Some people don’t understand my fascination with apocalyptic and dystopian fiction.

The thing is, I’ve always loved fantastical tales.

When I around four I became obsessed with Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree (I’d listen to the book on tape as I fell asleep), I loved C.S. Lewis’s Narnia (specifically the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), and my favourite Disney films were the more sinister ones. Films like The NeverEnding Story, The Princess Bride and Star Wars were favourites. I would much rather watch Knightmare than Biker Grove.

Just because I’m older now, it doesn’t mean I’ve suddenly fallen out of love with weird. I embrace the weird. More people should.

Anyway, while I’ve been off embracing my weirdness (and not blogging – oops…) I’ve read two books that I pretty much picked up on a whim.

Emotion matters

I’ve had a hard time finishing books in the last few months, and I think I’ve realised why. Not only do books, games, movies, or TV series need to interest me and tell a compelling story, but I need to be in the right mood for them.

For example, I adore the West Wing, but I can’t watch The Wire. I can appreciate that it is brilliant, but it makes me feel super anxious.

I’ve noticed that I’m more likely to finish a book if it evokes some kind of strong emotion. If I don’t understand what’s happening, if the protagonist and/or antagonist is boring, if I don’t care what happens to anyone, I’m probably not going to finish the book. It’s not a deliberate choice, I just find other things to do other than read it.

Of the two most recent books I’ve read, one made me feel really down, while the other made me curious (I wanted to see how the characters would adapt to their situation). While I didn’t enjoy reading the first one, I felt like I had to finish reading it.

NOD, by Adrian Barnes

I blame Waterstones.

There I was, minding my own business, just going in to stare at the books (people do that, right?) and half an hour later I’m at the till buying roughly half its stock. (I expressed my shock at this to the woman behind the counter and she said, “you are the third person to say that today”. There’s some kind of drug in book covers I tell you!)

Anyway, I picked up NOD because it looked unusual. The idea of the world ending because people have lost the ability to sleep sounded new and interesting.

It is, without a doubt, one of the most depressing books I have ever read (and I’ve read We Need to Talk About Kevin).

It’s one of those books where the writer clearly has a love of language. The start of the book has a bit of an On the Road feel to the writing (and…well, I really don’t like that book), and as the story continued, and the protagonist’s world disintegrated, the book became a bit like a window into despair.

You don’t know what caused most people in the world – well, Vancouver but you assume it’s happening everywhere – to suddenly stop sleeping. Conflicts start and are forgotten about. Mysteries are discovered, and never solved, or even looked into. There’s no really cleaver person trying to find a cure. It reminds me a bit of Outpost, in the sense that there isn’t a satisfying resolution to the story.

What’s odd is that there is no sense of direction, or purpose. Most apocalyptic stories have something that drives the story forward. The Road is a about a father trying to find a safe place for his son. Nod features a similar sort of dynamic, but it doesn’t have the same resonance.

Everything just feels like a slow slide into oblivion, which is, I suppose, what the book is about. Still, it remains a really depressing read.

Dead South, David Brinson

I’ll admit, the whole reason I ordered this book was because of where it was set. Zombie apocalypse in South London? Mentions of the Old Kent Road? Sign me up!

It’s kind of what you expect in a zombie book. I read it a few months ago now and the one thing I remember about it was the sense of denial. Even towards the end of the book, when a lot of crazy stuff had happened, the characters were still saying it would soon pass – because, you know, a horde of rampaging zombies is generally something that comes and goes…

Still, unlike Nod, the writer made me care about the main character and I want to read the rest of his story. (Maybe it’s because of the dog. Every end of the world story needs a dog companion.) It left me with a feeling of hope, which is a good place to leave a book I think – it’s much better than despair anyway.

The emotional tone of a book can help drive the story forward and keep the reader turning the page.

I’m not saying that this applies to everyone, but I read books to immerse myself in another world. I’m interested in the story.

I really don’t care how many big words the writer knows. I don’t want to think about the writer at all. It’s all about the story.