The Reading Life: Zombies

BRAIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINS.

Sorry. I got a little carried away. Ahem.

So you know how right now, vampires are “the thing” for teen fiction? Books like Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, The Morganville Vampires, Blue Bloods, Vampire Academy, and more (those are all series as well) have made vampires super popular. I read the Twilight Saga last summer because I felt like I had to if I wanted to be a good youth services librarian. In spite of myself, I enjoyed the first one and wanted to smash Bella’s brains in with the rest.

Speaking of brains, there are so many great zombie books out right now, and I think zombies might be the next big thing in fiction. I hope they are. Zombies are way more exciting than vampires, I think, because they usually aren’t sexy. (There are some exceptions.) Zombies are typically gross, scabrous beings that lurch after you, moaning with brain-lust. Some zombies don’t just eat your brain, they eat you. Some zombies can run, which is sort of weird.

But the main thing that all zombies have in common: they used to be dead, and then something happened and they arose. Unlike vampires, they aren’t clever or trickstery; sometimes, in the more traditional zombie tales, they are controlled by someone evil. Zombies are pretty dumb. Their strength is that, typically, they can only be killed by destroying their brain or removal of the head. (Watching zombie movies with me is really annoying because I tend to scream at the screen, “CUT OFF THEIR HEADS, YOU MORONS!”) I really, really like zombie-related media.

Without further ado, here are some great zombie books. Some of them are stand-alone novels, some are series books, and an anthology.

The Living Dead, edited by John Joseph Adams

The Living Dead

This is a fantastic anthology that contains stories by Stephen King, Joe Hill (Stephen King’s son), Neil Gaiman, Kelly Link, Sherman Alexie and more. It’s edited by John Joseph Adams, a great writer himself. There are 34 stories in the collection, and they are all wonderfully creepy. This is the kind of book you can curl up with and devour. I love that Adams opens the volume with a quote from the movie Dawn of the Dead: “‘When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.'”

The Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan

Keep an eye on Carrie Ryan, the author of this amazing, kind of depressing, stellar book; it’s her first novel. It’s about a girl named Mary, who lives in a village surrounded by a fence. Her village is the last village in the entire world, and the fence protects them from the Unconsecrated. But are they really the last village? Ryan’s lyric writing style makes her graphic descriptions of the Unconsecrated even more disturbing. The follow-up book, The Dead-Tossed Waves, just came out.

Generation Dead, by Daniel Waters

In this book, zombies aren’t supposed to be called zombies: they are “differently biotic,” and they go to school with regular teenagers. Daniel Waters’ take on zombies is refreshing. A living girl falls for a zombie boy, and obviously nothing good can come of that. I really loved the way Waters’ makes the zombies seem creepy and sad at the same time. There are two more books in the series: Kiss of Life and Passing Strange (out May 12, 2010). This is one of those odd instances where zombies are kind of sexy.

Pet Sematary, by Stephen King

I know I’ve already written about this book on this site, but it really is a zombie novel. Louis Creed moves his family to a small Maine town where he will be the head physician at the student health center. His neighbor is an old weird guy, but they become friends. In Louis’s backyard, there’s a small “pet sematary,” where generations of residents have buried their beloved dogs and cats. But beyond that innocent cemetery is a far more dangerous place: an Indian burial ground where things planted in the earth do not stay dead for long. This novel scares me more than any other Stephen King novel, probably because I have two cats.

Cell

Cell, by Stephen King

If you know anything about Stephen King the person (as opposed to Stephen King the writer), you know he really doesn’t like technology. He doesn’t have a Twitter account, he only started using a computer because his wife made him, and he certainly doesn’t have a cell phone. Cell is a novel about just how much King hates cell phones. Everyone who was using a cell phone at this one moment in time turns into a crazy zombie-like creature and starts eating other people. The few people in Central Park who aren’t using cell phones team up and go on a journey to find a safe haven. Surprisingly touching, this novel also packs a scary punch. It might make you reconsider upgrading to a BlackBerry.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Seth Grahame-Smith and Jane Austen

This book has become a phenomenon. They’re making a movie out of it! Seth Grahame-Smith, who “co-wrote” this book with Jane Austen, also wrote Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies takes what starts out, in my opinion, as a kind of boring, romantic, sort of funny story and makes it ridiculous. Elizabeth Bennet decapitating the Undead? Illustrations of said action? Yes, please. People need to make more of these. Moby Dick and the Wolf Man? Ulysses Meets the Bride of Frankenstein? I would actually read the “classics!”

Monster Island, by David Wellington

What would be the worst place to be during a zombie attack? Manhattan, of course: close quarters, tall buildings filled with the Undead, and the fact that you are on an island. This novel was originally published as an online serial, but you can get it in book form too. Having once lived in New York City, this book felt eerily familiar. I knew where the main character was, what neighborhood they were in, and how frustrating it would be to be able to see New Jersey and not get there. (Insert New Jersey joke. I am allowed because I am from New Jersey.) There are two more books in the series, Monster Nation and Monster Planet, which are also available online. Wellington gets points for really gross zombie attack descriptions.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, by Max Brooks

World War Z

Max Brooks is a demi-god to the zombie-loving community at large. He is the author of The Zombie Survival Guide and several other zombie books. World War Z is a collection of “survivor interviews” that take place just after the zombie war, a world-wide takeover by the Undead. I wrote a paper for an undergraduate anthropology class about how this book uses anthropological narrative to tell a collective story; each chapter tells one piece of the larger experience, and reading just one chapter won’t give the reader all the information they need to process this experience. It was an awesome paper to write, and gave me an excuse to read about zombies for school. If you like brainy things and zombies (hah, no pun intended there), you will probably like this book.

Do you prefer vampires or zombies? Let us know in the comments!

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About Amanda K

Amanda K holds a master's degree in Library and Information Studies. She's a housewife, a Planned Parenthood volunteer, a sewist, and an aspiring gourmet home cook. View all posts by Amanda K

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