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What to Read While Waiting for Season 3 of "The Walking Dead" (Plus, Bonus Interview with Colson Whitehead)

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I've only seen a few episodes of "The Walking Dead" (I have a weekend marathon viewing planned for the near future). But I have friends who swear by the show, who aren't quite sure what to do now that the second season has ended. You could say they're in shambles. A few of them have asked me what to read while they wait for Season 3. So here's a list of some good zombie books that I'm aware of, as well as a conversation I had with Colson Whitehead a few months back when his zombie novel Zone One was coming out. I noticed that he cites The Walking Dead graphic novels as one of his influences. If it's also one of yours, you may like a book or two on this list.

Feel free to make your own suggestions in the comments section here or on Facebook.

 

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  • World War Z by Max Brooks

  • If you haven't read this one, you should. It's one of the books that started off the whole zombie craze in which we find ourselves. Oh, and it's going to be a movie starring Brad Pitt. This is first-rate, unputdownable reading.

  • The Walking Dead graphic novel by Robert Kirkman

  • Speaking of obvious, The Walking Dead graphic novels spawned the show, so why wouldn't I mention it here? One might assume that fans would have read it already. But that's not necessarily the case. And if you're really eager...

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  • The Walking Dead Compendium by Robert Kirkman

  • Amazon's own Alex Carr tells me, "The Walking Dead Compendium is a steal." It consists of the first eight graphic novels in the series. Which amounts to over a thousand pages. I'm not sure how many zombies that adds up to, but it must be a lot.

  • Raising Stony Mayhall by Daryl Gregory

  • This is a great book, and an alternative take on the zombie myth. It's touching, different, and it will make you think. Call it the amti-zombie zombie book. Or maybe the zombie book to end all zombie books.

  • Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel

  • Steampunk zombies in love? You won't believe it until you read it. This Young Adult book-- in which a normal girl falls in love with a zombie-- got some attention last year, and fans are eagerly looking forward to the sequel, Dearly Beloved.

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  • Day by Day Armageddon by J.L. Bourne

  • This book started as a series of "journal entries" on the internet. After months of posting, the author began to build a book out of what he'd written. People liked it.

  • Zone One by Colson Whitehead

    Finally, Colson Whitehead created a stir when last year he published a zombie novel called Zone One. I asked him about it in the following interview:

 

Omni: You were supporting a perfectly good career as a respected literary writer. Why zombies?

Colson Whitehead: It didn’t seem that strange to me, but I’m the kind of jerk who writes books about elevator inspectors. Are we still so hung up on genre distinctions, when Toni Morrison writes about a ghost (Beloved), Ishiguro does clones (Never Let Me Go) and Cormac McCarthy lives la vida post-apocalypto (The Road)? “Herman, you were coming out with all these great South Seas travel adventures – why are you writing about a whale?” Actually, that’s a bad example because Moby Dick” was a huge flop and Melville died bitter and alone like I do in my dreams every night.

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Omni: Often a writer carries his characters around in his head. What’s it like to walk around New York with zombies and zombie fighters inside there?

CW: It’s a sad commentary on my psychology that I’ve walked around seeing zombies on the streets of New York ever since I saw “Dawn of the Dead” in junior high. If you’ve ever taken the subway at rush hour, or hit Whole Foods on a Friday afternoon, you are well-acquainted with the shambling dead. I was pretty psyched to finally put all that research to use. If only I could get a novel out of being a collector of Brian Williams fanfic…

Omni: How did you land on legendary swimmer Mark Spitz's name for your hero? And why do some characters – in novels and in life – seem to demand that we always use their full names?

CW: Mark Spitz is an American icon! “Mark” cannot do his accomplishments justice, surely Spitz is required, to set him apart from ordinary mortals. He deserved his literary tribute, and I’m proud to have stepped up to the plate. If I do a sequel, fellow Olympian Bruce Jenner will be in it, not as a nickname for the main character, but as himself. He will be the leader of a small pack of survivors who hoard breakfast cereal.

Omni: In Zone One you’re vividly describing people, New York, culture, even as you’re deconstructing all these things. Literally destroying them and giving them new, more grotesque form. Was this a goal of yours? Why?

CW: I grew up in New York City in the ‘70s, so my first New York City is a ruined metropolis made out of crime, grime, and rubble. Live anywhere, and you are superimposing the ruins of your old city over your new city, as you are haunted by all your old stores and shops, the places you have lived. We live simultaneously in both cities, the present one, and the disappearing, remembered one. I explored this in The Colossus of New York, and it was energizing to have another go at the idea in a novel.

Omni: Do you read in the genre? Favorite zombie books/movies?

CW: I’m not so up on contemporary horror. My training came during my childhood and teenage years, which I spent with the Twilight Zone, the Outer Limits, DC’s 70s line of horror comics, EC reprints, and Stephen King, Clive Barker & H.P. Lovecraft. I was very glad to pay homage to the stuff that gave me so much pleasure, back in the day. For zombie classics, I’d point to the first Romero trilogy, obviously, 28 Days Later, and The Return of the Living Dead. World War Z is superb, as is the comic of "The Walking Dead." All of these things are great ways to spend your time, and in fact I’m probably due for a Salem’s Lot-Shining-Carrie reread right about now…

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