In the temperate zone of North America, June is busting out all over. The tree near the railroad tracks spreads its verdant canopy over lunchtime picnickers. Staff gardener Margo tirelessly plows and prunes and plants in the tiny garden plot assigned to us by the Tsar.
But these days you can’t swing a rake without smacking the very personification of animated unlife. The zombie is the biggest thing to hit horror since Jamie Lee Curtis. Not surprisingly, college programs and students have embraced the study of these charismatic corpses, with academic and indie presses providing plenty of scholarly material to feed the brain (as opposed to feeding on the brain, pardon the mental image). Whether you like dead that walk, run, lurch, or mindlessly meander, our June survey of academic zombie titles can be your 101 intro to an exciting new field of study.
American Zombie Gothic: The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of the Walking Dead in Popular Culture, by Kyle William Bishop
McFarland and Co.
What do zombies mean, man? If you ever ask this question, Bishop provides the answer. He charts the zombie’s invasion of our zeitgeist from the racist, colonialist assumptions made in voodoo-centric early Hollywood horror films to George R. Romero’s Dead series and beyond. But you knew that. How about the Nazi zombie classic Dead Snow? Or the video game sensation Left 4 Dead? Or theory that places the American zombie obsession within the Gothic tradition? As Library Journal said, “It isn’t often that one comes across Marxian dialectics and graphic descriptions of cannibalism in the same paragraph.” ‘Nuff said.
Better Off Dead: The Evolution of the Zombie as Post-Human, edited by Deborah Christie and Sarah Juliet Lauro
Fordham University Press
Once a staple of B-movies, zombies have gone big-time with Brad Pittian summer hits like World War Z and via novels and other media acclaimed in all the places one gets acclaimed these days. The essays in Better Off Dead have that part of the genre covered, but also delve into just how deeply shambling corpses have infiltrated our entire culture. Within you’ll find discussions of zombie-themed interactive art exhibits, the venerable history of the zombie publicity stunt, zombies in radio drama, lit-savvy placements of the monsters against works like On the Beach and I Am Legend, and what the contemporary love of zombies has to say about those poor Millennials that everyone picks on. There’s even work on zombie comedies, the genre that asks the question, “If we can’t speak ill of the dead, can we at least laugh at them?”
The Walking Dead and Philosophy: Zombie Apocalypse Now, edited by Wayne Yuen
Anyone who watches The Walking Dead or reads the WD graphic novels knows the franchise brings plenty of philosophy. Discussions of what it means to live, the absurdities of existence, morality and loneliness and love and the misuses of violence—it’s all there. The essays in this collection also venture into touched-upon but less-elided questions involving zombie consciousness, the sources of authority and property rights (assuming such things still exist), and WD‘s always-loaded gender tensions. It’s Big Ideas made accessible by their fusion with a wildly successful pop culture brand, and what could be better?
Zombies and Calculus, by Colin Adams
Princeton University Press
Advanced math turns many a student into a drooling, mindless wreck. But can it save humanity from hungry hoards? In Zombies and Calculus, Colin Adams—a mathematician who actually understands this stuff—pens a sci-fi comedy/thriller that follows math prof Craig Williams as he uses math you never thought practical to foil the undead. Adams/Williams lays down the mathematical law on predator-prey models, calculating the exponential spread of the zombie virus, and a lot of other concepts. Few books make differential equations fun, and Adams even manages to make them scary in ways that have nothing to do with taking a mid-term.
Cannibal Rights: Eating Others in Caribbean and Indian Ocean Women’s Writing, by Njeri Guthrie
University of Illinois Press
Not so much about zombies as it is certain literary aspects of eating, Cannibal Rights concentrates on the gendered and sexualized dimensions of these visceral metaphors of consumption in works by women writers from Haiti, Jamaica, Mauritius, and elsewhere. Employing theoretical analysis and insightful readings of English- and French-language texts, she explores the prominence of alimentary-related tropes and their relationship to sexual consumption, writing, global geopolitics and economic dynamics, and migration. As Buthrie shows, the use of cannibalism in particular as a central motif opens up privileged modes for mediating historical and sociopolitical issues.