines had less-than-satisfying conclusions, at least from my “Hollywood ending” point of view. That made the stories feel more real, though, even if they left me a little sad by the end of the book.

Douglas’s writing is fresh and fast-moving, and certainly worth reading for anyone interested in the secret lives of librarians.


Book Review: Ted Kooser’s The Poetry Home Repair Manual

Kooser’s book is aimed at the beginning poet, but anyone could pick up useful ideas about revision, metaphor and simile, and imagining an audience. Kooser’s writing is warm and often funny, and his advice is realistic and practical. This is not a book to read if you’re looking for a quick way to become a famous poet. But if you’re interested in putting in the necessary hours (and hours and hours and hours) needed to turn out respectable writing, Kooser can help you use your time more productively and enjoyably.