If you are anything like me, you have started to read every monster horror and pandemic book you can get your hands on lately, and what’s the best combination of that? Zombie books. With a rich cultural history based in folklore and post-colonialism, zombies are both terrifying and fascinating.
I grew up watching the old creature features from the silver screen and reading horror literature, so whenever I get to dive in and explore a new genre, or monster, I am always thrilled. Zombies have one of the most fascinating histories of all monsters; having always been used to explore deep collective fears and politics, serving as mirrors to our culture when they rise from the grave.
So if you’re marathoning Kingdom on Netflix, doing a re-watch of Night of The Living Dead, or just thinking about the implications of colonialism and the Cold War in today’s political climate, try some zombie books! Whether you want a book to help you prep, an existentialist novel, or a wonderful collection of short stories, zombies make for a phenomenal subject that continuously reinvents itself while helping us explore ourselves.
Severance by Ling Ma
Candace Chen is a millennial working in an office tower in Manhattan. She is so devoted to her everyday routine that she doesn’t even realize when an epidemic of biblical proportions sweeps the world. The Shen Fever tears down NYC, leaving Candace alone in a deserted city where she soon becomes an anonymous blogger of the apocalypse. Those affected by the disease continue with their past life’s routines until their bodies start to decay.
The Kingdom of the Gods by In-Wan Youn, Eun-Hee Kim, and Yang Kyung-Il
This is the graphic novel that inspired the Netflix show Kingdom. The young Prince Yi Moon has fled war and famine-stricken Joseon after surviving an assassination attempt. Alone, he is forced to ask for help from Jae-ha, a mountain bandit. As they cross the country, they start to realize that they must survive both the living and the dead. I highly recommend both this book and the TV adaptation, which is one of my favorite shows right now.
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
This book might be marked as YA, but don’t be put off if that’s not usually your thing. Dread Nation is one of the most exciting and innovative takes on zombie horror today. Following Jane McKeene, a young woman who is born the same year that the dead started to rise from their graves in battlefields across America. As both north and south find a common and pressing enemy in the zombie horde. The Native and Negro Reeducation Act comes into place, forcing young Black and Native people to be trained in fighting zombies as proxy soldiers if they ever wish to be free.
The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
Melanie is a regular girl. She loves school and dreams every day about who she will be when she grows up, except that every day she is strapped into a wheelchair with guns pointing at her head whenever she has to leave her cell. A unique take on the zombie narrative has quickly become a modern classic for the horror genre.
Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica by Zora Neale Hurston
Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica is a collection of short stories, both fiction and nonfiction, about Haitian and Jamaican folklore, where the idea of the zombie originated. Zombies are deeply connected to the religious practices and history of those countries, and the Caribbean as a whole, but are very different from the Hollywood zombie. Nonetheless, the entire concept for the living dead we see on screen today owes its concept to the Caribbean, a cultural heritage that has been deeply misinterpreted and underrepresented when we talk about the modern zombies.
Zone One by Colson Whitehead
Zone One is set in post-apocalyptic USA where civilization is starting to be rebuild. The army is gaining ground against the infected, clearing out new zones in the city. In the middle of this chaos, civilian battalions are formed to clear places where the infected have reached a catatonic state and have ceased to be aggressive. In the narrative, we follow Mark Spitz, one of the people in these civilian task forces, as he ponders the future and has flashbacks to darker times.
Zombie Theory: A Reader Edited by Sarah Juliet Lauro
A nonfiction book about the history of zombies in pop culture and film, this collection of essays explores the impact of zombies on horror films, and the nature of the “modern zombie” through epidemiology, advertisement, and sociology.
Race, Oppression and the Zombie: Essays on Cross-Cultural Appropriations of the Caribbean Tradition Edited by Christopher M. Moreman and Cory James Rushton
This collection explores the history of zombies as Caribbean folklore and the face for otherness in pop culture. Starting as a mystical figure in Haiti, the concept of the zombie mutated to exemplify racial and xenophobic tensions in the west through film and literature. With an ever-changing personality and look, zombies are one of the most widely recognizable monsters and can be examples of representation, regarding discussions we see today on race and immigration in pop culture. In this collection of essays, a diverse set of authors explores the monstrous figure’s place in the collective imaginary as a cultural and political landmark.