Assigned Reading: The Ultimate Zombie Lit Reading List


They are everywhere. Lurking in street corner shadows and hidden among what’s left of the world’s trees. They’re behind highway embankments and new building facades, over the rivers and throughout neighborhoods. They are down the hallway, up the stairs, and in your attic. Mostly though, they’re in bookstores. And their prevalence cannot be denied. They are the Undead. Or, if you prefer a more colorful vernacular: Zombies. And here are nine ways bookworms can hold them close to your hearts.

1. by Max Brooks

Brooks’ latest foray into the legend of the undead is “a record of the greatest conflict in human history.” According to the introduction, this book came about after our fearless chronicler was told by his boss at the U.N. that his Postwar Commission Report relied too heavily on “the human factor” and would have to be redacted. Naturally, no matter how inhuman the afflicted may appear, this is above all a human tragedy. And the millions of dead deserve to be remembered by more than mere facts and figures. This is the history Gibbon would’ve written had he witnessed another kind of rise and fall. And it’s the history of us all, whether they want us to know it or not.

2. by Jane Austen & Seth Grahame-Smith

Too bad Seth Grahame-Smith’s legion of near-instant imitators didn’t have his chops; if they had, then the New York Times Bestseller list would be nothing but zombies, and zombiemaniacs would now possess an entire library full of keenly-written high brow pulp. And there isn’t a wishful thinker in the world who could have envisioned the stunning success of this twist on a classic. If you know Austen, then you know she created a legendary set of sisters who epitomized a particular place and time. What even Jane couldn’t know, however, was how apt these sisters would be at doing it for themselves once the undead started threatening their way of life. An empowering story, full of love, lust and ultra-violence; it is too a pitch-perfect ode to the well-trained women of war.

3. by Steve Hockensmith

Jane Austen’s Bennett sisters didn’t become expert warrior women overnight — or without just cause. No, there was some madness behind the methodology. And that madness began when a certain Mr. Ford sprang from his casket and attacked the folks attending his funeral. And while most of the funeral party were shrieking and fleeing, Mr. Bennett grabbed two of his five daughters and saved the proverbial day. Then he got down to business, ensuring that neither he nor his family would ever again be caught unaware. The prequel to the wicked good — and wildly successful — Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, beautifully sets up what will long be remembered as the Age of the Plague.

4. by Wade Davis

Forget the ill-fated flick (if you haven’t done so already), because it’s in words where this tale is best told. And the words here leave little doubt to the existence of the undead. Davis was a Harvard ethnobotanist who’d gone to Haiti in search of the zombiefication potion. See it seems that the most dangerous part of modern-day surgery is putting people out before they go under the knife, and some pretty heavy hitters thought the ingredients could be used to create a safer anesthesia. Little did anyone know that Davis and everyone else involved in this venture would come down with bad cases of various ailments and afflictions, or that the undead would rather stay that way. Guess their mamas forgot to warn them all about playing with witch doctors.

5. by Brad Gooch

Since zombies are a transgressive fact of half-life, it only makes sense that they’d show up in some transgressive fiction. The question is why the undead haven’t shown up like this more often. Here Gooch gets good and transgressional; good enough to sate even de Sade himself. Actually, Dennis Cooper might be a more apt analogy for this sordid story, which is infinitely closer to Frisk than it is to either Juliette or Justine. Gooch, who last cracked wise over the life of Flannery O’Connor, leads us down the path of utter damnation, where lads look for love in all the wrong places and sex comes in nothing but black-and-blue. Whether the boy known as “Zombie” is just that is kind of up to you to decide, but that tell-tale shuffle sure doesn’t make it easy.

6. by Max Brooks

Yes, the undead have been around — since 60,000 BC, if some accounts are to be believed — and books of the undead have been around, too. But the new found glory of the genre can best be attributed to Brooks’ Survival Guide, which came out in 2003, and sparked another legacy. Brooks, son of Mel, could well be excused if he poked fun at the formless beings rising from the grave. But this book is no laughing matter. A how-to on everything from “Weapons and Combat Techniques” to the various areas of fortification, not to mention defense, fleeing and attack, Brooks also delves into both the myth and the history of the phenomenon, as well as the reality. And as you might suspect, that’s when things really get unnerving.

7. by Chris Roberson & Michael Allred

Okay, so this is a comic book of the undead rather than a conventional bound chronicle. Nevertheless it’s inevitable that Vertigo will one day compile the entire run, and when it does it will be a must for maniacs everywhere. Meantime we get it one episode at a time. And to be sure, this story of grave-digging Gwen Dylan is well worth waiting for each installment; it’s quirky and hypercolorful, at once neo-noir and post-Gothic.

8. by Joe R. Lansdale

Leave it to the man behind the surreal Bubba Ho-Tep (and the hyper-real Hap and Leonard series) to add some sage brush and prairie dust to undead equation. The long shadow in this novella is cast by an Indian medicine man that had been strung up by the good folk of Mud Creek, Texas. Of course there was no cause for the hanging, and a spell was cast before the dead man could duly depart. It’s all bloodshed from there. With an Eastwood-like pale rider (Reverend Jebediah Mercer), a Rodriquez-esque spin (think From Dusk till Dawn), and a meth addict’s pacing, Lansdale delivers one whip-smart piece of high pulp fiction. One can easily imagine how wonderfully gory it would look up on the blood-red screen.

9. ed. John Joseph Adams

Call this the drive-by equivalent of drive-in lit; thirty-plus stories from some of our most gifted scribblers. There are the household-names such as Stephen King (“Home Delivery”), Clive Barker (“Sex, Death and Starshine”), Neil Gaiman (“Bitter Grounds”) and Harlan Ellison and Robert Silverberg (“The Song the Zombie Sang”); there are house-wrecking sorts such as Norman Partridge (“In Beauty, Like the Night”), Catherine Cheek (“She’s Taking Her Tits to the Grave”), and Nina Kiriki Hoffman (“The Third Dead Body”); and then there are those like Darrell Schweitzer (“The Dead Kid”), John Langan (“How the Day Runs Down”) and Joe Hill (“Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead”) who keep the home fires burning brightly. There’s even a reprise of Joe R. Lansdale’s Reverend Jebediah Mercer (“Deadman’s Road”), an alternate take on Custer’s Last Stand by none other than Sherman Alexie (“Ghost Dance”), and a short by Poppy Z. Brite that’s so gory you might just lose both your lunch and your dinner, not to mention your mind (“Calcutta, Lord of Nerves”). If you’re the type who just can’t get enough; then this is for you.